How to Compare Processors

Useful CPU comparisons explained

A modern processor, or CPU, is incredibly complex. It includes multiple processor cores and added features, like integrated graphics or a dedicated AI co-processor. Direct comparisons are challenging but not impossible. This article will teach you how to compare processors in any device.

How Do I Compare Different Processors?

Here's what to consider when comparing processors. These points are ranked from most to least important.

  1. Visit Geekbench 5's results database and search for the exact name of each processor you're considering. You can also search by the name of the laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other devices you're researching. The Geekbench 5 browser will show benchmark results from users who've run the benchmark on that processor or device. Higher numbers are better.

  2. Compare the core count of each processor. Modern processors almost always have multiple cores but can range from two to dozens. Most processors in today's laptops, tablets, and phones have four to eight cores. The more, the better.

    Many processors will list "hyperthreading" or "threads." A processor with multiple threads can function as a processor with more cores than physically exist. It's an important feature, especially on processors designed for PCs, but the performance gain is not equal to additional physical cores. Keep your eye on the core count instead of the thread count.

  3. Determine how new each processor is in the manufacturer's line-up. Companies like AMD, Intel, and Qualcomm group processors into generations. They're usually attached to a number like the Intel 10th-generation Core, AMD Ryzen 5000, or Qualcomm Snapdragon 865. A company's newest processors, with the highest numbers, are nearly always its best. Apple is even getting into the game with its new line of processors, starting with the M1.

  4. Search for the production process the processor is built on. The industry uses terms such as "7-nanometer node," often shortened to "7nm," as shorthand. A lower number is better. A processor produced on a 5nm node is typically more efficient than one on a 10nm node.

    A "nanometer node" or "technology node," expressed in nanometers, describes roughly how small the structures in a processor can be when built using that production process. Think of it like pixels in a display: smaller pixels mean more pixels in the same space and a sharper, better-defined image.

  5. Consider added features in the processor. Many include integrated graphics, which, in the best cases, can handle most modern games. Some new processors also have an AI co-processor to accelerate applications that use AI algorithms. In most cases, it's better to have these features than not.

How Do I Know Which Processor Is Better?

Here's a quick summary of the information you should look for when comparing processors.

  • What's the processor's Geekbench 5 benchmark result? Higher is better.
  • How many cores does the processor have? More is better.
  • How recently was the processor introduced? Newer is better.
  • What production process is the processor built on? Smaller is better.
  • What added features does the processor have? More is better.

If you're lucky, this will lead to a straightforward answer. However, if you seem to have a tie, our recommendation is simple: buy the device, not the processor.

A fast processor is important but won't be much use if it's in a laptop missing features you need or a smartphone with a disappointing display.

What to Ignore When Comparing Processors

Not every specification is applicable when comparing processors. Do consider putting the following information aside during your search.

  • Clock speed: This was the holy grail of processor performance in 2001, but it's not of much use today. Different processors deliver a significantly different performance at a given clock speed (this is called "per clock performance"). Also, the most demanding modern apps can use multiple cores at once, making core count more important than clock speed.
  • Base clock and maximum "turbo" or "boost" clock: Most modern processors operate not at a single, fixed clock speed but vary in clock speed depending on use. These specifications should be helpful in theory, but real-world results vary too much for this to be a reliable specification.
  • Cache: A large cache can improve a processor's performance, but only in certain situations, and most modern processors upgrade cache size in tandem with other specifications.
  • Memory (RAM) support: Support for faster RAM can be helpful, but it's not an accurate gauge of a processor, or device's, overall performance. Also, with cache, this is usually improved in tandem with other specifications.
  • Maximum operating temperature: This provides little helpful information about a processor's performance or how efficient the processor will be in real-world use.
  • TDP (Thermal Design Power): TDP guides companies in creating devices that use processors on designing the device's cooling system, but it's not useful for consumers.

Where Can I Find Processor Specifications?

Comparing processors can be difficult because each processor is complex and trustworthy information about processors can be difficult to find. Most laptop, tablet, and smartphone reviews will talk about a processor's core count or benchmark results but will leave out other, more nuanced information.

Here's where you can turn for detailed, accurate information about modern processors.

  • What is an ARM processor?

    ARM processors are a family of CPUs designed by Advanced RISC Machines (ARM). Their architecture is based on a RISC (reduced instruction set computer), which is, as the name implies, a computer with a small but highly optimized set of instructions.

  • How do you overclock a CPU?

    If you have an Intel CPU, the easiest overclocking method is to use the Intel Performance Maximizer or the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel XTU). If you own an AMD CPU, you can try using the Ryzen Master Utility. Make sure to monitor your CPU's temperature carefully if you choose to do this.

  • What processor does my computer have?

    If you're using a Windows PC, you can check which processor you have in Device Manager. Open it and look under Processors. On a Mac, open the Apple menu and select About This Mac.

  • How do you check your CPU's temperature?

    Generally, you need to download a third-party program like Core Temp or NZXT CAM to monitor your CPU's temperature. Once the app is downloaded and installed, you can see your CPU temp, clock speeds, fan speeds, and more.

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