For the non-technical user, there is an abundance of confusing terminology used in the computer universe which can make choosing your next device overly complex. Storage, RAM, processor, motherboard and so many others are bandied about as selling points. But if you don’t know the meaning of these techy terms or how they’re relevant to what you do on your computer, they’re all just a bunch of jargon that means nothing. What do these words mean? What is a processor, and why is it important? Is there a big difference between an i5 and an i7 processor? And how does all of this impact my buying decision? If I buy the wrong one, will I suffer from buyer’s remorse? Keep reading to find out.
What Is the Processor?
First of all, let’s break down exactly what a processor is, what it does, and why it matters. Simply put, a processor is a chip that receives input (for example, keystrokes) and delivers the output (placing the appropriate characters in a word-processing document). Sometimes, it’s referred to as the “CPU” (central processing unit). Of course, some computer tasks are more processor-intensive than others – something like video editing obviously requires more processing power than composing an email.
Breaking Down the Numbers
Bigger is better, right? A common assumption is that a computer’s processor speed is analogous to horsepower in an engine – that a higher number is more powerful. Well, yes. And no.
If you’re simply looking at numbers, which are measured in gigahertz (GHz), then yes, a higher number means a more powerful processor. However, it’s a bit more complex than that. In addition to the speed number, you have to consider the type of processor. Comparing the speeds of two different types of processors is an “apples-to-oranges” argument, as things get slightly more complex than a simple equation.
i5 vs. the i7
Fortunately, as a Mac lover, you don’t have to wade through a large array of choices – with a MacBook Pro it’s usually an i5, an i7 and more recently, an i9.Both the i5 and i7 are manufactured by Intel, and Macs have been using Intel processors since 2006. Naturally, the i7 is the more powerful option, delivering a larger processor cache (which stores recently accessed data) and greater speed. But of course, it’s more expensive.
Then comes the matter of “cores.” Most processors contain multiple cores, which work together to process the instructions. These cores, although contained on one unit, are actually individual processors. A dual core processor contains two processors, a quad core, four. The high-end computers that are used for heavy-duty tasks, such as video and audio editing, have eight or more cores. The i7 processor is a quad core as is the i5, but some older versions of the i5 are dual core.
The Bottom Line
In a nutshell, the speed (measured in GHz), number of cores, and the type of processor are the three measurements to use when it comes to deciding which processor is right for you. In each individual category a larger number is better. A MacBook Pro with an i5 processor is perfectly capable of handling standard computing tasks – web surfing, email, word processing and spreadsheet work. The i7 is more robust – designed to handle heavy-duty processing chores such as audio and video editing, high-res graphic design, virtual rendering (such as CAD programs) and live video streaming.
Naturally, those numbers correlate directly to the sticker price: more power equals more money out of your pocket. However, a more powerful MacBook Pro will help “future proof” your purchase, as newer versions of software that are released will most likely run more smoothly with the extra power.
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