A Guide to Understanding CPU Generations and Models

A Guide to Understanding CPU Generations and Models

by November 17, 2020 0 comments

The new 10th gen Intel Core CPUs have hit the market and with all the hype and coverage they are getting, it might make one think what differentiates them from the previous CPU generations. One might also have questions like what does Core i3, i5 and i7 mean and which CPU will be the most suitable for day to day work. Is it okay to choose any CPU off the shelf or is it necessary to do your own research before you choose a CPU for yourself?

An Overview of CPU Models

Many people think that Core i3, i5 and i7 are CPU generations whereas, these are just different processor models from Intel, where the computing power increases with the number in the model name. Following is a list of all the significant CPUs launched by Intel:

  1. Pentium 1, 2, 3, 4
  2. Celeron
  3. Pentium M and Celeron M for mobile devices
  4. Pentium Dual Core
  5. Core Solo
  6. Core Duo
  7. Core 2 Duo
  8. Core 2 Quad
  9. Core i3, i5, i7

The concept of generations came into being after the launch of the Core line-up by Intel. Architecture design of the processors is what distinguishes one generation CPU from the other.

Intel CPU Generations

Every new Intel processor generation is said to have an enhanced set of features and speed boosts as compared to the previous generations. Following are the respective generations:

1st Generation Intel Processors: Nehalem

Nehalem was the successor to the initial Core architecture that had certain limitations like inability to increase the clock speeds, inefficient pipeline among others. It worked on the 45-nanometer process as compared to 65 nm or 90 nm used in previous processors. It also reintroduced hyper-threading technology which was absent mainly in the initial Core i3 processors.

The processor had a 64 KB L1 cache, 256 KB per core L2 cache and 4 MB to 12 MB L3 cache, which all the processor cores utilised. It supported 1156 LGA socket and 2-channel DDR3 RAM.

2nd Generation Intel Processors – Sandy Bridge

Introduced in 2011, Sandy Bridge used the 32-nanometer process as compared to the 45nm used by Nehalem. The average performance enhancement as compared to Nehalem was about 11.3%. It used the same 64 KB L1 cache and 256 KB per core for L2 cache but the difference was in the L3 cache. The L3 cache ranged from 1 MB to 8 MB and even went up to 15 MB for extreme processors. It used 1155 LGA socket and 2-channel DDR3-1066 RAM

3rd Generation Intel Processors – Ivy Bridge

Ivy Bridge processors were faster than Sandy Bridge processors and used the 22-nanometer process as opposed to 32 n m in Sandy Bridge. The processor model consumed up to 50% less and gave 25% to 60% performance boost as compared to previous generation processors. The only problem reported was about more heat emission than the previous generation. Ivy Bridge architecture used the same 1155 LGA socket with DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1600 RAM.

4th Generation Intel Processors – Haswell

Launched in June 2013, Haswell used the same 22-nm process as Ivy Bridge. The performance improvement was noted to be only 3% to 8%. However, Haswell carried a lot of features as compared to Ivy Bridge like support for new sockets (LGA 1150, BGA 1364, LGA 2011-3), DDR4 technology and a brand new cache design, etc.

The major highlight of Haswell was that it could be used in ultra-portable devices due to its low power consumption.

5th Generation Intel Processors – Broadwell

Introduced by Intel in 2015, Broadwell used a 14-nm process technology that was 37% smaller in size than the previous processors. Intel claimed that with Broadwell, the device’s battery life could be improved as long as 1.5 hours. The chips also came with faster wake times and improved graphics performance. It supported 1150 LGA sockets with 2-channel DDR3L-1333/1600 RAM.

6th Generation Intel Processors – Skylake

The 6th generation Intel processors were based on the same 14-nm technology as used in Broadwell and did not come with any major performance upgrades or features.

7th Generation Intel Processors – Kaby Lake

Using the same 14-nm architecture as Skylake, Kaby Lake was the first micro-architecture from Intel that did not come with an official driver Operating System older than Windows 10. It introduced new graphics architecture to improve 3D graphics performance and 4K video playback. It used 1151 LGA sockets and had dual-channel support for DDR3L-1600 and DDR4-2400 RAM slots.

8th Generation Intel Processors – Kaby Lake R

Intel introduced a refresh of Kaby Lake in 2017 as their new 8th generation CPUs. The details are same as the 7th generation CPUs but some 8th generation chipsets had support for DDR4-2666 RAM but lack DDR3L RAM support.

9th Generation Intel Processors – Coffee Lake

Coffee lake processors were introduced by Intel in late 2017 and with this architecture, Intel Core i9 processors were also introduced. Coffee Lake processors broke the limit of 4 cores per CPU and the new processors could now support up to 8 core per CPU. Since the heat produced in these cores would be high, Intel attached the Integrated heat spreader (IHS) to the CPU die instead of thermal paste which was normally used in previous generation processors.

It used 1151 LGA sockets with altered pinouts to support more than 4 cores along with up to 16 MB of L3 cache.

10th Generation Intel Processors – Cannon Lake/Ice Lake

Intel’s 10th generation architecture, Canon Lake, comes with the all-new 10-nm technology. Ice Lake was introduced as the second generation of 10nm processors. They used BGA1526 sockets and came with DDR4 3200 and LPDDR4X 3733 support. This was the first CPU architecture that came with integrated support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Thunderbolt 3.

11th Generation Intel Processors – Tiger Lake

The 11th generation Intel, Tiger Lake, CPUs are yet to be released. They will be the third generation of CPUs based on the 10-nm transistor technology. According to some leaks and Wikipedia, Tiger Lake processor might have up to 30% performance gains. L4 cache might also be introduced for a further performance boost.


In conclusion, it can be said that we have come a long way and the CPUs are only getting more powerful and efficient. It will be interesting to know what the future CPU generations have for us consumers.

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