Under The Hood: Comparing Processors

A little online research can make you a much better consumer when it comes time to buy a new processor, or for that matter a new PC. Here's how. This week's topic is based off a twitter conversation a friend of mine had this morning, but it's solidly something I've seen pop up time and time again. People don't really understand the capabilities of a given processor relative to another.

Whether you're building your own gaming desktop beast or simply buying a new laptop for work, you'll often find that manufacturers only give you the most basic of specifications for a given processor -- typically the speed and not much else, especially when you're buying a laptop. Hurrah! Your new laptop has a 1.6GHz processor.

But so does the one just down the vendor's page. Somehow, it's $300 more, despite appearing to have the same specifications otherwise.

What's going on here is that there are differences beyond clock speed to take into consideration when buying a processor, desktop or laptop system. It's here that you can save yourself some heartache, and potentially a few bucks as well by getting the exact specifications of the processor you're looking at.

Intel's comparison engine is here, and it's quite comprehensive. Ever wanted to compare a cutting edge Sandy Bridge processor against an ancient original Pentium? It's possible to do so, and in doing so, gain insight into the differences between even similar sounding processor families. AMD's own comparison engine is at AMDCompare.com -- although that appears to be inaccessible at the time of writing -- or via its product pages. Same idea, same utility.

What if you're stuck with comparison between the two processor families? If you're looking at laptops it's a little less cut and dried, as other specified parts such as graphics and hard drive specifications can make a much more significant impact on performance than just the processor alone. At a pure processor level, however, and especially if you're building your own system, there are any number of online comparison sites; Passmark for example has some very pretty graphs of comparable performance.