There are a huge number of different types of processor available for Windows based PCs. They are available from either Intel or AMD. We only supply systems with Intel processors these days - we have supplied AMD systems in the past but the current the Intel processors are better supported and more powerful. The processor is referred to as the CPU (central processor unit) and is the "brains" of the computer. Most PCs normally just have one processor, although you can get PCs with 2. Dual processor machines use processors called Xeons.
Because Intel are continually making new innovations there are hundreds of different types of processors. We started many years ago in 1995 with "286" and "386" processors. The current processors are "Kaby Lake" "i5", "i7" and "Broadwell-E 2011 pin" processors.
Originally processors only had one "core" (or brain) The processors got faster and faster until they got to a stage where they were running so fast that they were getting extremely hot. To keep them cool enough to work properly computers had to have lots of fans, running at high speed meaning they made a lot more noise and they used a lot of power. The speed "peaked" at around 3.8Ghz for an old Pentium D. Because they could not improve the performance by just increasing speed, manufacturers turned to different solutions, and added more cores (so we had dual core and quad core processors) and other technology like "HyperThreading". They also improved other parts of the machine like the RAM and how the processors talk to the RAM. The RAM is the computers working memory and the faster the CPU can talk to the RAM the faster the computer works. They also improved the internal workings of the processor, making the connections smaller and various other enhancements. The net upshot of this is that a modern i7 processor which is running at, for example, 3.4Ghz, is hugely faster than an old 3.8Ghz processor.
Intel introduced a thing caller "HyperThreading" into their processors many years ago. This is a feature where a processor has a few real cores and the same number of "pretend" cores, so, for example, a 4 course processor is seen as 8 cores in Windows. This means, if software is written to take advantage of this, that the software can do more things at once and process quicker. Most modern processors have HyperThreading - so if you have some of the top Dual processor Xeon computers - where each processor has 12 real cores, and HyperThreading - then your computer appears to have 48 cores!
Older types of processor
(no longer available but it may help to identify a processor in your own system to know this information)
Intel Core2Duo processors
Sold around 2007-2008. Dual core processors - one processor with 2 cores (brains, effectively). Fine for SD editing, not so good for HD, although it depends on the format in which the footage is stored.
Intel Core2Quad processors
Also sold around 2007-2008. Quad core processors - one processor, with 4 cores. Good at HD and SD editing. Because programs do not take advantage of all available cores all the time, a quad core processor is not twice as good as a dual core, but definitely better.
Because there were so many types of processor (Quad core, dual core, Pentiums etc..) Intel decided to try and simplify the names in the future, so a few of years ago they decide to call the new ranges are going to be called "i5", "i7" and "i9". Then they messed it up completely by making several variations of i7 processors (Sandybridge, Ivybridge etc..) and changing the names of the i9s to i7s as well. D'oh!
Intel I7 processors
There have been several generations of i7 processors. These all have code names before they are released, like Skylake and Kaby Lake, and then when they are released Intel calls them the "xth generation processors which generally means how many versions of the processors have been released since the first i7s arrived.
Intel i3s & i5 processors
i7s are the most powerful f this range or processors and are Quad Core with HyperThreading. Intel have different variations of these processors called i3 ad i5 as well. The i3 is now the entry level processor and the i5 the next step up. Both are actually very good and would beat an old-fashioned Pentium or Pentium D hands down in a speed test. If you want a simple system for browsing the internet and writing letters, and i3 is fine. We actually use i3 processors in most of our network machines (the ones we use to write emails and make the website) at DVC.
The i3s are dual core processors - so have 2 brains.
The i5s are a bit faster and fast enough for editing video, even HD video (the latter does depend a bit on which program you are using). If you have the budget, buy an i7 processor as it will be faster, however, the i5 is good enough if you are trying to minimise cost. Some i5s are dual core, some are quad core but without HyperThreading. We tend to use the quad core versions in the systems we make for video editing.
Intel i7 "first generation" processors
Sold in 2009 & 2010 up to about Feb 2011. The first i7 processors represented quite an improvement over the quad core processors. They needed 3 RAM chips to operate properly and could use faster RAM, as well as being better internally. The most commonly sold processor at DVC was the 2.66Ghz 920 processor.
Intel Sandybridge "2nd generation" processors
Sold from roughly March 2011 to February 2012. The Sandybridge processor was available in i3, i5 and i7 variations with the most popular at DVC being the quad core i7s. These also had HyperThreading and so were seen as having 8 cores. The Sandybridge processor also had a graphic card built-into the chip and could encode H.264 video (as used in MP4 files and Blu-ray creation) fast, using a feature called "Intel Quick Sync". Initially the only program to take advantage of this was Grass Valley EDIUS. Now Sony Vegas and some programs like TMPEG can also use Quick Sync, although Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere still cannot do so.
Intel Ivybridge "3rd generation" processors
Sold May 2012 to June 2013. The Ivybridge were the next generation of the Sandybridge, so practically the same, but a bit more powerful, and with an improved graphic card. They also use slightly less power than the Sandybridge. Also includes Quick Sync.
Intel Haswell "4th generation" processors
Form June 2013 to present, although we assume they will be slowly phased out since the Skylake processors have arrived. The Haswell are the next generation on from the Ivybridge. Internally the parts are a few nanometres closer, the power consumption is a bit less, the graphics are better and the processor more powerful. Also includes Quick Sync.
Intel Broadwell "5th generation" processors
In June 2015 these processors were released. We did not use the standard Quad core versions in systems as they were not much better than the Haswell processors and tended to be soldered into the motherboard. We did use the "Enthusiast" 2011 pin version (see below)
Intel Skylake "6th generation" processors
From September 2015 to Dec 2016t. These are the replacements for the Haswell processors. They have the same kind of features such as Intel Quick Sync, but as you would expect everything is a little bit faster and a little bit better. We estimate a 10-20% speed increase over the Haswell processors. They work on different motherboards to the Haswell processors which use faster DDR4 RAM, and have new feature like USB3.1. USB3.1 is twice as fast as USB3 which is found on the Haswell systems. Not all Skylake motherboards have USB3.1. The motherboards still have USB2 and USB3 sockets on board.
Intel Kaby Lake "7th generation" processors
Released in January 2017, and the current most commonly used processors. They have the same features as before including Quick Sync, and are about 10% faster than the Skylake processors. They have a special chip inside them to help encode and decode H.265 video. This is a new format which is starting to be adopted by a few cameras, including the Panasonic GH5. It is more compressed than H.264 and harder work to decode. Currently no editing program uses this part of the chip to assist with playback, although we hope this will change sometime in 2017..
Enthusiast or 2011 PIN processors
Intel decided to make their processor names more confusing by introducing a different type of i7 processor. The call it the i7 Enthusiast. We decided to call this the "2011 pin processor" to try and make it simpler and avoid calling it an i7. There are quite a few differences between this type of processor and the regular Kaby Lake/Sklyake processors. For a start it has more pins to connect it to the motherboard (2,011 pins to be exact, as opposed to 1,150 for the regular Kaby Lake). What difference does this make? It means that the processor has more ways of talking to the motherboard and the other components in the system which means that you can put mire devices inside the computer. If you want a system with two graphics card and a 4K i/o card you can do this easily in a 2011 pin system but would struggle to get this working in a Kaby Lake system with having devices sharing resources.
The 2011 Pin processor also does not have a graphic card built-in, so does not have Intel Quick Sync. It needs RAM in multiples of 4 chips to get the best out of it where as the regular i7s need multiples of 2. The 2011 pin processor have the option of more real cores than the normal i7s as well - the current top processor has 12 cores. You can also use a Xeon processor in the same motherboard that supports the 2011 pin. Xeons are generally used in systems with two processors but you can
Intel i7 Sandybridge 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
Sold from February 2102 to April 2013. On average a six core 2011 pin system was £500 more than a Sandybridge system.
Intel i7 Ivybridge 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
From Sept 2013-September 2014. As the Sandybridge processors evolved so did the 2011 pin. The Ivybridge 2011 pin processors were faster and more powerful than their predecessors.
Intel i7 Haswell-E 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
From Sept 2014. The next generation were called the Haswell-E processors and they were faster than the previous versions and had options for an 8 core processor.
Intel i7 Broadwell-E 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
The current version, launch in the second quarter of 2016, are the same type as previous processors and available in two 6 core versions, an 8 core version and a 10 core version. All have HyperThreading. These processors are faster than Kaby Lake processors for nearly all operations and we generally recommend them for 4K editing. You can edit 4K on a Kaby Lake system, probably getting a couple of layers playing in real time in most programs, however, this varies according to program and video format. If you add video effects such as colour correction, it gets harder so generally you want as much power as possible. Ideally you buy a dual Xeon system but they are considerably more expensive where as a Broadwell-E is a step up from the Kaby Lake but not at a huge expense.
Some of the fastest processors, we often refer to these as "i7 Xeons". They have all the clever jiggery pokery of the i7s, only with two processors instead of one. They are available in various speeds, up to 3.1GHz at present and can have up to 18 cores per processor. Having two processors and many cores these are the fastest systems you can buy, but they do come at a cost. They can have more RAM than normal systems and have no problems dealing with many different cards in the system.
Ideally we would all buy Xeon systems and as they are the most powerful. However, they are also the most expensive and power hungry.