Difference Between Intel Processor Generations

Intel processor generations
Intel processor generations

The last time when I went to the computer shop to inquire about the latest prices of laptops, I was told that the new laptop had the Intel fourth-generation processor. I asked the person the difference between first-generation and the fourth generation but he was unable to answer properly only saying that the fourth generation was faster than the 1st, 2nd and 3rd generations.

I have updated this article to add all the latest generations released after initially writing this article. I hope this will be useful for all the viewers. If there is anything missing in the article, please let me know and I will try to add it as soon as possible.

So I came home and wanted to know about the philosophy of processor generations on the Internet. To my astonishment, there was no complete guide available which could tell clearly about the Intel processor generations and their differences. After researching a lot, I have enough knowledge that I can write and document the differences which I have found in this article.

Intel Processors

The misconception

First of all, many people think that Core i3, i5, and i7 are the processor generations. These are models or brands of processors from Intel. I will write another article about these later as it requires a lot of discussions. Let me list down all the major processor models released by Intel.

  • Pentium 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Celeron
  • Pentium M and Celeron M for mobile devices
  • Pentium Dual Core
  • Core Solo
  • Core Duo
  • Core 2 Duo
  • Core 2 Quad
  • Core i3, i5, i7

The concept of generations mainly comes after the released of the Core i series. The difference in processor micro-architecture is the main difference in processor generations. We will discuss these generations in detail below.

Intel Processor Generations

Intel processor generations simply have the enhanced feature set and speed than the previous generations. Let’s discuss each generation separately.

1st Generation Intel Processors – Nehalem

Nehalem was the Intel processor micro-architecture which was the successor to the initial Core architecture which had certain limitations like inability to increase the clock speed, inefficient pipeline, etc. Nehalem was released for production in 2010.

Nehalem used the 45-nanometer process as opposed to the 65nm or 90nm used by previous architectures. Nehalem reintroduced hyper-threading technology which was left out mainly in the initial Core i3 processor models.

The Nehalem processor has a 64 KB L1 cache, 256 KB per core L2 cache and 4 MB to 12 MB L3 cache which is shared with all the processor cores. It supports 1156 LGA socket and 2-channel DDR3 RAM.

2nd Generation Intel Processors – Sandy Bridge

Sandy Bridge micro-architecture was introduced in 2011 to replace Nehalem architecture. Sandy Bridge uses the 32-nanometer process as opposed to 45 nm used in Nehalem. Sandy Bridge processor average performance enhancement as compared to Nehalem was about 11.3%.

Sandy Bridge uses the same 64 KB L1 cache and 256 KB per core for L2 cache but the difference is in the L3 cache. Normally the Sandy Bridge processor L3 cache was from 1MB to 8 MB. For extreme processors, it was from 10 MB to 15 MB. It uses 1155 LGA socket and 2-channel DDR3-1066 RAM.

3rd Generation Intel Processors – Ivy Bridge

Introduced in September 2012, Ivy Bridge processors are faster than Sandy Bridge processors and use the 22-nanometer process as opposed to 32 nm used in Sandy Bridge. This processor model consumes up to 50% less energy and will give 25% to 68% increase in performance as compared to Sandy Bridge processors.

The only problem with Ivy Bridge processors is that they may emit more heat as compared to Sandy Bridge processors.

Ivy Bridge architecture uses the same 1155 LGA socket with DDR3-1333 to DDR3-1600 RAM.

4th Generation Intel Processors – Haswell

Haswell was released by Intel in June 2013. It uses the same 22-nm process as Ivy Bridge. The performance improvement of Haswell as compared to the Ivy Bridge is from 3% to 8%. Haswell carries a lot of features from Ivy Bridge with some very exciting new features like support for new sockets (LGA 1150, BGA 1364, LGA 2011-3), DDR4 technology, a completely new cache design, etc.

The main benefit of Haswell is that it can be used in ultra-portable devices due to its low power consumption.

5th Generation Intel Processors – Broadwell

Broadwell was released by Intel in 2015. It uses 14-nm process technology which is 37% smaller in size than its predecessors. According to Intel, with the Broadwell CPU, the device battery life could be improved as long as 1.5 hours.

The Broadwell chips also featured faster wake times and improved graphics performances. It supports 1150 LGA socket with 2-channel DDR3L-1333/1600 RAM.

6th Generation Intel Processors – Skylake

Intel introduced Skylake, the 6th generation processors in August 2015. Skylake is a redesign of the same 14-nm technology which was introduced in Broadwell, the 5th generation architecture.

7th Generation Intel Processors – Kaby Lake

Intel’s 7th generation processors, codenamed Kaby Lake, were introduced in 2016. Kaby Lake is essentially a refresh of Sky Lake architecture with a few efficiencies and power improvements. It uses a 14-nm process architecture.

Kaby Lake is the first micro-architecture from Intel which does not come with an official driver for Operating Systems older than Windows 10.

Kaby Lake introduced a new graphics architecture to improve 3D graphics performance and 4K video playback. It uses 1151 LGA socket and has dual-channel support for DDR3L-1600 and DDR4-2400 RAM slots.

8th Generation Intel Processors – Kaby Lake R

In 2017, Intel introduced a refresh of Kaby Lake processors as their new 8th generation release. The details are the same as mentioned in the 7th Generation Intel Processor but some 8th generation chipsets have 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. With this architecture, Intel Core i9 processors were introduced.

Coffee Lake processors break the limitation of 4 cores per CPU. Now the new processors can support up to 8 cores per CPU.

Since the heat produced in these cores will be enormous, Intel attached the integrated heat spreader (IHS) to the CPU die instead of the thermal paste which is normally used in earlier processors.

It uses 1151 LGA socket with altered pinout to support more than 4 cores along with up to 16 MB of L3 cache.

10th Generation Intel Processors – Cannon Lake/Ice Lake

Cannon Lake, Intel’s 10th generation architecture comes with the all-new 10-nm technology. It was released in late 2017 but the production properly started in 2018.

Ice Lake is produced as the 2nd generation of 10-nm processors.

They use BGA1526 sockets and come with DDR4 3200 and LPDDR4X 3733 support. This is the first CPU architecture that comes with integrated support for Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Thunderbolt 3.

11th Generation Intel Processors – Tiger Lake

11th generation Intel, Tiger Lake, is yet to be released. They will be the third generation of 10-nm transistor technology. According to Wikipedia, the Tiger Lake architecture will have up to 30% performance gains as compared to Ice Lake. L4 cache will be introduced in this generation for further performance boosts.

The next generations

Sapphire Rapids is the micro-architecture that is being planned by Intel. It will either be a refinement of 10-nm technology or an all-new 7-nm process. It may also introduce all-new DDR5 RAM support.

Conclusion

I hope the article will give some insight into the processor generations. I would love to have your view about this and if I have missed any features of any generation, it would be great to hear from you in the comments.

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Usman Khurshid
Usman Khurshid is a seasoned IT professional. He has been working in the IT industry for the last 15 years. From making a simple network including physical cabling to consulting for SMEs about cloud computing, he has vast experience in the computing industry. He is also certified in Microsoft Technologies (MCTS and MCSA) and also Cisco Certified Professional on Routing and Switching.