Sorting out the situation with Intel desktop CPUs and hyper-threading

January 21, 2022

One of the reasons I've been thinking about the advantages of hyper-threading is that I had absorbed the information that in another one of Intel's market segmentation moves it had moved away from hyper-threading on Core desktop processors except for the top end (and expensive) Core i9s. It turns out that this is not entirely the case, although the situation is somewhat confusing.

In the Coffee Lake (8th generation CPUs) generation, the i7 was the top of the desktop line and was the only CPU series with hyper-threading; i5s and i3s did not have it. This is the CPU generation I have in my current home machine, which I put together in early 2018. In late 2018 Intel refreshed this to Coffee Lake Refresh, calling this the 9th generation. This refresh introduced the new i9 series CPUs and dropped hyper-threading from the 9th generation i7 CPUs, making the expensive i9s the only ones with hyper-threading. However, Intel increased the core count on i7s, moving them from 6 cores to 8 cores.

Whether an extra two real cores (with one CPU each) are better than an extra six hyper-thread CPUs is probably very dependent on your workload. However, I think that on the whole the impression it left on people was probably not positive. You can say what you like about the whole situation, but Intel (and others) have been talking about 'CPU' numbers for a fair while and the 9th generation i7 line made those numbers go down. And in a way that felt like more Intel market segmentation.

Since then, Intel has had Comet Lake (10th generation), Rocket Lake (11th generation), and just recently Alder Lake (12th generation). Starting with Comet Lake, all of the Core model lines have had hyper-threading; i9, i7, i5, even i3, although the Rocket Lake generation had no i3s. Before Alder Lake, all cores were uniform and all supported hyper-threading. In Alder Lake, the main ('performance') cores all support hyper-threading, but i9, i7, and a couple of i5 CPUs also have extra 'efficiency' cores, which don't. All of these generations kept the i7 line with 8 cores (8 performance cores in Alder Lake).

This makes the Intel i7 and i5 line somewhat more competitive against the latest AMD Ryzens, although I'm not sure I'm still inclined to Intel the way I used to be. Intel is still ahead in the widespread availability of integrated GPUs, where I believe basically every Intel Core model is available that way. With AMD Ryzen Zen3, you're more restricted for this, although there are perfectly good Zen3 Ryzens available with integrated graphics.

(I have various reasons to consider at least a stop-gap new machine right now. That Core i7s and i5s have hyper-threading opens up more CPU options than I thought I had before I started looking this up.)

Written on 21 January 2022.
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Last modified: Fri Jan 21 23:20:34 2022
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