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 "i5", "i7" and "Haswell-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.
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). These days we mainly only supply these in laptops. 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
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. They also included "HyperThreading"; this is a feature where they have 4 real cores and 4 "pretend" cores, so are seen as 8 core processors. 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 6 real cores, and HyperThreading - then your computer appears to have 24 cores.
Intel i3s & i5 processors
The i3 is now the entry level processor and the i5 the next step up. Bother 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. We tend to use the quad core versions in the systems we make for video editing.
Intel Sandybridge 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 Quicksync". Initially the only program to take advantage of this was Grass Valley EDIUS. Now Sony Vegas and some programs like TMPEG can also use Quicksync, although Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere still cannot do so.
Intel Ivybridge 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 Quicksync.
Intel Haswell 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 Quicksync.
Intel Skylake processors
From September 2015 to present. 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 i7 Sandybridge 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
Sold from February 2102 to April 2013. Intel decided to make their processor names more confusing by introducing a different type of Sandybridge processor. We decided to call this the 2011 pin processor to try and make it simpler. Although called Sandybridge it is quite a lot different to the other i7 Sandybridge machines. For a start it has more pins to connect it to the motherboard (2,011 pins to be exact, as opposed to 1,155 for the regular Sandybridge). The 2011 Pin processor also does not have a graphic card built-in, so no Intel Quicksync. It also needs RAM in multiples of 4 chips to get the best out of it where as the regular Sandybridge is in multiples of 2. It came in quad core and six core variations. If your program could take advantage of multiple core processors (and most 64 bit programs can) then the 2011 pin was considerably faster that the standard Sandybridge.
The motherboards used were also better so you could put in more expansion cards without conflicts than in the standard system. If, for example, you want a system with two graphic cards, a RAID card and a video card you would need a 2011 pin system.
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 latest chips are Ivybridge 2011 pin processors which are faster and more powerful than their predecessors. They still do not have Quicksync or an Intel graphic card but the motherboards they use can support more hard drives and cards than the current Haswell boards. The prices also changed slightly so now we can do a quad core 2011 pin system for about the same price as a Haswell system. This would be using the lowest speed 2011 pin, but the performance of this and the Haswell would be about the same and the 2011 pin system would have more expansion possibilities. As they do not have Quicksync you are probably better using a Haswell processor if editing with Grass Valley EDIUS, but if using Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer we would suggest the 2011 pin is the best option.
Intel i7 Haswell-E 2011 pin Enthusiast processors (2011 pin)
From Sept 2014. The latest 2011 pin chips are based on the "Haswell" chipset They still do not have Quicksync or an Intel graphic card but the motherboards they use can support more hard drives and cards than the "normal" motherboards. As they do not have Quicksync you are probably better using a Haswell processor if editing with Grass Valley EDIUS, but if using Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer we would suggest the 2011 pin is the best option.
One of our most commonly used I/o cards is the Blackmagic Intensity Pro 4K - primarily because it does all video resolutions up to UHD and is relatively cheap. This is a 4- lane PCIe card so uses quite a lot of resources and with a normal Haswell system you will not be able to add in too many extra devices. This makes it more logical to buy a Haswell-E system which will not have these problems.
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.
If you want the fastest system you can get, or are thinking of editing a lot of 4K footage you should consider a Xeon.