New Intel CPUs: What The Heck is a P-Core and E-Core?

ConfusedIf you are shopping for a computer for your business, one of the specifications you’ll be looking at is the processor (aka CPU). If you’re looking at Intel-based processors (which are what most business computers use), you’ll see things like i3, i5, i7, etc… (see more on the differences on the i-whatevers here), and you’ll likely see something that talks about the about of CPU cores the system has (quad core, six-core, etc…). For many applications, you knew that more cores was mostly better (there were exceptions to this, but we won’t go into those).

Intel recently announced and is starting to roll-out their line-up of 12th Generation processors and processor shopping is about to get more confusing. The latest generation of Intel CPUs are taking a piece of the mobile-phone playbook and introducing processor cores that are ultra-efficient for background tasks. So now on higher-end processors, you’ll see P-Cores and E-Cores listed. What the heck does that mean?

First off, a bit of CPU history. In traditional multi-core processors that have dominated the Windows world for years, every CPU core is identical. They all perform the same, suck the same amount of power, etc … . Even when the CPU isn’t doing much (which most of the time it isn’t), it generally still draws the same amount of power.

This isn’t as much of a problem if you have a desktop computer that’s plugged into the wall, but what if you have a device that’s running off battery (laptops, phones, etc…)? Smartphone CPU designers created solutions to work around this, by creating multi-core CPUs that have some power-hungry processor cores but also some lower-power processor cores for doing simple tasks that don’t require much work. Those lower-power cores allow your battery last much longer on your smartphone.

Intel is taking a page from the smartphone world by adding more efficient cores to their CPUs. So when you’re looking at specifications of the processors, you’ll now see P-Cores and E-Cores:

  • P-Cores: P-cores are your standard normal CPU core that you are used to, and heavy duty work will use these cores. Think of them as Power cores.
  • E-Cores: E-cores are the Efficient cores in the system. These are the ones that are used for background system tasks that are running all the time but don’t need powerful processing to do their job.

So in theory, this will all make for a more efficient CPU, allowing your P-Cores to process all the heavy stuff while the lower-power E-Cores do all the basic stuff.

The problem with all this new tech? Windows 10 can’t really take advantage of these new hybrid CPUs quite yet. To be able to take advantage of this, you’d need to be using Windows 11, which was patched last month to be able to take advantage of these types of CPUs. And we don’t recommend moving to Windows 11 yet. So for the moment, while you won’t be able to fully take advantage of these processors out of the gate, but you at least know that Windows 10 is stable.

Hat tip to How To Geek and AnandTech for research and reviews on all this.

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3 comments
  • Me
    REPLY

    You may not recommend Win 11, but every new laptop comes with it. So your recommendations and conclusions are pretty irrelevant. Do you recommend I downgrade my PC to Win 10 because its stable and defacto nerf my CPU? Think before you type. I’ve been running Win 11 for a very long time on machines which according to MS are not suitable to run it at all, and its working just fine. Never crashed, never had an issue. So I do recommend Win 11 and 12th Gen Intel CPUs.

    • Weston Tech
      REPLY

      Hello there and thanks for commenting! You’re right, many new consumer PCs come with Windows 11, but most commercial PCs (which is our focus, as a provider of business tech support) ship with Windows 10. Application support for Windows 11 is fine for larger software vendors (the Adobes, Autodesks, Intuits, etc… of the world) but many of our clients have specialized line-of-business apps that haven’t been updated or fully tested on Windows 11. That world of specialized software tends to move slower. It might work, but when your computers are there to make your company money, you don’t want to experiment and not have vendor support.

      Yes, while Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs will perform a bit better on Windows 11, they’ll still perform very well on Windows 10 in the bulk majority of use cases. The CPU scheduler was updated in Windows 10 release 20H2 and higher to at least recognize the hybrid cores and move tasks to them. It may not be as efficient at it as Windows 11, nor can it recognize certain instruction sets and move them to the E-Cores, but it is able to take advantage of the E-Cores (this was told to us by an Intel representative on a vendor webinar).

      All this is really a bigger issue on laptops than desktop as Intel 12th-gen-powered desktops are less likely to have E-cores in them in the first place. Our go-to desktop that we sell for the bulk majority of our clients for basic office use has an Intel i5-12500 processor, which has 6 P-Cores, no E-cores at all. That will work just as well on Windows 10 as it would on Windows 11.

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