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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