Intel confirmed last year that it would retire its long-running Pentium and Celeron names, which had been reduced to branding for budget processors. Now the first N-Series chips for budget PCs have arrived, during CES 2023.
Intel has revealed its new line of N-series processors, which will be sold under the Core i3 name and “Intel Processor” — not confusing at all. They’re based on the split-core design we’ve seen in some mobile Core i5 and Core i7 chips, with some faster “P-cores” paired with slower and more power-efficient “E-cores.” On Intel’s other chips, applications and system processes are moved across cores as needed to improve battery life, like most ARM chips found in smartphones and tablets. However, none of Intel’s N-series chips have P-cores — only the slower, but more battery-friendly, E-cores.
Intel says all the CPUs can accept DDR4, DDR5, or LPDDR5 memory, making them more flexible to use across different PC categories. They also support AV1 hardware decoding, which will come in handy with video streaming, as well as Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.2 support.
The best of the bunch are the Intel Core i3-N-305 and Core i3-N300, both of which have 8 cores and 8 threads (again, only E-cores). The N-305 can pull 15 W of power, so it’s not too far off from a typical Core i5 CPU, except that it doesn’t have any P-cores. Intel says it’s 70% faster in the CrossMark benchmark than the Pentium Silver N6000, and 120% faster in graphics performance in 3DMark. That’s not a massive accomplishment, considering the N6000 was a 6 W CPU with only 4 cores — we’ll have to see how real-life use turns out. The N300 has the same core count, but maxes out at 7 W instead of 15 W.
Below those chips are the Intel Processor N200 and Intel Processor N100. They both only have 4 cores and 4 threads, and max out at 6 W. They only differ in graphics performance — the N200 has 32 execution units (EU) and the N100 has 24. Intel says the N200 has 28% faster CPU performance than the Pentium Silver N6000, and 64% better GPU performance. Again, that’s not the highest bar imaginable, but still good news.
These are low-end processors, so we’ll have to wait and see how they handle real-world workloads. Laptops and Chromebooks with ARM chips from Qualcomm and MediaTek have been eating away at Intel’s share of budget laptops for years, as they can usually offer better battery life with similar performance. The new N-series could give Intel a chance to win back some budget PC buyers — the company says “more than 50 designs from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Asus are expected in 2023.”