Intel processors: Xeon vs. Core

Consumers often wonder why there are two leading options when it comes to purchasing an Intel processor. Intel offers processors from its Xeon line as well as its Core line, and it is not immediately apparent which one is better for a particular customer. Why do Core processors tend to cost less per gigahertz compared to Xeon processors? Is there something inherently better about Xeon processors?

Sort of. The main, overarching difference between the two types of processors is that the Core line of processors tends to be marketed toward individual consumers who are building up single computer towers, especially gamers. Xeon processors are intended for more industrial use, where clients demand reliability and longevity.

Just by entering the computer’s BIOS, anyone with an Intel Core processor can enable overclocking options. This is ideal, of course, for people who care a bit less about stability and just want the maximum power out of their CPUs. This isn’t something you’ll get out of a Xeon processor, because that’s simply not what they’re there for. This overclockability will enhance a superiority that already exists in Core processors compared to Xeon processors: at the same price point, the Core processor will generally have a faster clock speed.

Xeon processors, likely to be installed in computers on racks, aren’t designed with the “family computer” model in mind. They don’t come with any onboard graphics, so you’ll need to buy a separate graphics card if you want to put a Xeon in your personal computer. To many gamers, this isn’t really a big problem. Integrated Intel graphics don’t compare to discrete graphics cards anyway, but this difference certainly acts as a statement regarding what purpose each of these processors serves.

There are benefits to Xeon processors to outweigh the drawbacks, of course. Since computers running with Xeon processors are generally going to be doing lots of high-level processing, they have much higher cache sizes than Core processors. The cache is immediately accessible memory in the CPU, where the CPU works with information that is being actively processed. This has much quicker access times than even RAM, and most modern processors have cache sizes that are no larger than a few dozen megabytes. When you’re processing large amounts of data rapidly, that larger cache size is going to make a big difference in what the processor can get done.

Xeon processors, aimed toward stability, also support error-correcting code (ECC) memory, where Core processors do not. As RAM capacities get larger and consumers become increasingly demanding, memory manufacturers find themselves building less reliable memory to ensure high storage densities. In personal computing, a single bit flipped here or there in RAM is not a huge deal. But when business rely on precise data processing, they will have problems when electromagnetic interference starts changing data live in a computer system.

ECC memory is built to ensure corruption does not happen. It keeps bits in check, sacrificing a bit of efficiency (and a lot of value for your money) to ensure that any errors are immediately corrected. Since Core processors don’t support ECC memory, it’s a consideration if you’re working with sensitive data on your personal workstation.

Xeon processors are also built to last long lives of constant use. For an individual consumer, this probably isn’t very important. Most consumers let their CPUs run idle for most of the day, how to spy a cell phone and they’re going to upgrade every few years when new iterations of the processors are released. But when a CPU is potentially going to sit in a datacentre for years upon years, running at max capacity all the time, this additional reliability is important for those trying to make smart business decisions.

Realistically, as a consumer with just one PC, you probably don’t need a Xeon processor. But they provide some features that make a difference, so it’s worth looking into both options.