Intel Pentium: Good For Students? (Pentium Silver, Gold… Or Something Else?)

Your CPU is the brain of your computer, but when you’re flexing your brain as a student, how do you pick the right CPU?

Intel Pentium Gold is ideal for students who need average processor power on a budget. Students who just need basic web surfing and document editing can enjoy the long battery life of devices with the Intel Pentium Silver processor. If you plan on using Adobe software or gaming, you might want a CPU stronger than either Intel Pentium Gold or Silver.

Welcome to CPU 101. Class is in session.

What Even is a CPU?

A Ryzen 1700 CPU showing in the original AMD retail box
A first generation AMD Ryzen CPU (still in its box)

Your CPU plays one of the most important roles in your computer, tablet, smartphone, or basically any computer-like device. Let’s get an understanding of what a CPU does before we start comparing Intel’s Pentium lineup.

It might seem like a computer works by magic, but it actually works by math. Whether it’s your smartphone or a desktop PC, a computer needs to constantly calculate some complex math in order to run even the most basic programs.

Your CPU is essentially the brain of your computer. All of the core calculations that your computer needs to handle in order to function run through the CPU. That single chip is responsible for handling all of the complicated math that makes your computer run.

Not to sound like your highschool math teacher, but math is kind of like magic when you think about it!

Your CPU is also something of a gatekeeper for your computer. The rest of the tech in your computer will only be able to be as fast as the CPU can handle. So, having the world’s best graphics card in a computer with an outdated CPU would bring the performance of the world’s best graphics card down.

Now we’re starting to get a sense of why picking the right CPU is so important. Let’s take a look at the two biggest players in the CPU world.

Intel vs AMD

There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to comparing and contrasting Intel and AMD. These are the two biggest names in the CPU market and they each have their pros and cons.

Intel and AMD also have plenty of use cases and specific applications that can change how we weigh which one is better than the other. However, there’s a quick shorthand to give you some idea of what’s out there when it comes to picking a CPU.

When it comes to raw power and speed, AMD lands in first place due to their successful Ryzen line-up. AMD currently makes the overall fastest and most powerful CPUs. They may not always be budget friendly, but they have more than enough computing muscle.

Intel does not slouch on speed, but they are more focussed on budgets and pre-built machines. Intel often makes the better “budget” CPU when compared with AMD’s budget options. Intel is also all over the mobile world in a way that AMD just isn’t.

Keep in mind that this is very general. The right CPU for you is going to depend on some more factors than just budget vs power. Let’s take a closer look at Intel’s Pentium Gold and Silver processors before we figure out which ones students should buy.

The Intel Pentium Range

An Intel N5030 CPU with current clock speed of 2.31 Ghz the base frequency is 1.10 GHz and the burst is 3.10 GHz
An Intel N5030 CPU with current clock speed of 2.31 Ghz the base frequency is 1.10 GHz and the burst is 3.10 GHz

Intel makes different ranges of CPUs for different needs. The Intel Pentium range is considered one of their entry-level processors – they are above Celeron, but below the Core i3/i5/i7 range. This isn’t the lowest, or at least powerful, range of processors they offer. However, it’s also very far from being the most powerful processor offered by Intel.

Intel recently rebranded the Pentium range which now features Intel Pentium gold and Intel Pentium silver processors.

Let’s take a look at each of these and find out which one is right for students.

What is Intel Pentium Gold?

Intel Pentium Gold is simply a rebrand for the already existing Intel Pentium processor that uses the Kaby Lake architecture. There’s not much new with the Intel Pentium Gold CPU besides a shiny new name and packaging.

However, the Kaby Lake architecture is the important thing here. Intel Pentium Gold processors aren’t the most powerful CPUs out there, but they are very budget friendly.

What is Pentium Silver?

Really, Intel didn’t do themselves any favors with their rebranded CPU names. Intel Pentium Silver isn’t really better or worse than Intel Pentium Gold. Pentium Silver is simply a different product that has very different applications.

While Intel Pentium Gold is built for entry-level computing, Intel Pentium Silver is designed for the mobile market (including Chromebooks). Pentium Silver trades some performance and power for space and energy savings. Silver uses less battery life in order to keep mobile devices powered up longer rather than burning through all that battery life just for some slight performance gains.

Great battery life on my Asus Chromebook with a Intel Pentium Silver CPU
Great battery life on my Asus Chromebook with a Intel Pentium Silver CPU

You can buy a Pentium Gold processor in a box to add to your PC build, but you will likely never see a Pentium Silver CPU for sale on its own. This is because they are BGA CPUs.

BGA stands for Ball Grid Array. These are CPUs that are soldered down onto their motherboards and can not be changed or updated. This contrasts with Intel Pentium Gold which can be changed out whenever you’d like.

Intel Pentium Gold for Students

The Intel Pentium Gold processor could be the right pick for students who are looking for a laptop that has a little bit more muscle, but it’s still incredibly budget-friendly. You’ll be able to find Intel Pentium Gold processors in HP laptops, Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, and plenty of other devices. You can even buy a standalone Intel Pentium Gold processor for your budget DIY PC build.

Pentium Gold processors are going to easily handle all of the basic software and websites you’ll be encountering as a student. You’re going to have no problems with Word Documents, surfing the internet, and even running more demanding software.

However, Intel Pentium Gold is a budget option for a reason. While you will be able to use Adobe software, it’s going to run pretty slow. Luckily though, if you are planning on getting a Chromebook, you might have better luck using some of the Adobe apps that are available on the Play Store – I can easily run Adobe Photoshop Express on my Pentium Silver CPU without any major slowness:

Running Adobe Photoshop Express an Android app on a Chromebook with an Intel Pentium CPU in it
Running Adobe Photoshop Express – an Android app – on a Chromebook with an Intel Pentium Silver CPU in it

So that’s also something to consider: full-blown Adobe software running on Windows will almost certainly run slower than Android-optimized apps running on a Chromebook. A Pentium Gold might struggle with Adobe on Windows, whereas a Pentium Silver might be fine on a Chromebook.

You also might not be able to get gaming level performance out of this processor unless you’re ready to take some pretty noticeable performance and graphics cuts.

Intel Pentium Silver for Students

The Intel Pentium Silver processor is going to be a decent choice for students who are looking for a mobile computing device that will be used for basic computer programs. If you’re looking for a tablet, a lightweight laptop, or a Chromebook, Pentium Silver could be a good choice for you.

A computer with an Intel Pentium Silver processor is going to do a good job at handling all of the basic tasks that students will face and their academic career. You’ll be able to put together PowerPoints, write Word documents, and surf the internet. You’ll also be able to use popular software like Google Docs and your favorite email program.

Intel Pentium Silver is going to struggle with anything much more demanding than that. If you’re hoping to edit photos or videos, create art, or game, Intel Pentium Silver probably won’t have enough power for you to achieve those goals.

How to Pick the Right CPU for Students

A class of students in a lecture
A class of students in a lecture

Now that we’ve gone over some CPU basics and the differences between Intel Pentium Silver and Intel Pentium Gold processors, let’s talk about how you can pick the right processor for you.

Different students are going to have different needs and the right processor for you might not always be the one that is most powerful.

Let’s take a look at a few things that students want to consider before picking a CPU.

What Are You Studying?

The first thing you want to think about is the particular field that you’ll be studying. This might have a pretty big impact on which CPU you want to pick.

Students of art are going to want to pick a more powerful CPU. Everything from Photoshop to 3D modeling software gets pretty demanding on the CPU. It’s a good call to put some extra investment in the CPU so that you can quickly have your projects rendered without worrying about bugs or crashes.

Science students might also want more CPU power, but they might not need it. If you’re working in a lab that has specialized software on dedicated machines, you might only need a CPU that handles lab reports and write ups.

Think about the classes you’ll be taking, the technology your university has access to, and the types of projects you’ll be working on and you’ll have a good idea of which CPU is right for you.

To Game or Not to Game?

Playing Serious Sam on a 27 inch 4K monitor
Playing Serious Sam Siberian Mayhem

Gaming is incredibly relaxing, but it’s also becoming an academic field and its own. Universities have programs that design games, study games, and games are even being incorporated into the lesson plans for a diverse set of disciplines.

Gaming is also fun. If you plan on gaming during your time as a student, you’re definitely going to want a stronger CPU than the Intel Pentium range.

Getting Creative

Creative software gets incredibly demanding on your CPU. Even basic photo editing software can push entry level CPUs past their limit. The needs these programs place on your CPU only get more demanding as we move into audio, video, and other creative programs.

If you’re going to be doing lots of creative work, you’ll want Intel Pentium Gold at the very least – but heading down the AMD Ryzen or Intel Core i3/i5 route might work out better for you.

Is This Your Main Machine?

The last thing we need to consider is whether or not this is your main machine.

If this is your only computer, you’re going to want to pick Intel Pentium Gold or something more powerful. If you have a main PC and you’re just looking for something portable, you can get away with Intel Pentium Silver and enjoy more battery life while having your main PC handle the harder work.

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

Leave a comment