Intel Offers PC Buyers a Star Rating System

Intel will assign a number of stars to its chips, from one to five. But it's still not simple.
Intel has introduced a new retail buying guide designed to alleviate confusion over its numerous product lines, different cores and clock speeds -- but don't be misled by the style.

With its huge array of parts, Intel's product catalog can create more than a little confusion among buyers. Between desktop and laptop processors, the company has close to 100 CPUs on the market. The result is confusion even for enthusiasts and geeks, who have to choose among parts differentiated based on core family, number of cores, clock speeds, and interfaces -- plus numerous unique features like hyperthreading and Turbo Boost.

To alleviate this, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) this month will begin introducing a new ranking system at retail outlets using one to five stars. The stars are placed on the price tag of the computer, and there will be a placard in the store defining the stars and what they mean.

The new system will also use a variety of colored "badges" -- the logos that go on a desktop or laptop computer listing the CPU brand.

The company has to be careful. Any regular reader of Zagat Guide, movie reviews or knows that one star means "stay away." But in this case, one star simply means it's a very low-end processor suitable for basic Internet surfing and tasks like word processing. But if you want to do Photoshop or video editing, you need a four- or five-star machine.

"Admittedly, there's some training and some understanding that has to go on here," Intel spokesman Bill Calder said. "Do not assume that this is dollars or pure performance rating.

"The stars are based on features and capabilities," he added. "Even though the Core i7 is obviously five stars, we don't want it to be one to one comparison, more stars equals more performance. It's based on capabilities and features, like cache, bus speed, and clock frequency."

As a result, one star is where you will find the low-end Pentium processor and Celerons, the mid-range is the Core 2 line, and five stars is the Core i7 desktop parts. Atom-based systems are not part of the stars rating system, however.

The revised badges will remain largely unchanged from Intel's traditional "Intel Inside" logo. Under the new plan, the badges become a little larger, feature the Core brand name and use multiple colors to differentiate the brands.

Industry watchers said rethinking Intel's traditional labeling scheme may be a good idea.

"I don't necessarily have a problem with that," Stephen Baker, vice president of research for NPD Group, told "One of the problems we have with PCs is they are not very well segmented, in that consumers think every PC can do everything. So the idea that we need to find some way to further segment them is pretty good."

Still, the right approach is to base the stars on an application and activity base, Baker added.

"Is this a good PC for photo editing? Is this a good PC for gaming? That's the way that the market needs to move if we want to move away from dumping price on everybody," he said.

But he also warned, "it only works if it's everywhere. It starts to fall apart if there are retailers or OEMs who don't want to participate in this sort of thing."

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