Several years ago, Intel instituted a new labeling system for its 32nm Core processors. Five generations later, consumers know that Core i3 chips are budget friendly, i5 CPUs are mid-range performers, and i7 processors are at the top end of speed and price.
People purchasing devices with the company's Atom processors inside haven't had the same luck, however. While the chips are generally designed to power tablets, smartphones or small-form-factor PCs -- therefore demanding low power consumption and cheaper pricing and not always requiring speedy processing power -- Intel now has enough of them that it felt compelled to provide a brand classification that mirrors its Core labeling.
The new Atom brand levels comprise the x3, x5, and x7, and just like their i3, i5, and i7 counterparts, they indicate basic, middling, and high performance processing power. The naming convention will start with the next generation of Atom chips, so for now you'll still be stuck trying to figure out which Atom processor is more powerful than another one.
How long you'll have to wait for new Atom processors may be revealed during this week's MWC event. We could also find out how Intel decides to place those chips into its new categories -- i.e., what makes a processor an "x3" instead of an "x5." Will it be determined by the number of cores, or by the type of device the processors will power? At this point, only the "Core M" processor category remains without brand levels, though it's a fairly new design sitting between Atom and the more powerful Core CPUs.