Which CPU Should You Buy? Intel Core i5 vs i7. What is intel core i5

There are only a few applications that still use a single thread or computer core. Most applications use all threads and CPU cores to keep them running smoothly and efficiently.

Intel Core i3 vs i5 vs i7: Which CPU Should You Buy?

Confused by the differences between Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors? Here’s what you need to know in layman’s terms and what processor to buy.

The processor is the brain of a computer, but understanding the difference between processors takes a lot of your mind. Unfortunately, Intel has a confusing naming scheme and the most frequently asked question is: What is the difference between i3, i5, or i7 processors? Which processor should i buy?

Time to demystify that. Read on to find out about the difference between Intel Core i5 and Core i7, is Core i3 good, and whether you should buy Intel Core i9.

The Differences Between Core i7, Core i5, and Core i3

Intel Core i7 is better than Core i5 which in turn is better than Core i3. The trouble is knowing what to expect at each level. Things go a little deeper.

First of all, Core i7 is not a seven-core processor! These are just names that indicate relative performance.

The older Intel Core i3 series only had dual-core processors, but the newer generations have a mix of dual-core and quad-core processors.

A similar story applies to older Intel Core i5 processors. Older generations of Intel Core i5 processors had a mix of dual-core and quad-core processors, but later generations typically have a quad-core or even six-core (six) configuration, as well as faster overclocking than the Core i3.

The latest generations of Intel Core i7 processors include quad-core, six-core and eight-core (eight) configurations. Again, Intel Core i7 processors outperform their Core i5 counterparts and are significantly faster than Core i3 core processors.

Quad-core is usually better than dual-core, six-core better than quad-core etc, but this isn’t always accurate depending on your CPU generation – more on these differences in a moment.

Intel releases “families” of chipsets called generations. At the time of this writing, Intel has released the 11th generation series called Rocket Lake. Each family, in turn, has its own line of processors from the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 series. The latest generations of processors are at a different level than Core i7, Intel Core i9.

The Intel Core i9 series is a line of Intel products with extreme performance. Most Core i9 processors are octa-core and have very high clock speeds, so they can run at a very high level for a long time. They can also come with a larger CPU cache than their counterparts for higher overall performance.

How to Tell Which Intel CPU Generation Is Which?

You can tell which generation the processor belongs to from the first digits of the four- or five-digit model name. For example, Intel Core i7-11700K belongs to the 11th generation.

For a long time, a useful rule about Intel processor model names was that the remaining three digits were Intel’s evaluation of how the processor compares to others on its own line. For example, Intel Core i3-8145U is better than Core i3-8109U because 145 is higher than 109.

This rule still applies, but is not always as easy to follow as it used to be, as there are several other product line modifiers that can be found in the model number. However, “The higher SKU under identical processor brands and generations will generally have more features,” according to Intel’s naming conventions guide.

Moreover, this change is another reason why it is advisable to compare processors between generations using the model number alone as Intel is making fixes.

Starting with the Cinebench R23, it turns out that the 12600K is in a completely different league than the 5600X, delivering 63% more performance to even beat the 5800X. We are also looking at an improvement of 61% over the 11,600K which is impressive even considering the 23% increase in price.

How Many Cores Is Enough?

Simply put, a system equipped with a Core i5 will be less expensive than a computer equipped with a Core i7 if everything else is equal. But in most cases, if you compare apples to apples (i.e a desktop chip with a desktop chip, or a laptop chip with a laptop chip, and the same generation to the same generation), the Core i5 will have less or limited capabilities. A Core i7 will typically be better for multitasking, multimedia editing and creation, advanced games, and similar demanding tasks. Often, however, the price difference will be small, so it’s worth experimenting with the online configurator of any computer you buy to see if you can afford a machine with a Core i7 processor.

When you use software that can use as many cores as possible (modern authoring programs like the ones in Adobe Creative Suite are excellent examples), the more cores you have in your CPU, the faster it will do.

Most of the latest Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors have four or more cores, which we consider to be the best place for most users. Many of the latest Core i5 and Core i7 desktop models have six cores, and several ultra-high-end gaming PCs are equipped with eight-core Core i7. Meanwhile, a few very energy-efficient Core i5 and Core i7 laptop processors only have two. You’ll find them mostly in ultra-thin laptops.

The same strict core nomenclature has been used in many generations of Intel processors. To make sure you are buying a system with the latest generation processor, look for the Core ix-11xxx or Core ix-10xxx naming structure. Some processors designed for thin or popular laptops have a “U” or “Y” added to the end of the model name, while others have a “G” followed by a number that signifies the graphics processing capabilities of the chip. Chips designed for laptops with power supply usually have a “H” or “HK” ending; and those intended for desktop computers end with “K” or “T” (or just end with zero).

Unless you shop in the used PC market, you’ll find eighth and ninth generation (or earlier) Core i5 and i7 chips in end-of-life / retirement systems and some budget PCs, while you’ll find 10 and 11th generation chips in most new models . General guide if you don’t want to go too deep: For better performance within each generation and each class (Core i5 or Core i7), buy a processor with a higher model number. For example, Intel Core i7-1065G7 generally has better performance than Intel Core i7-1060G7.

A Quick Word on Cache

In addition to generally higher base clock speeds, Core i7 processors have a larger amount of cache (memory installed on the chip) to help the processor cope with repetitive tasks or frequently used data faster. If you are editing and calculating spreadsheets, your CPU should not reload the structure where the numbers are. This information will be cached, so when you change the number, the calculations are almost instantaneous. Larger cache sizes also help with multitasking as background tasks will be ready to switch focus to another window.

The cache size is not a make-or-break specification, but it illustrates progress from generation to generation and from family to family. The latest Core i5 and Core i7 processors for laptops have a cache of 16MB or less.

The latest generations of Intel Core i7 processors include quad-core, six-core and eight-core (eight) configurations. Again, Intel Core i7 processors outperform their Core i5 counterparts and are significantly faster than Core i3 core processors.

i5 vs i7 on the desktop

Bill Roberson / digital trends

Except for a few early processors in Intel’s current branding scheme, the i5 typically doesn’t support hyper-threading. More threads were reserved for the more expensive i7s and i9s. However, to remain competitive with AMD Ryzen chips, Intel has decided to bring hyperthreading down to i5s and even i3s with 10th Gen Comet Lake processors.

Fortunately, Intel continued this trend with the 11th Gen Rocket Lake platform. There are currently three major i5s: the i5-11600, 11500 and 11400. Each step down is a bit worse, so the 11600 outperforms Intel’s current i5 lineup, while the 11400 is at the bottom.

Each of these processors comes in many varieties. For example, 11600K is unlocked for overclocking while 11400F has no integrated graphics. You can infer the processor characteristics from the suffix. You can learn about Intel’s naming scheme in our processor buying guide.

The 11600K has six cores and 12 threads, with a TDP of 125 watts. It has a base clock of 3.9 GHz and a boost clock of 4.9 GHz. With these specifications, the 11600K is a powerful gaming processor and sufficiently capable of running applications like Photoshop and Premiere.

Rocket Lake only has one i7 chip: the i7-11700. Like the i5s, this processor comes in several varieties with different features. If you are purchasing a desktop computer, look for the 11700K model. It should be the most readily available chip and it supports overclocking.

11700K has slightly more juice than 11600K. It has eight cores and 16 threads, a 3.6 GHz base clock and a 5 GHz boost clock. It is rated at 125-watt TDP, although the CPU can draw significantly more power when pressed or if you unlock its power limits in the BIOS for higher constant clock speeds.

Of all the current desktop offerings, we recommend the i5-11600K the most. It represents great value, with enough power for gaming and light production tasks. The i7-11700K itself is not a bad processor. It just doesn’t improve much compared to the previous generation, while exaggerating the power and heat requirements.

If you’re interested in the i7, the last generation i7-10700K is better. It is cheaper than the 11th generation counterpart, you can use a cheaper motherboard, and it offers a similar level of performance.

i5 vs i7 on laptops

Bill Roberson / digital trends

Intel currently offers its Tiger Lake processors for thin and light laptops. These chips pack as much power as possible while keeping energy and temperature requirements low.

The composition is quite simple. There are two i5 processors, the i5-1130G7 and the 1135G7, each with four cores and eight threads. Likewise, there are three i7 processors – i7-1160G7, i7-1165G7, and i7-1185G7 – and they all have the same number of cores and threads as the i5. The difference: each CPU has a slightly different boost clock, starting at 4.0 GHz on the i5-1130G7 and ending at 4.8 GHz on the i7-1185G7.

Intel offers some variations of each of these processors for system builders and some use cases. The company expanded its Tiger Lake range in early 2021 to the i7-1180G7, i5-1145G7 and i5-1140G7 models. Like other chips, the only thing that separates these processors is clock speed.

In addition to thin and light laptops, Intel has its own Tiger Lake H35 chips. “H” stands for high performance, while “35” stands for 35W TDP. The best of this group is the i7-11375H which has four cores, eight threads and a 5GHz boost clock, the i7-11370H is identical, only with a lower clock frequency.

Intel offers one high-performance i5 in this series: the i5-11300H. It has less cache than the i7s and has a lower clock rate, although it still has four cores and eight threads.

As with desktop chipsets, Core i7 processors tend to be much more expensive. If you buy a Surface Book 2, for example, a Core i7 processor can cost up to $ 500 extra in an identical configuration.

The downside to the cache size change – from 8MB on i5s to 12MB on i7s – these two ranges are mostly the same. Higher clock rates are better, but much less can be dealt with (especially considering how much more expensive i7s in mobile setups can be). However, if you have the extra cash, the 11th Gen i7 is a great option. The i7-1185G7 uses the same amount of energy as the i5-1135G7, and at the same time boasts a higher clock speed in boost mode, making it ideal for efficient thin and light laptops.

The older Ice Lake chips from Intel are also worth mentioning. They are based on the same 10nm process as the newer generation Tiger Lake chips and were a major graphics upgrade over the 8th generation, but they can’t match the Xe Tiger Lake graphics. Overall computing performance isn’t much inferior to it, though, so if you’re looking to save some money, opting for a higher-tier Ice Lake CPU over the Tiger Lake alternative might be a good way to stay on a budget.

To make things even more confusing, Intel also offers the 10th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 Comet Lake chips. Overall computing performance is much higher than Ice Lake’s due to the higher clock speeds, but graphics performance is poorer again.

If you’re not interested in gaming, these slightly older chips can save you a few bucks (especially if you’re browsing the used market). However, Tiger Lake processors feature new Intel Xe graphics. Integrated graphics aren’t ideal for gaming, and Xe doesn’t change that. However, Intel is much closer to matching the entry-level gaming laptops with the Xe, coming closer to 60fps at medium settings in games like Battlefield V and Civilization VI.

To make things even more confusing, Intel also offers the 10th Gen Core i5 and Core i7 Comet Lake chips. Overall computing performance is much higher than Ice Lake’s due to the higher clock speeds, but graphics performance is poorer again.

Test system specs

Our test system consists of a high airflow Corsair 5000X chassis with all fans and liquid cooler operating in iCUE “balanced” profiles to ensure realistic performance tests for the average user. In our testing, we used Windows 11 as directed by Intel to align with Thread Director technology, which improves the use of the hybrid core design. We tested the new operating system and found it to be relatively stable and similar in performance to Windows 10, so we decided to use it in this review. At the time of this writing, the system also uses the latest BIOS version available from ASUS, Nvidia drivers, Windows 11 build,compilation of games / applications and updated firmware of related components.

For basic power and frequency settings, we allowed ASUS ROG motherboard to supply 150W or more CPU on demand, enabled ASUS AI auto-OC utility, enabled XMP 3.0 in Corsair Vengeance DDR5 memory, enabled Resizable BAR, set Windows Power plan to performance and select “Prefer maximum performance” for ASUS TUF RTX 3060 Ti OC in the Nvidia Control Panel. All other settings were set to default or automatic.

“> The case “> Corsair iCUE 5000X
“> Processor “> Intel Core i5-12600K
“> Motherboard “> ASUS ROG Z690 Strix-E Wifi
“> Memory “> Corsair Vengeance DDR5 4800 64 GB
“> Graphics card “> ASUS TUF RTX 3060 Ti OC 8GB
“> Power adapter “> be quiet! Pure Power 11 FM 750W
“> Storage “> WD Blue SATA SSD (OS), WD Black SN850 PCIe 4.0 SSD, Samsung 870 QVO SATA SSD
“> CPU cooler “> Corsair H100i Elite LCD 240mm CLC (with Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut thermal paste)

The software can also easily distort performance data, so we organized a basic profile of what our test system looks like. It’s an everyday system, but we tried to disable all unnecessary programs and background processes before collecting the data. We intentionally left a few common gaming applications and background processes to simulate common use cases. These include Windows 11 Critical Applications, Google Chrome Quad Instance, Corsair iCUE, Adobe Creative Cloud, ASUS Armory Crate Lite, Essential Related Game Launcher, and Discord.

The 12600K also matched the performance of the 5800X in this test, and we can see that the overall system utilization is more or less the same. So the energy efficiency of Alder Lake is better than we initially thought.

What do the numbers and letters at the end of Intel processors mean?

This is where things get a bit confusing, and that’s where Intel’s naming convention hides just how powerful the laptop is.

When finding out what type of processor your computer has, refer to the full specs to see the exact processor model. This has a big impact on how powerful your computer will be.

For example, a computer labeled as having a “Core i5” processor may have any number of different specifications.

Taking the example of the Core i5, your computer may have any of the following, as well as many others: Core i5-7400, Core i5 7600K, Core i5 7300U, Core i5-7500HQ, Core i5-7400T, and Core i5 7Y57. The trend also applies to the i3 and i7 chips.

Note the different four-digit number and final letter (or Y in one case). This is the last letter (suffix) that gives you the most information about the type of processor you’re looking at.

  • No suffix: This is a standard desktop processor, typically with quad cores and high clock speed, providing excellent everyday performance and the ability to quickly edit videos and photos.
  • T suffix: Found in smaller desktops and AIO computers. These chips are functionally the same as those without the suffix and have the same number of cores but with a slower clock speed.
  • K suffix: The highest performance processor found in a computer that can be purchased on the street. Similar to a chip without the suffix but generally with a higher clock frequency. These circuits can be tweaked by those with technical knowledge.
  • Suffix U: “Ultra” low power. These chips generally have two cores (although newer models now have four cores) and are among the slowest Core i-branded processors. These chips are often found in cheaper AIO computers and in many laptops. They may be suitable for photo and video editing, but are much slower when performing tasks such as exporting files to disk. If you’re looking for a photo editing machine, go for the Core i5 or even try stretching to the i7.
  • HQ Suffix: Typically found in powerful laptops and usually equipped with four cores. Perfect for video and photo editing, but cuts battery life and portability.
  • Center Y: Y are the lowest power tokens you can find. They are not suitable for photo or video editing, but will be suitable for lighter tasks. The advantage of choosing one of them is very good performance for lighter tasks, combined with a longer battery life. Laptops using this chip tend to have fanless designs which means they are completely silent and very thin.

Generational numbers

There is one more complication when choosing a processor. The first digit after the dash indicates which generation your CPU comes from. The higher the number, the newer it is. From 2018, the latest generation is the 8th gen.

  • Core i5-7200U: Dual Core, Maximum Speed ​​3.1GHz
  • Core i5-8250U: Quad Core, Maximum Speed ​​3.4GHz

This is important when choosing a processor for a laptop, because from the 8th generation onwards the “U” chips now have four cores instead of two. If you have a choice of the seventh and eighth generations and the price difference is small, opting for a newer model is a good choice.

In April 2018, Intel announced the Intel Core i3 +, i5 + and i7 +. This new naming convention shows when an Intel Optane SSD drive is installed in your computer. Optane checks which files and programs you use the most and transfers them to an ultrafast SSD for better performance. You don’t have to manage it yourself; this is done completely automatically and doesn’t affect where you find your files on your computer.

Higher clock speed: Intel’s dual-core mobile Core i7 chips typically have higher clock rates than their Core i5 counterparts, even at the same TDP.

Application Benchmarks

Starting with the Cinebench R23, it turns out that the 12600K is in a completely different league than the 5600X, delivering 63% more performance to even beat the 5800X. We are also looking at an improvement of 61% over the 11,600K which is impressive even considering the 23% increase in price.

Single-core performance was also exceptional, beating the 5600X and 11600K by 26% margin, a huge increase in generation. It also means the 12600K should comfortably beat 5600X for both multi-core and single-core workloads.

That said, the 12600K and 5600X are evenly matched in the 7-zip file manager compression test, although this was one of the underperformance we saw for the 12th generation when looking at 12700KF and 12900K, so it’s not a surprise.

When it comes to decompression efficiency, the 12600K and 5600X are also tied, meaning the new Core i5 processor was 23% slower than 12700KF.

The 12600K proves to be in a completely different league, offering 48% more performance than the Ryzen 5 5600X as it only took 86 seconds to complete rendering, exactly the same time it took 5800X. As we said before, with the 12600K you really do get a higher level of performance.

For content creators, the 12600K offers exceptional value, delivering almost 40% more performance than 5600X, and even surpasses 5800X by 16% margin. We’re also only talking about a 13% performance drop over the 12700K, which is exceptional value over Intel’s latest Core i5 part.

Then we have Adobe Photoshop, and here the 12600K was 11% faster than the 5600X and was able to match up to 5800X. The Intel Core i5 portion was also only 7% slower than the 12700KF, so the 12600K seems to be the best price / performance point for Intel’s 12th generation lineup.

We can see that the 12600K still dominates the 5600X in After Effects, delivering 17% faster performance and that was enough to see it beat the 5800X with a 5% margin. We are looking at 12700K performance levels making the 12600K one of the fastest desktop processors for this workload.

Factorio is a simulation game that we put next to the app as we don’t measure frames per second but rather updates per second. This automated benchmark calculates the time it takes to run 1000 updates. This is a single-threaded test that appears to rely heavily on cache capacity.

The new Core i5 performs exceptionally well here compared to the 5600X, 5800X, and especially its predecessor, the 11600K, which is beaten by a 27% margin. Moreover, it was only 6% slower than 12700KF.

Gaming Performance

It’s time for the most important game tests, and we’ll start with F1 2021. For all game tests we’re using the Radeon RX 6900 XT with lowered 1080p quality settings. The 12600K allowed an average of 373fps at the 1% low of 260fps in this racing simulation. Compared to the 5600X, we think the 12600K is a mixed bag offering 5% stronger 1% low, with 5% lower average frame rate. Overall, the performance of these two processors is pretty much the same, along with the 5800X and 12700KF.

Moving on to the Rainbow Six Siege, the 12600K is less impressive despite still hitting almost 400fps at an average frame rate of 511fps. The 5600X is 10% faster, although it’s hard to say how much that matters considering all the processors tested here were able to hit extreme frames per second.

The 5600X and 12600K provided essentially identical performance in Borderlands 3, dividing them no more than 2 fps. Both came close to extracting the highest possible fps from the 6900 XT under these testing conditions, so needless to say the performance was excellent.

Moving on to Watch Dogs: Legion, we find again that the 5600X and 12600K are evenly matched when playing, this time around the Intel CPU was faster by a tiny 3% margin.

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is heavily limited in its GPU with these high-end CPUs, despite the fact we’re testing at 1080p with an extremely fast graphics card. However, we believe that such results should be considered because despite unrealistic testing conditions aimed at emphasizing CPU performance, it turns out that the game is still very GPU limited, which should be noted as the vast majority of games available will be limited by the GPU using relatively efficient processor. In any case, considering the 5600X and 12600K are both capable of getting the most out of the GPU, the performance is basically the same when using both CPUs.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s results are much more interesting as it is a CPU-intensive title and, like F1 2021, the results are mixed. 12600K was 4% faster than 5600X when measuring average frames per second, but 5% slower for 1% low. Even so, the performance was pretty much the same, and you surely won’t notice any difference between the two processors.

Hitman 3 is also very CPU intensive, but again, if you have a 6-core / 12-thread CPU from the last few generations, you have enough processing power to avoid frame stuttering at well over 100fps for 1% low. In that case, the 12600K smashed it at 166fps for 1% low and average 192fps making it 4% faster than 5600X.

Where the Core i5-12600K really excels is in Age of Empires 4, where it’s almost 20% faster than the 5600X, which is a major performance benefit. It also meant that the new Core i5 part was a little faster than the 5800X and 11700K.

This can be seen as a tilt of things in AMD’s favor when it comes to value rather. Before the Alder Lake release, I didn’t even recommend the 5600X as it doesn’t have a great $ 300 price tag. In our opinion, it must be closer to $ 250 or less now that Intel has much tougher competition and hints of price cuts are already emerging.

Mobile Core i5 vs. Mobile Core i7 (7th Generation and Previous)

Mobile users have three different options to choose from, which confuses it a bit. There are previous-generation Core M chips, as well as Core i7 and i5 processors. Core M chips are limited to the m3 family – Intel took what was once a separate brand and instead folded them into the Core i7 and Core i5 families. This creates situations similar to the one shown below.

The two chips look similar, with the same cache, almost the same clock frequency, and similar GPUs – but they have different operational TDPs, and therefore offer a different user experience. We can’t talk exactly about how different the differences are without test equipment, but earlier systems showed significant differences depending on OEM design and thermal constraints. Core M was introduced in 2014, but it never sold particularly well – OEMs often equip processors with aggressive high-definition displays and an extremely thin body, leading to mediocre battery life.

Core i5 is in a similar situation:

If you’re looking at a Core i5 from Core M, we strongly recommend that you do your homework and check out reviews of specific systems. Core M systems may provide better battery life than their i5 / i7 counterparts, but this will depend on the specifics of the manufacturer. Remember that high-definition screens and ultra-thin systems with limited battery life will cost you the same energy savings as you can get with a lower TDP processor – probably more now, as high-end chips are consuming less and less energy.

Another important difference we want to discuss is the difference between the 7th Generation Core i7 and i5 cores on mobile devices. Prior to Skylake (6th generation), almost all Intel chips in mobile devices were dual-core below the Core i7 level. There are several sixth and seventh generation Core i5 mobile parts that offer four cores without Hyper-Threading support as shown below:


The difference between these three cores is that one of them supports Intel Iris Pro graphics while the other two only support Intel HD graphics. The Iris Pro 580 is the only Intel Core i5 processor with 128 MB of EDRAM. If you need a mobile processor with top-notch graphics and a quad-core processor, this is the Core i5 you want to buy.

Outside of these three cores, the general rule still applies. Most mobile Core i5 processors and all Core i3 processors are dual-core processors with Hyper-Threading technology. Here are the features that separate Core i5 and Core i7 mobile processors in 7th generation and below processors:

More Cores: Many Intel Core i7 processors are quad-core and Hyper-Threading enabled. It’s not universal, however, and the company offers several dual-core SKUs + Hyper-Threading.

Higher clock speed: Intel’s dual-core mobile Core i7 chips typically have higher clock rates than their Core i5 counterparts, even at the same TDP.

More cache: Core i7 chips support 6MB or 4MB cache. Core i5 chips work here. Older (pre-Broadwell) chips are often 3MB, while Skylake and Kaby Lake chips are sometimes 4-6MB. The extra cache has only a minor performance impact.

Which CPU Should You Buy?

If you are looking at the mobile market, we recommend the newer 8th generation quad-core processor instead of the dual-core processor. On the other hand, if you’re in the desktop chip market, the decision is quite simple. Gamers and enthusiasts looking to balance high core counts and frequencies with a price tag of under $ 300 should find new Core i5 chips in their place. Only those looking for inexpensive workstation performance or similar demanding applications will benefit from the Core i7-8700K, but those workloads will be faster on Intel’s 8th Gen Coffee Lake than on any previous part. HEDT customers with older Westmere equipment should benefit greatly from these improvements.

Check out our ExtremeTech Explains series for more detailed information on today’s hottest technical topics.

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