Which CPU should I buy? Intel Core i5 vs. Intel Core i7

For many consumers looking for a new desktop PC or laptop, one of the most important considerations is the type of processor that the system should have. Two of the CPU families most often in conflict with traditional systems are Intel Core i5 and Intel Core i7. And this makes the choice difficult because the two series have a lot in common.

The differences between Intel's key processor families are clearer when looking at the Core i3 (which is mainly found in cheap systems) or the Core i9 (powerful CPUs for content creation and other high-performance scenarios). The differences between Core i5 and Core i7 may seem subtle and more nuanced, especially when the prices of a Core i5 compared to a Core i7 PC can sometimes be so close.

There is not always a clear and definitive answer to which is the best solution in a given situation and often depends only on your budget. But knowing the essentials of each can help you make a smarter choice. Let's analyze the key differences between Core i5 and Core i7.

Read also: Updated MSI Notebook Series with 9th Generation Intel Processors

How many cores are enough?

In a nutshell, a Core i5-equipped system will be less expensive than a Core i7-equipped PC if everything else is the same. 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 with the same generation), the Core i5 will have less or dial -down, functionality.

A Core i7 will typically be better for multitasking, editing and multimedia content creation, high-end games and similar workloads.

Often, however, the price difference will be small, so it's worth playing with the online configurator of any PC you're buying to see if you can afford a Core i7 machine. (At the moment, for example, the difference is less than € 100 for the Dell XPS 13.)

Read also: Guide to buying a SSD

When using software that can take advantage of as many cores as possible (modern programs for creating content, such as those of the Adobe suite, are excellent examples), the greater the number of cores in the CPU, the faster it will be.

In addition, the ability of each core to handle more than one processing thread simultaneously is an added benefit. (That ability, called Hyper-Threading, is not a fact)

Almost all 8th and 9th generation Intel Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs (similar desktop and laptop varieties) have at least four cores, which is what we consider the weak point for most mainstream users.

Many late-model Core i5 and Core i7 desktops have six cores and some high-end gaming PCs come with eight-core Core i7. In the meantime, some Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs for ultra-low power laptops only have two.

The same rough Core nomenclature has been used for several generations of Intel CPUs, all with four-digit model names (such as the Intel Core i7-8700). To make sure you buy a system with a newer generation processor, look for Core i x- 8 xxx or Core i x -9 xxx naming structure.

Most CPUs designed for thin or mainstream laptops have a "U" or "Y" added to the end of the model name; chips designed for portable laptops tend to end in "H" or "HK", and those intended for desktops have a "K" or "T" at the end (or end with a zero).

Intel releases a new generation practically every year and in a little while we will start to see the 10th generation chips for laptops (nicknamed "Ice Lake" and Comet Lake "). Expect some small changes to the name structure, but all the chips announced so far have a "10" in the top position: Core i x- 10 xx x.

Unless you are buying from the used PC market, you will find 7th generation or earlier Core i5 and i7 chips in end-of-life/closeout systems and some cheap PCs, while you will find 8th and 9th generation chips in most new ones. PC.

The rough guide, if you don't want to go too deep: to get better performance within each generation and within each class (Core i5 or Core i7), buy a processor with a higher model number. (For example, an Intel Core i7-8550U generally performs better than an Intel Core i5-8250U.) But we recommend that you also take a look at key features such as Hyper-Threading.

A quick word about the cache

In addition to generally higher base clock speeds, Core i7 processors have a larger amount of cache (chip memory) to help the processor handle repetitive or frequently accessed tasks that are accessed more quickly.

If you are editing and calculating spreadsheets, your CPU should not reload the framework where the numbers are located. This information will remain in the cache, so when you change a number, the calculations are almost instantaneous.

The larger cache sizes also help with multitasking, as background tasks will be ready when you move focus to another window.

The size of the cache is not a specific make-or-break but illustrates the progress from generation to generation and from family to family. On desktop processors of the last two generations at this time, Core i5 CPUs have 9 MB of L3 cache, while Core i7 processors have 12 MB.

Turbo Boost and HyperThreading

Turbo Boost is an overclocking feature that Intel has integrated into its processors for many generations. In essence, it allows some of the chip cores to run faster than their base clock speed when only one or two of the cores are needed (such as when performing a single-threaded activity).

Both Core i5 and Core i7 processors use Turbo Boost, with Core i7 processors generally reaching higher clock speeds.

Each chip will have a nominal base and will increase the clock speed, and while higher is generally better (again: everything else is the same), it depends on the specific design and cooling of the PC how long a chip can sustain its thrust speed, how high and on how many cores. That's where performance testing comes in.

Intel Hyper-Threading, by contrast, is a feature that it has or does not have. It uses multithreading technology to make the operating system and applications think that a processor has more cores than it actually has. Hyper-Threading technology is used to increase performance on multithreaded activities, allowing each core to target two processing threads simultaneously instead of just one.

The simplest multithreaded situation is a user running multiple programs simultaneously, but other tasks can take advantage of hyper-threading under certain conditions, such as creating multimedia content and editing work (especially transcoding and rendering, where the software supports multithreading) and sometimes web browsing (loading different elements of the page, such as videos and images, simultaneously).

In general, like all others, a CPU that supports hyper-threading in a given family will be more capable than one that does not, if what you do every day is heavily influenced by this functionality.

This is also true among Core families, which means it might be better, if your software relies heavily on multithreading, choose a four-core chip with Hyper-Threading over a six-core equivalent without.

When buying PCs, unfortunately, it is not always easy to find information on the number of cores, or on the presence or absence of Hyper-Threading support, in the list of specifications of a PC supplier. If you can find the exact model number of the chip, connect it to Intel's ARK specification database, which will show the clock speed, the number of cores, Hyper-Threading support and much more.

Understanding of integrated graphics

Most laptops with Core processors that are not gaming machines are based on what is known as Intel HD or UHD Graphics, the names of Intel for its silicon in the integrated graphics acceleration that is part of the CPU matrix. (Gaming machines and some high-end systems have their own dedicated graphics chips.)

Some laptops and desktops come with updated Intel Iris or Iris Plus graphics options, which are still integrated into the CPU, but have a small amount of dedicated memory for additional performance.

Integrated graphics save energy, as there is no additional graphics chip on the laptop or desktop motherboard. Intel HD / UHD graphics solutions are designed for primary productivity and visualization work (including multi-display) and are suitable for such activities.

Where they fall are with demanding PC games or with tasks that require GPU acceleration in addition to CPU muscle, such as some specialized, heavy and rendering and scientific applications.

The same numerical rules apply here, so Intel Iris Plus 650 typically performs better than Intel UHD Graphics 630, which offers better performance than Intel HD Graphics 510. That said, if you're looking at integrated graphics within a generation and even from one generation to the next up or down, the differences in performance, particularly between the styles of HD and UHD graphics, are modest.

Note that while these integrated Intel graphics processors will allow you to play some recent games with low quality and resolution settings (how much it varies, depending on the game), you will definitely need a discrete graphics card from AMD or Nvidia to play. to 3D games with 1080p, 1440p or 4K resolutions with the quality settings raised.

Core X-Series and Core Y Mobile

The Intel Core X-Series desktop processor family, introduced in 2017, is aimed at high-performance users such as extreme gamers and video editors. The Core i7-7820X processor, for example, has eight cores and, thanks to its Hyper-Threading support, it can process 16 threads simultaneously.

Most of these chips are sold for well over € 500 (some even cost € 2,000!) And it is so much for the majority of occasional or even mainstream users who carry out activities such as productivity work, web browsing, and even for serious PC gamers.

These CPUs are positioned as high-performance hardware for 3D rendering, mathematical calculations on large data sets, 4K video processing, game development and, to some extent, high-end games (with multiple video cards).

You can safely ignore the Core i5 CPUs (now low and not recommended) and the Core i7 X series and opt instead for a normal desktop Core CPU. There is no equivalent to the Core X series for laptops.

At the other far end of the spectrum are Intel Core Y series processors for laptops. They are aimed at extremely thin and light ultra-portable laptops such as the aforementioned Swift 5. In recent generations, these chips, like the Core i5-8310Y, consume only 7 watts of power and generate very little heat, which can eliminate the need for a fan of cooling.

In our tests, the newer Core i5 and Core i7 Y series chips are comparable to higher power (15 watts) Core i5 and i7 processors in some daily activities, but are a little slower when performing heavy multitasking or perform multimedia editing or creation activities such as Handbrake and Adobe Photoshop. The difference between a Y series and a U series chip can be as great as the difference between a Core i5 and a Core i7.

Make the choice

On the desktop, Intel's Core i5 is aimed at mainstream, value-conscious users who care about performance, while the Core i7 is made for enthusiasts and high-end users.

On the portable side, it's a little more blurry; there, we advise you to see more if Hyper-Threading is supported by a given chip and how many cores the chip has, as well as how a chip performs independent tests in a given laptop configuration. The way the laptop manufacturer implements a chip and cools it down can be as important as it is a CPU feature.

It is good advice for traditional buyers. On top of that, only extreme users should consider the Intel Core X-Series desktop and only people for whom the weight and portability of a laptop is important above all else should consider the Y Series.

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