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Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 – Which one is right for you?

Daniel Brown (Customer Service)

Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 – Which one is right for you?

Posted on August 17, 2012 by Daniel Brown

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Update 6/4/2013: Looking for information on the newer Haswell CPUs? Check out our updated Haswell Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 - Which is right for you? article!


UPDATED JAN 11,2013

With each new generation of Intel processors, the answer to this question gets more complex.  There are currently three distinct product lines including processors named ‘Core i5’, three product lines including processors named ‘Core i3’, and a whopping five distinct lines including processors with the ‘Core i7’ name.*  Probably the best way to approach it is to ignore the i3, i5 or i7 moniker and just go by model number to determine whether you’re looking at the most current processors.
*For this article, we’re ignoring mobile processor lines, like those used in notebook PCs.

Which are the current models?
The two current product lines using the i3, i5, and i7 names are the 3220-3770 ‘Ivy Bridge’ models and the 3820-3960 ‘Sandy Bridge E’ models.  A chart might help us visualize this:
 

Legend:
Current technology
Core i3 Core i5 Core i7
1st Generation Code name: Clarkdale
Model numbers: 530-560
Socket: 1156
Code name: Lynnfield
Model numbers: 650-760
Socket: 1156
Code name: Lynnfield
Model numbers: 860-880
Socket: 1156
1st Generation
enthusiast line
    Code name: Bloomfield/Gulftown
Model numbers: 920-990
Socket: 1366
2nd generation Code name: Sandy Bridge
Model numbers: 2100-2130
Socket:1155
Code name: Sandy Bridge
Model numbers: 2300-2550
Socket: 1155
Code name: Sandy Bridge
Model numbers: 2600-2700
Socket: 1155
2nd-generation
enthusiast line
    Code name: Sandy Bridge-E
Model numbers: 3820-3970
Socket: 2011
3rd generation Code name: Ivy Bridge
Model numbers: 3220-3240
Socket:1155
Code name: Ivy Bridge
Model numbers: 3330-3570
Socket: 1155
Code name: Ivy Bridge
Model numbers: 3770
Socket: 1155

 

Technical comparison

Now that we know which parts are current, let’s get down to the comparison of these current models:

  • Core i3: The Intel Core i3 3220-3240 models are dual-core, built on a 22 nanometer process, they have Hyperthreading(!), but do not have Turbo Boost.  They have built-in graphics processors, most of them using the HD Graphics 2500 architecture (except the 3225 which has HD Graphics 4000).
  • Core i5: The Intel Core i5 3330-3570 models are quad-core, built on the 22 nanometer process (for better power efficiency), they have Turbo Boost technology, but no Hyperthreading.  They have built-in graphics processors based on the HD Graphics 2500 and 4000 architectures.
  • Core i7: The current Intel Core i7 models comprise two different product lines – they require different motherboards and have differing capabilities.  The Core i7 3770 generally fits the same motherboards as the current i3 and i5 models, it’s built with the 22 nm process, has four cores, Hyperthreading, Turbo Boost, and built-in HD Graphics 4000.  It’s also relatively inexpensive when compared with the other current Core i7 chips.  The Core i7 3820-3970 models are the only Core-series chips that fit socket 2011, so there are a full line of motherboards that are designed specifically for these chips.  There are four-core and SIX-core chips in this range, they are built on a 32nm process, they all support Hyperthreading and Turbo Boost, but they do NOT have built-in graphics capability.  There are many other differences between all these models that are beyond the scope of this simplified blog post, but those are some of the main differences.


Non-technical comparison

What does all this mean in practical terms?  It really depends on your application.  The current Intel Core i5 models are generally considered the best price/performance choice for a gaming system, although the Core i7 3770 is a reasonable choice for a gaming system since it’s not a whole lot more expensive.  The Core i3 3220-3240 models can also be used for gaming, but they will start to limit your graphics performance when paired with the highest-end video cards.  The six-core Core i7 3930-3970 models are the best choice for multithreaded CPU-intensive tasks like video rendering and 3D modeling, although the other models can still be good choices for these tasks depending on what type of data you're working with and what types of hardware acceleration your application(s) support.



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Thank you for the article, good information.

I would love to see a chart that shows what benchmark certain programs need to run perfectly smoothly whether it be a game, or photoshop, or reason, or simply the internet, or a combination of programs running together. That would be extremely practical information to decide what I need. Not a minimum requirement, but the requirement for smooth operation, ie, Photoshop CS6 running with the internet and Powerpoint would run perfect with a benchmark of 4000+ ???. I know there are lots of other factors, but it would still be nice to have something like that for real world comparison.

Posted on 2012-08-18 11:31:16

Great information! Looking at the 3rd Generation intel -i7-3770 with 8GB of DDR3-1333 mhz to replace my 1st generation HP, the very first i7 for video editing. Would guess that the money would be better spent on a $200 graphic card upgrade rather than the next level up i7.
A chart would help if you had some level of presentation showing I5 / I7 and then add in with /with out high-end graphics card. It seems to be very dependent on the combination.

Posted on 2012-08-26 21:34:42
Sinn_nn

This is very useful. How would the 3rd generation i3 3220 compare with i5 from a photoshop CS6 usage?

Posted on 2012-12-14 03:30:51

After this post was written, Intel came out with newer Ivy Bridge based Core i3 processors - including the i3 3220 you referenced.  It is a dual-core running at 3.3GHz, so equal to half of a Core i5 3550... except it also has Hyperthreading, giving it a small boost in some applications.  For things like Photoshop, which can be very processor intensive, it is going to come in well behind the CPUs with more cores (like the i5 and i7).  If I had to guess, just off the top of my head, I would expect performance around half of what the Core i7 3770K would get, and maybe about 60-70% of where the i5 chips are.

Posted on 2012-12-14 16:52:53
Racingbubba

will an i3, 8gbs of ram ,550 ti be a good setup ?
 

Posted on 2012-12-16 05:08:07

It all depends on what you would be using it for.  That would be a decent entry to mid-range gaming system, or a perfectly fine general usage computer.  A Core i5 would be better for more demanding needs, though, or some cutting-edge games.

Posted on 2012-12-17 04:20:17
Bob448139

I will only be using my laptop for the internet, email receiving and writing and the occasional letter. Do I need Core i3 or would a smaller processor work

Posted on 2012-12-23 15:16:24

A Core i3 would certainly be plenty, but even an Intel Atom processor (their lowest-end models, designed for tablets and netbooks) would likely work just fine.  

Posted on 2012-12-24 17:46:53
KRISHH

CORE I-5 3570K IS THE GOOD PROCESSOR FOR VFX WORK.
INTEL DQ77MK MOTHER BOARD IS GOOD OR?
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DQ77MK AND MC MOBO..

Posted on 2012-12-27 12:55:08
vikas

What processor I should consider and how much RAM for my work. My work involves running LINUX on base machine and multiple OS through Virtual Machine. Can i consider buying 2nd Gen i3/i5 processor if I am getting second hand or new laptop.
And can you suggest some models. Thank you

Posted on 2013-01-11 06:31:24
Steve

If you're running multiple VMs I recommend i7, 16GB RAM, SSD.. anything else will be very limiting.

I program cross platform applications and have similar requirements.  I use Dell precision M6600 laptop, you can get refurbished ones on ebay for pretty cheap.  

Posted on 2013-01-11 19:12:09
Devpreet

and what about i9? :)

Posted on 2013-01-14 16:45:54

There is no such thing as the Intel Core i9.  It was rumored to be the original, planned name of the six-core processors marketed currently under the i7 name, and I personally think that would have made more sense... but it was never used in that capacity officially.  Perhaps it will still be a model number / product line in the future.

Posted on 2013-01-14 17:08:20
Vesselin Nikolov

I use Toshiba Satellite A100-912+DIMM, Intel(R) Core(TM) 2 CPU T7400, 2.16GHz, 2.00GB of RAM. What processor I should consider and how much RAM, and what video card, for new laptop? I will only be using my laptop for the internet, films, email, but my daughter wants to use for Photoshop running with the internet, Powerpoint and games. What a video card must be combined with the CPU?

Posted on 2013-01-20 08:10:39
Ankur Sinha20

dear will ,  which is the best processor for me between core i3 3rd generation and core i5 second generation whats the differene between it

Posted on 2013-01-25 14:59:26

In both the second and third generations the Core i3 processors are dual-cores, and the Core i5 are quad-cores.  As such, for any application that can benefit from added cores, the i5 would be better - though it is likely to cost a little more as well.  That cost probably won't be huge when looking at the overall price of a while system, though, and because of that the Core i5 is often my go-to recommendation for most people.  In fact, it is what I have in both my main home desktop and my workstation here at Puget :)

Posted on 2013-01-25 20:44:57
Vesselin Nikolov

Dear Will, how many cores has i5-3210M?

Posted on 2013-01-26 20:46:26

Ah, the processors ending in "M" are mobile versions - for laptops - and they are not as powerful as the desktop variants.  To get even more confusing, they also often have less cores.  In the case of the specific model you mentioned, it is a dual-core; I think all the mobile Core i5 chips are, currently.

If you ever have a question about the specs of a given Intel processor, they have a website which gives tons of great info: http://ark.intel.com/

Posted on 2013-01-27 04:15:48
Rahul

Thanks Bob,
this gave a good insight for my laptop buying parameters. I was esp confused between actual benefits of i3, i5 for graphical computational work.. this article cleared up the air.
:-)

Posted on 2013-01-26 18:29:10

Looking at buying a 1st Gen I5-650 3.2Ghz will it be as good 2nd or third gen products ? Not a gamer just alot of work on the web. Multiple windows open with two monitors 4GB ddr3 windows pro. Any advice would be helpful.
Thanks,
scottsiegle 

Posted on 2013-01-30 20:47:19

The first-gen Core processors are quite a bit different from the 2nd and 3rd generation.  For example, most Core i5 desktop processors from that era were only dual-core chips - including the model you mentioned.  Now with that said, for internet and general usage a dual-core is probably just fine... so if you are getting a nice deal on a used system or something that may be just fine :)

Posted on 2013-01-30 21:03:52
Rajesh

Hello! Looking at buying new laptop. My main use will be lot of internet surfing, watching videos including HD on internet, writing receiving sending e-mails, letter writing etc. I need laptop with fast speed. pl. suggest I should go for which processor with how much RAM. I need fast computer. Thanks.  

Posted on 2013-01-31 19:24:02
Adam Brewer

I mainly do web development/ design including limited photo editing, some graphic design (all mainly using the Adobe CS6 Suite). I was wondering which processor you would recommend.

Thanks!

Posted on 2013-02-07 15:43:45

I would suggest either the i5 3570k or the i7 3770k as two good choices. Both are fast quad-core CPUs that would make quick work of Photoshop tasks.

Posted on 2013-02-07 18:03:05

I have two i7 machines, and wouldn't consider anything else. The extra dollars for them were well worth it. They are both about 2 years old, and run just about the way they did when they were new. I have 6 gig on the Laptop and 8 gig on the desktop, and They mainly run with only 4 cores running without hyperthreading unless what you are doing requires the extra power. Doing video processsing, all 8 cores may be running full tilt. The i7s are the best computers that I have ever had. They are both Lenovo, so for a ready made computer, I sure am impressed with them. 8 gig of ram would be my minimum amount purchased. Right now I am using almost 3300 mb out of the 8 gig. That is about 41%. Ram varies a little bit depending on background services required, but the computer just doesn't slow down for lack of resources. a 2 gig or 4 gig machine would probably not run as fast especially if it only had a 2 core processor like the i3 even though it has hyperthreading. I also have a NVIDIA Video card.

Posted on 2013-02-09 02:10:23
partha

i3+2gb graphics card or i5+1gb graphics card?which one should i go for gaming?

Posted on 2013-02-12 13:51:43

The amount of video memory (1GB vs 2GB) isn't what really matters on a video card. You want to look at how powerful the graphics chip on the card is. For example, a GeForce GT 640 with 2GB of memory is less powerful than a GTX 650 with 1GB - at least for gaming. There may be other uses where slower but more RAM is beneficial, but for gaming as long as you have enough video RAM (1GB+ these days) what you want to look at is the speed of the GPU instead.

Now with that said, the i3 vs i5 will depend also on the sort of games you are playing. For most current games, though, the i3 would be sufficient - so if paired with a much faster video card that is the way I would go. Some newer games, and certainly some in the future, will benefit from the added cores on an i5 though... so if the video card performance is comparable, it may be worth going with that instead.

Good luck :)

Posted on 2013-02-12 18:36:04
partha

hello sir...i3+2gb graphics card or i5+1gb graphics card?which one should i go for gaming?

Posted on 2013-02-12 13:54:14

sir what computer specs can u recommend if i want to play the upcoming mmorpgs (multi-client 3 at max) . I dont think ill be needing high end specs. descent performance will be enough. also can u explain how the new cpus (integrated with gpu) work, do they still need another video card? thank u.

Posted on 2013-02-18 06:23:05

If you are looking for a new computer and have questions, I would recommend emailing our sales consultants. Answering all the questions you listed would be a little bit much for a commenting system like this :)

You can reach us at sales@pugetsystems.com

Posted on 2013-02-18 18:43:38
prakashsrinivasn

i3 processor and 4GP ram is correct setup?

Posted on 2013-02-20 06:14:02
GatorAuthor

Is Voice Recognition (Dragon Naturally Speaking 12) CPU-intensive enough to see material benefit from the i7 3770 or i7 39XX? What about the fact that i5 doesn't include hyperthreading?

Posted on 2013-03-11 16:39:22

I don't have direct experience with DNS, but from using other voice recognition programs I would say no: any modern CPU, even just a dual core like the i3, should be fine. Now if you have a lot of other programs running at the same time I think a quad-core (i5 or better) is more logical choice, but nothing inherent about voice recognition needs Hyperthreading or a higher number of cores.

Posted on 2013-03-11 23:29:40
Jason

Hi William, I am looking at the I5-3330 or the I7-3770. They would both have 8GB Ram and 1TB HD. They would also have a decent graphics card so I can operate two monitors. I understand there are a couple I5s in between the two, but most configs don't allow for that.

My question is would I be okay getting by with the I5-3330? I am using it for web, music, light videos (Hulu, YouTube), personal finances and for MBA business school classes. I do not play games, except for online poker.

Thank you for any information you can provide.

Jason

Posted on 2013-03-12 03:41:55

I'm surprised to hear that you don't have options between those - that is unfortunate! There are faster Core i5 chips that aren't much more money at all, and which I consider a better value because of that. I have to assume you are looking at purchasing elsewhere, given the limited choice - so I would encourage checking out our system options too :)

With that said, though, the sort of work you described shouldn't need the Core i7. The clock speed difference, while substantial (500MHz, or about 17%) is also probably not enough to have a serious impact on your work. If the Core i5 saves you much money, or if you can utilize savings from it to get a faster drive - an SSD, if possible - then I'd go that direction.

Posted on 2013-03-12 17:29:28
Jason

Thanks for the quick reply. I did look at your systems and would love to have one of the Obsidian or Serenity systems, but my budget doesn't cover this right now. Hopefully after my MBA! It seems I am kind of limited as I was looking at the Dell 660 or the XPS 8500. Some of the components can be customized, but not too much on the chips. If I look at another provider, which I5 chip would I be better off with? Thanks again for your help!

Posted on 2013-03-12 17:46:58

I think the Core i5 3550 is the best value myself, when available.

Posted on 2013-03-12 18:06:27
gaurang

nice guide!!!!!!!!!!! helped a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!11

Posted on 2013-03-25 11:27:23
Doddy

Hit there mate, just a quick question being that i'm not computer minded, i'm looking for a set-up for a program i use, It's a CAD program Autodesk Revit for architectual drawing i've been told that an i5 system with 8 GB Ram will be enough if you have any other suggestions that would be great.

Posted on 2013-04-27 22:52:28
Aby

Which one 3rd Gen i5 or i7 for a laptop and its specifications recommend from Adobe Suite CS usage? Dont use 3D nor video rendering,... Im still a bit confused here :/ and if someone can give some model/brand laptop recomendation too, please.

Posted on 2013-05-07 16:36:52
Puxe

Hi, I read all the messages but I have a doubt, Im looking a i3 3rd gen or i5 2nd/3rd gen, i will use the laptop for eclipse and matlab mainly, do you think its enough with and i3 processor, thank you.

Posted on 2013-05-09 08:44:21
Sachin.d

Hello,

This is really helpful.

Can you tell me which processor to for ,, i am building a gaming machine.
I have a previous AMD HD7770 1GB DDR5 Graphic card.

But my budget is only 165$ for the processor. !!!
Also, does motherboard have any effect on the overall performance or any motherboard is good.

Posted on 2013-07-09 04:15:23
Mostafa Wael

Thank you very much for this article

I would like to see achart that shows what benchmark certain programs need to run perfectly
smoothly whether it be a game, or photoshop, or reason, or simply the
internet, or a combination of programs running together. That would be
extremely practical information to decide what I need. Not a minimum
requirement, but the requirement for smooth operation, ie, Photoshop CS6
running with the internet and Powerpoint would run perfect with a
benchmark of 4000+ ???. I know there are lots of other factors, but it
would still be nice to have something like that for real world
comparison.

Posted on 2013-07-14 02:09:46
BadarHussain

Hi William, i mainly work on Visual studio, SQL Server and Adobe Photoshop . i want to know whic generation and core suits me . Currently, im using dell n4050 i3 and its pretty slow.. Anxiously waiting for reply ???

Posted on 2013-07-22 00:09:33
Pankaj

Thank you for the article...

Since I am not a techno savvy person, I need your suggestion for me to buy a good laptop.

I am a professional graphic designer. I do work in heavy files specially in photoshop, illustrator, powerpoint etc. and also wants to keep internet on for many sites "at a time!"

So I need a good laptop for my work and also for a gaming experience.
In office I am working on Macbook Pro. But I cant buy it as it is too expensive option for me.
So kindly suggest me a good option.

Awaiting for your reply.

Thanks & best regards,
Pankaj

Posted on 2013-08-06 23:20:32
pallav

dear will
Which should i buy, core i5(3230) without graphic card or core i3(3120) with 1gb (amd 8750m) graphic card?
i will play games sometimes and adobe photoshop

Posted on 2013-09-26 09:33:49
Uday

Which core of intel's is equal to the Apple's A7 processor? I am in the dilemma of purchasing between Surface pro3 vs Ipad Air. Web browsing and gaming are the top priorities.

Posted on 2014-06-04 05:20:52

That is sort of like comparing apples to oranges (sorry, couldn't resist the pun!). The CPUs in the Surface Pro line are all x86, while the ones in the iPad / iPhone are ARM based. There isn't a fair way to compare them since they run very different code. In terms of raw processing power, the chips in the Surface Pro line are faster - but that may not always translate to better browsing. Games are even trickier, since they don't share many titles with which to compare. Sorry I can't help more :/

Posted on 2014-06-04 05:30:04
Juan Hernandez

It is very helpful this article. Thank you very much.

Posted on 2014-07-18 13:48:52
Hal

I have found that women are much more likely to be friendly to us if we have i7 machines because they are fast. Women like fast machines and fast guys, and I am all for women that are fast on the draw! Of course, we guys must remain vigilant not to go to bed with women like this without protection.

Posted on 2014-08-07 01:44:27
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