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Haswell Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 - Which is right for you?

Haswell Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 - Which is right for you?

Written on June 2, 2013 by Matt Bach

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Intel has been using the i3, i5, and i7 naming scheme for their CPUs for quite a while now, but what these labels mean tends to slowly change over time as new features are introduced or older ones get replaced. On top of this, the naming scheme between desktop and mobile CPUs is often different as well. In this article, we will go over what differentiates i3, i5, and i7 processors for both mobile and desktop Haswell CPUs.

The biggest thing you need to know in regards to the i3, i5, and i7 naming scheme is that it is primarily a way for Intel to separate their CPUs into three performance tiers:

Intel Core i7: High-end
Intel Core i5: Mainstream
Intel Core i3: Entry-level

There are a few differences in features (notably Hyperthreading, cache size, and number of cores), but as we will show later in this article there is actually very little that differentiates an i5 CPU from an i7 CPU. The biggest thing that this naming scheme gives you is a starting place when choosing a CPU. If you use your computer for basic tasks like surfing the web, then an i3 CPU is likely a great choice. If you use your computer for a variety of tasks that require a bit more power (including gaming), than an i5 CPU might be a better choice. If you run multiple applications that require a lot of CPU power, then an i7 CPU is probably right for you.

Update 9/23/2013: Included the i3 desktop CPUs

Desktop CPUs

  Frequency Turbo Boost Cores Hyperthreading Smart Cache TDW Graphics
Core i7 2.0-3.5GHz 4 8MB 35-84W Intel HD 4600
Core i5 3.0-3.4GHz 4 4-6MB 35-84W Intel HD 4600
Core i3 2.4-3.6GHz 2 3-4MB 35-54W Varies

Overall, the chart above can be summarized with the following:

  1. The CPU frequency and thermal output (TDW) is largely not determined by the Core i_ name
  2. Core i5 and i7 both have Turbo Boost while the i3 does not
  3. Core i5 and i7 CPUs have 4 cores, while i3 CPUs only have 2
  4. Core i5 CPUs lack Hyperthreading
  5. Core i7 CPUs have more Smart Cache than i5 CPUs, which in turn have more cache than i3 CPUs
  6. Core i5 and i7 CPUs have the same graphics, although the speed of that graphics will depend on the individual CPU. Core i3 CPUs have variable graphics depending on the price-point of the CPU.

So while i7 CPUs do have overall better specifications than i5 CPUs, there is actually quite a bit of overlap between the two except that i5 CPUs do not support Hyperthreading. Especially in terms of frequency and thermal output, the two lines really are not very different. For i3 CPUs, the main difference is that they only have two cores, a smaller cache, do not support Turbo Boost and have overall lower thermal output than i5 and i7 CPUs.

Mobile CPUs

  Frequency Turbo Boost Cores Hyperthreading Smart Cache TDW Graphics
Core i7 2.7-3.0 GHz 4 6-8MB 47-57W Intel HD 4600
Core i5
1.5-2.8 GHz 2 3MB 17-57W Intel HD 4600
Core i3
1.4-2.6 GHz 2 3MB 13-45W Intel HD 4600

Currently, there are no Haswell Core i3 or i5 mobile CPUs available for consumers. The values in the chart above are our prediction based on previous generations.

Overall, the chart above can be summarized with the following:

  1. There is a lot of overlap in CPU frequency and thermal output (TDW) between i3, i5 and i7 CPUs. Core i7 CPUs will have a slightly higher top-end frequency and wattage, while i3/i5 CPUs have lower bottom-end frequency and wattage.
  2. All Haswell mobile CPUs released so far have both Turbo Boost and Hyperthreading (although i3 is likey to not support Turbo Boost)
  3. Core i7 CPUs have 4 cores, while i5 and i3 CPUs (should) only have 2
  4. Core i7 CPUs have more Smart Cache than i5 and i3 CPUs
  5. All CPUs have the same graphics core (although i3 and i5 is unconfirmed), although the speed of that graphics will depend on the individual CPU

In this case, the main advantage of the Core i7 CPUs is that they have 4 cores, but at the same time they also have an overall higher thermal output. Core i5 and i3 CPUs are actually very similar to each other except that the i3 CPUs are likely to not support Turbo Boost and have slightly lower frequency and power draw than the i5 CPUs.


The main thing to remember is that i7 CPUs are at the high end of the product line, i5 CPUs are in the middle, and i3 CPUs are entry level. This gives you a decent starting place to look for a CPU based on what you will be using your computer for, but you will likely need to look at the individual specs for multiple CPUs to determine which is actually the right fit for you. While there are a few things that the i3/i5/i7 naming scheme tells you, it is really no substitution for actually looking at the specifications of individual CPUs. The Intel Ark is one way to do so, and it allows you to select multiple CPUs to compare side by side. Additionally, if you are in the market for a new computer based on these CPUs, our sales staff is always happy to answer questions at sales@pugetsystems.com.

Tags: Haswell, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7

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i3s never had turbo boost. Based on history that should be a red x instead of green check in both charts.

Posted on 2013-06-04 13:19:25

Good catch, that was a mistake. I've updated the article to reflect that the i3's will likely not support Turbo.

Posted on 2013-06-04 21:22:46

Some i5 have 2 cores & ht - 4570t for example. http://ark.intel.com/m/ru/prod...

Posted on 2013-06-29 21:13:37

I have a question. I want a laptop for HD video rending and also for multi tasks(smoothly) . Please Tell me which 1 should I buy i3 laptop or i5 laptop?

Posted on 2013-07-29 20:18:44

I'm about to buy a new PC and I can't decide upon what CPU to get. Either i7 4770K or the smaller brother i5 4670K. I'll mainly use the PC for gaming, and for whatever projects i get at uni,(computer science) so for programming also. Any tips?

Posted on 2013-08-01 11:57:55

Apparently all mobile i7s aren't quad core. Apple is using a dual core i7 in the Macbook Airs and the 13" Macbook Pros (retina and non retina).

Posted on 2013-10-14 01:54:22

I am looking to buy a laptop with 8 gb RAM and a dedicated 2 gb graphic card for running autoCAD (2D & 3D modelling but not rendering). Will i7 have a distinct advantage over i5? I'd rather not spend more than what is required.

Posted on 2013-10-15 08:36:21

Our testing with AutoCAD has been limited to looking at GPU performance, not CPU... so I don't have any hard data to answer that question with. However, on laptops the Core 5 processors are all dual-cores, while the Core i7s are *mostly* quad-cores. AutoCAD definitely likes faster processors / more cores, so if you are looking at an option with a quad-core Core i7 then I would definitely say that is the way to go.

Posted on 2013-10-15 15:56:29
Ívar Arason

AutoCad (and also Inventor) only to a very little degree uses multicore, and the user needs to adjust the system variable "WHIPthread=3" in AutoCad to use multiple cores, but the multiple cores are only used when AutoCad regenerates the screen and in general AutoCad only uses a single core or thread, except in rendering. So for AutoCad a fast i3 is almost just as good as i7. For choosing a CPU for AutoCad have a look at passmark.com "single thread performance"

Posted on 2014-01-26 17:23:15

I am looking at different Macbooks. I will be running it about 8 hours a day and using it to DJ and play Music videos. As someone posted below Macbook is using dual core in some of its notebooks. Would a quad core i5 be better then a duo core i7? I am very naive when it comes to computers. Especially considering I use one day and night for a living. But yeah, main goals, flawlessly run music videos and DJ programs

Posted on 2013-10-24 00:16:18

What is the difference between 2-core, 4-core, 6-core, 8-core, etc? Many thanks...

Posted on 2013-11-15 16:33:37

Hi I'm in the process of buying a new computer and I was wondering if a i5 or i7 would be best for me. I usually have around 25 tabs with itunes, word and adobe reader all at once while watching netflix.. I sometimes also use photoshop/gimp. However, don't game nor edit videos.
I also heard that i7 kills the battery faster than i5. Why is that?

Posted on 2013-11-17 05:39:41

Most mobile (laptop class) Core i7 chips are quad-core, while the Core i5s are dual-core. That means that the i7 chips will handle heavy multi-tasking better, and definitely programs like Photoshop. However, because of the added circuitry they also use more power... which is why they go through battery life more quickly.

Posted on 2013-11-17 05:59:19

Core i5 uses Hyper-Threading to make a dual-core CPU act like a four-core one, but if you have a Core i5 processor with four true cores, it won't have Hyper-Threading. Or is this wrong?

Posted on 2013-12-01 16:36:33

Mobile (laptop class) Core i5 processors are indeed dual-cores with Hyperthreading, while desktop-class i5 are true quad-cores. Even if both can work on four threads at a time, though, there is a big benefit to the desktop-class chips having four real cores instead of depending on hyperthreading.

Posted on 2013-12-02 04:46:14

I need a new computer to connect remotely to my office computer via VPN connection from home. I use multiple applications like SQL Sever and Excel concurrently. I am thinking of buying a Sony Vaio Tap 21 All-in-one desktop with 8GB RAM and i5. How do the processor and RAM affect remote connection speed and processing power? Thank you.

Posted on 2013-12-02 13:23:33

I had not realized the number of i5 cores was different between desktop and mobile. For an engineering college student using only a laptop, who may be running a computational simulation in the background while working on another engineering project or programming while it runs, with multiple applications open but not necessarily in active use, for the $ would you recommend an i7 vs. extra RAM and maybe a larger SSD with an i5.

Posted on 2013-12-02 23:06:03

Oh, that is tough! Ideally a Core i7 plus plenty of RAM and a good size SSD would be best, of course :)

If you have to decide between those, I would lean more toward the i7 if your software is heavily threaded, and so can utilize its full quad-core capabilities. After all, you can usually upgrade the RAM or drive more easily later on.

If you aren't running as demanding of applications, though, I'd definitely go with more RAM and SSD space - since those can impact performance in a wide range of situations as well.

Good luck with whatever you decide :)

Posted on 2013-12-02 23:44:00

My HP Pentium desktop, purchased 6 1/2 years ago, just died (the motherboard), so I'm scrambling to figure out what system will be the best bang for the buck. This will be a family computer with pretty basic usage, such as: web surfing, watching videos, downloading a ton of music (which, I am understanding, takes up a lot of something?), using/storing occasional word documents, downloading photos, playing a few games, and running Photoshop and other art programs. We have been known to have 8-10 tabs open at a time. Again, pretty simple stuff. On my quest to understand the relationship of function vs. cost, I've been told that somethings can be added externally, if needed, at a better price than paying for it upfront, already integrated into the system. We don't want to pay for more than what we need; at the same time, we don't want a system that will be outdated in a couple of years. Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!

Posted on 2014-01-07 06:40:50

I'm looking at getting a new laptop, specifically the Sony Vaio Flip 15. For sure I will be getting 8GB of RAM, a 750GB Hybrid Drive, and the Nvidia 735M 2GB graphics card; what I can't decide on is whether I should go with the i5 4200U or the i7 4500U. I use Steam for light to moderate gaming, otherwise I will be multitasking browsing the web and other lightweight programs, I won't be using any video/photo editing programs. Thoughts? Will the i7 provide any future proofing? Is the dedicated graphics worth it compared to another laptop that uses the integrated graphics (such as the Yoga 2 Pro)? I could be convinced to go a different way, but what I really want is a capable touchscreen convertible with a larger-style screen.

Posted on 2014-01-20 00:25:22
Giannis Chatzisavvas

Mr William, I read all your answers and I would really be glad if you could give me your opinion. I'm going to buy a laptop the next couple of days and I'm really stuck between the HP Envy j100sv and the Asus A551LB-XX134H. They are both very similar and differ only in a few details. The opinion I want is about the processors. HP has an i5-4200M (2.5 Ghz,3MB cache, dual core) whereas the Asus has an i7 4500U (1.8-3.0 Ghz, 4MB cache, dual core also). I don't play demanding games, nor I edit videos...mainly university stuff, but with many tabs open (like 10-15). The Asus costs only 50€ more, so it's not about the price. I like the HP more, but I want a processor that will last for years, without exceeding normal temperatures, and also no matter how much I searched I'm still not sure about the difference between the "M" and "U" in the processors' model name. Looking forward to reading your answer, thanks in advance for your time.

Posted on 2014-02-24 21:37:40

The 'M' stands for 'mobile', which is used to denote CPU models that are for laptops (instead of desktops). What 'U' is short for I'm not certain - probably either "Ultra Mobile" or "Ultra Low Power"... but either way it denotes even lower power consumption than a normal mobile processor. That lower power usage comes at a price, though: the i7 4500U is no faster, and in fact in most cases probably a little slower, than the i5 4200M.

I would probably make the decision based more on other parts of the system. Look at the drive speed - is either a SSD? If one is and the other is not, that would make a huge usability difference. What about the RAM capacity?

If all else is virtually equal, also consider customer and professional reviews of the two systems. Look at things like battery life (tested, rather than what they advertise, if possible). Good luck!

Posted on 2014-02-24 21:54:58

I want to buy laptop, i will use it specifically for running multiple Virtual Machines on VMWare, which i- core / model should I buy?

Posted on 2014-03-12 11:11:48

Hi there, i'm in the middle process of purchasing a laptop. thinking to buy Thinkpad edge E431 with either i3 - 3110M or i5-3230M. The price difference between these two is $100. Not sure if it is worth spending an extra 100 bucks for i5? I only use the laptop for downloading/listening music (the most), watching movies/dramas, surfing net, excel/words. I don't edit videos and play games. Any suggestions please? Thanks heaps!

Posted on 2014-04-03 00:28:57

Hello Matt, thank you for your insightful post. I'm just about to build my first desktop PC and I'm unsure as to which processor to use. The build will be a home/office PC. I'll use it for work (I mark exam papers online, which I think is just a java based application), and my children play games like Minecraft and bin weevils. They're not into 'proper' 3D games yet. We all have the usual 10+ tabs open and skype/spotify/iplayer on in the background. I don't make/render/edit videos, or use any very cpu heavy programs afaik.

I'm tempted to settle with the Haswell i3-4130, but I've never used a dual core processor before and I'm worried it might not be powerful enough to multi-task effectively. I'm getting an SSD and 8GB of ram to try to make things as fast and snappy as possible.

Do you think the i3-4130 with a budget graphics card will be sufficient for my requirements? I read that the new i3s are under-rated in terms of performance and they cost £80 more than an i5 (in the UK). However I'll spend the extra money if there will be a noticeable difference in terms of performance. I don't want to buy an i3 only to be frustrated by things lagging or being slow to refresh when I'm multitasking. Have you used one of the Haswell i3s yourself?

Thanks very much for your help.

Posted on 2014-04-09 19:26:51
Don Blueberry

I am looking to buy a laptop that'll be good enough to carry out large scale projects. So I basically need a laptop that'll help me build all these projects faster. I won't however be gaming. Also I want a decent battery life too say 4+ hours, in addition to that I keep around 10 tabs open plus I watch a lot of movies. Would a core i5 4th gen processor with 4 GB of RAM do?

Posted on 2014-04-12 05:17:24

which is better i5 - 4200u (4th gen) or the i5- 3230M (3rd gen) ? i hear that 3230 has better clock speed but 4200 has lesser power consumption and a bit more features . I'am confused as i want to buy a laptop that fits for gaming as well as software development ... please help !

Posted on 2014-04-14 16:28:13

Models ending in "u" are ultra low power versions, so that is why the 4200u is slower despite being a newer generation. If you just go with the i5 4200m instead then it will be as good or even better than the older 3230m.

Posted on 2014-04-14 16:38:30
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