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If you’re building a PC, then you’ve inevitably encountered the following question: Should I choose the Core i5 or Core i7?
These terms, of course, refer to the mid-range and high-range Intel processors on the market today. If you’ve chosen to build a PC with Intel inside as opposed to AMD, then you’ll need to choose between these two cores.
Today, I’m going to help you decide if the Intel i5, i7, or even the lowly i3 is the right choice for you.
Cheapest: Core i3
Medium: Core i5
Most Expensive: Core i7
Benefits of the i7?
The i7 and i5 are similar in many ways. Their performance differences are impossible to notice in the vast majority of software applications. However, you will most definitely notice a performance difference with the following tasks:
If you’re performing the above tasks on your PC, then the i7 will offer faster performance. In that case, you might decide that the price difference is worth it.
Do bridges matter?
When shopping for processors, you’ll encounter bridge-related terms. Intel has used a number of different bridge names for its i3, i5, and i7 lineup. Since the lineup has been out for approximately 5 years, the series has received a different name with every generation.
Today, most medium and budget processors feature the ‘Ivy Bridge’ name, which uses four digit naming systems. An i5-3600, for example is an Ivy Bridge CPU. So is an i7-4600.
Meanwhile, newer model PCs may feature the Haswell CPU, which also uses 4 digit naming. Haswell offers better performance than the previous Ivy Bridge generation, but many Haswell CPUs are outside the budget of the average PC user. However, with prices falling all the time, you might find a Haswell CPU at a price you like.
If you’re looking at older PC parts, then you’ll encounter names like Nehalem and Westmere, which were original names for the i3/i5/i7 generations. Performance and efficiency has increased with each generation.
What about cache size?
Different processors have different cache sizes. Your CPU’s cache is on-board memory that helps your CPU process data without reloading that data from your RAM or hard drive. The larger your cache, the more data your CPU can access instantly.
That means larger cache leads to faster speeds. It also means that background tasks will often be ready for you when switching between windows. That’s why i7 CPUs are recommended for multitasking.
I5 CPUs will typically have 3MB or 6MB of L3 cache, while i7 CPUs have 4MB to 8MB. If you plan on doing a lot of multitasking or multimedia editing, then cache size can matter a lot.
Other features to consider
Other important CPU features include integrated graphics, multi-threading, and Turbo Boost. Here’s what those features actually mean:
Turbo Boost: Intel includes an overclocking feature called Turbo Boost in its processors. This feature lets the processor clock itself to a higher base speed when only one core is in use. That means better performance even if you’re not multitasking.
Multi-Threading: Multi-threading is an important feature on all modern CPUs. Intel CPUs use a system called Hyper-Threading. This effectively tricks an application into thinking the processor has more cores than it actually does. Most applications will not use this, but some applications – most notably, multimedia work – will. In rare cases, web browsers may also use multi-threading. Hyper Threading can effectively turn your six core CPU into a 12 core CPU, 4 cores into 8, and 2 cores into 4. The Core i7 can handle a maximum of 12, while the core i5 maxes out at 4 (if you already have a quad core i5 CPU, then Hyper-Threading is not available).
Integrated Graphics: Some Intel CPUs include integrated graphics. When it comes to graphics power, the higher number is always better.
Conclusion: Which should you choose?
The i3 is the best option for those who are on a tight budget and don’t game or perform intensive tasks on their computer.
The i5 is the best option for most users due to its combination of strong value and high performance.
The i7 is the best option for power users who demand maximum performance from their PCs and don’t mind spending extra money.