Intel Core i3 vs. Core i5 vs. Core i7: What do you get by spending more?

By Steve · 111 replies
Apr 6, 2015
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  1. Those building an Intel machine these days have loads of options, with desktop CPU prices ranging from as little as $60 to well over $600. The Core i3 is intended as an entry-level option, the Core i5 is geared for mainstream usage, and the mighty Core i7 is meant for high-end systems and enthusiasts.

    All three Core processors are based on the same architecture but they differ primarily in their number of cores/threads and cache size, and then other factors such as operating frequency and integrated graphics. Many will wonder which one is right for them. Do they need a Core i7 or will the Core i5 be just as fast for their needs? Should they spend less on a Core i3 and allocate the savings elsewhere, or is the Core i5 worth a premium?

    To try and make your purchase decision a little easier, we'll be seeing how the Core range performs in various applications, video encoding and gaming.

    Read the complete review.

  2. Siavash

    Siavash TS Booster Posts: 65   +20

    Great article Steve, much appreciated. I was wondering that should one pick a Core i5 or i7 for gaming and casual video encoding.

    It would be great if you could include a CPU demanding real time strategic game (like StarCraft) in your benchmarks too.
    Julio Franco and Steve like this.
  3. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,869   +2,039

    StarCraft II does not benefit from the Core i7, we might re-visit that once Legacy of the Void exits the beta testing.
    Julio Franco and Arris like this.
  4. Cryio

    Cryio TS Addict Posts: 208   +62

    I love these kind of articles. TechSpot seems to be the best at this kind of things, followed closely by Tom's Hardware. It's interesting to note that up to 770/960 and 280X level of performance an i3 is enough.

    Now, if you'd be so kind, do this article with AMD CPUs :D. 860K, FX 4300, 6300, 8350 and/or 9590. Throw in even OC results if you have time :D
  5. hojnikb

    hojnikb TS Enthusiast Posts: 33

    Could you test multiplayer performance next time ?

    It tends to be more cpu heavy and could expose benefits of i5s more cores.

    Also, could you test with some lower end gpus (like 960/970/280x). Not a lot of people will buy i3 with 980.
  6. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Thanks for another comprehensive comparison. Just the ticket after a long weekend of tech starvation!
    Overclocking probably adds a few too many variables for a true comparison - the silicon lottery and voltage requirement of individual chips, long term stability / mobo+psu + cooling choice.
    If OC'ing were included I would think that the $69 Pentium G3258 might well also be worthy of inclusion given its headroom and minimal effort in maintaining a good frequency increase.
    Julio Franco and Arris like this.
  7. Steve

    Steve TechSpot Editor Topic Starter Posts: 2,869   +2,039

    The GTX 960 was tested please check the results.

    From page 1...
    "Not only will we look at integrated gaming performance, but also discrete graphics performance with both mid-range and high-end GPUs."
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
    Cryio likes this.
  8. Cryio

    Cryio TS Addict Posts: 208   +62

    Nah. It's still a dual core chip and some current and most certainly future games won't even run on dual-thread CPUs. Personally I can't recommend Pentiums to anyone.
    hahahanoobs likes this.
  9. Very well written article. This is the reason I chose i7.
  10. Siavash

    Siavash TS Booster Posts: 65   +20

    Thank you very much, looking forward to it!
    Cryio and Steve like this.
  11. DanielJG

    DanielJG TS Rookie

    Getting a wee bit tired of reading that "Intel HD graphics are useless for gaming". With the 4600, and latest drivers, you can play Counter strike Global offensive on maximum at 1080p w/o AA. You could play Bioshock 1/2/3 and Dead Space on max, again without AA. It really is a decent gfx solution and its often scoffed at. Latest games from 2014 will run just fine on low.
  12. Arris

    Arris TS Evangelist Posts: 4,730   +379

    Hmmm Haswell-E looks like it's an improvement to my 2600K, albeit at 4.7Ghz. Might consider looking at an upgrade this year.... wait!... £800+ for the CPU. I think I'll hold off a while longer :)

    Must get dull doing these CPU comparisons when a lot of the tests show very small improvements.
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2015
    Cryio likes this.
  13. gamerk2

    gamerk2 TS Booster Posts: 67   +54

    Which kinda proves what we've already known: While i5s and i7s do offer performance advantages, for cheap gaming rigs, the i3s are quite capable.
  14. gamerk2

    gamerk2 TS Booster Posts: 67   +54

    SC2 in particular has two threads doing about 99% of the total game workload; one wouldn't expect an expansion to change this much. As a result, SC2 is a VERY good test of pure single-core performance, assuming you can give it a strong enough GPU to avoid being bottlenecked.
  15. Puiu

    Puiu TS Evangelist Posts: 2,673   +1,105

    They really need to work on their IGPs. A cheaper laptop that has an i5 that can also game at low/medium settings would be great.
  16. Forebode

    Forebode TS Booster Posts: 128   +20

    What are you recommending then? For what applications?
  17. Forebode

    Forebode TS Booster Posts: 128   +20

    Please include framerates with your examples. Anyone who doesn't mind the lower framerate, can play a game at a set resolution. I wouldn't say intel HD graphics are useless for gaming, they are just under AMD. If you knew ahead of time that you couldn't ever get discreet graphics and would like to play games, I'd suggest an AMD to you.
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  18. Cryio

    Cryio TS Addict Posts: 208   +62

    For games like Far Cry 4, Dragon Age Inquisition and I think Unity an AMD 860k is a much better choice than a Pentium. Though I am aware of the lack of upgrade options for AMD where as for Intel ... Myeah.
  19. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,268   +437

    Yuo Sc2 only uses 2 cores there would no point currently testing it. I'm also hoping legacy of the void will use more cores.
  20. CaptainTom

    CaptainTom TS Maniac Posts: 306   +132

    If you buy an i7 for gaming it is because you don't want to upgrade for 5+ years. Just look at the old i7-9xx. It still performs just fine the most modern games that utilize all 8 threads while the old pre-sandy bridge i5's can't even beat a Phenom II x4. Same thing will happen in 2 years with the i7-4770K.
    Julio Franco and amstech like this.
  21. tipstir

    tipstir TS Ambassador Posts: 2,477   +126

    Testing CPU from Intel always amazes me. i3 I have here does a lot more than AMD P300 does but then again you really can't compare them one is more than the other when it comes to RAM 8 GB DDR3 vs 4 GB DDR2 for laptops same brand and same case. Desktop different depends what you need in power dual core of quad core with the turbo boost. I only got one AMD APU Overclock under Windows to 3 GHz it seem to work smoothly.
  22. GhostRyder

    GhostRyder This guy again... Posts: 2,198   +593

    Excellent Article @Steve , its good to see these types of comparisons especially to those looking at a gaming rig because this truly does at a lot of good perspective for those confused on what is needed. Many people blow their budget out of proportions or are misguided on what to buy especially when it comes to the CPU because its often a big question as to what is really needed for a gaming machine.

    I think its safe to say that for most high end gamers an i5 is the sweet spot for performance especially the unlocked i5 which can be overclocked to a decent enough level to last for 3+years and counting. Heck a high clocked i3 is a great buy as well if your really budget constrained as it shows most games still rely on the first 2 threads for most of the work, but we are finally getting into 4 cores becoming the normal for a gamer as requirements where even multithreading an i3 will start to show a bit of age.

    I enjoyed the read, thank you.
    cliffordcooley and Steve like this.
  23. EEatGDL

    EEatGDL TS Evangelist Posts: 568   +241

    Personally I regretted going for the mainstream Haswell. I'm upgrading this year to the cheapest options of Haswell-E. Here are my arguments:
    * I don't make use of the integrated Intel HD graphics (Haswell-E has none)
    * I bought an aftermarket CPU cooler (Haswell-E CPUs include none)
    * I bought a high-end, two-way SLI-capable Z87 mobo; which in the end is similarly priced to the cheapest X99 mobo options with 3-way SLI
    * For such small price difference between the most expensive mainstream i7 and the cheapest i7 Extreme, it's worth for 4 additional threads
    Gopal Bhat likes this.
  24. SuperVeloce

    SuperVeloce TS Booster Posts: 133   +34

    You need ddr4 for haswell-e, which cost roughly twice as much... but you already know that I guess
  25. I agree with their conclusion that the newer Core i3 offers enough performance for gaming.

    However, anyone that is building a new systems should consider an i5 or i7 just for taking advantages of new DX12 performance and new gaming engines being designed from new ways to take advantage of multi-core performance on the XB1/PS4 consoles.

    As developers move to be more multi-core optimized, newer games in the next year or so will have an advantages on the i5/i7 over the i3.

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