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Intel i3, i5, i7 CPUs - Processing Power Differences

Last response: in CPUs
June 25, 2011 5:25:00 PM


I am in the market for a pc and getting a bit confused on choosing the processor.

Would you describe for what purpose/software you would choose an i3, i5, or i7 processor.


a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 5:28:29 PM

Laptops or desktops?
IMO its better to starts from your needs first then choose what parts you need, not the other way around.
June 25, 2011 6:15:59 PM

I was just going to post what would probably be more helpful, seeing all the variations on these processors. I've been looking at the Dell Desktop XPS 8300. They offer the i3 i5 i7 in that line. I think that's basically the i3-2100, i5-2300, i5-2400, i5-2500, and i7-2600.

Yes, I did start with my needs, but I think they are changing/vague and I'm not sure what I'll really be doing in the next few years. It's easy to get caught up in the features but technically in terms of requirements, I'm not sure where I'd fall. I do want the machine to last.

I understand the i7 is for heavy gaming and demanding graphics. Just how demanding of graphics is my concern. That it runs hot and noisy. I'd like to know more about how much hotter and noiser that means compared to the other two. I'm also wondering if it costs a lot to run compared to the others?

I'm trying to keep the question open-ended to get a better idea of the general use intended for those processors, without influencing anything from my end at this point (think this has been a problem when talking to sales people).


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a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 6:32:05 PM

Gaming performance is mainly influenced by your GPU as long as your CPU is passable. (ie. modern)

But heres the vague idea with the Sandies:
i3s are pretty much for general gaming (ie, RPGs, simulations), web surfing, and amature home video encoding/photo editing (ie. family videos).
i5s are for "enthusiast" gaming (ie. FPS, RTS, the "big titles"), and semi-professional video encoding/editing.
i7s are for "professionals" that run VMs, do serious video/photo editing and/or run professional applications like AutoCAD/Solidworks, etc.

Longetivity-wise, expect things to drop a rank every ~1.5-2 years. (i7 "becomes" i5, i5 "becomes" i3, etc.)

Power/heat wise, with the exception of the i3, which would use a fair bit (~30W) less power as it is a dual core, the i5/i7s are fairly identical. However, being in the same family, I doubt you will notice much of a difference between an i7 and an i3 in terms of noise and power bills.

Its all very vague though, and will vary greatly depending on your specific situation.

a c 446 à CPUs
June 25, 2011 8:03:46 PM

The i5 is generally better than the i7 for games because it is cheaper; both are quad core CPUs. Additionally, the i7 has Hyper Threading (HT) which isn't used in games. Lots of 3D rendering programs and video editing and encoding programs can have HT capabilities, but you must check if the software you are gonna use will make use of HT.

The i3 is a good CPU for gaming on a budget; it can beat a quad Phenom II 955 BE. Many games are capable of using two cores. Actually, a good amount of games can make use of 3 cores. Games capable of using 4 cores have started to arrive.

The i5 represents the best balance of performance and price. Being a quad core CPU, it is more capable than the i3 with heavily multi-threaded programs. It is less expensive than the i7 because of the lack of HT which may or may not be useful depending on the programs being or will be used.
June 25, 2011 8:39:14 PM

That's a great breakdown. Glad to hear power/heat/noise would not be significant between the three. Looks like I got confused. The i3-2100 is on the Inspiron not the XPS.

I wish I were shopping due to the need for an upgrade to meet my needs. Unfortunately, my system died so I have to see what's out there and anticipate the future. Of course I would love to take graphics classes but the software is extremely expensive. So who knows.

I guess I falter at my level of use. Right now, I do photo editing, using Photoshop Elements not the full version. I'm not sure how demanding PSE is. I have read PS uses hyperthreading in hundreds of functions and to get an i7 (Adobe employee responding to forum inquiries). Most of those people are doing demanding work, I imagine. I do layer and use a lot of features but this is not CS5. I also use the home user photo editing software packages (in a non-standard way I suspect, for rendering, more demanding using lots of objects).

I am not typically a casual user and enjoy software but am also not doing large, heavy, complicated design projects using PS CS5 or the like. I also don't have the quality demands of a professional who's manipulating images for publication. I'm not sure exactly how those quality demands differ either and the effects of not having the appropriate equipment. Currently I do some semi-prof rendering where good quality is needed.

I'm usually multi-tasking. Want to watch video/tv. Listen to music. Spend a lot of time on the net. Use the typical business application s/w and database.

I wonder, with the integrated HD Graphics that Intel states doesn't require a discreet card, if I really need a graphic card. I am told that screen output would be better represented to more accurately reflect the printed version. As well as manipulation faster. For what degree of application/work a graphics card is relevant, I'm not sure.

Looking at Intel's lineup, I see that the i5's used in the XPS 8300 do not use hyperthreading but the i7 does. The Inspiron i3-2100 does have HT. So I thought maybe this could be a deciding factor.

Some of the other advanced technologies listed by Intel that caught my attention as important are Thermal Monitoring, Trusted Execution, and Advanced Encryption. Not all of those are on the i3.

Dell has recommended anything from the Inspiron to the 9100.
June 25, 2011 8:40:05 PM

Wow, that's long. Sorry!
a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 8:56:12 PM

Photoshop doesn't really take much to run, a i3 handles it easily.
Heck, my Athlon X2 5200+ does Photoshop, heavy firefox, music, and a video fine. Just remember to get at least 4GB as Photoshop can gobble 2GB like that.

On the GPU accelerations, I can honestly say its more gimmickry than function, you do have openGL accelerated panning, zooming and a fancy color picker, but without it everything still works fine. Besides, how bad intel may be at OpenGL, i bet you can at least turn it up halfway even on integrated.

The whole GPU and color accuracy thing is (mostly) bogus also, without a properly calibrated professional monitor, colors are going to be inaccurate no matter if you have Intel or a quadro.

And the thing you've mentioned like "Thermal Monitoring, Trusted Execution, and Advanced Encryption." are features you probably wont be using for most of the time if ever.
June 25, 2011 9:36:59 PM

Yes, this is what I'm wondering, since hyperthreading is available on an i3. Soup up to an i7 to keep the thing for years to come, like my old machine, or is my level of demand low enough for an i3 to be sufficient. But for how long, I guess. I wonder why hyperthreading is not on the mid-level i5.

"""And the thing you've mentioned like "Thermal Monitoring, Trusted Execution, and Advanced Encryption." are features you probably wont be using for most of the time if ever."""

That's what I was wondering. The features sound great but. Why wouldn't these be utilized? Thermal monitoring sounds like a safety feature to kick in as needed. The others sound like added protection against cyber attacks, with AES already being widely implemented according to Intel. I do work with company data and also back up to offline storage sites that use advanced encryption. But as you say, are these things really used or not, or on the horizon, I don't know. Comparing features between the chips is daunting without understanding them and their real world application.

I suspect I'd be fine without a discreet card. I did have had a Radeon 9800 on the old machine but am told the integrated HD Graphics these days far surpasses that.

I want to get a good monitor, maybe an LED backlit (looking at ASUS or Samsung). But I cannot get a professional monitor and certainly don't need to invest in one at this point. So maybe it's all a moot point with the graphics card. This is what I'm trying to determine.

If I get very good graphics that could handle more advanced creative work with Adobe in the future without needing a heavy gaming machine and get great general media playback that would work, I think. Those would be my most demanding apps. I did note that they say the 8300 is a performance machine and will immerse you in sound and visual effects. Why moreso than the other, I don't know. They appear to have the same integrated sound and video. Maybe the Inspiron can't handle as much of an upgrade.

I use Google Chrome and have almost 40 tabs open as we speak, not uncommon for me. Generally with other programs running. But no gaming.

So, if I were to advance to the web design area, probably just in graphics work, would the i3 be good to go for a while?

a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 9:53:33 PM

What was your old system?
Thermal monitoring is in every Intel if it does what it says, as all intel CPUs throttle one it hits the TJmax; TXT (trusted execution) needs a supporting chipset and software, and AES, though applied in many places, doesn't require the instructions, it simply speeds up things. These things are like USB3, features nice to have, but painless if you don't.

What is your budget anyways? If you can afford the i5 fine, go ahead. If not, well the i3 isnt half bad. Though you really don't needs much CPU power, instead oodles of RAM.

Have you considered the AMD dells? The 6-cores would really work in your case.

As for upgrades, its dells so you're probably going to be stuck. For real upgrades, go homebuilt. "immerse you in sound and visual effects" are simply marketing, imagine Dell advertising XPSes as "just inspirions with quad-cores in a fancier shells", realistic, but bad for sales.

a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 10:00:17 PM

I agree that Photoshop doesn't have to be demanding- I run Photoshop Elements on my Toshiba laptop with ultra low voltage pentium at 1.6GHz and 3GB of ram.
June 25, 2011 10:38:20 PM

I had a Dimension 8300 for 7 years. I would like the next computer to last also. If my needs change a lot, maybe it won't, but who knows. I want to spend appropriately but not get too unrealistic in either direction. I'd rather over-buy a bit than under-buy and have to do it again all too soon.

Most I've been looking at have been 8G RAM.

I think I could get through a build but it's actually more expensive, even without a lot of the stuff I don't need or want with the pre-builts. Why are they more upgradeable? Choosing a better mobo and PSU to handle future expansion? The Dell rep said the 8300's were more upgradeable than the low-end XPS 7100 with the AMD. Yet an online review says the downside of the 8300 is that it's not very upgradeable and at a high price point for that con. I'm not sure what I'd want to change with a great i7 processor, a good graphics card (Radeon 5770) and lots of memory (8GB). That would be about $800 refurbished or $1000 not.

I didn't see that the pricing on the 7100 was much better as I recall.

Cadder (auto-cadder?), do you use a lot of features with the PSE? Do you use a current autocad app? What type of machine do you run it on?

About how much do you think I should be spending on a tower for my needs? The lower end machines seem to get up there in price pretty fast.

a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 10:56:25 PM

Custom builds are actually really cheap if you have higher speccs, and with the non-OEM mobo, custom cases, and beefy PSUs, upgrades are much easier. Dells are more or less the same in terms of upgradability, and I don't see a reason why the 7100 is less upgradable than the 8300, other than a weaker PSU.

The 7100 with the 1075T + 6450 + 4Gb RAM is respectable at $670, adding 4GB yourself (What dell charges is absurd, 4GB costs ~$40) would net you a nice machine that can handles things to come. (The 8300 is okay from what I remember, it disappeared from dells site so I can't comment further :<)

With custom builds, a i5 system with 16GB of RAM would only cost you ~$700 with Win7.
June 25, 2011 11:25:48 PM

I see. OEM mobos we are locked. I noticed that when trying a new PSU on my old unit. A lot of their machines have proprietary connections for the PSU so you can fry things if you're unaware.

The i5 doesn't hyperthread so I think that's out as PS relies on it quite a bit, leaving me at the i3 or i7. I haven't looked into the AMDs but have read that PS doesn't perform better above 4 cores at this point.

Here's the 8300

I'm surprised at $700 to build. Each major component seemed to be costing $200-$300 when I was looking around the other day. I was over $1K in no time.

How does one go about choosing a motherboard? Is it straightforward or complex? I see what you mean you can swap out major parts down the road whereas "Dell" wants to lock you into a new machine asap. One would have to make a good long-term choice on the mobo though the way technology changes, no? I would also have to be able to diagnose my own problems with no service contract. I know so little about the hardware aspect of things unless it's fairly obvious. And nothing about electronics. Very intriguing idea though to be in control of the parts and understand your machine better. I definitely like the self-reliance and flexibility of a build.

a b à CPUs
June 25, 2011 11:45:52 PM

Photoshop doesn't benefit from HT itself, it simply uses threads. i3 has 2 real threads and 2 virtual ones (HT) so it has 4, each "virtual thread" is ~20% performance of a real one. So the i5 is much better than the i3 despite lacking HT. Though PS doesn't benefit from more than cores (it actually might, if not HT wont help either on the i7s) the leftover cores in a six-core help when multitasking as you have more headroom.

As for upgrading, Dell has gotten much better. There was the BTX phase where even the case was incompatible. Nowadays, you're just feature/BIOS limited.

A Mobo is essentially its feature-set, where the socket is set with the CPU (ie. AM3 with the AMDs, LGA1155 with Core is). With custom Mobos, there is support from the manufacturer, though limited. From the looks of it now, the 8300 isn't a bad deal actually, other than the silly expensive RAM.

From what it seems now, I would say the Core i5 or Phenom II X6 with 4GB on Dells side is your best option, as it packs a little more performance than you need without costing too much plus you get support.

Heres the custom build I was talking about:
Antec 300 $60
Hitachi 1TB $60
Antec Green 430W $45
2* 8GB G-Skill DDR3 1333 $130
Gigabyte Z68 $120
Core i5 2300 $185
Windows 7 $100
Total $700
June 26, 2011 1:18:24 AM

Very interesting on the HT. I was wondering if hyperthreading was working differently than the multi-threads referenced on the i5. So it sounds like a thread is a thread, accessed as needed regardless of whatever type it is.

This is why I'm balking at a purchase and looking at a power machine to be safe. The facts are not so simple at face value when you don't have the technical background or know the nuances of the working set. I probably shouldn't be so concerned with half this stuff for my purposes even if I do get into heavier graphics work. And I can't afford a truly prof graphics system anyway. Wasting hundreds of dollars on useless power for moderate projects is not a good plan either. Not on my budget anyway.

I'll have to price the i5 again and check out the Phenom as I've been focused on the 8300s and Intel. Do you think I'll get at least 5 years out of these machines?

How does "Dell" limit us with features/BIOS on the pre-builts? What are we missing out on there?

a b à CPUs
June 26, 2011 1:32:45 AM

To start, "Dell" BIOS limits with CPU upgrades, for example the socket LGA1155 should support IB (Intel's next generation) and almost all custom Mobos should also with an BIOS update down the line. With Dell, it is up to whether it plans to use IB on such board and you'll mot likely end up with an incompatible board with the right socket. Dell board also limit you on overclocking (now a lesser problem with Intel limiting you too), but with Dell Mobos don't expect to OC when you need a performance boost a couple year later. Another problem is the usually scant ports/plugs, especially thing like SATA and PCIe, leaving you with no option but to upgrade.

With a i5/X6 system, 3 years of mainstream performance is pretty realistic, 5 would be a little "extended support". The best CPU in 2006 get beat by a $50 nowadays.
June 26, 2011 3:13:00 AM

So the 6-core Phenom X6 is more powerful than the i7 quad, since it has 2 additional physical cores rather than 4 virtual threads?

I believe I saw there's a big debate over which is better, Intel or AMD Phenom?
a b à CPUs
June 26, 2011 3:44:15 AM

There has been numerous threads discussing this topic, so heres a simple go at explaining.

Since each core is a real thread, i7 + HT is 8 threads.
Factor in how each i7 core is ~150% of a Phenom, the Phenom X6 is ~ equivalent to an i5 quad w/o HT (4 threads). With a slight upperhand when it comes to rendering and heavy multitasking.

June 26, 2011 4:25:31 AM

That is simple enough for me to understand the bottom line.

I have been reading a great deal to try to get an understanding of things in general but the information gets very technical and not very straightforward sometimes with much debate or uncertainty.

Thanks for all your help, Tom. I've learned a great deal more than when I arrived.

June 27, 2011 3:37:52 AM

Sandy u should know, some real facts about processors.

First truth All the Current Processor supports Most of the Applications which is available in the Market. The processors can only be differentiated by its performance, processing timing.

Secondly, the Intel is not a fool to create Processors with almost same specifications. Reason is i3 and i5 will perform the same, under the Normal Condition. i5 Processor are build for Application which uses the full performance of the quad core. i5 is also a good choice for virtualization. if u go to Intel site and keep a side by side comparison u will see i3 and i5 will have almost all the same feature and specification. except for dual core and quad core.

Thirdly, Don't take hyper threading as a bad option. hyper-threading is good for Operating Systems performance. An Operating System with Hyper-threading is much faster than without Hyper-threading.

Fourth and final. u can get a peak performance only when u have a proper Combination of CPU. Eg. i3 processor with dedicated graphic card, 4 g.b 1600mhz ram, Microsoft 64 bit operating System and 600 watts psu will be much faster than i5 processor with integrated graphic, with 2 g.b 1333 ram, Microsoft 32 bit operating system and 450 watts psu.

So, CPU alone will not make the difference, Combination and choices will make the system to work at its peak.

good luck

June 27, 2011 5:02:24 AM

Thanks for your input, ban. I like the hyperthreading and think I'll probably stick with the i7 in order to get it, and the machine should also be relevant longer. I don't replace computers often which probably will not change this time around either. The price difference isn't that great, imo. Sounds like a dedicated graphics card is not overkill either then. Comes with the pre-built machine anyway.

I'm interested in the PSU differences that you note. Higher watts would make the machine faster? I thought that it just had to be sufficient to handle the load of the configuration. I believe I saw a 460W PSU noted for the XPS. Of course that machine will be blazing fast but, still, if one were building, a 600W would somehow increase it's performance?

a b à CPUs
June 27, 2011 3:50:22 PM

Sandy1000 said:
Thanks for your input, ban. I like the hyperthreading and think I'll probably stick with the i7 in order to get it, and the machine should also be relevant longer. I don't replace computers often which probably will not change this time around either. The price difference isn't that great, imo. Sounds like a dedicated graphics card is not overkill either then. Comes with the pre-built machine anyway.

I'm interested in the PSU differences that you note. Higher watts would make the machine faster? I thought that it just had to be sufficient to handle the load of the configuration. I believe I saw a 460W PSU noted for the XPS. Of course that machine will be blazing fast but, still, if one were building, a 600W would somehow increase it's performance?

PSU doesn't affect performance what-so-ever, it is only provides power to the parts. As long as it is adequate, a 600W and a 1200W is going be act the same.

A better PSU would produce cleaner power with better efficiency, which should cut a bit of power bills if you use it extensively.

I would like point out something though, even-though the "i3 with a GPU and a 600W" would be a better performing computer overall, the i5 is still going to better CPU wise; though balance is important, there are parts that would benifit your situations more than other situations like a fast GPU or a 1200W PSU.
a c 188 à CPUs
June 27, 2011 4:55:45 PM

We have designed the naming of our processors to help you figure out which is best fit for your needs.

The Intel® Core™ i3 processors are designed for basic needs and every day usage are mostly considered or people who are a small budget they are fitting processors.

The Intel Core i5 processors are designed for most people and they way they use their computer. In the desktop market the Intel Core i5’s are all support at 4 threads.

The Intel Core i7’s are designed for the power user. These are for video/audio or other heavily multi-threaded applications, or some other heavy multi-tasking.

For gaming right now I would advise that you take a look at the Intel Core i5-2500K as the best processor as far as features and value.

Christian Wood
Intel Enthusiast Team
June 27, 2011 6:08:36 PM

PSU will make a difference in performance. it is a simple logic, what will happen if u dont provide a proper power to ur television. eventually u television will be spoiled soon. same as in Computers.

Energy is lost in way of heat, when it comes to Computers. So, Right PSU will minimize the heat, so better performance and efficiency can be achieved.

Dont just look at the processor alone. heat is produced by various components, eg: GPU, HARDDISK, MOTHERBOARD, PSU EVEN RAM.

Minimizing this will definitely will improve overall performance. One is by give proper ventilation and secondly power.

good luck

February 7, 2012 7:16:28 PM

a c 188 à CPUs
February 7, 2012 7:29:01 PM

Here is a nice Corsair PSU that will fit your needs now and into the future At 550w it will provide solid power and reliability for a normal system as long as you arent looking to do SLI or Xfire in the future.

Christian Wood
Intel Enthusiast Team
a c 446 à CPUs
February 7, 2012 7:37:49 PM

From the list the IntelEnthusiast provided I would choose the following:

CORSAIR Builder Series CX600 V2 600W = $70 - $20 mail-in rebate - $10 off w/ promo code EMCNHNC47 (ends 2/13) = $40.

It is manufactured by CWT for Corsair, so it is a pretty decent unit.
February 7, 2012 7:43:13 PM

IntelEnthusiast said:
Here is a nice Corsair PSU that will fit your needs now and into the future At 550w it will provide solid power and reliability for a normal system as long as you arent looking to do SLI or Xfire in the future.

Christian Wood
Intel Enthusiast Team

:D  :pt1cable:  thank you so much i want a games card so would 650 watts do for now?
a c 446 à CPUs
February 7, 2012 7:50:20 PM

Depends on what card you want to buy, but 650w should be enough for most (if not all) cards... as long as it is decent like Corsair.