Inside view of a computer and its processor. We compared the Core i5 and i7 chips.

Although the competition with AMD is closer than ever, Intel’s Core i5 and i7 processors are some of the best chips on the market. But when you are not a computer specialist, when you have to choose between Core i5 and i7, it can be difficult to know the differences between the two, especially if each model offers multiple variants.

Inside view of a computer and its processor. We compared the Core i5 and i7 chips.
James Sheppard / Maximum PC Magazine via Getty Images

It is worth noting that we are talking specifically about Intel’s 9th and 8th generation “Coffee Lake” chips here. Much of this information applies to others, too, but newer chips tend to provide noticeable features and performance improvements over previous generations. You will actually save a lot of money buying CPUs older than these generations, but most PC makers and laptop buyers will want to stay away from previous Core i5 and Core i7 offerings.

Between Core i5 and Core i7: which one should you buy?

A computer with an i5 processor.

If you are going to buy a new microprocessor, which one should you invest in? That will depend on your needs. For most people, a Core i5, like the 8400, is going to be the most sensible choice, especially since the latest-generation i5s are comparable to previous i7s.

While there are many factors in determining overall system performance, a Core i5 processor generally won’t end up hampering your daily performance. Most people, including gamers, will find the Core i5 to be a perfectly suitable microprocessor.

Core i7 CPUs, like the iconic 8700K, only make sense to users who don’t mind paying a premium for more power, or to those users who often use demanding software, such as video editing or object rendering 3D. If you are looking for better performance, your thing is the Core i7 … unless you want to buy the Core i9.

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However, it would be worth delaying the purchase of a new CPU, as Intel’s ninth-generation Coffee CPU upgrade is slated to launch in late 2018.

Intel Core i7 on Amazon

Core i5 and Core i7: desktop computers

A gamer looks at his computer screen while playing.

The Core i5 and Core i7 desktop CPUs may be further apart due to their number of supported threads and clock speeds. While both tend to have the same number of processor cores (six for the current eighth generation and four for the older ones), Core i7 chips, like the i7-8700K, support hyper-threading (although that may change with the next ninth generation of chips). This means that they can support twice as many threads, making them better at multitasking. Core i5 CPUs, like the i5-8400, generally have lower clock speeds, though not too much either. They also tend to have smaller cache sizes, which means they don’t work as well on repetitive tasks.

The added thread count, clocks and cache make Core i7 CPUs, like the super powerful 8700K, offer better performance, but that – of course – comes at a cost. High-end i7 chips can be much more expensive. The 8700K sells for $ 350, while the Core i5 8400 – a favorite with gamers– You can get it for just $ 200 dollars.

Core i5 vs. Core i7 on laptops

Dell XPS 13 computer

Mobile processors tell a slightly different story. Where Core i5 desktops never hyper-threading, some portable versions do, allowing i5 dual-core processors to handle additional threads at the same time. However, the Core i7 CPUs are even more powerful. Where eighth-generation Core i5 CPUs have four cores and support eight threads, most Core i7 chips have six cores and 12 threads.

Generally, you can also distinguish a mobile chip by its naming convention. A high-end gaming laptop could have a Core i7-8750H. Although like the desktop 8700K it has six cores and 12 threads, its clock speed is noticeably slower (especially when it’s not powered) to help keep the temperature at bay.

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Earlier generations have a lower core and thread count, with some dual cores in the mix, like the Skylake-powered Core i5-6300U, which is a dual-core chip with support for four threads. However, the performance differences between the Core i5 and i7 CPUs are more or less comparable across generations. Where the core counts are occasionally equal, Core i7 thread and clock speeds are rarely counted, which tend to outperform their Core i5 counterparts, such as the 6300HQ and 6700HQ. As with desktop chips, Core i7 tends to have larger caches.

Sometimes, however, Core i5 CPUs can have higher clock speeds than an i7 chip. What does this mean? A quad core with a high clock speed will outperform a six core with a low clock speed in those applications that do not use many cores; all six cores will be faster and better at multitasking applications. If the six-core has more cores and a higher clock speed, it will always be faster.

As with desktop chips, Core i7 CPUs tend to be much more expensive. If you were buying a Surface Book 2, for example, a Core i7 CPU can cost an extra $ 500 in an otherwise identical configuration.

What about the Core i9?

Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs can be powerful, but they’re still consumer-oriented, general-purpose CPUs. Intel’s high-end Core i9 chips are typically geared more toward pros or wealthier gamers who need even more power, as most chips bearing that name cost more than $ 1,000 in the past. However, with the eighth and ninth generation processors, Intel introduced some Core i9 CPUs that are also worth considering.

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The Core i9-8950HK made its way into laptops like Apple’s MacBook Pro and, after a few acceleration issues were fixed, it proved to be a powerful chip. It has six cores and 12 threads, and a speed of 4.6GHz on one pair of cores at a time. There aren’t many laptops that offer it as an option, and it’s one of the most powerful mobile chips available today.

As for desktop computers, on the other hand, the Core i9-9900K is a real monster. With eight cores, 16 threads, and a speed that can reach 5 GHz on one pair of cores at a time, it is the most powerful gaming CPU available today. It’s very expensive, especially compared to AMD’s competition, but for now, at least, it far exceeds anything else for an average price of $ 500- $ 600.

Are more cores and more threads necessary?

In general, Core i5 and Core i7 chips differ in the way they handle processing information. Core i5 processors tend to have fewer cores and therefore support fewer simultaneous “threads”. These “threads” are used by the software to manage multiple tasks simultaneously, instead of queuing everything up for execution one by one. In other words, they are not that good at multitasking. Still, they’re great for most PC users, so we don’t hesitate to tell you that the Core i5-8400 is Intel’s best CPU.

Hyper-threading, a feature most often found on i7 CPUs, doubles the number of threads a CPU can handle, although those “virtual cores” are not as powerful as physical cores. A six-core Core i7 processor can handle 12 threads of data at once.

For concurrent processing tasks, when your PC needs to handle processor intensive tasks at the same time, CPUs with many cores and many sub-processes will perform better than one.

* Updated by Rodrigo Orellana on June 22, 2020.

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