Intel Core i3, i5 or i7 – Which one should you buy?

Whenever someone from my friend or family is hunting for a new laptop, one question that hits me up everytime is – Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 – Which processor is better for me? Well, Yes, you are right. Core i7 is better than i5 which in turn is better than i3. But each of them has their own set of users and target audience. No, it’s not just the number of cores but how these three family of processors operate. There are a lot of things which comes into play when we are looking to buy a laptop but the processor has to be one of the dominant factors. So which one should you buy? Let’s break down all the differences.

 

Number of Cores

Let’s first hit the term we hear the most while deciding between the three. To wipe off the myth – No, i3, i5 and i7 does not mean these processor’s have 3, 5 and 7 cores respectively. The core i3 chip from intel is a dual-core chip while i5 and i7 are both quad core processors. I am not counting any exceptions here. A core in itself is a processor so naturally more cores means a processor can perform more tasks at the same time efficiently. To understand this better, the dual-core i3 chip will take relatively more time to perform certain set of tasks at the same time than i5 which in turn will take more time than i7.

 

Clock Speed and Turbo Boosting

Next up in the list is Clock Speed. The textbook definition of clock speed is the number of clock cycles or calculations a processor can handle in a second. In other words, clock speed is the speed at which a processor operates. So higher the clock speed, more faster a processor can perform a particular task. However, that is not the case always. Here is why?

 

Now if you have noticed, the core i3 operates at a clock speed of ranging from 3.4 GHz to 4.2 GHz which is actually more than core i5’s clock speed which operates at 2.4 GHz to 3.8 GHz depending on the variant of that processor you choose. This is where Turbo-Boosting adds that extra bit of advantage to core i5 and i7 processors. Intel doesn’t provide Turbo-Boosting in intel i3 processors.

 

In a nutshell, Turbo Boosting is intel’s proprietary technology which allows processors to dynamically increase the clock speed when required. This allows the chip to not  only perform the task efficiently but also save on power as it is not operating on a set defined clock speed all the time. So a core i5 processor can boost up its clock speed to 4.1 GHz as and when required and actually beat the core i3 processor. Again, I am not naming the variants of the processors here. However, if the name of a processor end with ‘K’, this implies that it can be overclocked.

 

Cache Memory

This is rather a lesser known term than the above two. Cache Memory is very similar to RAM but it is about 10 times more faster simply because it sits in the CPU. When a processor identifies a task which it is performing again and again, it holds it in the Cache Memory and picks it up form there whenever it performs it next. Most of the Intel core i3 processors have about 3MB – 4MB of cache memory, core i5 have about 4MB – 6MB while all the core i7 processors (except i7-4770R) have 8MB of cache.

 

Hyper-Threading

Before I dive into this magical sounding technology, what does a thread mean in a processor? A thread is basically the highest level of code which a processor can execute. In other words, it is a process which a processor or a core in a processor can perform at a given time. Ideally, one processor unit can perform only one thread at a time. However, Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology can emulate this process and help a single core processing unit to perform two threads at a time. To explain it further, a dual-core i3 processor can perform 4 threads at a time – essentially acting as a quad-core processor while an i5 or i7 processor can perform 8 threads at a time. This is why i3 is not as bad as it sounds. It can ideally serve you if you normally browse web or watch movies or listen to music. Also, hyper-threading is just a marketing term for simultaneous multi-threading (SMT) and has a different name in the AMD family called ‘Clustered Multi Threading’.

 

Which one should you buy?

Now that we know most of the differences between the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors, which one should you buy? Alright, so let me break this down in two parts. A laptop is a relatively long-term investment so you need to keep in mind your usage from at least 2-3 years from now. Ask yourself two questions – How do I generally use my laptop today? How will I possibly plan to use it in future?

If you are one of those who are just into normal web browsing, watching movies and light gaming, Core i3 will serve you just fine. If you are someone who does like to play some heavy games occasionally or you do like a little bit of photo or video editing, then Core i5 should be a good value for money. Whereas, if hardcore gaming and intensive video editing is a part of your job, you got to go with the Core i7 but, don’t forget to add in a graphic card because that matters.

To sum it up, Core i3 is not inferior to Core i5 or Core i7, it is just won’t do the job for some people while it might serve the best to others.

 

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