What is the difference between Intel Core i3, i5, i7 and X CPUs?.
While AMD is moving forward, Intel is by far the number one choice in computer processors. Core processors are great chips for desktop or laptop computers, but what’s the difference between the Core i3, i5, i7, i9, and X?
What is a core processor?
Intel Core processors first arrived in desktop computers in mid-2006, replacing the Pentium line that had previously comprised Intel’s high-end processors.
Core “i” names are primarily “higher level” categorizations that help differentiate processors within a given generation. A specific Core “i” name does not mean that the processor has a certain number of cores, nor does it guarantee features, such as Hyper-Threading, which allows the CPU to process instructions faster.
Specific features may change between generations. As technology advances, it becomes cheaper to create lower-end, higher-performance parts. It also means that features once found on parts like a Core i3 may be gone from the class altogether.
Intel Core processors.
Overall performance on similar CPUs also changes between generations. Low-level improvements in the way CPUs process information result in generally better performance, sometimes at lower clock speeds, than previous families of CPUs.
Therefore, the differences between the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 designations are more significant within their respective generation. For example, a 7th-gen Core i7 “Kaby Lake” and a 3rd-gen Core i7 “Ivy Bridge” can run at similar speeds with similar core counts. However, this usually doesn’t make sense, as the newer part will still work better. Look at this .
With that in mind, there are some guides you can use to understand what all the different parts mean.
Core i3: the low end
Intel Core i3 processors are where the Core line begins for each generation. In general, Core i3 processors have fewer core counts than higher grade CPUs. This used to mean Core i3s started out with dual-core processors, but over recent generations, that number of cores has increased to four on the desktop.
Those early dual-core Core i3s also tended to have four threads, otherwise known as Hyper-Threading. Intel has chosen not to double the thread count in recent Core i3 generations; instead, you are building CPUs with four cores and four threads.
Core i3 processors also have lower cache sizes (onboard memory). They handle less RAM than other Core processors and have different clock speeds. At the time of writing, 9th generation Core i3 desktop processors have a maximum clock speed of 4.6 GHz; however, that’s just the high-end one.
Core i5: the lower midrange
An Intel-compatible ATX motherboard.
A step up from the Core i3 is the Core i5. This is often where bargain-hunting PC gamers look for solid deals on processors. An i5 typically lacks Hyper-Threading, but has more cores (currently six, instead of four) than Core i3. i5 parts also generally have higher clock speeds, a larger cache, and can handle more memory. The integrated graphics are also slightly better.
You’ll see new Core i5 processors with Hyper-Threading in laptops, but not desktops.
Core i7: the top takes a step back
As of 2017, Core i7 CPUs had Hyper-Threading on desktops, but newer generations did not. These processors have higher core counts (up to eight in the 9th generation) than the i5s, a larger cache, and a boost in graphics performance, but have the same memory capacity as the Core i5s (although, that might change in the future).
Core i9: the new leaders
An Intel-based gaming PC.
The Core i9 is at the top of the Intel Core pack. This is where you’ll find many high-performance processors, like the Core i9-9900K, a current favorite for gaming.
At the Core i9 level on current 9th-gen CPUs, we see eight cores, 16 threads, a larger cache than Core i5 processors, faster clock speeds (up to 5GHz for boosts), and another bump in graphics performance. However, Core i9 CPUs still have the same maximum memory capacity as Core i5s.
Core X: The Ultimate
Intel also has a range of more sophisticated high-end desktop (HEDT) processor “prosumers” for enthusiasts, gamers, content creators, or anyone else who needs that level of performance.
In October 2019, Intel announced new Core X parts ranging from 10 to 18 cores (Core i9s with a maximum of eight). They include Hyper-Threading and high boost clocks, though not necessarily higher than Core i9 CPUs. They also have a higher number of PCIe lanes and can handle more RAM, and have a much higher TDP than the other Core parts.
Which one should I buy?
Core designations refer to relative improvements within a specific generation of processors. As the number of cores increases, so do the capabilities of the processors, including higher core counts, faster clock speeds, more cache, and the ability to handle more RAM. On Core X, you also usually get more PCIe lanes.
If you are a gamer, look for Core i7 and above. You can definitely play with a newer Core i5, but you’ll get more future-proofing with a Core i7 and higher. Content creators should look at the Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs as you’ll want those sweet threads.
For everyday tasks like web browsing, spreadsheets, and word processing, a Core i3 will get the job done.
However, something to keep in mind while shopping is that not all Intel Core CPUs have integrated graphics. These processors end with an “F” to indicate that they come without a GPU, like the Core i3-9350KF, i5-9600KF, and i9-9900KF.