Intel’s Core i chips are a super-strong brand name found on most of laptops, but how do you know what you’re actually buying?
Around 80% of brand-new PCs, and over 90% of laptops, have Intel processors. This means that if you’re in the marketplace for a brand-new computer, you’ll most likely be thinking about an Intel-powered design.
Finding the right chip is hard. Intel’s processor environment is strewn with confusing design numbers that actually tell you a lot about the processor you’re about to purchase, albeit just if you understand what you’re actually searching for.
Intel’s branding does not make it particularly simple for you to pick: it’s not at all obvious what the difference in between a Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 processor is, apart from an ever-increasing amount of cash gotten rid of from your wallet.
We’ll discuss all in this article. Continue reading to discover whatever you need to understand …
DESKTOP INTEL CORE PROCESSORS
Intel’s existing Core-branded processors, which are discovered in the bulk of desktops and laptops, are split into 3 varieties, with a number of designs in each range. These varieties are called Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7, however the distinctions between the varieties aren’t the same on laptop chips as on desktop. We’ll explain the difference between laptop chips at the bottom of this post.
The desktop chips follow a more sensible pattern, so we’ll cover them first. Much of the principles and innovations we go over, such as number of cores, cache, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading, are common across both desktop and laptop. For this reason, even if you’re just thinking about purchasing a laptop, you must still check out the desktop area before moving onto the laptop part of the post.
In numerous methods, the desktop processors in the Core i3, i5 and i7 varieties are very similar to each other. All are based upon the same essential processor architecture (codenamed Skylake for the current generation), have the same instruction sets (the code that actually tells the processor what to do), fit in the same socket and have broadly comparable graphics chipsets.
Despite their underlying similarities, there are some crucial differences that can dramatically impact each design’s efficiency. First, have a look at the table listed below to see how the ranges compare. We’ll describe what the terms indicate later in the short article.
NUMBER OF CORES
The first thing you’ll observe from the table is that Core i5 and i7 processors have 4 cores, while Core i3 designs only have two. Out of all the differences between the Intel processor varies, this is the one that will impact efficiency one of the most.
Each core is efficiently its own processor– your PC would still work (slowly) with simply one core made it possible for. Having multiple cores implies that the computer system can work on more than one job at a time more efficiently, which will help keep your system running snappily even if you have tasks, such as an antivirus scan, running in the background.
Having several cores can likewise significantly increase the speed at which certain programs run. This does not use to all applications, as creating software that makes the most of multiple cores is challenging. While two cores are now the accepted minimum in a processor, if you normally just tend to have a handful of tabs open in a web browser and your most requiring application is a word processing program, you won’t see a big benefit from a quad-core chip. Nevertheless, contemporary games take advantage of quad-core chips as does video encoding.
As an example, in the Geekbench standard, which runs a number of tests optimised for single-core and for multi-core processing, the quad-core Intel Core i7-3770K machine being used to compose this article scored 3,422 in the single-core criteria and 13,401 in multi-core. With two cores disabled, ball game was nearly similar in single-core, however dropped to 7,541 in the multi-core test. The maths adds up, cut in half the cores, (nearly) cut in half the multi-core efficiency.
WHAT IS TURBO BOOST?
The next item that might catch your eye is that the slowest Core i3 chips perform at a faster speed than the base Core i5 and Core i7 designs. This shows the hazards of making a purchasing choice based simply on clock speed. Enter Turbo Boost.
Guide: what is clock speed? The GHz figure you’ll see represents the number of clock cycles (estimations) a processor can handle in a second. Put extremely merely, a bigger number suggests a quicker processor. For instance, 3.6 GHz indicates 3,600,000,000 clock cycles. This figure should never ever be used to compare processors from different households, generations or makers, however. Larger is not much better when comparing AMD and Intel, or 2nd-gen to 6th-gen Intel processors: various processor households have various levels of efficiency, so how much they get finished with each clock cycle is more important than the GHz number itself.
Turbo Boost dynamically increases the clock speed of Core i5 and i7 processors when more power is needed. This means that the chip can draw less power, produce less heat (the majority of the time) and just boost when it has to. Turbo Boost indicates that the clock frequency figures in the table above are misleading. For example, although a top-end Core i3-6300 perform at 3.8 GHz compared with 3.3 GHz for the high-end Core i5-6600K, the i5 chip can increase up to 3.9 GHz when required, so will wind up being quicker.
The more a processor boosts its clock speed, the more heat it will produce, so the processors can just Turbo Boost for a minimal time while they remain within a specific temperature level variety. During long periods of heavy processor activity using all a processor’s cores, such as video encoding, a chip might not Turbo Boost much at all as it might be too hot to do so securely. Turbo Boost is a considerable part of the reason Core i5 and Core i7 processors exceed Core i3 models in single-core-optimised jobs, despite the fact that they have lower base clock speeds.
DO I NEED HYPER-THREADING?
Next up is potentially the most confusing part of the spec sheet: Hyper-Threading. Confusing to discuss as an idea, however also puzzling as it’s available on the top-end Core i7 and low-end Core i3 chips, but not the mid-range Core i5. Generally you ‘d anticipate to see more features added as you increase the processor variety, but not here.
Hyper-Threading essentially techniques Windows into believing that each physical processor core is in reality two virtual (logical) cores. The os can then share processing jobs in between these virtual cores in order to help specific applications run more quickly, and to preserve system efficiency when more than one application is running at once. A two-core Core i3 processor will look like four virtual cores in Windows’ Task Manager, and a four-core i7 chip will appear as 8 cores. On both our quad-core and a dual-core test system, Hyper-Threading increased the GeekBench 3 multi-core test rating by 17%. Not double the speed, but a beneficial increase nevertheless.
It’s odd that the Core i5 chip misses out on this beneficial speed-boosting technology, particularly as it’s present on the less expensive Core i3 designs, so would not appear to include anything to the cost of producing a processor. It’s possible Hyper-Threading is just handicapped on these models in order to give you a reason to purchase a chip from the more expensive Core i7 range.
Finally, we concern processor cache. This is a small area of memory built into the processor that shops copies of information present in the primary system RAM. It takes much less time for a processor to grab data from this cache, so the time it requires to process that data is decreased. A bigger cache suggests the chip will have to get data from the PC’s slower RAM less regularly, resulting in faster efficiency.
The slowest Core i3 chips have 3MB, faster i3 designs have 4MB, while all Core i5 processors have 6MB and Core i7s get 8MB. As the Core i7 chips also have Hyper-Threading, it’s hard to test how much of their additional performance over i5 designs is down to the additional cache. Cache should not be as much of a factor in your buying decision as the other aspects we have gone over, however be ensured that even the lowest Core i3 models have the same quantity of cache per core as the Core i5s, so none of the processor varieties are paralyzed in this regard.
LETTERS AND SUFFIXES
Some Intel desktop chips have suffixes, such as K, T or P. These unique designs have different characteristics than the stock versions. K denotes an unlocked clock multiplier, so if you have a compatible motherboard you can quickly overclock the chip, raising its clock speed significantly for a serious speed increase. Overclocking can cause system instability and even damage your parts, so need to be approached with caution. An overclocked processor will generate a terrible lot of heat, so you’ll likewise need a decent third-party processor cooler to see any sort of decent steady overclock.
T-suffix processors have lower clock speeds however likewise lower power requirements, and so are much better for the world and easier to keep one’s cool. An example is the Core i3-6300T, which is clocked 500MHz slower than the i3-6300 but has a 35W rather than 51W power draw. You’ll typically discover these inside smaller form-factor PCs such as all-in-ones.
Finally, there are a number of chips with a P suffix. These have lower-specification integrated graphics than other Skylake chips, with Intel HD Graphics 510 instead of HD Graphics 530 chipsets. The 510 chipsets have half the ‘Execution Units’ of the 530, leading to far slower efficiency. If you’re going to purchase or construct a system with a dedicated AMD or Nvidia graphics card anyhow, the lower-spec graphics will not make any difference to how well games run.
CHOOSING A PROCESSOR FOR GAMING
If you’re going to play games at any sort of good information level, you need to certainly purchase a dedicated graphics card, but the choice of processor will likewise make a difference. You do not want your lover GPU to be hobbled by a sluggish CPU, after all. You do not need to overdo it, though.
For instance, you generally won’t gain much by picking a Core i7 chip over a Core i5, as Hyper-Threading makes little difference in the majority of games. There are exceptions, though. The current Total War games appear to benefit from a Core i7’s power due to the sheer number of units engaging with each other on the battlefield.
If you’re buying a desktop processor to play games, and aren’t into hugely epic method titles, we say get a quad-core Core i5, and ideally the top-spec Core i5-6600K. If you ever find this processor is holding you back, you can always overclock it to 4GHz and beyond.
WHICH PROCESSOR SHOULD YOU CHOOSE?
You need to now be armed with enough details to make an appropriate choice about what sort of processor you need. Below are the three latest-generation Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 processors we’ve examined.
Intel Core i3-6100
Can be found in at under ₤ 100, the i3-6100 is a great chip for low-end desktop constructs that will mainly be used for word processing and web surfing work. It’s capable of some decent single-core efficiencies, too.
Intel Core i5-6600K
Rather more costly at around ₤ 200, the i5-6600K is a terrific all-arounder that’s ripe for overclocking, makings it an exceptional choice for gamers constructing a customized rig. It doesn’t deliver with a cooler, however, and if you’re going to be overclocking you’ll want to buy a fairly serious piece of kit to keep temperatures low. If you’re not looking to overclock and desire something a bit more affordable, the i5-6400 is a fantastic alternative and includes a cooler.
Intel Core i7-6700K
The big daddy of Intel’s Skylake line, the i7-6700K is a great processor for those who have high-end multimedia workloads (such as game streaming and video editing), or who just want to display. It has overclocking capability, and you’ll have to buy a separate cooler for it. As discussed above, if you’re going to just be gaming, a Core i5 is a far better value bet.
Things get a little bit more complicated in the world of Intel’s laptop chips. For instance, gone is the neat distinction between two-core i3s and four-core i5s, with a smattering of twin-core chips throughout Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 varieties. Here’s a breakdown:
The advantages of multiple cores, Turbo Boost, Hyper-Threading and a larger cache are the same for laptop when it comes to desktop processors, so for information see the Desktop Processors page of this post.
INTEL LAPTOP PROCESSOR BASICS
Let’s start with the simple stuff. All Core i3 chips have two cores, and none have Turbo Boost to increase their clock speed dynamically. All laptop Core i3 chips also have Hyper-Threading, so your operating system will see two physical and two virtual processor cores for an efficiency boost in specific circumstances. Meanwhile, all Core i5 and Core i7 chips have Turbo Boost.
It then begins to get complicated. Some Core i5 and some Core i7 processors have two rather than 4 cores. Hyper-threading is present on all Core i7 chips however just on twin-core i5 designs. Lastly, all Core i3 chips have 3MB cache, some twin-core i5 chips have 3MB and some have 4MB, while i7s have either 6MB or 8MB.
Honestly, it’s a mess, which’s prior to we get into graphics chipsets. To make a purchasing decision, you’re first going to need to go through a procedure of removal. First, decide if a Core i3 processor will be effective enough for you. You get twin cores and Hyper-Threading, so web browsing, workplace work and some light multitasking will be possible, but having only two physical cores and no Turbo Boost implies you can forget doing anything massively extensive, like rendering video.
DUAL-CORE INTEL LAPTOP CHIPS
This leaves a multitude of twin- and quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 chips to fret about. Thankfully, there’s a way to clean up some of the confusion at a stroke: look for the U suffix (i5-6300U, i7-6500U, for instance). This represents a low-voltage chip, and all such processors have two cores. They likewise draw far less power than laptop processors without a U suffix, so are often discovered in ultra-portable laptops where battery life is critical. If having a lasting battery matters more to you than straight-out power, a U chip might be right for you.
This raises another concern: should you get a Core i5-U chip or a Core i7-U design? Both types have two cores, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading. The essential difference is that low-voltage Core i7 chips can normally Turbo Boost to greater frequencies than Core i5 designs, so are quicker total. Likewise, all Core i7-U chips have 4MB cache, while the lower-end Core i5-6200U and i5-6300U have just 3MB, which will have a performance impact.
QUAD-CORE INTEL LAPTOP CHIPS
If you require an effective, quad-core processor, there are quad-core chips with the ‘HQ’ suffix. The Core i5-6300HQ, i5-6350HQ and i5-6440HQ all have 4 cores, 6MB cache and Turbo Boost. The i5-6440HQ has the fastest clock speed, at 2.6 GHz stock and 3.5 GHz Boost, while the 6300HQ and 6350HQ have identical clock speeds but the 6350 has fancier ‘Iris’ graphics– more on that listed below.
The Dell XPS 15 includes Intel Core HQ-suffixed i5 and i7 processors
Even much better, if you require the most effective laptop possible, you require one of the quad-core Core i7-HQ models, as 4 physical cores, plus another four virtual cores thanks to Hyper-Threading, and Turbo Boost will give you some seriously remarkable efficiency. You might likewise go wild and pick up a laptop with an i7-6820HK processor, which has actually an unlocked multiplier and will allow you to overclock the chip in your laptop’s BIOS.
CORE M BECOMES CORE I
Intel puzzled everybody with the unveiling of its 7th-generation ‘Kaby Lake’ Core i chips, silently rolling its ultra low-power Core M brand name into the Core i moniker. This has even more muddied the waters for laptop buyers, can now see a Core i7 processor with a clock speed as low as 1.3 GHz all the way up to 3.6 GHz and beyond.
For instance, the Intel Core i7-7Y75 is a dual-core chip with a base clock speed of 1.3 GHz. You’ll know whether you’re getting a top-end Core i or a formerly-Core M chip since the latter are practically solely found in laptops with fanless styles.
INTEL HD AND IRIS GRAPHICS
If you’re planning on playing games on your brand-new laptop, you need to buy one with a dedicated graphics card. If you do not wish to do that, and still wish to have some enjoyable with less-demanding titles, you’ll need to consider the graphics chipset your laptop processor offers. The most effective Intel graphics chipset goes by the name of Iris, so if you wish to dip into good information levels you should look for a processor with Intel Iris 540, 550 or 580 graphics. You’ll likewise discover some processors with Intel HD Graphics 520 and 530 chipsets, which aren’t as effective as Iris. We’ve summarised the different chipsets in the table listed below.
As you can see, base clock speeds differ in between chipsets, and Boost speeds vary in between private processors. However, the clock speeds are no place near as essential to 3D performance as the number of Execution Units. For instance, depending on the game, the Iris 540’s 48 Execution Units can offer around 35% more performance than the HD 520 chipset’s 24.
Intel’s processor line-up is far from simple. Desktop chips are possibly more logical than laptop processors, however for both you ought to look beyond the Core i branding and inspect number of cores, clock speed and Hyper-Threading to really understand what sort of power you should be expecting.