Intel produces three tiers of processors for general use at home, in school or in the office: Core i3, i5 and i7. Unlike processors such as the Pentium 3 and Pentium 4, these numbers do not indicate separate generations of processors, but rather their relative power. Even though i7 processors work faster and have better specs than i5 processors, an i5 may work sufficiently for how you use your computer, saving you money.
Intel markets i7 processors as a top-of-the-line product and prices them accordingly. Most Core i7 chips sell for between $300 and $400, with some reaching into the $600 range. Core i5 chips, on the other hand, start at around $180 and peak in the low $300 range. These prices apply to individual processor sales, so the cost may vary when buying a prebuilt computer.
Light Computer Use
If you only use your computer for simple tasks such as browsing the Web, reading email, watching videos or typing documents, paying more for an i7 will not provide a significant performance boost. Even one of the cheaper i5 processors can handle these activities without any issue. Any sluggishness in performing these tasks is more likely due to your Internet connection or hard drive speed than the speed of your processor.
While an i5 processor should prove sufficient for light use, it can also work well when paired with a powerful video card, if you primarily use your computer for playing games or running other programs that rely on 3-D rendering. These applications place a heavier workload on your graphics hardware than on your CPU, making a high-end video card a better investment than an i7. Core processors include integrated graphics hardware, but differences in integrated graphics will not matter if you use a discrete card.
Monotasking and Single-Threaded Applications
Most Core i7 processors have Hyper-threading, a proprietary Intel technology that splits each CPU core's power to work more efficiently. I7 processors with four physical cores can therefore run eight threads. I5 processors only have Hyper-threading on two-core models, providing a maximum of four threads. Many programs, however, only use a single thread, meaning the additional threads do not provide a significant benefit unless you run several such programs at once.
When picking a CPU, keep in mind that Intel has used the Core i5 and i7 designations for several generations of processors. Newer generations provide significant improvements, so a brand new i5 can actually outpace an older i7.
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