For quite a spell, Intel’s flagship series of processors has been the Core i3, i5, and i7 models, which are seen in almost any desktop or laptop computer on the shelf these days. But what do these names mean? Besides the general processing speed of the processors, such 3.2 GHz, the main difference in performance between the three models is governed by a handful of factors: the number of cores, size of the cache, turbo boost, hyper-threading, and integrated graphics. In general, if you only use a computer for surfing the web and other small tasks, then an i3 is the way to go – if your workflow demands a decent amount of computing power, or you use your machine for gaming, the i5 is the more suitable choice – and finally, if you need top of the line processing power, the i7 is built for high end performance.
Core of the Matter
The number of cores a processor has determines how many tasks it can handle simultaneously. A dual core processor can easily manage two different processes, a quad-core, four. Hyper threading allows each core to act as a dual-core processor on its own, therefore turning a dual-core processor into a quad-core, and a quad-core processor with hyper threading would act as if it had eight cores. Currently all models of the Core series, except a few variations of the Core i5, support hyper-threading. Make sure to always check the processor compatibility of the program you are planning to use – some programs, although not many, are not capable of taking advantage of multiple cores.
Another performance boosting function is called Turbo Boost, which allows a unit to go into “overclock” mode where it will boost its processing power for a short amount of time, when needed. The i5 and i7 come with Turbo Boost, adding more punch to their already potent processing capabilities.
Give me the Cache
Think of the cache as the CPU’s own RAM: a fast form of memory which is used to quickly access regularly used files and processes. In short, the larger the cache, the faster the CPU.
Integrated Graphics allow the CPU to run as its own graphics card, removing the need for an external unit. The latest line of CPU’s use Iris Pro Graphics, an advanced graphics chip-set which utilizes its own D-RAM. Iris Pro Graphics offer a decent amount of performance, even allowing for 3D gaming on low to medium settings.
This quick guide ought to help you decipher the meaning behind all off the different specs of Intel’s processors – just remember: i3 is best for low end performance, i5 is the middle ground, and i7 is for going all out.