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intel core i7 220x189 i3, i5, and i7; Dual, Quad, Hexa Core Processors. How to they Differ?Windows Forums member, Bert_H, asked the following question in our suggestion box:

[I’d like] an explanation on i3, i5, i7 Operating Systems, and how they compare with Core 2 and Quad Core CPUs.

Update: Manuel commented asking the following:

It seems core2 duo CPUs have not been included and where they belong. Are core 2 duo CPUs comparable with i3s or even i5s? thanks.

Scroll down or click here for the answer.

If you’re in the market to buy a PC and you’re looking for the best value for money, you’ve likely asked yourself: “what’s the difference between Dual and Quad Core and which should I buy, i5, or i7?”

This guide offers a basic explanation of these processors and will help you determine the best for your needs.

This guide will answer the following questions:

  • What is a processor?
  • What is a core?
  • What is a multi-core processor?
  • Why do I need multiple cores?
  • How many cores do i3, i5, and i7’s have?
  • How Do Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad Compare with Core i3, i5, and i7?
  • What Does the “i” Stand for in i3, i5, and i7?
  • Do I need an i3, i5, or i7?

What is a Processor?

The Processor or Central Processing Unit (CPU) component of your PC carries out instructions given to it by your Operating System (Windows.) Think of the processor as a brain that receives instructions and messages (i.e. “HOT HOT HOT Burning!!!”) and sends out instructions to other hardware (i.e. “Arm: lift hand” or “mouth: open; vocal chords: scream.”)

What is a Core?

A standard processor has one core (single-core.) Single core processors only process one instruction at a time (they do use pipelines internally, which allow several instructions to be processed together; however, they are still run one at a time.)

What is a Multi-Core Processor?

A multi-core processor is comprised of two or more independent cores, each capable of processing individual instructions. A dual-core processor contains two cores, a quad-core processor contains four cores, and a hexa-core processor contains six cores.

Why do I Need Multiple Cores?

Multiple cores can be used to run two programs side by side and, when an intensive program is running, (AV Scan, Video conversion, CD ripping etc.) you can utilize another core to run your browser to check your email etc.

Multiple cores really shine when you’re using a program that can utilize more than one core (called Parallelization) to improve the program’s efficiency and addressability. Programs such as graphic software, games etc. can run multiple instructions at the same time and deliver faster, smoother results.

If you use CPU-intensive software, multiple cores will likely provide a better computing experience. If you use your PC to check emails and watch the occasional video, you really don’t need a multi-core processor.

How many cores do i3, i5, and i7’s have?

  • An i3 processor has two cores
  • An i5 processor has two or four cores (depending on the model you have)
  • An i7 processor has two, four, or six cores (depending on the model you have)

How Do Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad Compare with Core i3, i5, and i7?

Added 2012/01/21:

If you’re looking for a good value PC and have decided on a Core 2 Duo, Core i3, or Core i5 (all best in value for casual computer use), please read on:

Core 2 Duo processors run two threads; i3’s and i5’s run four threads. Core 2 Duo processors are socket 775 (45/65nm); Core i3 and i5 processors are socket 1156 (nm) but only work with DDR3 RAM (Some Core 2 Duo’s work with both DDR2 and DDR3.)

For desktops, I’d stay clear of core 2 duos due to their lack of power and compatibility with the newest PC hardware; for laptops, it all depends on your usage. As laptops aren’t as easy to upgrade, buying dated technology might burn you in the future when you find your Core 2 Duo PC’s motherboard only supports 4GB RAM—for example.

i5’s come with “turbo boost”; however, i3’s overclock very well if that’s your thing. That’s where I’d put my money if you’re considering Core 2 Duo, i3, and i5: the i3 provides the best value for most casual PC users.

While I focused on i3, i5, and Core 2 Duo to answer a reader’s question, the principles apply when comparing i5, i7, and Core 2 Quad. I’d go for the i5 unless you are willing to pay a premium for a little more performance.

What’s the Difference between i3/i5/i7 Generations?

To find out what’s new with the second generation of i3, and i5, and i7 processors, read more about Sandy Bridge here.

To find out what’s new with the third generation of i3, and i5, and i7 processors, read more about Ivy Bridge here.

What Does the “i” Stand for in i3, i5, and i7?

Added 2012/03/03:

I searched around the web and found speculation that the “i” stands for “Intel”; however, there’s no substantiation to that claim. After coming up with no explanation, I sent an email to Intel tech support. Here’s what they had to say (emphasis added):

Hello Rich,

Thank you for contact Intel(R) Technical Support.

We have received your request. Please be informed that the letter ‘i’ on the model number of the Processor does not stand for any particular detail, technology or feature presented on the product.

This is just a marketing brand name decision. For any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us back.

Thank you for your understading (sic).

Sincerely,

Alvaro A.
Intel Customer Support

The i# processors are just branded that way with no special meaning.

Do I need an i3, i5, or i7?

The reason you’re reading this guide is to find out which type of processor you need. I want to give a simple answer and, if you have more to add, please let us know in the comments. As with all computer hardware, the type of processor you need depends on your needs, for how long you want your computer to stay current, and your budget.

Here’s a very simple breakdown of what you should look to buy depending on your computing needs. All suggestions assume you are buying a pre-built PC (so you don’t have to worry about motherboard and RAM specs and so you don’t have to worry about upgrade compatibility.)

If you:

  • Browse the internet, check email, and play the occasional flash game (like Farmville): Get a single core netbook or desktop (and don’t spend more than $300 USD — Updated 12/01/21.)
  • Do word processing, spreadsheets etc., listen to music often, and watch movies, get an i3 processor (or any dual core processor i.e. core 2 duo)
  • Play the occasional game and are happy with lower resolution and lower quality graphics (my suggestion assumes the graphics processor on the pre-built PC will be well-matched for the processor suggestions), watch HD movies etc., get an i5.
  • If you do graphic publishing, music creation, programming (and compiling), watch HD movies, or like to play visually appealing games, get a quad core i5, or i7.
  • If you like to have the very best hardware and play the most graphically intense games, get a quad core or hexa corei7 Extreme.

I realise my suggestions are somewhat generic but should point you in the right direction. If you have a specific question, please ask us in the forums where we can help you find the right processor for you.

So… What Computer Should I Purchase?

Added 2012/03/02:

Recently, a number of you have commented asking what computer to buy. As I’m not familiar with all brands, models, and current pricing, I ask that you post your question in Windows Forums where our group of helpful PC geeks will assist in making the choice that’s best for you. Not sure how to use a forum? Start here: How to get great help from Windows Forums.

Last Updated: September 17, 2012

2012/06/23: Added details about i3, i5, i7 processor generations.
2012/09/17: Updated processor recommendations based on pricing and availability. References to hexa core processors.



 i3, i5, and i7; Dual, Quad, Hexa Core Processors. How to they Differ?

About Rich

Rich is the owner and creator of Windows Guides; he spends his time breaking things on his PC so he can write how-to guides to fix the problems he creates.

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Comments

  • confused before

    great exp…. good job

  • rancho

    can any one help me please ? today i saw that one laptop with i3 processor but 8 gb ram and 1760 mb graphics card and another laptop with quad core but 6 gb ram and 512 mb graphics card so which one is faster i want for games and cad softwares

  • madhura

    thank you sir for sharing this information … it really helps me a lot

  • jesse

    Absolutely +1 thanks

  • teacup

    that was really clear and simple – cheers!

  • Sootsweep64

    So helpful thanks so much

  • Ariyan Haghgoo

    is there any laptops with the
    Intel’s 3.2GHz hexacore i7-97 ?

  • Archie

    Really helpfull
    Very well done

  • barongo onkangi

    thank you so much. This answer as settled a serious argument.

  • sooj

    thanks a lot for the information. i have always wanted to know about the different processors.

  • yasmin

    Wow!! Ive just read this page and you have answered absolutely everything I wanted to know as Im looking at buying a new laptop. Thanks for the indepth info!!! Greatly appreciated!!!

  • kapil

    this is the best explained article i’ve ever come across, thanxs a million

  • http://www.facebook.com/joana.blum.75 Joana Blum

    Thank you very much for writing this. It was very helpful =)

  • Atul Tripathi

    Thanks Mr. Rich for your excellent explanation….!

  • rowin tanglao

    Thanks, I’ve learned a lot about this post. :)

  • shibin

    thanks a lot rich…u made my made me undrstnd the diff clearly dat too in a layman term

  • moha

    your information is really helpful and the way you explain it is interesting…thanks

  • Mohit Patel

    gr8 job

  • bnicole143

    I’m trying to buy a laptoo.. is it better to get an i3 or quadcore??? I was looking at an Asus i3 4gb 500 hard drive for 450$ or samsung quadcore 6gb 750 hard drive for 550$… I want a good computer for a cheaper price.. what would you do?? Thank you

  • andre

    Good stuff and to the point!

  • ajshne

    Hey ,Its good information you have provided but just want to ask when should i buy i3.

  • Suwadith

    Clearly Quad core!

  • Goody

    Thank you soooo much for explaining this. I’m going to search the sites for other answers about PC’s!!!!

  • jai

    wud u tell me whta different bw core 2 duo and quad????

  • Sam

    What is the difference between i3 and i5…. some i5 processors have only 2 cores then what is the difference between both????

    • http://richr.org/ Rich

      Dual core i5s utilize hyperthreading, providing four logical threads; dual core i3s have two logical threads only and do not use hyperthreading. Also, dual core i5s, for the most part, operate at higher clock speeds.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002873752674 Shahbaz Naeem

    Best Really informational and helpfull for me , I hope i’ll get more knowledge from you by this site.

    Thanks for Sharing – Love from Pakistan

  • Basha

    Hello Rich,
    Thank you for you’re post , Now We can make our own decesion on Notebook/PC Purchase with out any issues.

  • Jacobjoshhi

    Nice its very useful.

  • basil

    thanks the message was very helpful and straight to the point.

  • Rina

    I have a PIV with chipset intel G41express 3GHz, 1G for the graphic card (internal), 2G of RAM but i don’t know which system is the most appropriate with my pc cause I already used win7 ultimate 32bit/64 bit,win7 professioinel 32bit and XP sp3 professionel I didn’d find which one is the best for me!!
    Thanks for your advice…………

  • Khagendra

    Rich, Your artcile is well written and I appriciated for your great job.After reading this blog I am clear that what are processores.Now I would like to buy dual core machines.However after few months I want to change the processor.Could you suggest me is there possible ? or what will be the difrence in new one and old upgrated system.
    Thank you very much:)

    • http://richr.org/ Rich

      If you’re building you’re own desktop, it’s possible to change out the processor for a faster one at a later date; just check that the motherboard you pick is compatible with the higher end processors available today. If you’re buying a pre-built desktop, you may or may not be able to upgrade. If you’re buying a pre-built laptop, you probably cannot upgrade the processor later but that’s not always the case. It really depends on what you buy and how much freedom you have with the other hardware to support future upgrades.

  • Zazz

    Hello

    I am looking for a lap top or tower which can function on a 24/7 basis. It is for gaming purposes “kingdom of Camelot” . I am not sure what is best as it is not a high graphical game.

    Thanks
    S

  • http://richr.org/ Rich

    An i3 will meet your needs. I’d go for a system with 4GB of RAM or more (Updated as of 4/4/2013)

  • Saporevero

    Hi, I will be editing a few websites alternately eg. blog posts and storing uploading new photos, as well as video clips for them. I will also be writing and printing and skyping/messengering with clients, etc. What would you recommend for me?

    Thank you!

    • http://richr.org/ Rich

      For your requirements, I recommend a system built with an i3 processor.

  • http://log18.us/ Mike Tayon

    Thanks for such a helpful article! I am starting to learn the differences amongst 2+ core processors, after buying a Core 2 Duo E6400. Now I need to know, when, or why should, or do I even need to, take the leap to a 64 bit OS. I am pretty darned happy with the E6400, as I don’t “game”, and it seems to handle everything I can throw at it in my day to day PC usage without a hiccup, BUT I wonder if in part, that is because of 4GB RAM, and a 10KRPM HD?

    If I buy a i3 or i5, will I NEED to move to 64bit? I am getting the impression Windows Vista would suffice. I don’t want to be setting myself up for having to stick to expensive OS Software in the future, when I KNOW I’ll never need “gaming power”, but I like what I read about the i5 (Hyper threading being the biggest draw for me). I don’t care about “Turbo Boost” in the i5, so maybe I should aim at the i3? A 2 core would be just fine for me based on my opinion of the E6400, and what you have said about the i3, but am not sure it would last “forever” in my world. OK, I hope I am explaining all this right.

    To surmise, I don’t game, but do watch videos and listen to music, and use a lot of browser resources, for ebay, forums, etc all at once! I do like using photo editing software, and have been stuck on Photoimpact 5 for years (grin). Would older software from the late 90’s work ok on an i3 or i5?

    Thanks for ANY suggestions, comments, or help!!!!!! I’m “almost” there in deciding, just need to get rid of the reaming “fog” LOL :)

    Mike

  • Marie

    I’m looking for a desktop, but not an all in one. I just purchased a http://www.staples.com/HP-Pavilion-p7-1446s-Desktop-PC/product_989660 and it is slow and freezing up at times, especially when playing games. What is the difference between this and http://www.officemax.com/technology/computers/desktop-computers/product-prod4590015, and http://www.officemax.com/technology/computers/desktop-computers/product-prod4280040. Which is faster, and which is a better buy for the money? Please help asap, as I purchased the Pav p-7-1446 and only have 10 days to return it for a refund.

  • Icestreaker

    For a laptop don’t even mess with Intel, go with AMD… they are far cheaper, give you more bang for your buck, and give you far more power than Intel can casual use. Granted, if you are a heavy gamer, you may want to consider an AMD graphics card alongside with an i7 processor (which for a laptop, unless you have a really good way of dispersing heat is not a good idea), or a desktop with an i5 or i7 or AMD graphics card… then you would be set.

  • Icestreaker

    Plus I forgot to add, most AMD processors are at least Dual-core processors… with their newest lines being quad-core…

  • Arjun Menon

    What about ARM processors


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