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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.



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

250 thoughts on “i3, i5, and i7; Dual, Quad, Hexa Core Processors. How to they Differ?”

  1. Swisshadow says:

    what would be the difference of  a pc with a motherboard that has 2 processors (quad core) and a PC with just the core i7 processor both machines have the option of sli or crossfire.

    1. Rich says:

      What model #s are both processors?

  2. Miniindia 1990 says:

    hello i have a acer lapy thst is core i5 so i want to know it have how many core

    1. Rich says:

      An i5 processor has 2 or 4 cores (depending on the model you have.)

  3. Cocoboy757 says:

    What processor should I get if I want to make video?

    1. Rich says:

      I recommend i5 or i7 for anything HD

  4. thecookinchef says:

    i want to get skyrim but i have an i5 and i dont know if it is a quad core or dual core and the computer is a lenovo h330 

    1. Rich says:

      Click Start -> Computer (or Windows Key + E)

      The processor type and model is listed at the bottom left of the “Computer” Window.

  5. hagrid says:

    i’m looking to buy an all in one. I’m a basic user e-mail, internet search, simple games like solitare. I view an occasional video from you tube. Do I need an i3,i5 or a cheaper model? I want the 23 inch touch screen. Hp has one with all the bells and whistles but it is not i3. ok for me?

    1. Rich says:

      “Hp has one with all the bells and whistles but it is not i3. ok for me?”

      I assume it’s an i5? If it’s within your budget, then yes.

  6. Logan says:

    I have a core 2 duo and am looking at an i5 but it has two cores. Do you think the i5 would be compatible with my motherboard? Thanks and sorry if I sound like an idiot I am new to PC parts.

    1. Rich says:

      What motherboard (or PC make/model) do you have?

  7. PowderKat says:

    I have a small business and want to purchase 5 Dell Vostro laptops.  I have chosen the i5 processor over the i7 for budget reasons.   These units are networked and our practice management software is imaging intense.   Will I get speed from this processor?  My server is new and pretty huge. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great explanations Rich,nice,so i am buying laptop,  http://www.mikronis.hr/detalji_proizvoda.a42c02a1a29f469ab00d67e3146bbbd2.hp-probook-4530s-intel-pentium-b940-2-0ghz-3gb-320gb-dvdrw-dl-linux-15-6-hd-amd-radeon-hd6490m-1gb-p-n-lh290ea.aspx ,this is model,it has intel i5,2.40ghZ,4 gb,AMD RADEON hd6490M 1gb,so i must ask 2 questions,will i be able to play new games,like fifa 12,or skyrim,and how many cores will it have, 2 or 4 ? :)

    1. Rich says:

      It’s a dual core (Procesor: Intel Pentium Dual Core B940 2.0GHz (2MB cache).) This a Pentium line (not i5) http://ark.intel.com/products/55626/Intel-Pentium-Processor-B940-(2M-Cache-2_00-GHz)

      The graphics processor sits right at the bottom of Notebook check’s Class 2 classification and will render Fifa 12 very well–even at high detail. Skyrim, on the other hand, is not playable using this graphics card. For more details including Fifa 12 and Skyrim benchmarks, check out notebook check’s analysis on the HD 6490M: http://www.notebookcheck.net/AMD-Radeon-HD-6490M.43843.0.html

      Good luck!

  9. NanLuvsLife says:

    HSN- http://www.hsn.com has a special for the Today Special Value for 17.3 Gateway LCD Quad-Core, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD Laptop with Webcam for 579.95…. Sounds Good? Is it worth it and realiable?

    1. Rich says:

      Not a bad deal but also doesn’t seem groundbreaking… (I’m not current on pricing so I can’t say for sure.)

  10. What is the difference between 2.0GHz Quadcore i-7 and 2.7 GHz Dualcore i-7. I know the basics it more capabilities of delivering instructions. However, I would be doing light work on photo editing and mostly use my computer for Office purposes and HD. But I don’t want to get a “dated” processor…. 

  11. Suveshj says:

    why processors names like i3,i5,i7 not as i2,i4,i6?????

    1. Rich says:

      Suveshj,

      There’s no reason for this. i3, i5, and i7 are model numbers created by Intel’s marketing department. Intel likely avoided i2, i4, and i6 so customers don’t assume that the number refers to the number of cores.

  12. bindu bhavani says:

    what i couldn’t understand through a lecture got very easily understand over here. thank you.I have an assignment where i need to answer the question: “Current desktop PCs often have four “cores” in each processor. Why not just one
    core? Why might we expect personal computer processors to have even more than
    four cores in the future?” and “Many people believe that modern computers are fast enough for the vast majority
    of users, so it isn’t worth designing faster processors or architectures. Argue
    for and against this belief. Find and explain an example of an
    application which needs much more processing power than we have now”. can you help me in this regard.

  13. jon says:

    would a  AMD HDT45TWFGRBOX Phenom II X6 1045T Processor – Six Core,  2.70GHz,  be good to play games like skyrim

    1. Rich says:

      That’s a good start but you’ll also need a graphics card if you don’t have one. From experience, I’ve tried Skyrim with an NVIDIA GTS 250 (playable at lower resolutions) and an NVIDIA GTX 460 (looks beautiful.)

    2. Alaa says:

      Well i treid ATI- 5700 hd and i tried Geforce GTX 560 but to be honest I want to tell you if you are a gamer like me get a geforce GTX 570 twin frozen form msi that one i have and i realy love it … you can play battelfield 3 , cryisis 2  , need for speed the run and metro on max details its a very very very powerfull GPU

  14. Josh apps says:

    Hey, I’m getting a new laptop for my B day, and I have good graphics but is amd quad-core llano A6-3420M any good for gaming? I would like to play Guild Wars 2 without lagg.
    Thanks Josh

  15. Rich says:

    Good question. While your processor does have four cores, it also utilizes hyperthreading (SMT.) The 4-core i7s will show 8 CPU usage graphs; the 6-core i7’s will show 12.

  16. Rich says:

    If your processor does not meet the requirements, you may still be able to try. Most games do not actively require the minimum specs to launch. You may find it runs well.

  17. Rich says:

    Yes, a processor can only do so much for gaming (handle many instructions) but if you want high resolution and high framerate gameplay, you’ll also need a graphics processing unit (GPU)/video card. Here’s some info on picking a GPU: http://mintywhite.com/more/hardware-more/upgrade-pcs-graphicsvideo-card-gpu/

  18. Rohit Patel says:

    how does the clockspeed affect the performance? 3.1Ghz i3 or 2.4Ghz i5 is better assuming all the other specs (like ram, graphic card) are same. use will be mainly for mediocre video editing and gaming (not hardcore). Pls help RICH…

    1. janfeb solis says:

      3.1 Ghz is faster than 2.4 Ghz…but is the i5 a dual core or quad core…if its quad core it will be faster than the i3 which only is dual core

  19. Mudasar says:

    hi 
    i am Mudasar …i want to buy a laptop but i don’t know that’s model or Price please help me which i model purchase and which price

  20. Nicholai Corbie says:

    ty so much you helped me alot

  21. TERI MAA KUTI says:

     I want to buy MacBook Pro and I cannot decide if I should go for the i7 Quad Core 2.5 GHz or the i7 2.8 GHz Dual Core, and by the way I am quite a heavy user

  22. Pedro Cls says:

    I need a computer in which to do programming in various languages 8c++ , masm, html, java…) and i also need it to last a few years (cant afford a new laptop every 2/3 years). I wanted to know whats more appropriate an i5 quad core or an i7 dual core?.
    Currently im interested in a Toshiba Tecra R850-1CN withan IntelCore i7-2640M.
    Im also open to new suggestions

  23. Golzar210 says:

    what is the difference between dual core and core 2 duo processors?

  24. Anniesmith says:

    Hi rich!

    How long will it last if the i5 laptop that has been change with i7 cpu?

    1. Rich says:

      If you’re asking how long the useful life of the laptop will be, it comes down to your needs. Generally, a laptop will last 3-9 years depending on upgrade requirements and the life of the components. Changing the CPU may not extend the life of your laptop but may keep it current for longer.

  25. Tejerokhay says:

    hi rich.

    Please help me… I will using auto-cad 2012 or its latest 3D version,  i can’t decide on which laptop i would buy, 2.1 ghz dual core or 2.1 i3  with 1Gb graphics? does autocad require good graphics anyway? pls help… pls, pls rich. Thank you so much.

    I like your site. it helps me understand a lot…. :)

    1. Rich says:

      If you’re doing 3D, get the i3. I’m not sure how complex your work will be but you’ll appreciate the newer tech. You may want to ask in the autoCAD forums and see what they’re using: http://forums.autodesk.com/t5/AutoCAD/ct-p/8

  26. Rich says:

    Unfortunately it’s not as black and white as “quad core is better than ix” or vice-versa.

    Generally, a quad core will out perform an i3 because it has two more cores but, for your money, you may find an i3 with a higher clock rate that trumps two extra cores.

    I’m not familiar with all MBs but most i3-compatible boards will support i5 processors. If you’re considering an upgrade, it’s best to ask the manufacturer first before making a purchase.

  27. avinash says:

    hi..!!
    i am thinking of buying a asus k53sm-sx010d
    ts spec is i5-2450m 2.5 ghz dual core 4 threads..with nvidia geforce gt 630m gpu
    n 4 gb ram(upto 8gb).
    can it support games like battlefield3,metro2033,sniper ghost warior etc??

  28. Jake says:

     depends on the sockets of your motherboard and processor you have to buy the right processor for the right motherboard socket otherwiise you will have major problems i recomend the asus P755D-E its very reliable and safe even has its own overcloaking software  windows 7 ready  nvidia ready supports LGA 1156 CPU’s I5-I7 processors dual or quadcore or extreame 6 core Look out for LGA 1156 Ton the cpu’s details it should state socket type LGA 1156

    1. Rich says:

      Thanks Jake

  29. Banchie says:

    Hi Rich! Interesting topic to be trutful but you say at one point:

    “i5′s come with “turbo boost”; however, i3′s overclock very well if that’s your thing.”

    My i5 750 2,6Ghz goes to 4Ghz with air (Thernaltake Mux 120 cooler )and temps keep under 70 in heavy load. Idle temps are at 45-55.

    I would like to know how the hell much do thise i3 go?

    Sincerly,
    Banch

  30. Common_Voter says:

    Thanks Rich.  A bit after the fact as I was in the market for an upgrade last month & went with what was available at my local bigbox store.  That turned out to be an i7 laptop and it apparently has 8 processors.  The question (my first PC was a 286 in 1991 – things have gotten complicated since then) of course was, what the heck is an i7?  Thanks for the answers.

    Unfortunately, my Excel macros don’t run that much quicker on this i7 laptop than they do on my Core Duo desktop.  It’s bedevilling what I must do to speed those macros up as everybody seems to be more about graphics & gaming.  Anyway, that’s a question for another thread.

    1. d says:

      Not 8 processors.

      1. Common_Voter says:

        Yeah. Discovered later it’s actually a quad-core with two virtual processors per core, I guess. Windows’ Device Manager shows 8 processors installed but I’m not sure what to make of that. Speccy (similar to my old CPU-Z) says they’re 4 ‘cores’ with two ‘threads’ each.

      2. Rich says:

        Processors that use hyper-threading (HT) show two graphs per core. With HT, the operating system has two virtual cores to work with, in parallel, per physical core.

  31. Mary says:

    Thanks a lot Rich! This article really helped in deciding what laptop I should get. Cheers!

  32. zchamp says:

    Thanks Rich! This did help explain it a bit better between the differences. 

    But, I’m still not sure if my processor has 2, 4 or 6 core.  I’d purchased a Toshiba Satellite P775-S7320. 17″ HD Laptop. Specs shows Intel 2nd gen core i7, i7-2670QM, 2.2 GHz processor shows 6 GB DDR3 SDRAM, Dual-core multi-core technology. What does this mean? Do I have the best processor?  Thank you ahead for your response.

  33. zchamp says:

     Thanks Rich! This did help explain it a bit better between the differences. 

    But, I’m still not sure if my processor has 2, 4 or 6 core.  I’d purchased a Toshiba Satellite P775-S7320. 17″
    HD Laptop. Specs shows Intel 2nd gen core i7, i7-2670QM, 2.2 GHz
    processor shows 6 GB DDR3 SDRAM, Dual-core multi-core technology. What
    does this mean? Do I have the best processor?  Thank you ahead for your
    response.

    1. Gil says:

      i also got a toshiba satellite and i was wondering the same sort of thing so I i did what any google user does when he/she has a question…I asked google

      http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/processor-comparison/compare-intel-processors.html

      This should answer your questions regarding intel’s chips 

    2. Gil says:

      WOW, i just looked and it seems that we have the exact same laptop, i got mine at BestBuy, I was about to grab an i5, and i saw this one for only $20.00 more, with a bit more ram, a larget harddrive and a few other little perks, so for me it was a NO BRAINER, and at the time for me it was the old well 7 is bigger then 5 so it must be better… looks like i lucked out cause the i7-2670QM has 4 cores, 8 Threads, 6.0 MB Cache, a Clock Speed of 2.20GHz, with a Turbo Max of 3.10GHz. There’s more info on that site I linked in my previous post. Hope my little bit of leg work answered your question(s)

      1. Rich says:

        Thanks Gil!

  34. Yeff says:

    Great work Sir! Thanks a lot! Hats down to you <):D

  35. thanks a lot for the information

  36. Skipperr 123 says:

    Thnks Mr.Rich for the info you shared ….., Although i think you are requested to share info
    about 1st generation and 2nd generation …… thnks once again .

    my e-mail address is : skipperr.123@gmail.com

    1. Rich says:

      Yep, time to add an update to the guide. Stay tuned.

  37. Asish Ranjan Samal says:

    Many many Thanks Mr. Rich

  38. Gavin says:

    Thanks that was very helpful. there are so many different options that its easy for us end users to get confused.

  39. Guest says:

    Great breakdown//…. thanx

  40. AniGani says:

    Simple but detailed explanation. Thanks,  Rich.

  41. DK says:

    i wanted to buy a pc but understanding the difference between processors was really getting into my nerves this piece of information really helped me a lot. thank you very much. 

  42. Reu182 says:

    hey there…  I’m a 2nd year media student and am in need of  a laptop which can handle video editing and graphic design besides dealing with av conversions and other stuff.. but strictly for work purposes and a bit of movie watching… What kind of processor would give me the optimum results wrt what I’ve stated.

  43. gago says:

    speak english fool

  44. Zahraa says:

    hi …thank you for clearring to me  the concept of the i core 3,5..
    but i have guestion to you and please try to answer me today cause i have exam tomorrow and my question is : what is the diffrence between i core 7 ,5 and 3??????

  45. Subh says:

    hi..thanks for all ur suggestions and guidances.bt here i hv a basic question “What is the basic difference between Dual core and Quad core?” pls help me out..
    Thank u

  46. Narnian_victima says:

    Thanx for the info… Its useful for me…AHSAN

  47. Herpderp says:

    Balaka I bought a 2011 quad core i7 MacBook Pro (known for running hot) and have had no issues with it, even during the rare game or two. I also bought a new Ivy Bridge quad core i7 MacBook Pro and have yet to run into heat issues. It depends on what you’re doing with it. If you decide to over clock it then yeah, you’ll probably have to rig a cooling system, but otherwise in stock intel configuration i7s are just fine in my opinion heat wise. 

  48. Hi! I am operating an internet cafe that caters strictly to casino gaming. Since our supplier will soon get games from Microgaming, should I really upgrade our dual core computers to i5 or would what I have suffice?

  49. Cettemienne says:

    How do I work in another core in parallel?

  50. Zheng Zhang says:

    Can u tell me? how many types of CPU?

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