Laptop Processor Comparison: Intel Core i5 vs i7
As I explained in my previous laptop buying guide, your processor’s performance is not something you can afford to disregard if you are serious about your notebook computer’s speed and ability to multitask.
Every type of processor comes with its set of specifications, which enables advanced users to assess their capacities even without trying them out. If you take into consideration the general public opinion however, chances are, you’re aiming for Intel’s microprocessors targeted at businesses and high-end consumers. In other words, Intel Core is most likely your go-to brand.
Intel’s official website and Wikipedia both have exhaustive lineups of Core processors from different generations and codenames. That is plenty to choose from; but if you are not tech-savvy, the pile of information illustrated on these sources will immediately scare you off.
Thankfully, you don’t need to learn about all the brand names before knowing the type of processor that will suit you best. The logic is quite simple. If you’re running away from Core i3 because you don’t plan to use your laptop only for basic tasks such as surfing the web, then you will need an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor.
Now, that’s where things get interesting, as we are about to find out what the differences between these CPUs are.
Overall performance comparison
Intel Core CPUs are differentiated into performance tiers, making it possible for laptop buyers to know which ones they should consider.
Core i5 = Mainstream user
Core i7 = High-end user
Unlike “weak” Core i3 processors, which are aimed at budget systems, fast i5 processors are built for more powerful use. Aside its support for daily routines such as browsing or creating and editing Microsoft Office documents, Core i5 works well for gaming and heavy usage, which involves using many applications at the same time without experiencing glitches or freezing.
Core i7 is even faster; it comes with better graphics and is built for the most demanding tasks, including running high-end video games, video editing and audio rendering.
Not totally impressed? Here is a fact that will close the argument: With a good amount of RAM, laptops or notebook PCs equipped with Core i7 processors can let you run all these demanding tasks while letting your download programs and browsing windows remain open without any risk of crashing… And all this, while your resource-sucking antivirus program works in the background to keep you protected to the maximum.
Falling for i7 already? Just keep in mind that this type of microprocessors comes with huge price tags.
Rate your current processor
Good mobile processors – in this case, those that are fixed in mobile PCs – come at affordable prices. The best ones, however, can only be grabbed with significant extra cash.
Below is a table comparing a few released 4th Generation Intel Core processors and their prices (information courtesy of Intel’s official website).
Cache and Frequency
Tray Price in USD
(3M Cache, up to 3.40 GHz)
(3M Cache, up to 2.60 GHz)
(3M Cache, up to 2.90 GHz)
(3M Cache, up to 3.10 GHz)
Cache and Frequency
Tray Price in USD
(4M Cache, up to 3.00 GHz)
(4M Cache, up to 3.30 GHz)
(6M Cache, up to 3.40 GHz)
(8M Cache, up to 3.80 GHz)
So clearly, Core i7 processors are far more expensive than their counterparts. Yet, if your experience means more to you than your money, you should be setting your eyes on their specifications and forget about the numbers after the dollar sign.
Let’s go into the more techy side of things, shall we?
Quad-core or Dual-core?
Scan through Intel’s generations of i5 and i7 processors and you’ll find that there are dual-core and quad-core processors in both categories. Gone are the days when CPUs were manufactured with a single core.
Overtime, thanks to the evolution of technology, the addition of more cores allowed for the increment of CPU power – hence improving performance. In Matt Bach’s words, “each core is basically a whole new processor”.
Nevertheless, there are debates as to whether quad-core processors provide better system performance than dual-cores. This is simply because quad-core processors require more energy to run and a more complex algorithm than dual-cores, so not many applications take full advantage of quad-core processors.
This could cause a quad-core-equipped PC user to run mainly on two cores, although his processor would still have to process more calculations.
At the end of the day, you can console yourself with the fact that the number of cores isn’t everything. Core i5 and i7 multi-core processors will both let you enjoy decent speed, so you can just move on to other specs.
Cache size comparison
CPU cache is used by the processor to access memory with speed, so size is important. Think of it as the key behind your processor’s ability to deal with repetitive tasks faster.
Indeed, CPU cache helps with multitasking; therefore, the larger the cache, the faster a user can navigate between his tasks back and forth.
As of November 2013, all Intel Core i5 mobile processors have 3MB of cache, compared to Intel Core i7 mobile processors, which generally have 4MB or 6MB of cache. Remarkably, the i7-4900MQ processor has an outstanding 8MB of cache.
Clock Speed comparison
The clock speed or frequency of a CPU tells you how fast a processor can perform an activity. In order words, how many instructions it can process per second. Clock speed rates are reported in gigahertz (GHz).
Note that if you tend to jungle around with many tasks rapidly on your laptop, then a processor with a base clock speed of 2.4 GHz should be fast enough for you.
Currently at 2.8 GHz, the Core i5-4200H and i5-4330M are the two 4th Generation (Haswell) mobile processors with the highest base clock speed.
The mobile Core i7-4600M is even faster, with a base clock speed of 2.9 GHz.
Turbo Boost Technology
Intel Turbo Boost Technology allows processor cores to run faster than their normal frequencies. It acts as a temporary overclock that increases the CPU’s base clock speed. Power, current and temperature levels are factors taken into consideration prior to the automatic activation of this feature.
The good news is that both Core i5 and i7 processors support Turbo Boost. Then again, the latter achieves higher speeds than the former. Among Intel’s mobile 4th Generation Haswell i5 processors that have a maximum Turbo Frequency above 3GHz, the i5-4330M and i5-4200H processors are the ones that stand out with rates rising at 3.5 GHz and 3.4 GHz, respectively.
Amazingly, all 4th Generation Haswell i7 mobile processors can reach 3 GHz in Turbo Boost mode. In effect, the i7-4800MQ can be clocked at 3.7 GHz, whereas the i7-4960HQ and i7-4900MQ can both reach a record 3.8 GHz.
Traditional processor cores can only perform one task at a time, but Hyper-Threading Technology allows cores to handle two tasks at a time. This technology, which lets applications perform many tasks simultaneously, elevates a CPU’s potential through advanced multi-tasking power.
The benefit is that a user can thus run several demanding applications at the same time, without experiencing system responsiveness issues.
All Core i5 and i7 mobile processors from Intel’s 4th Generation family support Hyper-Threading Technology.
Core i7 processors provide the best graphics, speed, power and overall performance. They’re basically the best CPUs you can have, regardless of how extreme you are. It really doesn’t matter if you are into movie production, music making, video game development, design... Just see Core i7 CPUs as do-it-all components.
But because they are so advanced and effective, they are also very expensive. As a result, it is up to you to decide if you should spend big once and for all, or if you should save towards second-best items.
All in all, don’t forget that Core i5 processors will very likely be perfect for you if you have nothing to do with technology or the media industry; plus, they are great if you want a balance between your laptop’s performance and its price.