When the Intel 4004 processor was released in 1971, it became the first commercially-produced microprocessor and laid the foundation for future innovations and advancements in CPU technology.
Whereas the Intel 4004 was a 4-bit processor with a max CPU clock speed of just 740 kHz, modern-day Intel processors offer much higher performance ratings. As if figuring that out wasn’t challenging enough, you’ll notice that now you can choose between i7, i9, and numerous other types of CPUs from Intel.
Which CPU is the best for you, and how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of the processor that you choose? Here’s what to know about the best Intel processors and how to measure their performance.
Intel currently lists 235 different processors on its official website, meaning that there is ample choice for those interested in comparing processors to find the perfect one for your equipment.
The Intel 8008 eventually replaced the 4-bit 4004 in 1972, and Intel went on to produce many more CPUs in the 1970s and 80s. Pentium processors became the standard throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s. It wasn’t until 2008 that Intel began introducing their Core-i series that is popular today, and in 2013 they began releasing Core-i processors with updated Haswell micro-architecture.
Currently, Intel manufactures and sells mainly the following CPUs:
This might look confusing, but it’s quite simple. Each Intel processor will begin with the family name at the beginning, such as “Intel Core i3” or “Intel Xeon.” Then, you’ll identify the processor’s generation by the number directly following the dash. The Intel Core i9-9900K is a ninth-generation processor because 9 is the first number following the dash.
What about the letters at the end? Processors designed for use in thin or very portable laptops will have a “Y” or a “U” at the end of their name; those intended for more powerful laptops will have “H” or “HK” at the end; the ones with “T” or “K” at the end, or those with a zero and no letter are for desktop computers.
While you’re technically able to use an Intel Core i9-9900K chip in a laptop, various benchmark tests show that they perform up to 15% slower on laptops, making them less ideal for their price point.
Unlike the models of smartphones that Apple releases each year, the difference between a Core i7 vs. i9 processor, for example, isn’t that the i9 was necessarily released after the i7. They’re merely different families of CPUs.
Each Core-i series processor has seen its fair share of updates. Most recently, there was an update in the spring of 2020, when Intel rolled out its 10th Gen processors and a following announcement regarding 11th Generation chips for laptops in September of 2020. Currently, all Core i3, i5, i7, and i9 processors will have the new 10th Gen chips and 11th Gen chips are slated to follow for thin-and-light laptops.
Here, it becomes essential to understand the difference between generations. A fourth-generation i5 likely won’t perform as well as an eighth-generation i3 processor only due to recent updates in the technology powering the processor. In this specific case, all eighth-generation processors received an update that saw two extra cores throughout.
This means that an eighth-generation i3 processor would have four cores and threads that match the fourth-generation i5 processor’s four cores and four threads. However, the newer i3 would be operating at a much higher clock speed and consuming far less electricity with a lower TDP.
Aside from the differences between generations, Core i3 vs. i5 processors’ main difference is the number of cores and threads. Before the release of eighth-generation i3 processors, most were dual-core. Quad-core i3 processors only began appearing in 2018.
Core i5 processors, on the other hand, are mostly quad-core, meaning that they’ll be able to process at faster speeds and can support turbo boost for overclocking. In general, Core i5 CPUs also have a larger cache to help process larger, repetitive tasks.
When comparing two eighth-generation processors, the Core i3-8100 and the Core i5-8500, you’ll notice that the Core i5 has six cores and a 25% faster CPU speed and that it has 9MB of L3 cache compared to the 6MB in the Core i3 processor. In this case, TDP, GPU clock speed, and max memory bandwidth are all the same.
In general, Core i7 processors are better-suited for users who need a powerful laptop or desktop computer to engage in media-creation or media-editing and gaming with higher-level graphics.
As mentioned, eighth-generation processors all received updates, which meant the increase in the number of cores. Most late-model Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs all have six cores, but you can find a few high-end Core i7 processors with eight cores (designed mostly for gaming PCs).
Another similarity is the Turbo Boost feature, which both Core i5 and i7 processors have. While i5 processors do support Turbo Boost, it’s the i7 ones that generally have higher clock speeds overall. Be sure to check whether the chip supports Hyper-Threading, however, as it factors into its overall performance (most i5 desktop chips don’t support Hyper-Threading).
When it comes down to it, i5 processors are suitable for engaging in everyday computing tasks such as browsing, creating documents, and video streaming. If you need to edit or encode video or play lots of games, an i7 processor will perform much better.
Have you noticed a trend? Core i7 processors tend to be better than Core i5 chips, which are usually better-performing than Core i3 ones, and so on. This means that, if the generation is the same, Core i9 will nearly always perform better. So, what’s the real difference between Core i7 and i9?
Both are top-of-the-line CPUs offering high core counts. This is standard across most newer Intel processors with i7s having six to eight cores and i9s always coming with at least eight.
Offering similar CPU speeds, the most significant differences between these two processors’ families are the differences you’ll notice between other families: the number of CPU threads, cache, and slightly higher turbo clock speeds.
What’s essential when making a CPU comparison? It’s difficult to test the performance of a CPU as a standalone component of a larger system. You can place a hiCPU’s her-ranked Core i7 processor in a basic laptop, and it might not perform as well as an older Core i3 processor in a newer laptop built to handle the speed and features of the CPU. And don’t forget about our comparison of generations above.
However, one of the best ways to begin a CPU comparison is to look at a few critical benchmark tests that provide a standardized overview of performance.
Geekbench measures processor performance across macOS, Windows, Linux, Android, and iOS platforms. This benchmark simulates real-life usage scenarios to produce scores. You’ll be able to use this to distinguish between single-core and multi-core performance.
A HandBrake benchmark test is relevant to users interested in using their device for video editing. To test the two competing CPUs’ performance, open HandBrake to transcode the same video file to a 4K video clip at 1080p.
Comparing the best CPUs for gaming? Cinebench is a real-world cross-platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. Cinebinch evaluates the performance of processors and graphics cards as determined based on 3D scenes.
Want to compare CPUs in a real-life situation? Let’s take the i7-9700K vs. the i9-9900K, which are two ninth-generation processors from Intel. In this ninth-generation series, the Core i7-9700K has the same number of cores (eight) as the Core i9-9900K. So, how do you compare two very similar CPUs in this case?
It helps to first look at the PassMark results. The i9-9900K has close to a 29% higher PassMark result than the i7 chip when using multiple threads and about a 2% higher PassMark result when tested using single threads. This makes sense, given the fact that the i9-9900K has double the CPU threads as the i7-9700K (16 vs. 8). This always results in faster performance and better multitasking.
How about when comparing two i7 CPUs? In terms of i7 8700K vs. i7 9700K, the similarities are hard to feel unless you’re really working your computer. The 9700K is a ninth-generation Intel CPU, which means it clocks higher CPU speeds, supports more RAM, and offers slightly larger caches.
When it comes to Core i7 vs. i9 or any other Intel CPU comparison, the difference depends on what you’re using the processor for, what device it will be integrated into, and the processor’s generation. Eighth-generation Intel processors and newer are all high-performing chips that pack enough power to help you engage in daily tasks, play games, and do some light video editing.
If you’re looking for something more powerful, check out Intel’s newest tenth-generation processors or kick things up a notch and opt for an X-series processor from Intel; most have up to 18 cores for pro-level workstations.
Browse our other CPU comparisons to understand further the intricate differences between the CPUs you’re interested in. Don’t find what you’re looking for? Let us know, and we’ll check it out for you.