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How to choose the Intel Processor That’s Right for You

Updated on May 12, 2015
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Choosing a new laptop or desktop PC

If our laptop or desktop PC keeps grinding to halt every time you try use it or, you’ve tried to install the latest software only to find that PC can’t cope, then you might be on the lookout for a new home computer that can take advantage of the latest versions of windows and all the other software that is on the market. The good news is that what you get for money these days is quite incredible and you can pick up a basic PC for as little $200 or, you could pay as much as $5,000.

With memory and storage space being less of an issue these days, as both are now so much cheaper than they used to be, it’s the processor that’s inside that can make the difference between one PC and another.

The two main manufactures of processors are Intel and AMD but, for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus our attention I the Intel options and we are not going to be looking at the budget end of the market. So, we are assuming that you want do a lot more with your new PC than surf the net, update your Facebook page and send a few emails.

That means that the choice you will be faced with is between the Intel Core i5 and Core i7 and making that choice can be a daunting one so, here we go through whet the main differences are between the two and explain some the terms that are used to describe the capabilities of different processors.

What does the processor do?

The processor is what interprets a programme and executes its commands and how quickly and efficiently it does this is determined by its architecture and that is shown by its name such as i3, i5 and i7. Quite simply, the higher the number, the better the performance but, as manufacturers keep on changing their minds about the naming conventions of their processors it can be difficult to keep up. So, here are the main differences between the Intel i5 processor and the i3.

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Price

Let’s start with the very basic differences between processors. As mentioned above, you can easily see which is the more advanced and powerful, by the numbers in the relatively new way that Intel are now naming their processors. So, the Intel i3, is found in budget PC’s and, the i7, has more capabilities than the i5.

While we are looking at naming conventions, you will also see a four digit number after the i5, or i7. These represent the generation of the processor so, an i7-4770, will be later generation processor than an i7-4200 and therefore, you can generally expect to have better performance.

You will find the i5 in many midrange laptops and desktops, and the i7, which is better for heavy multimedia work, or serious gaming, is found in higher spec PC’s and will add around $170 more to the price tag.

When you start looking for a new desktop, or laptop, the best thing to do is to shop around on the web and do some comparisons. Here’s one site that I found that has a pretty neat filtering system that enables you to do a quick price comparison between the different manufactures and set your own budget limits too.

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Speed

In a nutshell, you will get better performance in terms of processing speed with an i7 than an i5. Most i7 are quad core while most i5 processors are dual core. As it’s the processor that interprets the instructions from a software program and performs the tasks that means that programmes will run faster.

Dual core effectively means that the processor contains two separate processors working in tandem where a quad core has four. The more cores a processor has, the more the processor can multi task, juggle different applications at the same time and spread the workload between the multiple cores.

Cache

The cache is the memory that the processor has on-board and that determines how often it will have to reload basic information. For example, if you were working on a spreadsheet, when you press recalculate, the basic framework of the spreadsheet would be held in cache and just the numbers recalculated and reloaded which means that you will get you answers faster. Intel i5 processors normally have 3mb to 6mn of cache and i7’s have somewhere between 4mb to 8mb. The size of the cache also affects the speed that applications come back to life when you switch between windows. A large cache will mean that, when you switch focus from one window to another window, your application will be ready to use quicker.

What’s turbo boost?

Nope, this has nothing to do with Knight Rider, if you are old enough to remember Knight Rider that is, turbo boost is feature of Intel processors that, basically allow it run faster. Both the i5 and the i7 have this feature, which the processor uses when it’s running a single task but. You will get higher speeds from an i7 processor.

What is hyper-threading?

Multi-threading refers to the processor’s ability to run more than one task at the same time and hyper-threading a means by which the processor can make the operating system think that it has more cores than it really does an, therefore, run more threads. An i7 processor fully utilises hyper-threading, so it can make a six core processor handle twelve different things but, an i5 processor is currently limited to a maximum of four.

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Confused? – Intel i3, i5, i7 – Which one do you need?

To break all that down, what it comes down to is that the Intel i3 processor is the budget end of the market and is suitable for most light computer users. The Intel i5, is designed for the average user who wants good performance, but isn’t going to be doing anything too spectacular and, the Intel i7 processor, is for high end or, power users.

As has always been the case with computers, the best advice is to buy the highest spec machine that you can afford and that way, you will extend the useful like of your equipment because, as each version of Windows is released and new versions of other software come to market, the requirements of the machine needed to run them increase. If you spend a bit extra now, your new desktop or, laptop, could last you for the next five years or so.

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