As impressive as Intel's high-end Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs are, the performance-per-dollar value is much better on the lower end of things. Core i3 and Core i5 CPUs offer powerful cores for gaming and work for a much cheaper price than their high-end counterparts. But which one is best for your next system?
To help you make a decision, we've put together a detailed overview of the latest and greatest CPUs from Intel in the Core i3 and Core i5 range. Whether you play all night on a pre-built system or want to build a new PC for work-related productivity, this guide will help you find the right CPU for you.
If you'd rather check out the best CPUs on the market, here are the top chips from Intel and AMD.
What's out there
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Before we dive into the details of each processor and what they do, let's take a quick look at the latest Intel CPUs on desktop and mobile devices for Core i3 and Core i5 designs.
Intel's desktop CPU range has lost some ground to AMD in the past few years, but is still great for gaming and work and has more cores and faster clocks than ever thanks to increasing competition. Additional features include Thunderbolt 3 ports, improved A.I. Performance and significant wireless speed improvements. All current desktop processors are listed below. Note, however, that Intel is slated to launch its 11th generation desktop processors either in late 2020 or early 2021.
|Cores||subjects||Base clock||Boost clock||graphic||TDP||Costs**|
|Core i5-9600K *||6th||6th||3.7 GHz||4.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.15 GHz||95W||$ 220|
|Core i5-9600||6th||6th||3.1 GHz||4.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.15 GHz||65W||$ 210|
|Core i5-9500 *||6th||6th||3.0 GHz||4.4 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W||$ 155|
|Core i5-9500T||6th||6th||2.2 GHz||3.7 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||35W||$ 192|
|Core i5-9400 *||6th||6th||2.9 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W||$ 155|
|Core i5-9400T||6th||6th||1.8 GHz||3.4 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||35W||$ 182|
|6th||12||2.0 GHz||3.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||35W||$ 182|
|6th||12||3.1 GHz||4.5 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W||$ 236|
|6th||12||2.4 GHz||4.0 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||35W||$ 241|
|6th||12||2.9 GHz||4.3 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W||$ 182|
|6th||12||3.3 GHz||4.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W||$ 261|
Core i5-10600K *
|6th||12||4.1 GHz||4.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||95W||$ 320|
|6th||12||2.3 GHz||3.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||35W||$ 192|
|Core i3-9350K *||4th||4th||4.0 GHz||4.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.15 GHz||91W||$ 215|
|Core i3-9320||4th||4th||3.7 GHz||4.4 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.15 GHz||62W||$ 190|
|Core i3-9300||4th||4th||3.7 GHz||4.3 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.15 GHz||62W||$ 167|
|Core i3-9300T||4th||4th||3.2 GHz||3.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||35W||$ 143|
|Core i3-9100 *||4th||4th||3.6 GHz||4.2 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W||$ 89|
|Core i3-9100T||4th||4th||3.1 GHz||3.7 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||35W||$ 122|
|4th||8th||3.8 GHz||4.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W||$ 190|
|Vein I3-10300||4th||8th||3.7 GHz||4.4 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W||$ 177|
|Core i3-10300T||4th||8th||3.0 GHz||3.9 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||35W||$ 143|
|4th||8th||3.6 GHz||4.3 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W||$ 150|
|Core i3-10100T||4th||8th||3.0 GHz||3.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||35W||$ 143|
* These CPUs are also available as "F" versions. That means they come without integrated graphics. All other specifications are identical to the original version.
** All large CPU prices were correct at the time of this writing, based on active offers at major retailers. However, T-Chips are not sold to the general public. The cost is based on the MSRP at launch.
Riley Young / Digital Trends
Intel's laptop processors were much more impressive last year: new 10nm options with great onboard graphics, as well as higher clocked 14nm alternatives.
|Cores||subjects||Base clock||Boost clock||graphic||TDP|
|Core i5-1035G7||4th||8th||1.2 GHz||3.7 GHz||Iris Plus (11th generation) at 1.05 GHz||12-25W|
|Core i5-1035G4||4th||8th||1.1 GHz||3.7 GHz||Iris Plus (11th generation) at 1.05 GHz||12-25W|
|Core i5-1035G1||4th||8th||1.0 GHz||3.6 GHz||UHD at 1.05 GHz||13-25W|
|Core i5-1030G7||4th||8th||0.8 GHz||3.5 GHz||Iris Plus (11th generation) at 1.05 GHz||12W|
|Core i5-1030G4||4th||8th||0.7 GHz||3.5 GHz||Iris Plus (11th generation) at 1.05 GHz||12W|
|Core i3-1005G1||2||4th||1.2 GHz||3.4 GHz||UHD at 0.9 GHz||13-25W|
|Core i3-1000G4||2||4th||1.1 GHz||3.2 GHz||Iris Plus (11th generation) at 0.9 GHz||12W|
|Core i3-1000G1||2||4th||1.1 GHz||3.2 GHz||UHD at 0.9 GHz||12W|
|Core i5-10210U *||4th||8th||1.6 GHz||4.2 GHz||UHD 620 at 1.10 GHz||10-25W|
|Core i3-10110U *||2||4th||2.1 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD 620 at 1.00 GHz||12.5 W.|
|Core i5-9400H||4th||8th||2.5 GHz||4.3 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||45W|
|Core i5-9300H||4th||8th||2.4 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||45W|
|Core i5-8500B||6th||6th||3.0 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||65W|
|Core i5-8400B||6th||6th||2.8 GHz||4.0 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W|
|Core i5-8400H||4th||8th||2.5 GHz||4.2 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||45W|
|Core i5-8300H||4th||8th||2.3 GHz||4.0 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||45W|
|Core i5-8279U||4th||8th||2.4 GHz||4.1 GHz||Iris Plus 655 at 1.15 GHz||28W|
|Core i5-8269U||4th||8th||2.6 GHz||4.2 GHz||Iris Plus 655 at 1.10 GHz||28W|
|Core i5-8259U||4th||8th||2.3 GHz||3.8 GHz||Iris Plus 655 at 1.05 GHz||28W|
|Core i5-8257U||4th||8th||1.4 GHz||3.9 GHz||Iris Plus 645 at 1.05 GHz||15W|
|Core i3-8100B||4th||4th||3.6 GHz||N / A||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||65W|
|Core i3-8100H||4th||4th||3.0 GHz||N / A||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||45W|
|Core i3-8109U||2||4th||3.0 GHz||3.6 GHz||Iris Plus 655 at 1.05 GHz||28W|
||5||5||0.8 GHz||2.8 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||7W|
||2||4th||2.1 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||15W|
||2||4th||1.0 GHz||4.0 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||7W|
||2||4th||2.1 GHz||3.9 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.00 GHz||15W|
||4th||8th||1.1 GHz||4.10 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||7W|
||4th||8th||1.0 GHz||4.0 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||7W|
||4th||8th||2.5 GHz||4.5 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.05 GHz||45W|
|Core i5-10400H||4th||8th||2.6 GHz||4.6 GHz||UHD 630 at 1.10 GHz||45W|
|Core i3-1110G4||2||4th||1.8 GHz||3.9 GHz||UHD graphics (for 11th generation processors) at 1.10 GHz||15W|
|Core i3-1115G4||2||4th||3.0 GHz||4.1 GHz||UHD graphics (for 11th generation processors) at 1.25 GHz||28W|
|Core i5-1130G7||4th||8th||4.0 GHz||N / A||Iris Xe (12th generation) at 1.10 GHz||15W|
|Core i5-1135G7||4th||8th||4.20 GHz||N / A||Iris Xe (12th generation) at 1.30 GHz||28W|
* These two CPUs are part of the Comet Lake generation, which is still classified as 10th generation despite using a 14nm process, which allows them to achieve higher clock speeds than the other 10th generation Ice Lake CPUs. However, the graphics are far weaker and the CPUs aren't that impressive.
Intel's range of laptops is currently far more extensive than the desktop generation as it contains four (somewhat) different generations of CPUs. The 8th generation is the most populous and is slowly being replaced by the two 10th generation architectures. The 9th generation hasn't materially impacted Intel's wireless business, but is available in limited form. The latest additions are the four 11th generation. The two i3s have already launched, but the i5s have only just been announced. However, they should show up soon.
There is a lot to unpack here, but some general rules apply, which we will go into individually below.
How many cores and threads do you need?
Regardless of whether you choose a desktop or a mobile CPU, one of the most important considerations is how many cores and threads you need. They can be one of the most obvious differences between upper-priced Core i5 and Core i3 CPUs, and can add significantly to cost, power consumption, and thermal output.
Modern PCs, whether desktop or laptop PCs, can perform several tasks at the same time. Having separate cores and (to a lesser extent) different threads for these tasks can help you get your PC experience done much faster. So, if you're a strong multitasker who likes to browse the web with many tabs open at the same time, or stream games while playing, or watch Netflix while you work, more cores and threads can help.
There is no hard and fast rule as everyone's needs and uses are different. Here are some general tips:
- Serious gamers should have at least one quad-core CPU, but six or more cores offer some advantages. Higher thread counts are less important, but have a slight advantage. A Core i5 CPU is essential for gaming. Higher clock speeds and more physical cores increase performance in games with many A.I.-controlled NPCs – like Hitman 2 and Civilization VI.
- For work and productivity tasks such as video editing, transcoding, photo editing or extensive internet surfing, higher thread counts are a real advantage. Six cores is excellent, but you can do just fine with four cores and eight threads if you choose a CPU with hyperthreading.
- For general web browsing and media viewing, you can use a dual-core, four-threaded CPU. A full quad-core (even with just four threads) gives you more multitasking power, but either way, a Core i3 is more than enough.
If you have more cores than you need, that is some degree of future security. However, in the here and now, buying what you need is a good idea.
What about the clock speed?
The next important consideration in system performance is clock speed. This is the gigahertz rating (GHz). With comparable CPUs of the same generation with the same core numbers, the clock rate has the greatest influence on their capabilities.
When you want to perform tasks that require high-speed, high-performance bursts, such as: B. Photo processing, a higher boost clock (a temporarily higher frequency with high system load) is an advantage. If you want more sustained performance, such as when gaming, you should aim for a higher base clock (the lowest clock that the chip will run at).
Overall, Core i5 CPUs tend to have higher clock speeds and offer more exceptional performance. However, there are some Core i3 chips that have pretty high clock speeds too – especially on the desktop.
The clock speed is more of a linear improvement than the number of cores and threads. Almost everything is faster at higher clocks, but more cores will in most cases deliver more exceptional multithreaded performance than a higher top clock speed.
11th against 10th against 9th against 8th generation
It's a confusing time to buy an Intel CPU because there are five different generations of CPUs to choose from: an 11th generation, two 10th generation, a 9th generation, and an 8th generation. Each generation has some unique aspects, and there are many crossovers for even more confusion. As with other aspects of these CPUs, however, there are some general rules to follow.
The 8th generation is the oldest and generally has the worst performance and efficiency. However, this is not always the case. 9th and 10th generation CPUs with comparable specs are faster, but an 8th generation Core i5 chip can still beat a newer generation Core i3 in most cases.
The 10th generation is king on the desktop. There's little point going back to the eighth generation unless you find a particularly good deal. The 10th generation CPUs on the desktop were introduced in April 2020 and are very different from the offerings of the same generation on mobile devices.
The 10th generation chips on mobile devices are far more powerful with much higher clock rates and are therefore ideal for games and heavy processing tasks. Core i3s are quite acceptable for general surfing on the Internet and for entry-level games. In terms of Ice Lake and Comet Lake, the latter tends to be faster thanks to higher clock speeds, but the onboard graphics aren't that good.
Mobile users also have access to Intel's 11th generation processors. In addition to the integrated Iris Xe graphics – more on this in the next section – the new Tiger Lake mobile CPUs have a massive leap in performance, even though they are based on the same architecture as Ice Lake.
In short, the newest is the best. On the desktop this is the 10th generation Comet Lake and on the cell phone it is the 11th generation Tiger Lake.
Intel Newsroom / Intel Corporation
If you don't want a graphics card in your PC, you need to make sure that your CPU has built-in graphics. Otherwise you will not be able to display anything on your monitors. Avoid CPUs with the name "F", because the graphics chip is deactivated.
In terms of the Core i5 vs. Core i3 debate, desktop chips are almost all the same. It has a few megahertz (MHz) in it, but all of the UHD 630 solutions are about as fast as the others. They are suitable for games for beginners, but do not expect great details or high frames per second.
The new 11th generation Intel mobile processors contain Iris Xe graphics. This is the same architecture that Intel plans to use for its upcoming discrete GPUs. While we don't have performance numbers for Iris Xe integrated chips, they are a significant advancement for integrated graphics. A recent benchmark on a Xe-LP chip – the design Intel uses for integrated graphics – showed about 2.3 teraflops for the chip, which is roughly the performance of an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti.
Of the four new mobile processors, only the two i5 have the new graphics technology from Intel. While any form of on-board video is still a long way from having a dedicated graphics card, the new i5s certainly have an edge when it comes to gaming.
If all you want to do is surf the web and watch Netflix and YouTube, any Core i3 will do. However, it might be better to hold back until the upcoming Rocket Lake desktop processors hit the market. These processors should come with Xe graphics.
Power and thermals
If you're looking for a desktop PC that doesn't push its coolers too hard, lower-performing Core i3 CPUs are the way to go. Core i5s will continue to work with the standard cooler, but with more cores and higher clock speeds (especially the K series) the TDP will increase which means more demand on your PSU and cooler. This can result in a noisy PC and warrant an aftermarket cooler to keep temperatures and noise down.
TDP is arguably more important on mobile devices as it affects weight, size, noise level, and battery life. Lower TDPs usually mean better battery life and a lighter, more portable build, though not always. That would mean a Core i3 would be better, but it's important to note the new generation i5. Many of them have a wider TDP range depending on the activity, which means they are more efficient and, through smart power management, can help extend battery life and keep thermals low.
Core i3s will do for most, but a Core i5 won't get discounted
With so many options, Intel certainly doesn't make choosing a CPU easy, but it all comes back to what you want from your CPU. Any generation of Core i3 CPUs are decent general-use chips that can easily handle novice gaming, web browsing, media viewing, and even light workloads. The 10th gen options come with new onboard graphics that can vastly outperform the older ones on the desktop, and the 11th gen mobile options are even more impressive.
Buying a Core i5 may be a steeper investment, but if the i3 doesn't cut it, the i5 may be worth the higher price. With more threads, cores, and faster speeds, you can rely on the i5 to increase performance. However, this is usually associated with higher demands on power and heat. So only buy what you need or will need shortly. Everything else will future proof your system, but you will also waste resources and use more electricity and heat than you might want.