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Intel i3 vs i5: What’s the difference?

Are you struggling to find the differences between Intel’s i3 and i5 lineup? We outline those differences for you and the impact on performance the differences have.

Updated: Jan 3, 2024 9:46 am
Intel i3 vs i5: What’s the difference?

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intel i3 vs i5, which is better? Intel manufactures a wide range of CPUs to suit as much of the CPU market as possible. These CPUs are usually arranged into what’s called a “family”, families differ from generations in the sense that a family is a grouping of similar CPUs within a generation. However, there can exist CPUs in the same family across generations.

Intel’s i3 and i5 families of CPUs differ greatly in core aspects such as core count, core speed, cache size, and more. Today, in this intel i3 vs i5 article, we’re going to outline the differences between the two families and explain the impact on performance the differences have.

Intel Core i3-12100F

INTEL CORE I3 12100F Desktop


Budget friendly

excellent low-power option


Doesn’t hold up to more powerful CPUs

Little future-proofing

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Intel Core i5-12600KF


Powerful single core performance

Amazing multi core performance



No in box cooler

Still more power-hungry than Ryzen

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Today’s best CPU deals

Things to consider 

Below we will outline a series of things to consider when opting for a new CPU. Some examples of things to consider would be the technology associated with the CPU, the core count, and the thread count. 

LITTLE.big technology 

Before we get into it, we need to know about some of the technology that makes up Intel’s latest generation of CPU. Intel’s 12th gen CPUs contain ARMs LITTLE.big core architecture technology to split its CPU cores.  


Splitting cores using ARM’s LITTLE.big technology was Intel’s 12th generation’s biggest talking point when it was unveiled, and the way LITTLE.big technology works is incredibly interesting. 

How the split P-cores (performance) and E-cores (efficiency) work exactly is the performance cores are both hyperthreaded and clocked insanely fast. These are the cores that do all the heavy lifting hence the name ‘performance cores’. 

Then there are the E-cores, which are not hyperthreaded and are clocked at lower speeds to be both power efficient and performance efficient. This is achieved because E-cores aren’t forced to share resources as they aren’t hyperthreaded. 

Core count

A CPU with more CPU cores will be better at multitasking natively, with a larger number of cores at your CPUs disposal enabling your processor to handle more simultaneous instructions. Some older applications aren’t built with multi-core support in mind, however, the latest software takes full advantage of speedy multi-core support. 

A higher number of CPU cores becomes integral when crunching numbers and calculations in a high-end workload or specific instruction-heavy workstation tasks, like rendering or advanced simulations/mathematics.

In the case of Windows and Intel, the operating system delegates tasks to either E-cores or P-cores based on a pre-scan of an instruction set by a task scheduler. It saves power by not running P-cores on tasks that aren’t that heavy and don’t require a lot of processing power.   

Thread count

Thread count can be thought of much like core count – the more threads you have, the better at multitasking your CPU will be. However, cores and threads are not the same.

In intel CPUs, multithreading technology is called Hyperthreading. Adding multithreading support enables the CPU to process threads, the secondary instruction given to a CPU. This works by having each CPU core able to process two instructions simultaneously instead of just one. 

This second instruction is called a thread. Threads can be thought of as virtual CPU cores, rather than physical ones. These virtual cores have to fight for all the resources of the physical core and are slightly slower than CPU cores as a result. 

The operating system sees cores and threads and it bundles them together under the name logical processors, as they’re both capable of calculating logical instructions. 

Core speed 

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Core speed is very important, and it determines how many cycles your CPU can perform per second, measured in GHz. A ‘cycle’ refers to the CPU instruction cycle that consists of three main actions: fetch, decode and execute. These three actions are what comprise the fundamentals of CPU operation as we know it.

Having a CPU with a faster core speed means more of these cycles can be completed per second, in turn meaning more instructions executed per second. Core speed (especially with the same nm process) is a good basic indicator of how well a CPU may perform. 

There’s another measurement to be taken into account, and that measurement is all core speed. This is the same fundamentally as core speed, only this time it is the speed in which the CPU can sustain on all cores simultaneously. This measurement is usually a little lower than the single-core boost speeds. 

Integrated Graphics 

As with all none “F” Intel CPUs, they contain an iGPU. The acronym “iGPU” stands for integrated graphics processing unit and is a unit built directly onto the CPU. 

As the graphics are integrated with the CPU, this generally saves power and is a smart graphical solution for laptops. Integrated graphics naming conventions work generally in the same numerical way the Intel processors work, the higher the number, the better. It is worth noting that if you truly want to enjoy gaming at 1080p and above, then you need to opt for a dedicated graphics card.

This does offer its downsides however, Cramming a GPU die into a CPU packet along with a CPU die is going to create some space limitations, which means the CPU die is often scaled back from its full potential, to accommodate for the spacial and power requirements of the GPU die. Because of this, the CPU portion of CPUs with integrated graphics is also limited in its performance. this is the reason we don’t recommend picking up a CPU with integrated graphics if you’re going to opt for a dedicated GPU later.

I3 vs i5 CPUs

Before we jump into analyzing the performance difference of each CPU family, it’s important to understand what each CPU lineup has to offer. 

I3 line-up 

Intel i3 12th Gen CPUs

The latest release of Intel CPU is the 12th generation, featuring all-new split-core technology built upon ARM systems’ LITTLE.big architecture. However, the i3 line-up does not contain this split-core technology. This is presumably to allow the CPU lineup to better suit the budget category. 

The newest Intel i3 CPUs at launch ranged between $100 and $135. All five i3 CPUs are four-core hyperthreaded CPUs, meaning the cores they contain are all performance cores. We know this because Efficiency cores cannot be hyperthreaded.  

The performance of those cores ranges drastically depending on each CPU you examine, this is because of the “T” variant of CPU. The T suffix is given to CPUs designed to consume less power. The i3 family’s base core frequencies range from 2.2GHz to 3.5GHz, with boost frequencies ranging from 4.1GHz to 4.4GHz. 

Because of the low power consumption of the T variants, their TDP is lower than the rest of the i3 line-up. The two T variants have a TDP of 35W, but the none T variants have a TDP of 60W – almost double that of the T variants. 

All of the processors in the i3 line-up have the same amount of total cache. 

I5 line-up

Intel i5 12th Gen CPUs

There are a significantly larger number of i5 CPUs on offer compared to i3s, all of them ranging from $115 to $280 around launch. All i5 CPUs on offer are six-core and 12-thread CPUs, all bar two. The 12600K and the none iGPU 12600KF both feature ARM’s LITTLE.big technology, taking their total core count to 10-cores in a 6P/4E configuration – Taking the total thread count to 16. 

The performance of the i5 line-up also ranges drastically again, this time because of the inclusion of both “T” and “K” variants. We already covered the T suffix, but what about the K? K, just means unlocked in Intel terminology, meaning the CPU contains higher performance cores that are unlocked to higher clock speeds. The 12600KF has a max boost speed of 4.9GHz on its P-cores and 3.6 on its E-cores. Whereas, the slowest CPU in the i5 line-up, the 12400T, only boosts to 4.2GHz from a base speed of 1.8GHz.

Because of the largely varying speeds and core counts, the TDP varies too. The i5 line-up has TDP values ranging from 125W to 35W. The high-end 12600K is still kept surprisingly efficient thanks to its four included efficiency cores. 

I3 vs i5: Performance 

Here in this section of our intel i3 vs i5 article, we will assess the performance of each CPU family and decide which CPU is right for you. 

I3 vs i5: Video 


It’s probably no surprise to anyone that the i5 CPUs shred the i3 CPUs in practically all workloads. The superior number of cores and the superior clock speeds are no match for the i3 processors. The higher core speed means the i5 processors are much better at single-core workloads, and the higher number of cores means they’re much better at multi-core tasks such as rendering and simulation.  

Does that mean the i3 processors are bad? No, absolutely not. 

The i3 processors are more built for budget-conscious PC gamers, coupling the low power consumption with the small price tag. They’re also fantastic for power-conscious systems with mobile variants consuming as little as 20W. 

For more information regarding Intel i3 and i5 processor performance, check out some of our VS pieces. 

Intel i3 vs i5 FAQs

Here are some of the more frequently asked questions

Which is Better i3 or i5?

Technically speaking, Intel’s Core i5 processors are better than their Core i3 counterparts; however, which is best for your build depends entirely on what you want it to be capable of.

If you’re an avid overclocker, it may be a major turn-off that the i3 series isn’t unlocked for Turbo Boost, which is to say they won’t automatically overclock as when it’s required. Neither will you be able to apply any manual overclocks unless you go for the top tier 8350K.

On the other hand, i3 processors are amazingly energy-efficient, cost-effective, and have enough clout to keep the casual gamer happy as Larry.

Core i5 CPUs are geared towards gamers with more of an enthusiast sensibility when it comes to their hobby. They’re unlocked for Turbo Boost, and they can push beyond 60fps for most games in 1080p. With an extra 2 hyperthreaded cores, i5 units are also generally much better at multitasking and supporting creative workflows.

Can You Upgrade from i3 to i5?

Switching your Core i3 processor out for an i5 is definitely an upgrade worth making if you want more frames per second and increased system capabilities and efficiency, but there are a few reasons why it may not be as simple as making a straight trade.

  • Integrated Chip – This mostly affects laptops, but some desktops will have the same issue. The i3 CPU is literally sealed into the motherboard and cannot be removed.
  • Different Sockets – Certain Core i3 processors are only compatible with either the LGA 1155 or 1156 sockets, whereas your new Core i5 processor could have an LGA 1151, 1150, 1155, or 1156 socket.
  • Motherboard Compatibility – Even if your i3 and i5 CPU sockets match up, your motherboard may not be optimized to support the lofty clock speeds of the new processor.

As is almost always the case with PC builds, upgrading a single component, especially one as pivotal as the processor, necessitates a whole bunch of other upgrades. In light of this, it’s sensible to save more than you think you’ll need when preparing to exchange your i3 for an i5 CPU.

Final word 

If you happen to be searching for a CPU that’s powerful yet power-efficient, you may want to consider a high-end 12600K CPU in the i5 line-up. However, if you’re looking for a low-profile, power-efficient CPU then you’re best off looking for something in the i3 line-up. We’ve outlined the key differences between the two to hopefully help you establish what CPU is best for you. We hope this intel i3 vs i5 article was of some help to you.

Jack is a Tech and News Writer who has a vast and proficient knowledge of CPUs, Motherboards, and Computer technology.

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