Intel Core i3 vs. i5: Which CPU Do You Really Need?

intel i3 vs i5

Since the introduction of mainstream computer components, a ton of options have been made available for consumers. Unfortunately, there are a lot of options available on the market for every category… possibly too many.

Like every other component, processors fall into this problem. Despite there being only two main CPU manufacturers (for gaming, at least) it can still be overwhelming. In particular, there’s one question I get asked a lot: which Intel Core i-series is the best?

The i7 is better than the i5, which is better than the i3, right? Well, it’s this latter question-- Intel i3 vs i5-- that we’ll be going over today.

What’s the Difference Between i3 and i5?

Each processor line has several, seemingly similar models. This can be very confusing if you’re not sure what you’re looking for.

So we’ll outline each processor in both lines, compare the specs, and look at some benchmarks. This will let us see where each line shines so that you can choose which one is best for you.

i3 lineup

The i3 line shines for budget and casual gamers, along with anyone looking to use their computer to do simple tasks such as word processing, web browsing, etc. as it ranges from $130 to $180.

There are five models within the i3 line, each with their own niche to fill. There are low powered (T) and overclockable (K) models available to choose from, along with the non-modified models.

None of the models in the i3 line are unlocked for Turbo Boost so they won’t auto-overclock when under heavy load, which means unless you go for the 8350K and overclock it, you’re stuck with the processor always at one speed.

This can be an issue if you’re looking for an energy efficient solution but still want flexibility.

i3 lineup
 Cores (Threads)Base Clock SpeedTurbo Clock SpeedTDPOverclocking?
Core i3 8100T4(4)3.1 GHzN/A35 WNo
Core i3 81004(4)3.6 GHzN/A65 WNo
Core i3 8300T4(4)3.2 GHzN/A35 WNo
Core i3 83004(4)3.7 GHzN/A62 WNo
Core i3 8350K4(4)4.0 GHzN/A91 WYes

i5 lineup

The i5 line really shines if you’re looking to get past 60 FPS in AAA games, or even break into 1440p gaming. The line is also great at multitasking and processor intensive tasks such as streaming and content creation. It ranges from $170- $260.

Like the i3 line, the i5 also gives us non-modified models, along with low power (T) and overclockable (K) models to choose from.

Unlike the i3 line, though, we now see Turbo Boost unlocked, allowing for better efficiency as the processors can idle at a lower clock speed when not in use. This makes the i5-8400T an excellent choice, as it’s already a 35 W TDP and can idle down to an easy 1.7 GHz, but still have enough reserve for gaming when needed.

The lower the TDP, the less power it will consume, and less heat it will generate.

i5 lineup
 Core (Threads)Base Clock SpeedTurbo Clock SpeedTDPOverlocking?
Core i5 8400T6(6)1.7 GHz3.3 GHz35 WNo
Core i5 84006(6)2.8 GHz4.0 GHz65 WNo
Core i5 8500T6(6)2.1 GHz3.5 GHz35 WNo
Core i5 85006(6)3.0 GHz4.1 GHz65 WNo
Core i5 8600T6(6)2.3 GHz3.7 GHz35 WNo
Core i5 86006(6)3.1 GHz4.3 GHz65 WNo
Core i5 8600K6(6)3.6 GHz4.3 GHz95 WYes

When comparing the i5 against the i3, we see that an extra 2 cores and threads have been gained, along with better and faster speeds. This gives a huge boost to performance.

i3 vs i5 Benchmarks

When looking at the benchmarks, you can really see where each processor line shines, and clear up some of the confusion of why multiple lines exist.

We’ll take a look at the top contender for both lines-- The i3-8350K and the i5-8600K-- as well as the i5-8400 in some later tests where there wasn’t great data available for the i5-8600K.

The Setup

When it comes to gaming, the i3-8350K and the i5-8600K both fare very well, being able to run 1080p and most 1440p games at 60 FPS with no issues. However, we will be using several different benchmarks to examine just how good each does:

  1. The guys over at Tom’s Hardware have done some great work showcasing the benchmarks for each processor for both gaming and workstation use.
  2. Techspot also did some great benchmarks for the 8600K for 1440p gaming.
  3. For the i3 line and 1440p gaming, we’ll also be looking at benchmarks done by the people over at Gamer’s Nexus.

Intel Core i5 vs i3: Gaming Benchmarks

Frames Per Second

Before we get to both charts, it’s important to know how the CPUs are being measured. In this case, gaming performance is rated on Frames Per Second, or FPS. This is how many frames of the game you see every second. The more frames that are rendered each second, the smoother your gameplay is going to be. The higher the FPS the better.

1080p Gaming

Middle Earth

Interestingly, in this case, the i3 actually beats out the i5 (even though it is only by a few frames, so it’s not truly very significant).

Grand thef auto V

GTA V is a little more demanding than Shadows of Mordor. And in this case, we see the i5-8600K slip ahead of the i3-8350K; however, when the i3-8350K is OCed to 5.0 GHz, it leads the pack. Undoubtedly, the i5-8600K would do even better if OCed, but they didn’t test that, so we don’t get to see it.

1440p Gaming

Battle field DX
Civilization

 

The two above charts only track the i5, but still shows us some useful data. For instance, the i5-8600K isn’t really very far behind the couple i7’s that were being tested.

GTAV benchmark

It’s worth noting that this is another GTAV benchmark, but that the i3 is pushing higher numbers than in the above tests at 1080p. Well, this is obviously because the GPU is better in this case.

Anyhow, we again see that OCing the i3-8350K pushes it past all the tested i5 models. Oh, and it also has it nipping at the hills of the i7 models.

Overall, when it comes to gaming, the i5-8600K is only slightly ahead of the i3-8350K in the benchmarks. This makes sense, as gaming is more reliant upon your graphics card than your processor and often that’s where you’ll find your largest bottlenecks.

Intel Core i3 vs i5: Workstation Benchmarks

Unfortunately, Tom’s Hardware only used an 8400 from the i5 line during their workstation use tests, but it still shows the difference between the two lines in terms of processor usage.

Also, the 8600K would have tested even better than the 8400 in these trials, especially since it can be easily overclocked.

This category will give you an idea of how well each line will handle more advanced tasks such as streaming and rendering videos for content creation.

Blender and LuxMark

Both of these programs test the limits of your processor's capabilities to accomplish lots of complicated tasks.

The Blender score is actually measured in the seconds it took for the task to be completed. The LuxMark test uses a score, where a higher number reflects that your processor can handle more.

This will give you an idea for which processors are better for heavy multitasking processes, like content creation and streaming.

Blender 2.78 c

Here, we see the i3 start to really struggle. Whereas OCing the i3-8350K kept it competitive in the gaming sphere-- even with the i7 in some cases-- a basic i5-8400 easily stumps it. Things only get worse for the i3 the further up the i5 line you go.

Luxmark

Looking at these tests, we see the extra cores and threads start to make a difference. Each thread can handle a single task at a time, so adding extra cores and threads allows more tasks at once to be worked on, and a faster processor can get these tasks done even faster.

The LuxMark benchmark test uses the LuxRender engine to build a 3D scene using the power of your CPU, GPU, or both. As it’s running the test, it determines how well the selected hardware performed, giving the system a score. The higher the score, the better it performed.

Intel Core i3 vs i5: Which is Better?

Now that we have an idea of what’s available to use, and we’ve seen where each processor shines, what does it all mean, and how does this help you choose?

When it comes to gaming, the processor doesn’t actually make a huge impact until you start getting into extreme gaming and trying to push your frames as high as you can.

The i5’s have more cores and threads to handle tasks and faster clock speeds to help those tasks move along quicker, freeing those threads up faster. These extra cores and threads make the biggest difference when doing CPU heavy tasks like streaming and content creation.

When it comes to gaming, the Core i3 line will work just fine for the casual gamer and anyone who wants to use their computer as a light workstation.

The Core i5 line is a great option if you’re wanting to start streaming and make your own content. Of course, it is also very good for gaming.

And if you’re still not sure, we have a list of the best processors for both Intel and AMD.

Intel Core i3 vs i5
 1080p Gaming1440p GamingEnergy EfficiencyLow power modelsOverclocking modelsHeavy multitaskingStreaming / Content Creation
(Turbo Boost)
i3YesYesNoYesYesNoNo
i5YesYesYesYesYesYesYes

Conclusion

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