Technology Explained

Intel Core i9 vs. i7 vs. i5: Which CPU Should You Buy?

Mihir Patkar Updated 16-12-2018

The Core i9 is Intel’s (and the world’s) fastest consumer processor yet. Going up to 18 cores, these are CPUs meant for enthusiasts and power users. But what is Core i9, and how is it better than the Core i7 or Core i5?


In Intel’s simple terms, the Core i9 is faster than the Core i7, which in turn is faster than the Core i5. But “faster” isn’t always “better” for you. A lot of people don’t need that extra horsepower, which also affects battery life in laptops.

Intel Core i9 vs. Core i7 vs. Core i5

intel core i9 x series

The Core i9 series gets that extra power What Makes the Intel Core i9 the Fastest Processor and Should You Buy It? The Intel i7 has long topped the consumer CPU-pile. However, Intel have finally released a new generation of CPUs. Let's take a look at the beasty 18-core Intel i9 series. Read More in the simplest way: by adding more cores. A “core” is a processor (not the chip itself), and each core adds more processing power to the overall performance. This is why you have dual-core and quad-core processors What Do "Dual Core" and "Quad Core" Mean? These days, most CPUs are dual-core, quad-core, or octo-core. But what does that even mean? Here's everything explained. Read More .

The Core i9 series starts with the 8-core Core i9-9900K, which costs $488. The flagship and faster processor is the 18-core Core i9-9980XE, which is priced at $1,999. There are several other models between those, each with different number of cores or clock speed.

Apart from more raw speed, the Core i9 series makes small changes under the hood. It rebalances the cache hierarchy, introduces a new Turbo Boost, adds 4-channel DDR4 RAM, and Intel’s Optane Memory. Put together, this speeds up the whole performance.


These features are largely possible because of Intel’s new X299 chipset, which is used mainly by the Core i9 series. There are a couple of Core i7 and Core i5 processors also based on the X299 chipset, but they don’t leverage the chipset’s qualities as well as the Core i9 series does.

Only the Core i7 and Core i9 series now support Hyper-Threading for virtual cores. The new Core i5 series does not have it.

What Should You Buy?

intel core i9 new processors november 2018

Right now, the Core i9 processors are largely available on desktops, not as much on laptops. If you’re looking at a Core i9 CPU on a laptop, scroll to the end of this article for our recommendation.


On a desktop, remember that you will need a new motherboard if you plan to use any of these new processors. Motherboards that support the X299 chipset aren’t the same as motherboards that support other Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processors.

Based on your requirements, here are our suggestions and recommendations about whether you should buy a Core i9 or a Core i7 processor. And remember, you should consider the timing for when you buy a new computer When Is the Best Time to Buy a Computer? 5 Things to Keep in Mind Looking to buy the best new computer for the best lowest price? When is the best time to buy a new laptop or computer? Read More  in addition to what you actually buy.

The Office Goer

which intel core office goer

“I want a simple laptop that does the basics.”

Common Activities: Browsing the web, email, social networking, Microsoft Office, sometimes watching movies.


The trusty old Intel Core i3 should be able to serve all your needs efficiently. It is a low-cost processor and is also energy-efficient to give you longer battery life. I’d recommend the Intel Core i3-8100, one of the best-reviewed starter processors.

Intel Core i3-8100 Desktop Processor 4 Cores up to 3.6 GHz Turbo Unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Intel Core i3-8100 Desktop Processor 4 Cores up to 3.6 GHz Turbo Unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Buy Now On Amazon $114.69

This 8th-generation processor is a major upgrade from what you used to get in the starter Core i3. This is a quad-core processor with a 3.2GHz clock, backed up by an upgraded Intel UHD Graphics 630 chipset.

On a laptop, consider a device running Intel Core M, a power-optimized processor with a better HD 5300 graphics chip. Its cost falls between a Core i3 and a Core i5, and is available in laptops or Intel’s palm-sized NUC computers.


The Student

“I want to do a whole lot of things simultaneously, and get my assignments done.”

Common Activities: Watching movies, listening to music, social networking, browsing the web, Microsoft Office, some gaming, specialized software depending on the course.

which intel core student

For students, we would suggest either the Intel Core M or the Intel Core i5, depending on your needs.

If you won’t play games, carry your laptop around campus all day, and don’t have any graphics-intensive needs, then the Intel Core M should be fine. Plus, its energy efficiency makes it ideal to use for long periods in a day. We also recommend checking out the best laptops for students, by major The Best Laptops for School by Major in 2019 The best laptop for any student depends on what they study. Here are the best laptops for school by major. Read More .

But most students should stick to the Intel Core i5 series of processors. These are built for performance, and even offer some graphics oomph if you want. Plus you can overclock the CPU The Beginner's Guide to CPU Overclocking Overclocking is an art, but it's not magic. Here we share how overclocking works, complete with a step-by-step guide to safely get a performance boost out of your CPU. Read More on a majority of the new Core i5 processors, as long as they have the “Turbo Unlocked” sticker.

If you’re building a desktop PC, get an 8th or 9th generation Core i5 CPU. A good choice is the new Intel Core i5 9600K, which has six cores clocked at 3.7GHz. And yes, it can be overclocked.

Intel Core i5-9600K Desktop Processor 6 Cores up to 4.6 GHz Turbo unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Intel Core i5-9600K Desktop Processor 6 Cores up to 4.6 GHz Turbo unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Buy Now On Amazon $192.89

The Gamer

“I want to play the latest games with no drop in framerates.”

Common Activities: Gaming, screen recording, internet chat, intense multitasking.

which intel core gamer

If you’re building a gaming rig, there are two possible scenarios. Either you are starting from scratch, or you are upgrading your current processor.

Those who are upgrading their CPU but don’t want any other investment should look away from the new X299 chipset processors. Any of those will invariably mean upgrading your motherboard, and maybe other parts too. In fact, you might want to build an eight-core gaming rig with cheap server parts How to Build an 8-Core Gaming PC from Cheap Server Parts Want a beefed-up gaming or video-editing PC with dual Intel Xeon processors for under $200? The parts are out there, but finding and putting them together could prove difficult. Read More .

If you are building a new high-end gaming PC, then start with the new Skylake-X series, since it will make you future-compatible. On the other hand, for those building within a modest budget, the Core i3, Core i5, or Ryzen (what’s Ryzen? What Is So Good About the New AMD Ryzen? The AMD Ryzen just landed, and the world of CPUs just got interesting. What is the hype all about, and is it right for you? Read More ) processors might be more appropriate picks.

Intel says the new Core i9-9900K is the best gaming CPU today. It’s an eight-core processor, with Hyper-Threading support to take it to 16 virtual cores. It also supports four-channel DDR4 RAM and has a higher cache, both of which bring small improvements to gaming. Naturally, you aren’t going to rely on the integrated graphics, you’ll add a dedicated graphics card. Whether you’re playing the latest games, live-streaming your session, or even playing virtual reality games with a headset, this one can handle it all.

Intel Core i9-9900K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.0 GHz Turbo unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Intel Core i9-9900K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.0 GHz Turbo unlocked LGA1151 300 Series 95W Buy Now On Amazon $419.00

The Professional

“I want a beast that handles my intense workload.”

Common Activities: Coding, video editing, 3D modeling.

which intel core professional

There is one group of users who are looking for workhorses. From graphics designers and video editors to coders and architects, some people need pure horsepower. If you’re one of these, get the Intel Core i9 7920X right now, but get the Core i9 9920X when it’s available.

Intel Core i9-7920X X-Series Processor 12 Cores up to 4.3 GHz Turbo Unlocked LGA2066 X299 Series 140W Intel Core i9-7920X X-Series Processor 12 Cores up to 4.3 GHz Turbo Unlocked LGA2066 X299 Series 140W Buy Now On Amazon $1,034.58

The main reasons to go with the X series over an Intel Xeon or existing Core i7 is the cache and the RAM.

Processor cache is one of those little-known parts that slow down PCs. The X series changes how it handles cache so that it’s faster than anything on previous Intel processors. Plus, you’ll get a whopping 19MB of L3 cache on the new Core i9 9920X.

The second point, RAM, is something most people already know about. The X series allows for four-channel DDR4 RAM, theoretically letting you add up to 64GB of RAM. That’s far better than normal processors, but Xeon users might want to double-check their needs.

Some professionals cannot afford the slightest bit of corruption of any data. Xeon processors support ECC RAM, which prioritizes data safety and correction. Only a few specialist jobs require this though, so unless you’re a system administrator for a large corporation, you can look beyond it.

The Enthusiast

“I want the best of the best of the best.”

Common Activities: Wanting the best.

which intel core enthusiast

This one is pretty simple, isn’t it? If you want the best, that means you go buy the best. And right now, that’s the Core i9 7980XE. The 20-core processor is the fastest CPU for consumers today. You’ll soon be able to buy its new version, the Core i9 9980XE, so check whether it’s available before you purchase the 7980.

Intel BX80673I97980X Core i9-7980XE Processors Intel BX80673I97980X Core i9-7980XE Processors Buy Now On Amazon $2,399.00

This is about having the latest and greatest. Sure, it’s the best, but the improvements you will see are negligible for most daily uses. You’ll only see those when you are doing processor-intensive tasks.

Intel Core i9 Laptops: Power Users Only

The Core i9 series is largely about desktop processors, but there is a laptop variant too. Top-end laptops offer the Intel Core i9-8950HK CPU (six cores, 14nm architecture) as an upgrade. And it is a staggeringly fast processor, about 10% to 15% better than the best Core i7 laptop processor.

But while the difference is good, it’s not as stark as what you see on desktop. Between the best Core i9 desktop processors and the best Core i7 desktop processors, you’ll see a performance jump of almost 40%, which makes a huge difference for intensive tasks like video editing.

In short, if you are hell-bent on having an ultimate powerhouse of a laptop 5 Ultimate Gaming Notebooks to Drool Over Looking for the ultimate gaming notebook? Moe Long rounds up five of the most ridiculously overpowered lightweight notebooks for playing games on-the-go. Read More and price isn’t an issue, go for something with a Core i9 processor. For everyone else, look elsewhere.

Related topics: Buying Tips, CPU, Intel.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Lewis
    January 12, 2019 at 5:17 am

    The article forgot about people who use a computer for music composition and production. Often creating music in software applications such as Cubase that utilize many VST instruments in a song require a high spec computer for effective use. I am surprised the article forgot music professionals but remembered wasteful activities such as video game playing. Yes I get it falls under the "professionals" category and yes I am a musician (well not a proper one as I am a computer musician) as one might be able to tell.

    • Bohdan
      December 23, 2019 at 2:25 pm

      Lewis video games are a way more common computer activity than music composition. that's the only reason.

  2. Lot
    September 13, 2017 at 7:09 pm

    Intel are not who they appear to be. Why? Intel: Anti-Competitive, Anti-Consumer, Anti-Technology.

    Can Intel use illegal tricks to be the only company allowed to make & sell processors? And Intel pays Dell, HP, Sony, Acer, Samsung & many others to not buy AMD's processors? And keep all their practices secret? Then AMD spends ALL of its money trying to sue Intel since 1987?

    Intel's compiler software? Written to perform fast ONLY on Intel CPUs.

    Tablets? Makers paid to use Intel's CPUs.

    Watch carefully, 35-minute talk made after decades of research:

  3. shaoul
    August 23, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Also a faster and more powerful cpu is important for games and gamers, the video card (gpu) is also a more than significant element. should i mention that your power supply should be able to power it all without difficulties (low-cost psu are not able to handle fast cpu and even less high-end gpu). be prepared to have a central heating system sitting next to you.

    investing in a quiet efficient cooling system could be a great idea unless you want to simulate a 747 at lift-off permanently (you will not get the 747 but the noise level)

  4. Jeffrey Dahmer
    August 12, 2017 at 4:41 am

    Answer: None, buy Ryzen or Threadripper.

    If all you do is gaming, buy a 7700K or wait for coffee lake. In any case there's literally no circumstance where buying X299 is a good decision right now, unless you need a space heater and a computer in one package.

  5. likefunbutnot
    August 12, 2017 at 12:35 am

    Previous-generation Xeon E5s on X99 or C206 motherboards are a ridiculously good deal if you want a lot of threads and support for a great deal of RAM. They're the clear way to go for your big-boy CAD or video editing project, or if you do a lot of system virtualization. Asus and Asrock make very credible workstation-class motherboards. The only down side compared to contemporary Kaby Lake consumer products is that you'll have a limited amount of NVMe slots, but only the most expensive motherboards have more than one M.2 slot anyway.

    An SMP Xeon E5 with 128GB RAM and support for 24 or 32 threads can be as inexpensive as ~US$600. Outside of gaming, there are relatively few workloads where the more-than-four cores of an i7 or i9 will be more significant.