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Intel Core i9, i7, i5 and i3: Differences and meaning of the CPU names explained

Intel CPUs are divided into different product lines such as Xeon, Pentium, Celeron or Core i. But which processor do players need and what are the differences?

In the gaming area, the different versions of the Core i9, i7, i5 and i3 CPUs are of particular interest. The inexpensive Celeron and Pentium processors, on the other hand, are more suitable for office PCs, while the very expensive Xeon models are used in servers and workstations.

Intel Core i9 vs. i7 vs. i5 vs. i3: what are the differences?

The names i9, i7, i5 and i3 are indicators for different performance classes within the Intel Core series. A higher numerical value stands for more cores, computing power and, in some cases, functions compared to the other models from the same processor generation.

Due to changes in the hardware architecture, comparisons between CPUs of different generations do not always follow the principle mentioned above. Depending on the age of a processor, for example, it is possible that a new i5 will offer more performance than an older i7. This is also shown in our overview of the various CPU performance classes:

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In addition, desktop and mobile processors are often not directly comparable. Even within a generation, desktop CPUs in one performance class are usually faster and often have more cores than their mobile counterparts.

Intel's current desktop performance classes

  • Core i9 CPUs are absolute high-end models. They usually offer the highest number of cores (however, the 11th generation has gone from 10 to 8 cores with hyperthreading) and the most performance within the core range. They also have exclusive functions such as Intel's Thermal Velocity Boost and Adaptive Boost Technology for particularly high clock rates. However, they are also the most expensive models and use the most energy on top of that. These processors are suitable for professional applications as well as for very computationally intensive games and enable particularly high frame rates.
  • Core i7 CPUs have eight cores in the desktop versions and four to eight cores in the mobile versions - each with hyperthreading. In the current generation, the desktop variants only make minor compromises compared to the performance of the Core i9 models. For a lower price, however, they perform equally well in professional applications as well as in games. As a rule, i7 CPUs are counted among the high-end variants.
  • Core i5 CPUs represent mid-range processors that are often praised for their price-performance ratio. They offer six cores in the desktop version and four to six cores in the mobile versions, all of which also have hyperthreading. The current desktop versions are a little slower than the high-end models, but are more than sufficient for modern titles and upcoming games.
  • Core i3 CPUs have the lowest price compared to the other models in the Core range. At the same time, however, they also offer the lowest performance and only four or two to four cores with hyperthreading. This is still sufficient for some games, but the i3 models can become the bottleneck of the system, especially for computationally intensive simulations, strategy games or demanding open world titles.

What do the product numbers and letters mean?

As mentioned at the beginning, the brand name is followed by a combination of digits and letters, which is introduced by a hyphen. The first numbers serve as an indicator for the generation of the respective processor. As a result, since Intel's 10th generation, it has been a double-digit number as in the case of the Core i9 10900K.

The remaining digits form the so-called SKU (Stock Keeping Unit). This number is usually given in the order in which the CPUs are developed. Within a processor generation, higher numbers indicate more functions with otherwise identical CPUs.

At the end of the product name On some processors there is also a letter, which may also be followed by a number. These endings have a wide variety of meanings and can, for example, indicate the (non-) existence of an integrated graphics unit or the possibility of overclocking.

In the following table you will find the endings and their meanings that are currently listed on Intel's website:

G1-G7

Graphics performance of mobile processors with integrated GPU (only mobile CPUs; higher = better)

E.

F.

CPU requires a dedicated GPU

G

CPU has an integrated GPU

H

Optimized for performance (only mobile CPUs)

HK

Performance optimized; overclockable (only mobile CPUs)

HQ

Performance optimized; Quad Core CPU (Mobile CPUs only)

K

Overclockable (free multiplier)

S.

T

U

Particularly energy-saving (only mobile CPUs)

Y

Extremely energy-saving (only mobile CPUs)

X / XE

High-end desktop CPU, overclockable

Which Intel CPU do players need?

Even if Core i9 models offer the highest performance in games, the lead over slower models up to the Core i5 range is more than manageable. A further complicating factor is the fact that in games the graphics card usually has significantly more influence on the frame rate than the CPU.

In our opinion, gamers can therefore be happy with a Core i5 CPU without any problems. Or to put it another way: If you just gamble, it is hardly worth paying the sometimes significant surcharge for a Core i7 or Core i9.

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Also not to be forgotten is the very strong AMD competition in the form of the current Ryzen processors. An article that explains the different names in these models in more detail follows. You can find out which models from AMD and Intel are currently recommended in the purchase advice above.