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Windows Forums member, Bert_H, asked the following question in our suggestion box:

[I’d like] an explanation on i3, i5, i7 Operating Systems, and how they compare with Core 2 and Quad Core CPUs.

Update: Manuel commented asking the following:

It seems core2 duo CPUs have not been included and where they belong. Are core 2 duo CPUs comparable with i3s or even i5s? thanks.

Scroll down or click here for the answer.

If you’re in the market to buy a PC and you’re looking for the best value for money, you’ve likely asked yourself: “what’s the difference between Dual and Quad Core and which should I buy, i5, or i7?”

This guide offers a basic explanation of these processors and will help you determine the best for your needs.

This guide will answer the following questions:

  • What is a processor?
  • What is a core?
  • What is a multi-core processor?
  • Why do I need multiple cores?
  • How many cores do i3, i5, and i7’s have?
  • How Do Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad Compare with Core i3, i5, and i7?
  • What Does the “i” Stand for in i3, i5, and i7?
  • Do I need an i3, i5, or i7?

What is a Processor?

The Processor or Central Processing Unit (CPU) component of your PC carries out instructions given to it by your Operating System (Windows.) Think of the processor as a brain that receives instructions and messages (i.e. “HOT HOT HOT Burning!!!”) and sends out instructions to other hardware (i.e. “Arm: lift hand” or “mouth: open; vocal chords: scream.”)

What is a Core?

A standard processor has one core (single-core.) Single core processors only process one instruction at a time (they do use pipelines internally, which allow several instructions to be processed together; however, they are still run one at a time.)

What is a Multi-Core Processor?

A multi-core processor is comprised of two or more independent cores, each capable of processing individual instructions. A dual-core processor contains two cores, a quad-core processor contains four cores, and a hexa-core processor contains six cores.

Why do I Need Multiple Cores?

Multiple cores can be used to run two programs side by side and, when an intensive program is running, (AV Scan, Video conversion, CD ripping etc.) you can utilize another core to run your browser to check your email etc.

Multiple cores really shine when you’re using a program that can utilize more than one core (called Parallelization) to improve the program’s efficiency and addressability. Programs such as graphic software, games etc. can run multiple instructions at the same time and deliver faster, smoother results.

If you use CPU-intensive software, multiple cores will likely provide a better computing experience. If you use your PC to check emails and watch the occasional video, you really don’t need a multi-core processor.

How many cores do i3, i5, and i7’s have?

  • An i3 processor has two cores
  • An i5 processor has two or four cores (depending on the model you have)
  • An i7 processor has two, four, or six cores (depending on the model you have)

How Do Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad Compare with Core i3, i5, and i7?

Added 2012/01/21:

If you’re looking for a good value PC and have decided on a Core 2 Duo, Core i3, or Core i5 (all best in value for casual computer use), please read on:

Core 2 Duo processors run two threads; i3’s and i5’s run four threads. Core 2 Duo processors are socket 775 (45/65nm); Core i3 and i5 processors are socket 1156 (nm) but only work with DDR3 RAM (Some Core 2 Duo’s work with both DDR2 and DDR3.)

For desktops, I’d stay clear of core 2 duos due to their lack of power and compatibility with the newest PC hardware; for laptops, it all depends on your usage. As laptops aren’t as easy to upgrade, buying dated technology might burn you in the future when you find your Core 2 Duo PC’s motherboard only supports 4GB RAM—for example.

i5’s come with “turbo boost”; however, i3’s overclock very well if that’s your thing. That’s where I’d put my money if you’re considering Core 2 Duo, i3, and i5: the i3 provides the best value for most casual PC users.

While I focused on i3, i5, and Core 2 Duo to answer a reader’s question, the principles apply when comparing i5, i7, and Core 2 Quad. I’d go for the i5 unless you are willing to pay a premium for a little more performance.

What’s the Difference between i3/i5/i7 Generations?

To find out what’s new with the second generation of i3, and i5, and i7 processors, read more about Sandy Bridge here.

To find out what’s new with the third generation of i3, and i5, and i7 processors, read more about Ivy Bridge here.

What Does the “i” Stand for in i3, i5, and i7?

Added 2012/03/03:

I searched around the web and found speculation that the “i” stands for “Intel”; however, there’s no substantiation to that claim. After coming up with no explanation, I sent an email to Intel tech support. Here’s what they had to say (emphasis added):

Hello Rich,

Thank you for contact Intel(R) Technical Support.

We have received your request. Please be informed that the letter ‘i’ on the model number of the Processor does not stand for any particular detail, technology or feature presented on the product.

This is just a marketing brand name decision. For any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us back.

Thank you for your understading (sic).


Alvaro A.
Intel Customer Support

The i# processors are just branded that way with no special meaning.

Do I need an i3, i5, or i7?

The reason you’re reading this guide is to find out which type of processor you need. I want to give a simple answer and, if you have more to add, please let us know in the comments. As with all computer hardware, the type of processor you need depends on your needs, for how long you want your computer to stay current, and your budget.

Here’s a very simple breakdown of what you should look to buy depending on your computing needs. All suggestions assume you are buying a pre-built PC (so you don’t have to worry about motherboard and RAM specs and so you don’t have to worry about upgrade compatibility.)

If you:

  • Browse the internet, check email, and play the occasional flash game (like Farmville): Get a single core netbook or desktop (and don’t spend more than $300 USD — Updated 12/01/21.)
  • Do word processing, spreadsheets etc., listen to music often, and watch movies, get an i3 processor (or any dual core processor i.e. core 2 duo)
  • Play the occasional game and are happy with lower resolution and lower quality graphics (my suggestion assumes the graphics processor on the pre-built PC will be well-matched for the processor suggestions), watch HD movies etc., get an i5.
  • If you do graphic publishing, music creation, programming (and compiling), watch HD movies, or like to play visually appealing games, get a quad core i5, or i7.
  • If you like to have the very best hardware and play the most graphically intense games, get a quad core or hexa corei7 Extreme.

I realise my suggestions are somewhat generic but should point you in the right direction. If you have a specific question, please ask us in the forums where we can help you find the right processor for you.

So… What Computer Should I Purchase?

Added 2012/03/02:

Recently, a number of you have commented asking what computer to buy. As I’m not familiar with all brands, models, and current pricing, I ask that you post your question in Windows Forums where our group of helpful PC geeks will assist in making the choice that’s best for you. Not sure how to use a forum? Start here: How to get great help from Windows Forums.

Last Updated: September 17, 2012

2012/06/23: Added details about i3, i5, i7 processor generations.
2012/09/17: Updated processor recommendations based on pricing and availability. References to hexa core processors.

About Rich

Rich is the owner and creator of Windows Guides; he spends his time breaking things on his PC so he can write how-to guides to fix them.

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250 thoughts on “i3, i5, and i7; Dual, Quad, Hexa Core Processors. How to they Differ?”

  1. confused before says:

    great exp…. good job

  2. rancho says:

    can any one help me please ? today i saw that one laptop with i3 processor but 8 gb ram and 1760 mb graphics card and another laptop with quad core but 6 gb ram and 512 mb graphics card so which one is faster i want for games and cad softwares

  3. madhura says:

    thank you sir for sharing this information … it really helps me a lot

  4. jesse says:

    Absolutely +1 thanks

  5. teacup says:

    that was really clear and simple – cheers!

  6. Sootsweep64 says:

    So helpful thanks so much

  7. Ariyan Haghgoo says:

    is there any laptops with the
    Intel’s 3.2GHz hexacore i7-97 ?

  8. Archie says:

    Really helpfull
    Very well done

  9. barongo onkangi says:

    thank you so much. This answer as settled a serious argument.

  10. sooj says:

    thanks a lot for the information. i have always wanted to know about the different processors.

  11. yasmin says:

    Wow!! Ive just read this page and you have answered absolutely everything I wanted to know as Im looking at buying a new laptop. Thanks for the indepth info!!! Greatly appreciated!!!

  12. kapil says:

    this is the best explained article i’ve ever come across, thanxs a million

  13. Joana Blum says:

    Thank you very much for writing this. It was very helpful =)

  14. Atul Tripathi says:

    Thanks Mr. Rich for your excellent explanation….!

  15. rowin tanglao says:

    Thanks, I’ve learned a lot about this post. :)

  16. shibin says:

    thanks a lot rich…u made my made me undrstnd the diff clearly dat too in a layman term

  17. moha says:

    your information is really helpful and the way you explain it is interesting…thanks

  18. Mohit Patel says:

    gr8 job

  19. bnicole143 says:

    I’m trying to buy a laptoo.. is it better to get an i3 or quadcore??? I was looking at an Asus i3 4gb 500 hard drive for 450$ or samsung quadcore 6gb 750 hard drive for 550$… I want a good computer for a cheaper price.. what would you do?? Thank you

  20. andre says:

    Good stuff and to the point!

  21. ajshne says:

    Hey ,Its good information you have provided but just want to ask when should i buy i3.

  22. Suwadith says:

    Clearly Quad core!

  23. Goody says:

    Thank you soooo much for explaining this. I’m going to search the sites for other answers about PC’s!!!!

  24. jai says:

    wud u tell me whta different bw core 2 duo and quad????

  25. Sam says:

    What is the difference between i3 and i5…. some i5 processors have only 2 cores then what is the difference between both????

    1. Rich says:

      Dual core i5s utilize hyperthreading, providing four logical threads; dual core i3s have two logical threads only and do not use hyperthreading. Also, dual core i5s, for the most part, operate at higher clock speeds.

  26. Shahbaz Naeem says:

    Best Really informational and helpfull for me , I hope i’ll get more knowledge from you by this site.

    Thanks for Sharing – Love from Pakistan

  27. Basha says:

    Hello Rich,
    Thank you for you’re post , Now We can make our own decesion on Notebook/PC Purchase with out any issues.

  28. Jacobjoshhi says:

    Nice its very useful.

  29. basil says:

    thanks the message was very helpful and straight to the point.

  30. Rina says:

    I have a PIV with chipset intel G41express 3GHz, 1G for the graphic card (internal), 2G of RAM but i don’t know which system is the most appropriate with my pc cause I already used win7 ultimate 32bit/64 bit,win7 professioinel 32bit and XP sp3 professionel I didn’d find which one is the best for me!!
    Thanks for your advice…………

  31. Khagendra says:

    Rich, Your artcile is well written and I appriciated for your great job.After reading this blog I am clear that what are processores.Now I would like to buy dual core machines.However after few months I want to change the processor.Could you suggest me is there possible ? or what will be the difrence in new one and old upgrated system.
    Thank you very much:)

    1. Rich says:

      If you’re building you’re own desktop, it’s possible to change out the processor for a faster one at a later date; just check that the motherboard you pick is compatible with the higher end processors available today. If you’re buying a pre-built desktop, you may or may not be able to upgrade. If you’re buying a pre-built laptop, you probably cannot upgrade the processor later but that’s not always the case. It really depends on what you buy and how much freedom you have with the other hardware to support future upgrades.

  32. Zazz says:


    I am looking for a lap top or tower which can function on a 24/7 basis. It is for gaming purposes “kingdom of Camelot” . I am not sure what is best as it is not a high graphical game.


  33. Rich says:

    An i3 will meet your needs. I’d go for a system with 4GB of RAM or more (Updated as of 4/4/2013)

  34. Saporevero says:

    Hi, I will be editing a few websites alternately eg. blog posts and storing uploading new photos, as well as video clips for them. I will also be writing and printing and skyping/messengering with clients, etc. What would you recommend for me?

    Thank you!

    1. Rich says:

      For your requirements, I recommend a system built with an i3 processor.

  35. Mike Tayon says:

    Thanks for such a helpful article! I am starting to learn the differences amongst 2+ core processors, after buying a Core 2 Duo E6400. Now I need to know, when, or why should, or do I even need to, take the leap to a 64 bit OS. I am pretty darned happy with the E6400, as I don’t “game”, and it seems to handle everything I can throw at it in my day to day PC usage without a hiccup, BUT I wonder if in part, that is because of 4GB RAM, and a 10KRPM HD?

    If I buy a i3 or i5, will I NEED to move to 64bit? I am getting the impression Windows Vista would suffice. I don’t want to be setting myself up for having to stick to expensive OS Software in the future, when I KNOW I’ll never need “gaming power”, but I like what I read about the i5 (Hyper threading being the biggest draw for me). I don’t care about “Turbo Boost” in the i5, so maybe I should aim at the i3? A 2 core would be just fine for me based on my opinion of the E6400, and what you have said about the i3, but am not sure it would last “forever” in my world. OK, I hope I am explaining all this right.

    To surmise, I don’t game, but do watch videos and listen to music, and use a lot of browser resources, for ebay, forums, etc all at once! I do like using photo editing software, and have been stuck on Photoimpact 5 for years (grin). Would older software from the late 90’s work ok on an i3 or i5?

    Thanks for ANY suggestions, comments, or help!!!!!! I’m “almost” there in deciding, just need to get rid of the reaming “fog” LOL :)


  36. Marie says:

    I’m looking for a desktop, but not an all in one. I just purchased a http://www.staples.com/HP-Pavilion-p7-1446s-Desktop-PC/product_989660 and it is slow and freezing up at times, especially when playing games. What is the difference between this and http://www.officemax.com/technology/computers/desktop-computers/product-prod4590015, and http://www.officemax.com/technology/computers/desktop-computers/product-prod4280040. Which is faster, and which is a better buy for the money? Please help asap, as I purchased the Pav p-7-1446 and only have 10 days to return it for a refund.

  37. Icestreaker says:

    For a laptop don’t even mess with Intel, go with AMD… they are far cheaper, give you more bang for your buck, and give you far more power than Intel can casual use. Granted, if you are a heavy gamer, you may want to consider an AMD graphics card alongside with an i7 processor (which for a laptop, unless you have a really good way of dispersing heat is not a good idea), or a desktop with an i5 or i7 or AMD graphics card… then you would be set.

  38. Icestreaker says:

    Plus I forgot to add, most AMD processors are at least Dual-core processors… with their newest lines being quad-core…

  39. Arjun Menon says:

    What about ARM processors

  40. PC says:

    what it rhe difference between HP Hexa-Core and Intel core i5

  41. untechy says:

    Hello, i need a laptop. I will be writing papers for school, possibly using software related to classes, using learnsmart, watching videos, i want to be able to burn cds, storing pics. I am planning on using it at home rather than carrying it with me, but I’d like it to be portable enough for me to take it along if the need arises.

  42. Sneha says:

    Hello, can you tell me which processor is the best for a senior secondary school (for computer science students)

    1. Stacked High says:

      Check out HP… a wide range of general purpose system for laptops, desktops, and all in one as well as systems for moderate and hardcore gamers.

  43. disqus_HSjqCQGjbz says:

    Hi Rich. Last time I bought a computer, it overbought. This time, I want to keep it simple, but useful for at least a few years. It will be for my 90 year old dad, and it’ll have to be a laptop. Could have a large screen, or we could just use an existing monitor. He basically checks email and FB, creates simple word documents and excel ss, and tht is really it. He has a desktop that is still running Windows XP (yes, I know). I tried out a loaner touchscreen laptop with Windows 8 and he nearly “lost it”: everything was in a different place, and he got completely frustrated. Am hoping Windows 10 will return to some of the XP “look” to make the transition easier for him. From what I’ve read in your discussion, we could go with an amd or Intel i3 or i5 processor, yes? Can you give me any further or more specific advice on a good, reliable model for him? He has always had Dell… Thank you, Rich.

    1. Stacked High says:

      look into the new HP Envy lines on laptop.. they have touchscreen which makes it easier for older generations users, a flip top which is nice when watching a movie with the keyboard out of the way. it’s like a tablet and laptop in one. has an i7 6th generation chip meaning it runs cooler and quieter. depending on when, could range from $700 to $800. it’s a great all around system and comes with windows 10. there are a number of lower priced systems in the $650 range and even $450 and $375.. for laptops.. or you can get an HP all in one with a 29 inch monitor with a i3 chip that clocks at 3.2 gig hurtz which is pretty fast.. with touchscreen..

  44. Brian Sandberg says:

    What is à hexa core exactly? A little detail in laymans terms. ☺

    1. Stacked High says:

      6 cores

  45. Mohd Insan says:

    I’ve a question about the micro cores a CPU has.
    Comparing i7-4.33ghz with i3-2.89ghz
    i7 – 4.33ghz = Does this mean that a “single” micro core run at that 4.33ghz or because it has more micro cores that it runs 4.33ghz.
    As compared to i3-2.89ghz which has less cores that stats its speed at 2.89ghz.

    Pls reply thanks

  46. Shery says:

    Hello Bro i m into building websites i have,nt started it but m gonna start and its gonna be on a big scale so brother which laptop would be better i m thinking of i5 and which model of it do u suggest

  47. Semíramis Mercedes Reyes Peral says:

    Hello Rich, thanks for the article it was very instructive. I have a cuetion, Can a computer operate with 2 processors? I work with architecture programs which needs like 16 cores to work at its top performance, so I´d like know if I can build a computer with at least 2 i7 processors.

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