Intel Core i5 or i7 for Gaming?

  • Do you need the newest generation for gaming?
  • And what if you play and stream at the same time?
  • How many cores do you need to play?
  • Should you worry about "bottlenecking" your Intel Core i5?

Edited by Nataly Bogorad

June 1, 2019

Intel Core i5 vs. i7: Which Is Better for Gaming?

Looking for a gaming computer and can’t decide which Intel CPU? If you’ve already done at least some superficial research on the subject, you’ll probably have recognized that the two most popular processors among gamers are Intel Core i5 and i7. But each also has multiple generations: 5th gen, 6th gen, 7th gen, even 8th gen… If you don’t know the difference between them, how can you make the right choice? We’ve prepared this short guide to help you make the decision and get back into your favorite game of the moment.

The Difference Between i5 and i7

Intel Core i5 and i7 are two families of Intel Core; the key advantage of an i7 over an i5 of the same generation generally lies in the fact that it performs better in multitasking, photo and video editing and, in general, in handling heavy workloads. That is why the i7 is more expensive.

So, the real question, if you’re choosing a CPU for gaming, is whether you really need the benefits that the i7 system provides, or, to put it another way, is it worth the money?

A basic comparison between the 8th generation i5 and i7 models on UserBechmark shows that i7 is only slightly better in all areas except for the one where it really leaves i5 in the dust –multitasking. That is because the i7 models have twice as many threads as i5 models of the same generation, and the threads are the key actors in the hyper-threading technology that is responsible for multitasking, or the sharing of tasks among the processor’s cores.

Hyper-threading was first introduced by Intel back in 2011, when it was only accessible for the i7 family. Essentially, it adds two “virtual” cores for each physical one, sharing the workload between them. So in the test above, an 8th gen i7 model with 12 threads performs better in multitasking than an 8th gen i7 model that has only 6 threads.

How Many Cores Do You Need to Play?

In October 2017, Intel updated Core i5 and Core i7 to the 8th generation, increasing the number of cores and threads for each of them by 50 percent, as well as increasing the core’s clock speed for i7-8700K processors. From that point on, both i5 and i7 8th gen processors have had six cores and hyper-threading.

Although the 8th generation processors are more expensive than their predecessors, the difference in price tends to go down quickly and the increase in performance they provide makes them usually worth the additional cost. The specific benefit you’re likely to get from upgrading depends mostly to what extent the tasks you regularly perform on your computer require multi-threading, as well as the age of your current chip. The number of single or dual-core applications is going down these days, and Windows tends to send different single-threaded tasks to different cores, so multi-core applications running simultaneously are handled much more efficiently by 8th gen processors.

All that said, we have to admit that games don’t normally take up more than four cores if you use hyper-threading. Although some speculated that the newest DirectX 12, being more “multi-core friendly”, might change the situation, the actual tests proved not only that game performance does not change after you pass the boundary of 6 cores, but also that the increase from 4 and 6 cores is not that significant. So, if no important workloads pass through your CPU outside the game, you shouldn’t expect much benefit from the 8th gen Core i5, let alone i7.

Nevertheless, if you want to play demanding games and stream at the same time, a 6-core processor can increase your performance, even if by not as much as you might expect from two extra cores. Having six cores also gives you an extra fallback in case newer games start to use multi-threading more actively. So, if you already have, say, a 6th or 7th gen i5, you shouldn’t probably bother upgrading to an 8th gen, but if you have an altogether different CPU and are thinking of moving to Intel Core, we’d advise you to go directly to 8th gen, as the difference in costs between generations is not significant.

As for the i7, if you’re planning to use it exclusively for gaming, it is probably not worth the price. Core i5 will be just as fast for games, and 6 extra threads won’t make a noticeable difference. Core i7, or, better yet, Core i9, are great for 3D rendering or video editing and encoding but, if that’s not your deal, don’t even bother.

Bottleneck Argument

“Bottlenecking” seems to have become a trending term among gamers talking about processor performance lately. Let’s see what this actually is.

The core of the issue lies in the interaction between CPU and GPU that makes your PC function correctly. Simply put, the CPU decides what needs to be rendered when by the GPU. If the CPU is somehow unable to perform this task, the GPU doesn’t have enough work to do, its capacity is left unexploited, and, consequently the PC’s performance drops off. In this case, we would say that the GPU is bottlenecked.

So, should you worry about bottlenecking?

As we’ve already seen, the trick lies in balancing CPU and GPU capacities to ensure both function at their best. And you should know that, frankly, you either need a really high-end graphics card or multiple cards installed on your PC at the same time for an i5 to “lag behind” and bottleneck your GPU during gaming.

Which CPU to Buy?

All things considered, there are significant differences between i5 and i7 CPUs, but they are not differences that really matter for gaming. It is true that the gap in price between an i5 and an i7 depends on the system, but even if it is less than $100, you may want to spend this money on a better graphics card, which is actually more important if you are a gamer: remember that minor CPU bottlenecks resulting from combining an i5 with a high-end card are not such a big deal. It is better to bottleneck a GTX 1080 a bit than to have a i7 with a GTX 1070. Invest your money wisely and, if you’re a gamer, upgrade your GPU rather than count on the slight performance boost that an i7 offers.

Summing up, we advise you not to be fooled by digits: “7” is not always better than “5”. Intel Core i7 models should remain the prerogative for workstations, powerful 3D rendering and media editing machines. As for the gaming, unless you are getting several high-end GPUs, an i7 processor will probably be a waste of money.

And yes, you might consider buying a processor of an altogether different brand – AMD, for instance. To see if this is a good idea, read the article in which we compare Intel Core and AMD processors in terms of gaming performance.

Gecata by Movavi: A Simple, Reliable Game Recording Program

If you’re a gamer, the chances are you’ve already thought about recording your gameplay and sharing it with others. Actually, it is a lot simpler than you might think. Gecata by Movavi has been designed specifically for those who want an accessible and practical program for game recording: it takes little time to set up, is easy to use, and has all the features you’re likely to need.

  • Record webcam and mic as well as your gameplay.
  • Turn on Game mode so the program starts recording automatically as soon as you launch the game.
  • Save screenshots in one click and set the desired FPS and bitrate.
  • Capture separate audio streams so you can edit them differently and mix them as you like.
  • Add overlays to control the frame rate, system bit count and file size of your recording in real time.

The program is so intuitive, you’ll be tweaking the settings and starting recording in minutes.

Go ahead and give it a try!

Gecata by Movavi

The best way to preserve your gaming achievements.

  • Record HD game videos at up to 60 FPS
  • Grab sound from microphone and speakers
  • Add webcam video to the game footage
  • Save video in MP4 for easy uploading to YouTube