Finding The Best Intel Core i5 Processor
The Intel Core i5 series is among the most popular of the Intel Core line, thanks to its great overall price/performance ratio. i5 processors are especially popular among gamers, who don’t typically need things like i7s in order to push the highest framerates in their games, which are typically more GPU-dependent.
If the i3 series is the entry to the mid-range, the i5 goes from midrange to entry-level high-range, depending on generation and the specific processor you’re buying. Generally boasting 4 or more cores, integrated graphics, and overall better performance than their i3 counterparts, the i5 series is great for mid-range gaming PCs.
Below, we’ll dive into more detail and tell you everything you need to know.
Where does the Intel Core i5 excel?
The Intel Core i5 series tend to flourish in the following scenarios:
- Hardcore gaming. The i5 processors serve as great companions to GPUs from the GTX 1060 and onward. You don’t really have to worry about CPU bottlenecking all that much, especially if you’re using an unlocked i5 capable of overclocking. While the i7 and i9 may have marginally better performance in games, it’s just that: marginal.
- Light Twitch streaming. Want to stream occasionally? You may need to turn down your game settings and resolution, but i5s can generally handle that workload just fine, especially if you have a dedicated GPU for the games and use integrated graphics to help with rendering. It won’t be enough for a pro streamer, but as a hobby…it should be fine.
- Semi-frequent video rendering. Want to make a video or two each week and upload it to YouTube? The i5 should work great for that purpose. It won’t render nearly as fast as an i7 or i9, due to the lack of hyperthreading in i5 processors, but your average 5-minute 1080p video should render in an hour or two at worst.
- General productivity, media playing, etc. If all you’re doing is browsing the web, listening to music, watching Netflix, etc, don’t even worry: the i5 will annilihate all of those tasks with ease. We do recommend opting for an i3 instead if that’s all you’ll be doing, though.
Is the Intel Core i5 enough for my usage scenarios?
Meanwhile, the i5 may fall short in the following scenarios:
- Frequent Twitch streaming. If you want to be a full-time Twitch streamer, then an i5 simply won’t cut it. The compromises you’ll have to make to your gaming experience will create a worse experience for your users, especially if you’re an eSports player, where maximum performance matters more than anything else. We recommend at least an i7 for this purpose.
- Daily or every-other-day video rendering. If you’re a career YouTuber or something of the sort, an i5 also won’t cut it. The time spent rendering, editing and uploading video is precious, not to mention the time actually getting the footage you need. If you’re doing content creation as a career, you need an i7.
- High-end productivity tasks. This refers to things like data mining, compiling, rendering, financial modeling, etc. An i7, i9, or Xeon processor is needed for these kinds of tasks.
- Core Count - 4
- Clock Speed - 4 GHz (base, overclockable)
- Integrated Graphics - N/A
The i5 7640X is easily one of the best processors on the market right now, thanks to its stellar price-performance. With 4 cores, unlocked overclocking capabilities and a high base clock, the 7640X is the best value pick of any i5 processor.
This processor should be capable of providing a stellar gaming experience, a great VR experience, decent streaming performance and decent video rendering speeds. Where it falls short, however, is in a few key areas.
The first problem with the i5-7640X is its lack of integrated graphics. While this is a minor problem for most people who would be interested in this CPU (gamers creating a PC build), it can be a serious problem if you want to, say, make a high-end HTPC or feel like adding a GPU at a later date. This also means that you can't, say, offload certain tasks to the integrated graphics while still using your main GPU.
The second problem is the kind of motherboard you'll need to buy for this. Specifically, you'll need to get one of Intel's latest X-series motherboards, especially if you want to overclock. If you don't know how to overclock or simply don't want to risk it, this might just be a bad choice for you entirely.
However, it's still our clear winner. Next up is the 8600K.
- Core Count - 6
- Clock Speed - 3.7 GHz (base, overclockable)
- Integrated Graphics - Intel UHD Graphics 630
Hands down, the i5-8600K has the best overall performance of any i5 processor right now. Where it starts to fall short is from a value perspective- the much less expensive 7640X only has a 6% performance deficit.
That being said, that doesn't this CPU isn't worth buying. Far from it- if you can't afford an i7 but want to push your i5 as far as it can go, that extra 6% of performance can go a long way. Plus, you don't need to invest in an X-series motherboard to use it, though you will need to buy a higher-end motherboard to overclock.
Even without overclocking, the 8600K should have a performance advantage over every other processor on this list. If you can afford it, we highly recommend opting for the overclock-capable motherboard, but you'll still be getting plenty of power otherwise.
Plus, the 8600K has a strong, modern integrated graphics chip, making it great for watching 4K video and serving as a home theater PC, if you so desire.
You can even skimp out on buying a proper GPU if you can't afford it yet, and buy your basic PC with this. Once you can afford to add the GPU, you'll instantly have upgraded from a strong general use machine to a gaming powerhouse.
- Core Count - 4
- Clock Speed - 2.9 GHz
- Integrated Graphics - Intel HD Graphics 2500
Last and least is pretty much the cheapest i5 you can buy without it being completely obsolete. Even with that in mind, we seriously recommend against this unless it's compatible with your motherboard and you're upgrading an old system.
While this processor should still do fine in most gaming and general usage scenarios, it will still be quite slow when it comes to rendering video, and it may not be capable of live streaming at all. In addition, it isn't quite powerful enough to support high-end gaming experiences, like virtual reality.
While this chip does have integrated Intel HD Graphics, these are still quite weak by modern standards. While you may be able to have a respectable HTPC with this processor, you're unlikely to be able to play 4K video, which is a big downside for any modern media streaming box.
Ultimately, we only recommend this chip if you can't afford anything else or are upgrading your old system. If you're starting from scratch, consider one of the new i3 processors instead.