Core i3 vs i5: Which CPU Should You Get?

September 5, 2022 • Zachary Amos


Whether you’re building your own PC or buying a new one, you’re probably trying to compare an Intel i3 vs i5 processor. Choosing the right CPU is crucial for getting a computer that can do everything you need it to. Intel’s i3 and i5 processors are among the most popular CPUs on the market, but it can be confusing figuring out the difference between the two. So, this guide will help you get a clear idea of what each CPU is right for you. 

Intel i3 vs i5: What’s the Difference?

Intel has a few main lines of CPUs: i3, i5, i7, and i9. As a general rule, the higher the number is, the higher the price and performance. Take this with a grain of salt, though. There are many different models of CPUs in each of Intel’s processor line-ups. An i5 won’t always be better than an i3 just because it sounds like it would be. 

It’s also important to remember that a major part of what determines the performance of a computer is the other parts hooked up to the CPU. So, if you’re building your own gaming PC, you’ll want to take a good look at the specs of the other parts you hope to include, especially your GPU. If a GPU is outside your budget, though, both Intel i3 and i5 CPUs have models with integrated graphics. 

The main differences when it comes to Intel i3 vs i5 is the number of cores each has. The “cores” of a CPU are the individual processors in the CPU. As a general rule, more cores equals more processing power. The i3 CPUs have four cores from the 9th generation onward. The i5 CPUs have six cores. 

Both families of processors have the same Intel HD graphics, so the iGPU performance is comparable between the two. It is important to note, however, that there are some versions of the i3 and i5 processors that do not have integrated graphics. These include any Intel CPU with a model number ending in the letter “F” as well as all of the 9th generation Intel CPUs. 

Is the i3 Underrated?

When many people are shopping for a CPU for their PC, they tend to see the Intel i3 as a “budget” option. It certainly does make a great CPU for budget PC builds, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating Intel’s i3 vs i5 in terms of capability. While the i3 may have the fewest cores in Intel’s CPU lineup, it is by no means a low-quality CPU. In fact, it can often keep pace with the i5 in many video games. 

It’s important to remember that any computer is the sum of its parts. An i3 processor can power a streaming-quality gaming PC with the right parts to compliment it. For instance, pairing a Core i3 CPU with 16 GB of RAM and a mid-level graphics card, such as an RTX 2060, could result in a very capable, well-rounded PC.

Additionally, remember that the Core i3 is just one family of Intel CPUs – there are dozens of unique models within the i3 family. Any comparison of the i3 vs i5 has to look at specific models, since some of the best Core i3 CPUs can outperform i5 models in the right setup. For example, you may find an i3 processor that does support overclocking in your build, while some i5 processors might not. 

The Core i3: A Great Way to Save Money on Your PC

This may sound a bit confusing, but the main takeaway is that Intel’s Core i3 processors are frequently underrated or overlooked. You can save money on a PC by opting for a less expensive CPU with an i3 model. This leaves some extra money to put toward a better graphics card. Intel’s newer i3 models, such as the 2022 line, are very competitively priced and capable of holding their own in almost any game or program you might want to use. 

There are plenty of resources online that you can use to estimate and compare performance for different PC builds, such as the free UserBenchmark performance tool. 

Is the i5 Worth It?

If the Core i3 can get the job done, why bother paying more for a Core i5 CPU? This is a good question. The i5 family of CPUs is not a waste of money by any means. The higher core count does make a difference in performance. More cores mean that more programs can be running at once, for example. 

Plus, the more powerful i5 processors will be better equipped to dodge bottlenecking on your GPU. This can occur when a powerful GPU is paired with a weak CPU. You could certainly pair an i3 CPU with something like an RTX 3060. However, the Core i3 processors are simply not powerful enough to fully utilize the graphics capabilities of an RTX 3060 graphics card. You would essentially be wasting your money by limiting your flashy graphics card with a low-power CPU. It would be like buying an expensive sports car that you can’t take out of your driveway. 

Who is the Core i5 Lineup For?

So, there is clearly a case for the Core i5 processors. If you have the money to make some upgrades to your PC build, it is definitely worth considering the i5. This is especially true if you want high-performance graphics. Today’s top graphics cards will be significantly limited by a Core i3 CPU. The lower core count simply doesn’t have the processing power to support high-power GPUs. 

Additionally, if you enjoy playing games like new AAA titles or competitive esports titles, an i5 could be worth the extra processing speed compared to an i3. 

A Core i5 CPU will also be better for multitasking. For instance, if you enjoy having Spotify or YouTube running in the background while you play videogames, an i5 processor will be able to manage those programs without throttling your game’s performance. This goes for streaming in particular. If you are hoping to use your PC to stream your favorite games or activities on platforms like Twitch or YouTube, you will appreciate those extra cores in the i5 processors. 

Alternatives to Intel

Of course, Intel’s CPUs aren’t the only options on the market. The Core i3 and Core i5 processors are great budget and mid-level CPUs, but there are also some AMD options to consider. For most people, it won’t make a difference whether you opt for an Intel or AMD processor. You will just need to make sure you get a compatible motherboard to go with it. Both of these brands have CPUs that can offer fantastic performance. It is simply a matter of finding the right processor for your build. 

For instance, if you are working with a budget and don’t have much money to spend on graphics, AMD might be the way to go. The integrated graphics on Intel’s APUs (CPUs with integrated graphics) can certainly get the job done, just not nearly as well as AMD’s APUs. The Ryzen APUs are widely acknowledged as superior in terms of integrated graphics performance. AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600G APU has become a fan favorite for integrated graphics performance. If you don’t have the funds to buy a pricey graphics card, you’re probably better off with an AMD processor. 

The Verdict: Intel Core i3 vs i5

The contest between the Core i3 vs i5 processors comes down to value for unique use cases. If you are trying to get the most value for your money, a Core i3 CPU is probably the way to go. These lower-priced Intel processors can hold up very well in the right entry-level build. For those who have their eye on a mid-level or high-end GPU, however, upgrading to an i5 CPU is probably a good idea. The extra cores in Core i5 CPUs will give you some extra processing power that can go a long way. Both families of processors offer great value for their prices, though, and both can support fantastic PC builds.