Years ago, Intel made the i3, i5 and i7 names to help consumers compare and stratify the CPU’s in a simple way. However, as the market evolved, this metric has become less relevant and even somewhat deceptive. Not all i3’s/i5’s/i7’s are respectively equal. There are many variables to consider before determining the that i7 is great or that i3 is not.
Laptop CPU’s differ from Desktop CPU’s
Desktop i3/i5/i7’s are much stronger than their laptop counterparts because battery life is not an issue. A desktop i3 is often equivalent to a laptop i5 or i7. For desktops, i5’s are already very strong, so moving to an i7 is not imperative. However, for laptops, an i7 could be a worthy investment.
There are different lines of Intel laptop CPU’s.
Two of Intel’s main types of laptop processors are U processors (i.e. i_-____U) and HQ processors (i.e. i_-____HQ). U’s are somewhat weaker but sport better battery life. HQ’s are stronger, with relatively worse battery life. It can’t be said that a laptop i7 is always stronger than a laptop i5, if the i7 is a U processor and the i5 is an HQ processor.
Differences exist between generations
Even if we account for the differences in laptop vs. desktop CPU’s and the differences of HQ vs. U CPU’s, age plays a role. 1-2 year differences aren’t significant, but 3-5 year differences can be. An i7 from 4 years ago is not necessarily better than an i3 or i5 which was made this year.
The generation is indicated by the first of four numbers. (i.e. Intel i3-7100 is 7th gen and Intel i7-8700 is 8th gen).
i3’s are not bad
Most people use their computer for web browsing, Skype, streaming (i.e. Netflix), Microsoft Office, iTunes, etc. These are all lightweight tasks that any i3 made in the past few years can handle just fine. It used to be true years ago that i3’s were slow. However, CPU’s have improved while most of our needs haven’t.
An i7 may not yield much benefit
Even if we account for the differences between laptop/desktop, generation and HQ/U, an i7 is not necessarily a better choice than an i5 and may not be worth the $100 extra that is spent. If you are doing heavy-duty content creation such as 4K video editing, 4K photoshopping, professional 3D modeling, yes, the i7 worth it.
However, for basic tasks, you won’t see a meaningful difference. Strong CPU’s make heavy tasks quicker, but an i7 won’t perform a light task any better than an i5 would. I’m willing to bet that an i3 or i5 with a SSD will be a faster experience for most people than an i7 with a regular hard drive.