An i7 processor is the best option for a gaming PC in almost all circumstances. It’s cheaper and has more than enough power for most gaming rigs.
On the other hand, i9 CPUs are typically more suited to use in server and workstation environments.
Most people who are building a high-end gaming PC have no idea how much they should spend on a central processing unit (CPU). Since it will inevitably be costly, there’s no point in adding unnecessary expenditures.
If you’ve decided on an Intel CPU, you’re probably trying to decide between the Core i7 and Core i9 series.
Both are top-tier, high-performance options typically reserved for professional builds, but which one is best for you?
This manual will tell you.
Intel Core i7 and Core i9: A Short History
The first Intel Core i7 lineup of high-end desktop CPUs debuted in 2008, alongside the company’s second-generation desktop chips.
Since its inception, Intel’s Core i7 line has included everything from the company’s top-tier consumer processors to its most affordable midrange options. The most recent Core i7 offerings in mainstream CPUs have successfully bridged the gap between entry-level content creation and high-end gaming performance, though this latter crown will eventually be taken by a new contender at the very top of the top end: the various Core i9 lines.
The “Core i9” brand was introduced as a high-end chip designed to fit into the 7th Generation of Intel’s Core X-Series, its line of workstation-styled desktop CPUs, but nowadays it is considered the darling of PC gamers because of its 8 cores.
Soon after the initial X-Series processors were released in the summer of 2017, the Core i9 made its way into the mainstream Core line (on Intel’s mainstream sockets, now the LGA 1200), and since then, it has become a top choice for extreme Intel gamers and overclockers everywhere. The chips also perform admirably when used to make content; for example, the Intel Core i9-10900K has set a number of benchmarks for the fastest possible frame rate in video games. The company has been inconsistent with the number of cores it includes in chips positioned at that tier, with some launching with 10 cores (like the i9-10900K) and others launching with only eight (like the Core i9-11900K and Core i9-9900K).
For 2021, Intel will release several new Core i9 processors, beginning with the eight-core Core i9-11900K and ending with the eighteen-core Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition, which will be the flagship of the Core X-Series. Intel’s failure to announce support for the high-end desktop (or “HEDT”) market in its 11th Gen stack as of mid-2021 has surprised the enthusiast content creation community.
The introduction of Intel’s 9th Generation Core i7 processors tarnished the brand’s image as an absolute powerhouse, however. Intel’s multithreading technology, Hyper-Threading, which lets your computer handle two processing tasks at once on the same core, was unsupported by those CPUs. Intel had previously removed multithreading from its Core i7 lineup, but after receiving significant backlash from the community, the company reversed course with the 10th and 11th generation of its processors and brought the thread-boosting technology all the way down to its desktop Core i5 chips. This is an essential function for anyone who regularly creates content.
Distinctions between Core i7 and Core i9 stacks in terms of specifications are numerous, somewhat convoluted, and typically separated by no more than a few digits. It is often the little things that make or break the suitability of a product. Therefore, let us take a look at the present state of affairs and also look back to see how far we have come.
Intel Core i7 vs. Core i9 CPUs: Breaking Out the Specs
The first step in comparing CPUs is to establish a baseline by looking at their specifications. We have compiled lists of specifications for the three major classes of recent processors that Intel has released under the Core i9 and i7 badges, covering the past three generations of chips in three classes: mainstream desktop, HEDT, and laptop/mobile. In the beginning, there are the Core i9 processors;
Above and below, you can see that the company’s Core i7 and Core i9 chips are purpose-built for extreme performance, far exceeding the core counts and capabilities of the 10th Generation Core i5 and Core i3 CPUs. These are workhorse processors made from the ground up to maximize everything Intel has to offer in the professional desktop, laptop, and high-end desktop (HEDT) markets for content creators and extreme gamers.
Here’s a rundown of what all those letters at the end of each processor stand for. Intel’s isolated models do not include IGPs, but the company’s Core i7 and Core i9 series (for mainstream desktop and mobile families) do. A suffix of “F” is added to the names of those who do not have IGPs. You need to use these chips with a video card, period. (The entire Core X-Series has never offered IGPs on the chips; they all end in “X” or “XE.”)
In-GPU (IGP) support will be available on 11th generation non-F chips, but any gamer worth their salt will pair the CPU with a discrete graphics card to get the most out of their hardware investment. That goes for players on any platform, desktop or portable.
The models ending in “T” are the most common chips found in desktop computers. Intel’s “power-optimized” line of processors, designed for compact or thermally constrained computers, consumes less power while maintaining the same level of performance. The letter “K” after a chip model’s name indicates that the chip’s cores can be overclocked. It is possible to manually adjust the clock speed of any “K,” “KF,” “KS,” or “HK desktop or mobile processor.
CPUs labeled with an “S” are extremely limited editions, while “H” and “HK” are more powerful versions of Intel’s mobile CPUs designed for laptops. The U-Series of Core i7 processors from Intel are significantly less powerful than the H-Series, and are designed for ultraportable laptops. (More to come on that.)
Combined, the Core i7 and Core i9 are the pinnacle of Intel’s consumer-grade CPU lineup, and they continue to outperform AMD’s competing offerings at similar price points in terms of raw frame rate performance in games and in single-threaded applications. Since AMD’s Ryzen CPUs of the same price tend to offer more accessible cores and threads for the money, AMD’s offerings tend to win when all cores come into play.
More Core i7 processors are found in laptops and mobile devices, while the Core i9 stack is more concentrated in desktop and HEDT computers.
Core i7 vs. Core i9: Desktop Performance
Due to their high power consumption and thermal output (in comparison to options in the Core i3 and i5 lines), the Core i7 and Core i9 lines of chips can only really stretch their legs on desktop systems. Desktop PC builds, with their ability to accommodate specialized cooling and larger power supplies, are optimal for handling their substantial power requirements.
Here we compare the Core i7 and Core i9 desktop CPUs we’ve tested over the past few years on four benchmarks that highlight raw CPU power when all cores and threads are active.
Intel’s high-end consumer and HEDT processors all deliver performance that is on par with or better than what is advertised for their respective price points. If you compare two CPUs from the same manufacturer, the more expensive one will almost always have faster results, regardless of whether the CPU in question was a golden silicon sample or not.
In these four benchmarks, the performance gap between the mainstream Core i9 chips on LGA 1151 and, now, LGA 1200 and the Core X-Series Core i9 chips on the LGA 2066 socket is readily apparent. More important than comparing Core i7s and Core i9s is realizing that a Core i9 on one desktop (HEDT) platform can easily outpace the Core i9 chips on Intel’s more mainstream desktop platforms.
If we’re talking about golden silicon, one of the few exceptions in recent years was the Core i9-9900KS, a limited-edition variant of the Core i9-9900K that was designed and tested to achieve higher clock speeds across more of its cores than the standard chip. However, it was not widely distributed because it amounted to little more than Intel picking its top-performing 9900K samples and selling them at a bump in price.
As can be seen from the comparison charts, there is not a huge gap between the various chip models in each tier of the Core i7 or i9 stack on the same platform. Changes are most noticeable when comparing mainstream CPUs to Core X-Series HEDT CPUs. The real-world performance gains you experience may also differ depending on the nature of the work you typically do. This is where we, and other review sites, and lab tests from places like PC Labs come in.
The number of cores in a CPU is one of its most distinguishing features. What does a higher core count mean and how much should you care about it now that mainstream desktop CPUs have a large number of cores?
Current 9th generation Intel processors, such as the i7 models, feature eight physical cores. However, there is a twist to the eight cores found in the mainstream 9th generation i9 models.
They also have the capability of hyperthreading, meaning that each physical core is equivalent to two logical cores, or threads, and can therefore handle two tasks at once.
Even more cores and threads are available in the performance-oriented X-series i7 and i9 models that Intel developed for use in high-end workstations and servers. But if playing games is your main priority, a 16-core/32-thread CPU that costs $1500 probably won’t get your attention.
Which begs the question, how many processor “cores” or “threads” does a game really need?
This is not a simple query to resolve. While most newer games are designed to make use of multiple CPU cores, this doesn’t mean they all use or even need to. However, while some applications may reap the benefits of multiple cores, others may simply ignore them.
Most modern games also place relatively low demands on the CPU, so even the more modest i5 or i3 models can run them, depending on the GPU they’re coupled with (for more on this, see “bottlenecking” below).
So, unless you intend to run professional software that requires multiple cores, you shouldn’t be too concerned with core counts.
The clock speed is usually another defining feature of a product. A single number, however, is not a very good indicator of actual in-game performance any more than core counts are. How crucial are faster clock speeds, then?
Theoretically, better performance can be expected due to a higher clock speed because the CPU will be able to perform more operations per second. Results are negligible when considering how the game plays out in practice.
There is no need to worry about base clock speed when choosing between the latest mainstream 9th-generation i7 and i9 models. However, the topic of overclocking must be addressed in any discussion of CPU speeds.
The processing units of many computers can be overclocked, as you probably know. The term “overclocking” refers to increasing the clock speed of a central processing unit (CPU) beyond its factory default.
What should you keep in mind, and is it even worth it to overclock in this case, when attempting to squeeze out every last bit of performance from your CPU?
Not all Intel processors are overclockable; only those with a “K” at the end of their model number have been unlocked and can be safely overclocked.
While it is possible to overclock a CPU that has not been unlocked, doing so is risky and not recommended unless you have experience with it.
Currently, there are both locked and unlocked i7 and i9 models available, with the latter typically having higher maximum clock speeds.
Similar to the benefits of additional cores/threads, however, the added few hundred MHz won’t make much of a difference in games.
In any case, the excellent overclocking performance of an i7 or i9 makes it worthwhile to overclock, and the cost of a proper cooler and some case fans is negligible in comparison to the cost of the CPU itself.
The majority of Intel’s desktop CPU lineup includes integrated graphics, and their top-tier offerings are not an exception. There is no discernible difference in graphics performance between the newest i7 and i9 CPUs because they all use the same Intel UHD 630 integrated graphics chip.
Integrated graphics probably aren’t your first choice in a gaming PC, but they’re nice to have as a fallback in case something goes wrong with the GPU.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: the graphics processing unit (GPU) is the most important part of a gaming computer. The primary consideration when selecting a CPU for a gaming PC should be whether or not it can keep up with the GPU you plan to install.
The term “bottlenecking” refers to the situation in which the GPU’s capabilities are not fully exploited because the CPU is too slow to keep up. Looking at a bottleneck calculator like this one quickly can help you avoid major bottlenecks. It’s understandable that these won’t be able to give you an exact number, but they should be able to give you a good approximation.
The most recent i7 processors will have little trouble keeping up with the most powerful GPUs on the market, so the only time you should consider an i9 is if you plan to use multiple powerful GPUs at once.
And if the graphics card you’re planning on purchasing is a more budget-friendly option, a less powerful i5 model may be the better choice.
When comparing i7 and i9 processors, it is also important to take into account the CPU socket.
In particular, while all modern mainstream desktop CPUs use the LGA 1151 socket, some i9 and even some i7 models still use the larger LGA 2066 socket instead; these are the models we’ve been talking about so far that are designed for use in workstations and servers.
Is there any justification for a gamer to choose an LGA 2066 motherboard? No, not quite.
We know now that even with the most powerful mainstream GPU on the market, an i7 will be more than adequate. Meanwhile, LGA 2066 socket processors are prohibitively expensive (many cost as much as an entire PC) and unnecessary for a gaming rig.
Core i7 and Core i9 in Laptops: It’s All About the H-Series
However, there are currently a lot fewer Core i9 laptop options than there are desktop ones. Earlier we discussed how Intel’s high-end mobile processors (H-Series) have names that end in “H” or “HK”. Only in this series can you find Core i9 processors, and some Core i7s as well. While Intel’s U-Series features a number of Core i7 processors, these are designed for ultraportables rather than desktop replacements. They are irrelevant to a discussion of the differences between the Core i7 and the Core i9.
Core i7-based machines are more common, but Intel’s 11th Generation H-Series chips, codenamed “Tiger Lake-H,” only include a Core i9-11900H, i9-11950H, and i9-11980HK (for large, powerful laptops that can accommodate them). During the launch of Intel’s 11th Generation laptop-CPUs, more Core i7 models than i9s are expected to be sold.
While the Core i7 and i9 are powerful and useful in high-end production and gaming laptops, respectively, they also tend to make laptops bulkier and less portable than those powered by the Core i3 or i5 processors due to their higher power consumption and higher thermal outputs. We’ll let you make the final call, but the Core i7 H-Series CPU is dominating the market for high-end laptops designed for gaming and mobile workstations.
Gaming: Do You Need a Core i7 or a Core i9 for Desktop Fragging?
When compared to cheaper processors in the i3 and i5 ranges, the i7 and i9 lines are simply overkill for the vast majority of gamers. This is due to the fact that while having eight or ten cores is beneficial for productivity tasks and content creation, very few games are currently available that can make use of more than four cores simultaneously.
Our gaming tests yielded conclusive results.
When comparing results at 1080p resolution, the $262 Intel Core i5-11600K is only slightly slower (or slightly faster) than the $539 Core i9-11900K, and at 4K resolution, the two are effectively tied.
Games like GTA V can use up to six cores at once in complex situations, and the Civilization series will make use of as many cores as you give them. These kinds of games, however, tend to be the outlier to the four-core norm.
The eight-core AMD processors found in the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X may encourage game developers to make use of more cores. Nonetheless, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One before it both use eight-core processors, and it has been seven years since their releases with no indication that developers are making games to push CPUs past a comfortable four-core max utilization.
If you’re a gamer on a tight budget and you want to get the most out of your next build, the Core i7 is your best bet, but you should also look into alternatives like the Core i5-11600K. The Core i5-11600K has six cores and twelve threads, making it capable of running nearly every PC game currently available, and it costs significantly less than the most recent generation of desktop chips from Intel’s Core i7 or i9 families. Finally, the difference will be most noticeable in esports titles and on high-refresh-rate monitors that display 100 frames per second, 200 frames per second, or more.
Intel Core i7 vs. Core i9: Which Processor Tier Reigns Supreme?
Despite their differences, Core i7 and Core i9 are not mutually exclusive; neither is inherently superior to the other. Rather, it boils down to which system is best for you in terms of power requirements, cost, and the nature of the work you expect to do most frequently. When we say “platform,” we don’t mean “Core i7” versus “Core i9,” but rather “i7” and “i9” chips on the Intel Core X-Series versus “i7” and “i9” chips on the Intel Core platform.
Intel’s i9 line is the company’s flagship consumer product, offering the absolute pinnacle of performance on desktops and laptops alike. Meanwhile, the i7 line serves as a more reasonably priced engine for prosumer content creation and a solid driver for gaming across the board. Comparable to the i9 in almost every way, but with slightly lower performance, price, and specifications. However, if you don’t require the processing power that a Core i9 provides, stepping down may be the best option. The money you save can be put toward a more noticeable upgrade, such as a solid-state drive (SSD), for your computer.
However, by the middle of 2021, the conflict has shifted from Core i7 vs. Core i9 to Core i7 vs. Ryzen 7 or Core i9 vs. Ryzen 9. Neither the Core i7-11700K nor the Core i9-11900K is particularly competitive with AMD’s current cost-comparable options, the Ryzen 7 5800X and the Ryzen 9 5900X, outside of the niche market of esports-game frame rates.
We found that the 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen 9 5900X routinely outperformed the Core i9-11900K in content creation, so in 2021, Ryzen will likely be the best option for the full shebang. AMD has also taken a bite out of Intel’s gaming market share; while the Core i9-10900K’s raw frame rate wins may look enticing at first, we can’t recommend any Core i9 processors at full price over AMD’s stellar Ryzen 5800X.
However, players must weigh the pros and cons depending on the genre of their games. In some popular games, the frame rate can easily exceed the refresh rates of even the fastest gaming monitors on a regular basis with either processor, making either one overkill for almost every player, esports hopeful or not. It bears repeating that as of about the middle of 2021, AMD processors are superior to similarly equipped Intel processors if you need more than six cores and are looking for a CPU that excels at content creation.
How much faster is i9 compared to i7?
As compared to its predecessor, the Core i7, the Intel Core i9 is a considerably speedier chip. While the i7 runs at 2.8 GHz and 4.2 GHz, the i9 has a base clock speed of 3.5 GHz and a turbo clock speed of 4.8 GHz. It’s worth noting that the i9 can accommodate up to 128GB of RAM and has a maximum cache size of 16MB.
Can I upgrade from i7 to i9?
No previous-generation motherboard will work with the i9. An i9 upgrade would necessitate a new motherboard and processor.
Which i7 generation is best?
With its four processing threads, impressive performance, and reasonable price tag, the Intel Core i7-3770K is the best choice for most users. For most users, the Intel Core i7-3770K is the best choice due to its four processing cores, impressive performance, and reasonable price.
You can find it on Amazon for less than $300; this makes it a great option for those looking for maximum performance at a reasonable price.
Which processor, the i7 or the i9, is better for gaming?
With this in mind, it’s easy to see why an i7 would be the best option for the vast majority of gamers. An i9 is unnecessary unless you intend to use very CPU-intensive professional software or intend to pack your PC full of expensive graphics processing units.
More importantly, an i7 is often unnecessary because i5 models are the more cost-effective and affordable option for most mid-range and upper mid-range builds.
While the performance hit would be minimal at best, the savings from choosing an i5 over an i7 could be put to better use elsewhere.
But if you also plan on using CPU-intensive professional software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere, a more powerful computer may be in order. In that case, perhaps a less expensive central processing unit would be preferable. In any case, look no further than this CPU buying guide for recommendations.