Intel i7 vs. i9: Which of these top-tier CPUs works best for your needs?  08/13/2019 13:00:39   Jon Martindale

Even with increased competition from AMD’s Ryzen CPUs, Intel’s top chips are still some of the best in the world. As for its highest high-end offerings, the Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs are the best of the lot.

But there are some important differences between them, especially when it comes to the latest generation.

To help you decide which is the right CPU for you, we’ve pitted the Intel i7 vs. i9 with a look at each of their most important factors.

Should you buy a Core i7 or i9?

The greatest difference between Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs is their multi-threading performance. There are certainly some gains to be had in single-threaded performance with particular chips like the Core i9 9900K. For example, Intel markets that processor as the most powerful gaming CPU in the world. While that may be true, we’re not sure the costs always outweigh the benefits.

With Intel’s latest, ninth-generation CPUs, the Core i7-9700K has the same eight cores as the 9900K, a frequency that almost matches it (and often can with a little overclocking) and has comparable performance in games and more limited-thread tasks. It’s the lack of hyperthreading which most separates them, giving the 9900K support for up to 16 threads at a time and noticeably improved multithreaded performance.

Other Core i9 CPUs like the older i9-7900X, all the way up to the recently released i9-9980XE, expand on core counts, and supported threads and typically deliver greater multi-threaded performance. There are some games which can take advantage of the additional threads and certain benchmarks will also benefit from the added grunt of those super-expensive chips, but for more general office work or even high-end gaming, the benefit is minimal. In many cases, they’re non-existent.

If you’re looking to outfit a workstation for rendering, video editing, or other intensive tasks that can take advantage of large numbers of cores, then a Core i9 is worth considering, but for almost anyone else, a Core i7 is the better choice.

Core i7 vs. Core i9 on desktops

Intel Core i9- 9900K

The most modest of Intel’s current Core i7 CPUs is the eighth-generation Core i7-8700, which comes with six cores, supports 12 threads, and a maximum turbo frequency of 4.6GHz. There’s also a “K” version of that same chip, which has a higher base frequency and can turbo up to 4.7GHz. However, the main differentiating factor is that it has an unlocked multiplier, so it can be overclocked more easily. If that’s not something you’re interested in, the 8700 will perform much the same out of the box.

Considering there’s about a $50 difference between them as well ($370 versus $420), it’s worth considering whether you’re likely to take advantage of the overclocking potential since it does come at a premium.

More expensive still is the Core i7-9700K, which lacks hyperthreading support, so can only handle six threads at a time with its six cores, but it does turbo clock up to 4.9GHz, so it’s out of the box performance in certain tasks is greater.

The Core i9 CPUs are more powerful in some ways, but they do cost a lot more for it. The 9900K is the only other relatively mainstream CPU Intel offers in this performance bracket and at more than $500 it adds two cores, hyperthreading support (up to 16 threads at a time) and a turbo frequency that can hit 5GHz, but it’s not significantly more powerful.

From there, Intel’s Core i9 CPUs go from expensive to wallet destroying. The 10-core i9-9820X costs $880, and the prices go all the way up to the $2,000 9980XE. It offers 18 cores and 36 threads, but its stock frequency maxes out at 4.5GHz.

Core i7 vs. Core i9 on laptops

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Laptops haven’t received the same ninth-generation refresh that desktops have (that should be coming in Q2 2019), but that doesn’t mean we don’t have Core i9. Here’s how it breaks down.

Apart from the relatively modest Core i7-8559U (which has four cores), all Core i7 laptop CPUs have six cores and support 12 threads. Their frequencies range from 4.1GHz when boosted, all the way up to 4.6GHz to deliver serious performance when needed. You’ll often have to pay a premium for these chips over the more affordable Intel mid-range CPUs, but they’ll give you great power for both gaming and productivity tasks.

There is only a single Core i9 CPU available for laptops at this time, and its thermal requirements mean it rarely makes an appearance. Still you’ll find the Core i9-8950HK as an option in laptops like the latest MacBook Pro and the super-powered Acer Predator Helios 500. It’s not cheap, but with six cores, 12 threads, and the ability to turbo clock up to 4.8GHz in some cases, it represents the most powerful laptop CPU available today.

If you need ultimate laptop processing power, the Core i9 is the way to go, although most people won’t see a dramatic difference with a Core i7 and can make substantial savings by opting for one of those instead.

What about Core i5 CPUs?

If the price tags and features of the Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs seem a little overkill for what you’re planning to use them for, you’re in luck, Intel has a host of more affordable and modest options for you to pick from. They’re typically called Core i5 CPUs, and they offer most of the performance capabilities of the entry-level Core i7 CPUs for even less.

At the $200-$300 mark you might want to consider AMD’s Ryzen CPUs too. They have the kind of core counts you’d only typically see with Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs so make for great multi-threaded workhorses. They aren’t quite as good at gaming as Intel’s mid-range offerings, though, so make sure to buy with your particular task in mind.

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