When you’re in the market for a laptop, an extremely common decision that you’re faced with is whether to buy one with an i5 or an i7.
Processor i7’s are supposed to perform better but they cost more. Is it actually worth it? What about other things like battery life? Does the lower performance of the i5 give you increased battery life and less fan noise?
Well today we are going to answer all your questions. So read this article till the end.
i5 vs i7: Which is better ?
I’ve got two almost identical Dell XPS 13 Plus Laptops. I say almost because one has an i5 processor and the other an i7. Everything else is the same. I guarantee that by the end of this article you’ll know which of these processor that you should be buying.
The results I promise are going to shock you. If you’re not familiar with laptops, this choice of an i5 or i7 processor is specific to laptops with an Intel processor.
Right now AMD and Apple both have extremely competitive processors that you should probably be considering a laptop with. In fact I know that many people would prefer a laptop without an Intel processor. But a laptop is the sum of its parts and there are many excellent laptops only available with Intel processors like Dell XPS 13 plus is a fantastic laptop and perform exceptionally well.
So if you do want a laptop that has an Intel processor inside this is a very important topic and please for heaven’s sake if you’re ever in a retail store like best buy avoid asking the sales person which one you should get. The answers I’ve often overheard are beyond incorrect.
Let me tell you that I have my two dell xps 13 plus laptops. One has the i5 1240p and the other the i7 1260p.These processors are from Intel’s P series that you’ll find in many high performance portable laptops. They are designed to run at a base of 28 watts of power although they can draw a lot more in short bursts.
Below you can see Intel’s u series which offers less performance but draws less power and therefore requires a less robust cooling solution and intel’s h series for even more powerful laptops as in large gaming. Ones that can draw tons of power but require large cooling solutions.
Since I’m only testing my two units (i5 1240p and i7 1260p), my test results will not be statistically significant due to the low sample size. However I’m pretty confident my results will be directionally correct.
Anyway both these processors have four performance cores and eight efficient cores. However the i5 has a base clock of 3.3 gigahertz and a boost of 4.4 with 12 megabytes of cache.
The i7 has a base clock of 3.4 gigahertz, a boost of 4.7 with 18 megabytes of cache. So by the numbers I presume the i7 should be the i5 somewhere in the range 3% to 7% in performance.
Knowing how modern processors work, the stated gigahertz is really what it runs at. In most modern laptops the gigahertz’s processor runs at fluctuates dramatically. It fluctuates based on the needs of the task being run and very importantly in small laptops whether the processor can be kept cool.
That’s why you’ll often see these processors run very fast at the beginning of a task but slow down during it. That’s because the laptop is throttling its performance to keep the processor cool.
Since both these laptops are identical in their cooling solution. I would assume the i7 performs a tiny bit better at the beginning of a task but after a while their performance normalizes.
Therefore my going in hypothesis is that saving money by buying the cheaper i5 would be the logical choice. I did do a little extra digging and found the laptops had different 1 terabyte storage drives installed. They also had some different memory timings.
By the way dell like many laptop manufacturers today offers multiple performance modes that you can run the laptop in. These modes basically allow you to adjust the performance of the laptop. They tend to change variables such as how loud and often the fans run and how much wattage is fed to the processor.
In dell’s case there are four optimize mode, which is the default mode and the one I believe most people should use that’s because in my testing it has the best balance of performance for little fan noise and heat that you would feel while using the laptop. Then there’s ultra-performance mode, cool mode, quiet mode.
I’ve decided to only focus on optimize mode and ultra-performance in this article. As one, it’s going to make the graph simpler to follow. Two, I found the cool and quiet modes quite unpredictable as their performance is extremely dependent on how hot the laptop is at the time I ran the tests and three, most manufacturers of small laptops only provide a default mode and a performance mode.
Let’s start with a look at Geekbench, which tests a variety of common performance tasks. For reference, I will include results from my Apple MacBook pro 14 with the base M1 Pro 8 Core CPU and for AMD lovers I’ll include results from a Ryzen processor as well.
In single core in the default mode, we see only a 4 percent difference in performance. Which is to be expected but in multi-core, we see a massive 19 percent difference.
In ultra performance, the difference isn’t as dramatic but still more than I would have expected. The i7 is 7 percent better in single core and 10 percent in multi-core.
Normally I don’t like to run Geekbench’s iGpu tests on these Gpu’s because the integrated Gpu’s in these intel processors are very weak. You really can’t do anything more than play the most basic of games with these and certainly no video editing.
However I did test it here for completeness and you can see that the i7 is massively faster at around 29 percent that’s incredible.
By the way just a note, the iGPU available in the apples M1 or M2 chips or Amd’s Ryzen 6000 series are far more powerful than these.
Moving on to Cinebench which tests the processor when it’s under max load. In a single multi-core run, the i7 is only 3 percent faster when on the default performance mode but on ultra performance it is a whopping 14 percent faster.
When I ran a torture test of Cinebench r23 on a loop for 10 minutes on the default mode there is no difference between the i5 and the i7. They were identical but on ultra performance the i7 again is much faster by 19 Percent.
These are some stunningly impressive numbers for the i7 and much better than I thought.
Temperature & Fan Noise
I recorded a cpu max of 100 degrees Celsius on both performance modes for both chips, So no difference there.
Looking at power draw though the most noticeable difference was that the i7 was sustaining a whopping 7 watts more than the i5.
Which explains the additional performance but does the laptop have to spin the fans faster and therefore have louder fan noise to call this, not really.
The i7 was actually about a decibel or two quieter than the i5. Now let’s look at heat you’d feel while the processor is maxed out.
The i7 is similar underneath but is about three degrees warmer on the keyboard deck on ultra performance mode.
Now most of the time you won’t be running the laptop full ball. You’ll be doing lightweight tasks like browsing the web.
I did measure the laptop’s temperatures for these tasks and the i5 and i7 were virtually identical here and by the way there is no graph for the fan noise as the laptops were both silent for these tasks, which is great.
I’m honestly shocked at how much better the i7 is than the i5. I really wasn’t expecting this. The only negative with the i7 is that when running the cpu max for a duration of time the keyboard deck gets a tad warmer but for the massive increase in performance I’d take it any day.
But the story does not stop there, check out my battery life results. I ran both laptops on wi-fi playing a Netflix video on repeat for four hours. I dim the screen three notches of brightness and put the laptops on their best battery settings. After four hours the difference was epic.
The i7 had a healthy 38 remaining and the i5 had an abysmal 22 remaining. That’s a massive difference for that extra battery life alone, it’s worth it to buy the i7.
By the way you’ll definitely get a lot longer battery life out of these laptops if you dim the screen further. At three notches down in brightness the screens were still very bright. Also check out the MacBook pro 14’s battery remaining at a whopping 69 percent.
It’s literally running circles around these intel laptops. These battery life results were so surprising. I ended up charging both laptops again, restarting both laptops and running the tests a second time. Guess what, very similar results.
Honestly I’m completely shocked at how much better the i7 is than the i5. At the time of writing, it was a 150$ difference about 11$ more in price. I definitely think it’s worth it to get the i7, the performance of the i7 was regularly that much faster than the i5 and at times much more than that. For almost no noticeable downside in heat or fan noise by the way.
Plus the substantially longer battery life by itself is worth the extra money. Clearly intel’s reported difference between the i5 and i7 do not explain such a large gap. I’m going to speculate that there is something else at play here.
Before I end I want to leave some additional thoughts on this laptop. When it comes to the performance of the i7 version of the XPS they really have done a pretty amazing job here, it is an absolute pocket rocket.
When on the default optimized mode, it runs almost dead silent for common tasks yet is exceptionally snappy. But turn on that ultra performance mode and you have yourself a monster.
So long as you aren’t doing any graphical intensive tasks. All in all, it is definitely one of my favorite laptops going around right now. Well that’s all for today folks if you like this article you know what to do.