With the sheer amount of PC hardware on the market, it’s hard for a non-enthusiast to come to terms with what’s good and what’s not. From one generation to the next, the product designations haven’t really gotten simpler either.
If you’re curious about Intel’s own lineup of central processing units, you’re probably considering their mid-range offerings. Namely, one of the i5 processors. Now, the good news is that i5 CPUs are generally pretty great for gamers across the board.
In practice, however, choosing the right i5 processor for your specific use case is going to take a bit of research. With this article, we’ll explain what you should keep in mind if you’re interested in getting a new CPU, and which i5 might be best for your personal computer in the long run.
Is Intel Core i5 a Good Processor for Gaming?
Intel offers a formidable array of different CPUs that cover virtually every use case there is. Their mid-range i5 processors, in particular, are great for gamers that aren’t all that interested in heavy productivity workloads, such as 3D rendering and video editing.
As of 2021, the vast majority of video games on the market simply won’t make good use of extremely high core counts that we’ve come to expect from Intel’s higher-end i7 and i9 CPUs, or AMD’s own Ryzen and Threadripper components.
Instead, users that are purely interested in gaming should look for capable quad and hexa-core CPUs, such as the ones available as part of Intel’s long-lasting i5 lineup.
With four to six physical cores and up to twice as many virtual threads, Intel i5 CPUs will have no difficulty running the latest video games you might be interested in playing.
What Makes Intel Core i5 a Decent Choice for Gamers?
Of course, if i5 processors are a middle-of-the-road choice for cost-effective PC builds, it goes without saying that there are far more capable options on the market, too.
Having said that, you’ll sooner be limited by your graphics card than by your processor while gaming.
Most PC games don’t make good use of more than 6 physical processing cores at a time, which means that a super-powerful Intel i9 or a top-of-the-line AMD Ryzen 9 CPU just won’t be a cost-effective solution for those who don’t do other things alongside gaming.
These activities include (but are not limited to):
- Live game streaming
- Video editing
- 3D rendering
- File compression
Gaming alone is not particularly CPU-hungry, all things considered. This means that, in practice, the latest-generation i5 processors won’t bottleneck virtually any game you might want to play. As long as your graphics card is up to the task, of course.
Do Intel i5 CPUs Come With Integrated Graphics?
On the topic of graphics cards, you may have noticed that getting a capable gaming GPU is particularly difficult in 2021.
Whether it’s due to excessive scalping, ridiculously high demand for powerful PC hardware, or the worldwide silicon shortage, we all need to deal with the current state of things, and using an integrated GPU is one way of doing so.
One major reason why the latest-generation Intel CPUs should be a serious consideration for gamers nowadays is that they come with low-end onboard graphics processors. In comparison, AMD’s Ryzen CPUs usually don’t have that option, unless you come across one with a ‘G’ suffix.
Aside from the ‘F’ suffix variants, virtually every Intel i5 CPU has an integrated GPU. While these graphics processors won’t be able to run the latest and greatest games at high frame rates, they will allow you to actually use your PC while waiting for dedicated GPUs to come into stock.
Further, modern integrated GPUs are reasonably capable when it comes to older and indie games, allowing you to play something at the very least.
This is particularly relevant for those who are building their PCs for the first time, as they might not have an old GPU to use as a stand-in. By going with an Intel i5, you’re essentially making sure that you have a stop-gap solution until you can get a dedicated graphics card.
What Do The Letters and Numbers in Intel i5 CPU Names Mean?
Now that you have a general idea of where Intel’s i5 lineup sits compared to other options on the market for gaming, it’s time to explain the differences between Intel i5 CPUs. The first step in doing so is to clear up Intel’s surprisingly confusing naming scheme.
For example, if we’re looking at the latest, 11th generation of Intel CPUs, a mid-range choice for gamers would be the Core i5-11600K. In simplest possible terms, there are three components to an Intel CPU’s name. The generation, the performance number, and the function.
In the case of an i5-11600K CPU, these are the following:
- Generation: 11
- Performance number: 600
- Function: K (unlocked/overclockable)
Depending on your market, you will be confronted with a huge number of different Intel i5 CPU variants. Here’s a shortlist of all the different letters and their meanings, so that you know what’s what in the first place:
- K – Unlocked, overclockable
- S – Special edition CPU, usually considerably powerful
- U – Power-efficient
- T – Moderately power-efficient
- G(X) – X denotes the performance of the integrated GPU (higher is better) on 10th generation Intel CPUs
- F – no integrated GPU
It’s also worth pointing out that there are H, HK, and HQ Intel CPUs, though these are only found in laptops. Further, you may come across combined variants, such as KF. In these cases, the combined meaning of the suffixes will hold (KF – unlocked, no integrated GPU).
Which Intel i5 CPU Should I Choose For Gaming?
Having cleared up what the CPU suffixes mean, it should be clear by now that, ideally, you should get the ‘K’ variants of Intel i5 processors if possible.
These are not only usually reasonably powerful by default, but they also allow you to overclock them down the line if you want to. You should also avoid the power-efficient variants if possible, as Intel has clocked those down to be slower than the more energy-hungry equivalents.
Looking at the last couple of generations of Intel i5 CPUs, your best choices will be either 11600K if you can snag the latest and greatest, or 10600K if you come across the last generation offering.
Neither of these should bottleneck you at all if the most hardware-intensive thing you do on PC is to play video games. Of course, all the usual web browsing, schoolwork, and other assorted activities will be a breeze as well.
Is an Intel i7 CPU a Better Choice Than i5?
It should be pointed out that while an Intel i5 CPU will do the trick for most gamers, an i7 or i9 CPU would also outperform it in virtually every way possible.
For example, while your average gaming frame rate is unlikely to suffer if you’re using an i5 CPU, you’re more likely to come across random stutters here and there in extremely hardware-intensive video games.
Further, multi-tasking will be way easier on any of Intel’s higher-end CPUs. If you’re hoping to have multiple monitors with several different applications open simultaneously and with an AAA game running at the same time, you’ll need to go for a higher-end option than an i5.
This is the case because, though, games can’t usually make good use of more than 4 or 6 CPU cores, other applications can. On most i5 mid-rangers, your applications and games might start fighting for cores under heavy load, whereas this might not be an issue on, say, an i9 CPU.
Naturally, pricing will be the main consideration here. An Intel i5 CPU is far more affordable and, in many cases, way more cost-effective for the casual user than any of Intel’s higher-end options.
Conclusion: Intel Core i5 is Great for Gamers
While power users should obviously opt for the more powerful Intel CPUs or go for AMD’s more versatile Ryzen options, it’s safe to say that the vast majority of gamers will be happy with a solid i5 CPU.
Not only will something like the i5-11600K play virtually any game you throw at it over the next couple of years, but it’s also going to get you through any casual productivity task you might need it for.
From web browsing to schoolwork, a solid Intel i5 CPU will perform admirably well, and most of these processors also come with decent integrated GPUs that will come in handy during the ongoing graphics card drought.
Of course, pricing will be a significant consideration for some, as is to be expected. The good news is that Intel i5 CPUs are generally extremely cost-effective, as well as being unlikely to break the bank.
The casual users and gamers alike simply won’t be able to use the full potential of the more powerful i7 and i9 CPUs, making the good old Core i5 a stellar choice across the board, and doubly so for gaming.