General Question

Rarebear's avatar

What is the advantage of an Intel i5 or i7 processor?

Asked by Rarebear (25162points) November 6th, 2010

They have different processing speeds. I need a new laptop specifically for astrophotography. I will be working with stacking multiple images, and will need to have a fast processor not only for the photo processing, but for guiding my telescope mount. I will need Windows 7 64 bit and 6–8 gb of memory. I will not be doing any video gaming whatsoever.

As you know, when shopping for laptops, you can always add more and spend more money. My question is, is there an advantage for the i5 or i7 processors?

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20 Answers

Lightlyseared's avatar

The i7’s generally speaking have 4 cores and hyper threading (ie 2 threads on each CPU core). They also go faster than the i5’s. i5’s are generally duel core chips with hyper threading and an integrated GPU. i3’s are dual core with a GPU but no HT. The bigger the number the faster the chip speed. Bear in mind that intel are a tiny bit flaky when it comes to naming stuff so there are exceptions ti this.

For handling hi res photos etc you’ll also need a decent graphics chip as this will probably make more difference than a slightly faster processor.

Also for what it’s worth I don’t really think that hyper threading makes much difference (at least from my own experiments) and isn’t worth paying a premium for.

Rarebear's avatar

@Lightlyseared Thanks, that helps. Sounds like I certainly don’t need the i7. I’ll look at i3 or i5 with a decent graphics card.

jerv's avatar

The i5 and i7 also have “Turbo Boost” which overclocks cores on demand automatically, assuming that it is safe to do so from a heat management point of view.

Personally, I have been pleased with my $500 i3–530, and I used the money I saved on the CPU to pick up a 1GB nVidia GT240. besides, if I get too fed up with it, I can drop in any other LGA1156 CPU anyways, like the unlocked i7–875k. I don’t think the i5 is really worthwhile, though there are enough times where a quad-core would help out enough to make the i7 possibly attractive.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I just bought the MacBook Pro 2.66ghz i7… I’m very disappointed at the speed increase from my 2.4 ghz Core 2 Duo. I expected phenomenal speed improvements, but it’s just not there. No real head to head tests, and it is faster, but not to the extent of the miracle that was promised. Maybe it’s a laptop vs a desktop thing, with faster busing on the desktop. And I’ve been told an SSD would speed things up tremendously, but so would it for the desktop.

jerv's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies How much do you do things like transcoding that can actually benefit from multi-threading? That is the type of stuff where in i7 beats an i3 or Core 2. Otherwise, all you are really getting is a slight boost. You really have to flog the shit out of it to see real performance gains.

Also bear in mind that you got the mobile processor, which is considerably slower than the desktop CPU. A desktop can afford the weight and bulk of a bigger heatsink whereas laptops (especially a “thin and light” like a Macbook) can’t, and a system with no cooling vents ’(like a Macbook) has to throttle the CPU down further to avoid roasting your nuts off. The aluminum case helps a bit, but it doesn’t totally eliminate the cooling issues inherent in the design.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Well it’s pissing my nuts off. I’m tempted to return, sell, for the desktop. I don’t know about your transcoding, so you tell me… I shoot about 1000 images a day on a 26 mpxl camera and need to edit through them fast with Adobe Bridge, and Adobe Camera Raw. Each one needs a critical sharpen test from the magnifier loop in Bridge. It takes about 5 seconds for the magnifier loop to load the preview… It sucks, because the old desktop loads in about 9 seconds.

I was expected instant load.

My buddy photog shoots the same as me, and he bought the desktop i5. He says it loads instantly. Alas, I need a road worthy system ready for travel. The iMacs to have road cases available!

Should I switch?

jerv's avatar

Look at the Intel Core i-series section of this chart and you will see a few things.

My desktop’s bottom-rung i3 beats even the top mobile i5 by about 10–15%. The desktop i5–6xx (dual-core) beats the desktop i3 by about the same margin while the i5–7xx (quad-core) is about twice as fast as the i3 or the mobile i5.

The mobile i7 is about as good as my desktop i3 while the desktop i7 is about 2–3 times the speed of it’s mobile counterpart.

The mobile i5 and i7 can also put quite a hurt on battery life unless you throttle them back from their maximum performance (I have a setting in my control panel that allows me to trade CPU speed for battery life). Note that notebook battery life always has teh disclaimer, “up to…” with an asterisk ;)

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies You should switch ASAP. After this little post, I think you can see the root of your problem. Your old Macbook rated a 1514 compared to the 2336 of your current MB Pro, 2709 of my i3–530, or the 21” iMacs which range from 2800 (for the i3–540) to 3569 (for the i5–680) and the tippy-top iMac, the 27” with the optional i7–870, gets a 5998.

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv I have no idea what “transcoding” is, even after looking it up. You read in my OP what I’m using it for—taking hundreds of pictures and stacking them together while doing processing. I’m told by my astroimager friends that memory is important, and that I ideally should have more than 4 gb. But I’m not certain the processor speed is as important. I’m doing any gaming.

I’m seeing some deals here, but it sounds like I don’t need to go with the higher end ones? I was looking at the HP for $855 but I’m thinking I don’t need to even spend that much?

jerv's avatar

@Rarebear Transcoding is basically any time you take a file and convert it to any other format. That includes taking a 26MP RAW file and turning it into a JPEG, or resizing it. Applying any sort of filtering, while not technically transcoding, is just as computationally intensive and can see similar performance improvements from a better CPU, especially if the programs you work with support multi-threading and most modern graphics programs do. All else being equal, a quad-core will take half the time to do those things than a dual-core of otherwise identical specs. And since the Core i-series is inherently faster at number-crunching than any Core 2 Duo, they are generally better at image manipulation work as well.

Given that some image files can get quite large, memory may be an issue. Personally, the biggest images I deal with are 8MP JPEGs, so I can get away with less RAM than someone like @RealEyesRealizeRealLies who deals with far larger files on a regular basis. A 26MP RAW file is about twenty times the size of an 8MP JPEG file. I have no issues with memory on my 3GB laptop, so memory may or may not be an issue for you, depending on what sort of images you are working with.

I have misgivings about HP laptops for a few reasons, most notably reliability, but that is just me. I think that the $600 Dell may be better. Dells are generally more reliable, the i5–460M is a decent CPU, and it has 4GB, which should be enough if you are dealing with the sort of images I deal with.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Well you just described my basic workflow @jerv.

Start with 1500 Raw files (about 12GB worth)

Edit to about 300, trashing the out-takes

Perform global color corrections in Raw File Converter

Write out a set of Tiff’s for the client disk (these are 75mb each)

Then make a web gallery set of JPG’s like this small one. Usually they are much larger, split into groups of 50 or more.

I’ll fully admit that the i7 MacBook Pro does the file conversions much much faster than may 2 core Duo. It’s 4 or 5 times faster. But in everyday file finishing, retouching, image manipulation, single file saving, I don’t see any speed increases worth speaking of. The laptop loads the images into Adobe Bridge much faster too. But that damned lupe still takes too long to do a sharpness test for each individual image.

My workaround has been to take the images directly into Adobe Raw File Converter, bypassing Bridge, select all, view at 100%, and then stream through them one at a time with my finger on the delete button. The problem is that ARFC doesn’t allow side by side comparison, whereas Bridge does.

My buddy uses Apple Aperture, and believes it’s much faster than Lightroom or Bridge. I’m not prepared to learn a new program and change my workflow just yet.

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv Thanks. Then I actually will be doing transcoding as most of my astrophotos are taken in huge RAW files and I have to work with them and convert them to .jpg. I’ll think about it.

I’ve had reasonably good luck with HP, but they’ve been HP Business machines, not home machines.

jerv's avatar

@Rarebear I have had decent luck with HP printers, but nobody I know personally has had much luck with their computers, laptop or desktop, and many of the reliability and customer satisfaction studies I’ve seen bear this out. They do some things right, but personal computers don’t seem to be one of those things. By the same token, I respect the Ford F-series, but can’t stand Ford cars. Some companies should just stick with what they do best.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

My mother has an HP laptop of the $700 variety, a couple of years old. It’s a nice little machine but the freaking keys won’t stay on the keyboard. Often has a difficult time finding a wireless network. But I’m always impressed how fast it is for general computing. It’s got a great screen.

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv There is a business computer store near me who sold me my two HP Business computers. They told me that the business machines and the home machines were completely different. The business machines were good, the home machines were crap.

Anywho, thanks for the advice. I’ll keep agonizing for awhile. Meanwhile, I have some more important telescope parts to buy in the meantime. Ah…the bane of an expensive hobby.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

OK @jerv, let’s take this one step further. I still need/want the mobility. So how much faster do you suppose the installation of more ram, and SSD, and an external FW would speed up performance on the MacBook Pro i7?

I can afford to either buy the iMac, as tandem to the MacBook, or just supe up the MacBook and try to get the most out of what I already have. I’ve heard that SSD makes Photoshop launch in one bounce.

Rarebear's avatar

Hey @jerv do you have an opinion about AMD or Intel? Are they similar in terms of performance? That is, is an AMD quad core similar to an i7? That kind of thing.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Intel outperforms AMD, but AMD is cheaper and cheap and good enough is often all you need.

jerv's avatar

Generally true, though many AMD laptops I’ve seen lately are barely faster or more powerful than the Atom CPU in many netbooks, and far slower than an Intel that costs only slightly more. Their desktop chips are better, but for mobile computing, I consider the extra $50 for an Intel to usually be worthwhile. Also, AMD chips seem to eat batteries faster than an equivalent Intel; an important consideration for most laptops.

The AMD versus Intel debate is about priorities

Rarebear's avatar

@jerv, @Lightlyseared Intel it is! Thanks!

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