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Core 2 Duo vs Core i5: What's the Difference?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Bill Fulks•updated: 7/29/2011

If you purchased or built a new mid-range Intel powered computer a few years ago, a Core 2 Duo is probably the processor placed inside. Today, the mid-range is represented by Intel's Core i5. Just what do you receive by upgrading to the new model?

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    The Difference a Few Generations Make

    The Intel Core 2 Duo line of processors was one of the company's most successful. I personally still use a Core 2 Duo E8400 in my main system, and while I will likely upgrade soon, it's served me admirably for over three years.

    Despite that, it's quite an old processor at this point. If you have an older but still capable processor such as this you may be wondering if there's any point in upgrading to a new Intel Core i5.

    Let's have a look at Intel's Core 2 Duo vs Core i5 and review the benefits you'll receive.

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    Processor Performance

    The Tech Report: Panorama Factory The speed of computer processors used to be exciting, or at least noteworthy, to the average consumer. This was particularly true during the 1990's when the MHz and eventually GHz wars were in full swing. Over the course of a decade we went from processors running at 50 MHz to those running at over 1 GHz, and this was a simple way for buyers to gauge relative performance.

    Today, that has all changed. It's easy to feel a bit confused about buying a new processor with the same clock speed as your old one. Are you really gaining much with the new product?

    Anandtech: Windows Media Encoder The new processors make a difference so long as you use your computer for more than basic email and web-surfing. A new Core i5-2500K processor, compared to older Core 2 era products, can provide a performance boost of up to and over 400%. For example, The Tech Report found that the Panorama Factory stitch time (the time required to stitch sample photos into a panorama) of a Core i5-2500K was 11.3 seconds, while a Core 2 Duo E6400 required 41.3 seconds. Anandtech found similarly impressive results when using Windows Media Encoder, where the Core i5-2500K required 22 seconds to encode the test clip but a Core 2 Quad Q6600 required 40 seconds to handle the same.

    If you use any sort of processor intensive application, including common apps like Photoshop, Windows Live Movie Maker, and processor intensive games like Civilization 5, you'll see a significant difference between the Core i5 and the older Core 2 Duo processors. Indeed, you may be surprised by just how much quicker your computer will feel.

    Image credits: The Tech Report and Anandtech (see references)

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    Graphics Performance

    If you're a serious gamer, the graphics performance associated with a processor isn't likely to matter. You already have a discrete card that you'll use one way or another. For everyone else, however, integrated graphics is often important.

    Graphics Performance The Core i5 processors bring more good news in that regard. When Intel introduced the first generation they brought the integrated graphics processor on to the CPU die and improved it significantly. With the current second-generation Core i5, Intel has now made the IGP part of the processor architecture (the CPU and IGP share cache) and improved it further.

    What this means is that a Core i5-2500K is capable of playing many modern games at low resolutions and detail settings. It's also more than capable of handling any sort of high-definition video. Although a hardcore gamer won't be satisfied with it, someone who casually plays games like Starcraft 2 or The Sims 3 will be happy with the performance offered. The new Intel HD graphics provide better driver support, as well, which means you'll run across fewer errors and have a smoother gaming experience.

    Image Credits: IGN.Com

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    Pricing - And Conclusion

    Intel's current Core i5-2500K, the high end of the line, is priced at $219, while the entry-level Core i5-2300 is priced at $184. These are expensive prices for processors, but the performance justifies the price. In fact, on a price-for-performance basis, these products are bargains.

    However, buying one of these new processors is not as easy as bringing one home and sticking it in to your Core 2 Duo system. Intel has changed sockets since then, so you'll need to buy a new motherboard with a LGA 1155 socket to fit your second-generation Core i5 processor.

    In addition to this, the RAM standard has shifted over the last few years. When Core 2 Duo was popular most systems used DDR2 RAM. Today, however, DDR3 RAM is required. This will add another $40 to $120 dollars to your build depending on the amount of RAM you'd like to have in your PC.

    When the processor, motherboard and RAM needs are covered, you're looking at a price tag of at least $400. If you choose an expensive motherboard or you'd like to buy 8GB of RAM, you'll be looking at a price closer to $600.

    That's a substantial barrier, and it's the reason why even a die-hard geek like myself has yet to upgrade. If you have the money, however, the upgrade will likely be worthwhile. Your new Core i5 will make your system feel brand new compared to your Core 2 Duo.

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