One of the most common questions that we receive when configuring a high end custom PC is whether to go with a Core I7 or a comparable Xeon processor. What is really the difference between an I7 and Xeon, and why does it seem so hard to choose between the two? Let’s go over some of the Pros and Cons of each.
Intel Core I7 Pros
- Overclocking- One of the main advantages of getting an I7 over a Xeon is that you can overclock them. What is overclocking you may ask? Every processor comes with a speed rating known as the “Clock rate”, labeled as GHz. The I7 6700k, for example, has a base clock rate of 4.0 GHz. When overclocked, it will have a higher base clock rate. You can set this to be as high as you want, as long as the system remains stable. Overclocking a processor gets you more bang for your buck since you pay for 4.0 GHz, but can get significantly greater speeds.
- Integrated Graphics- Unlike its Xeon counterparts, all Core I7 processors, except the I7 Extreme edition, offer the option of using onboard graphics. Though most customers building a high end custom gaming system or workstation will still opt for a discreet GPU, the option of using integrated graphics through the CPU is great for customers building a system for business or light everyday use. It keeps the cost of the system down, and still outputs great video.
Intel Core I7 Cons
- Less cores- The Core I7 maxes out at four physical cores, 8 virtual cores when you factor in hyper threading, in the LGA 1151 socket. Even when you factor in the I7 Extreme in the LGA 2011 socket, you still max out at 10 physical cores, 20 virtual cores with hyper threading.
- No Dual processor support- No matter which Core I7 you go with, you will not have the option of running a dual CPU configuration. For comparison, the Xeon line does offer dual CPU support.
- More Cores- Even looking at the top of the line I7 Extreme, which maxes out at 10 physical cores, the comparable Xeon E5-2680 v4 has fourteen physical cores, which equates to 28 virtual cores using hyper threading. When running programs that are CPU intensive, such as video rendering software, the extra cores will come in handy.
- Longevity- Because the Xeon line of processors were originally, and are still, designed to run in servers, they are designed to be ran 24/7 under a heavy workload. Because of this, they have a record of lasting for a very long time, especially in workstations that are not ran around the clock.
- L3 cache- The CPU cache is a small amount of memory that the CPU uses to store information that it may need to use next. The cache is located directly on the CPU die, and is extremely fast. For comparison, the I7 Extreme has 25 MB of cache while the Xeon E5-2680 has 35 MB of cache. If you look at the I7 6700k, you have significantly less cache at just 8 MB.
- ECC RAM- Unlike the Core I7*, the Xeon line supports Error Checking and Correction memory. This memory searches for possible errors and corrupt files before they occur, and effectively eliminates many system crashes or errors.
- Integrated Graphics- With the exception of some of the lower end E3’s, none of the Xeon series processors offer support for integrated graphics. Because of this, if you are building a system with a Xeon processor, you will be required to add in a discrete GPU.
- No overclocking- Unlike with the core I7, the Xeon processor does not have the option to overclock.
So, should you go with a Core I7 or Xeon processor? It really comes down to what you are using your system for. If you are planning on using your system for gaming, home or business use, the I7 will be the better option for you. However, if you are looking for a high powered system to run video rendering or 3-D software, you may want to look into getting a Xeon.
*Some older I7’s offer ECC support, but they are no longer available. Any new I7 purchased, even including the Extreme edition, will not have support for ECC memory. Along with this, some I3’s in the Core line do have ECC support.