One of the most common questions we get when custom configuring a PC for a customer is which platform they should go with – Xeon or i7. For the casual video editor/workstation user, is Xeon better? What’s the difference between Xeon vs i7? Let’s break down a few of the Pros of each processor family.
Intel Core i9/i7/i5 Pros
Overclocking – Unlocked i5, i7, and i9 processors are designed to be overclocked, meaning they can run at higher clock speeds than what they’re qualified for, assuming the right voltage and BIOS settings. This equates to free power and more value, a feature that Xeons do not have.
GHz per dollar – For pure Gigahertz speed for the money, the LGA2011 (X299) and 1151 (Z390) i7’s come out on top every time, making them the best value for single threaded applications. For example an 8-core i7-9700k running at 3.6/4.9GHz retails for around $300. The comparable quad core Xeon running at that clock speed will cost about $50-100 more.
On board graphics – Aside from the new F skus, Core i7 and i5 processors all come with onboard graphics, meaning a discrete video card is not required for video display, whereas Xeon processor-based PCs cannot be configured without discrete video. Though we recommend a discrete card for anything beyond the most casual gaming or video work, on board graphics are suitable for many home office uses.
L3 cache – CPU caches are like small batches of memory that the processor keeps close by to speed up certain applications. Most Xeon processors have 15-30MB of L3 cache depending on the model, close to double their i7 counterparts, though that gap seems to close with each new i7 architecture. This extra cache is one reason why Xeon’s are so much faster at high demand workstation applications than i7.
Support for ECC RAM – Error Checking and Correction (ECC) RAM detects and corrects most common data corruption before it occurs, eliminating the cause of many system crashes and translating to more stable overall performance. Only Xeon processors support ECC RAM.
More cores, multi CPU options – If your applications require as many CPU cores as possible, Xeon is what you need. The new Xeon Scalable processors max out at 24 cores (48 after Hyperthreading) whereas even the i9-9980XE has 18. Multi-CPU configurations are also only possible with Xeon, as is featured in our HD360MAX workstation.
Longevity (under heavy load) – Xeon processors are qualified to handle heavier, more intensive loads day in and day out. For the serious workstation user, this can translate to better longevity over i7 counterparts.
Hyperthreading at a lower pricepoint – Most of the advantages of Xeon processors come to users in a higher price range, but not this one. Since all Xeons come with Hyperthreading – a process essentially doubling the CPU cores through the creation of virtual cores – and i5 processors do not, many users shopping in this price range may find the Xeons to be a better value, assuming their specific application supports these virtual cores. 9th Gen Core processors have even restricted this feature to just i9.
So which is best for you? That answer depends on what you’ll be using your new PC for and the pricepoint at which you feel most comfortable. If gaming or home and office tasks are more your style where GHz speed is more important than copious numbers of cores, or workstation applications on a budget where value is critical, the i7’s and i5’s in the Raptor Z55 for example, should be your choice. If you’re into moderate to high-end workstation PC usage like CAD design, 4K video, and 3D rendering where the benefits of ECC RAM, more cache, and possible dual CPUs are advantageous, we heartily recommend Xeon as found in our ProMagix HD360.
As always, if you’re still confused, our sales team is happy to discuss your personal needs and budget to custom design the perfect PC for you. Call 804-419-0900 or click here to shop all desktops.
Note: This post has been updated since it was originally posted in 2014. Since it’s original publication, Intel has released a Core i9 set of processors. Unless noted, these new processors have the same features as previous i7.