We’ve been selling high end computers for over 15 years now and as you can probably imagine, we have spoken to a lot of people.
Some people are knowledgeable about computer specifications, some are not.
A common thing we hear is something like: ‘my friend said I should get an i7’, or ‘my trading platform recommends an i7’, or ‘I’ve been researching online and everyone says that you should get an i7’.
My response to that is that it depends on exactly you want your computer to do, so we have a chat about their workload, and then I generally spend a few minutes trying to talk them into buying an i5.
The truth is that the vast majority of people do not need an i7 (or an i9!).
Let me explain why.
What Actually Is An i7?
First, a very quick discussion of what an i7 actually is.
Intel have different levels of processors (or CPU’s) priced and aimed at different markets. They group processors into different categories starting with i3’s which offer lower performance levels. You then get i5’s which are supposedly mid-range, i7’s which used to be the top end of the range and are still classed as high-end, and then i9’s which offer the best performance levels.
That is all pretty straight-forward, an i7 is generally a high-end processor from Intel.
The slight complication is that when Intel release newer versions of their processors (called a new generation) these are also called i3’s, i5’s, i7’s, and i9’s.
It is important to know the generation of a particular processor to understand how well it will actually perform.
We have an article discussing the effects that different generations of CPUs have on performance levels here: Insist on a new generation CPU.
That’s definitely worth a read and the key takeaway is that when a new generation of chips are released, performance levels increase across all categories of processors, so the i7’s get faster and more powerful with every generation but so do the i3’s, i5’s and i9’s.
What You Need Depends On What You Run
Let’s now take a look at your software load, because this determines what you need inside your computer to run it well.
Many of our customers are traders, and pretty much all are what you’d class as professional users rather than gamers.
Let’s look at a common trading application called MetaTrader 4 (or MT4), this is a very popular piece of software that many Forex traders use. Officially this was released in 2005, so at the time of writing this was 18 years ago.
Despite its age it is still massively popular for many reasons beyond the scope of this article.
Over the 18 years of its lifespan there will have been countless updates to it, people can write extensions for it etc… but the core program is basically the same.
We can conservatively say that it has seen high levels of usage for well over 15 years, and for something to be popular it obviously has to run really pretty decently on the available hardware of the time.
I think we can then assume that an i7 from say 12 years ago (which is 5 years into the working life of the MT4 software) would have been able to run MT4 very well.
So how does this 12-year-old i7 compare to a modern i7.
The latest 13th generation 13700KF works out to be 152% faster in terms of raw speed over the second generation i7 2600K processor. In terms of multi-threading (or multi-tasking) the improvement is over 755%.
This is a massive improvement in performance over a chip that 12 years ago could still handle MT4 without any problems at all, so it’s pretty safe to say that buying a new i7 to run MT4 is more than a bit overkill.
Let’s now drop right down the tree to an i3.
Very few of my trading customers would buy a new computer with an i3 processor because ‘everyone knows i3’s are not very good’, or that’s the theory.
How bad are they though really?
If we swap the comparison to an Intel 13th generation i3 13100F, the ‘worst’ processor we offer, it is still over 112% faster than that older i7, and well over 170% better at multi-tasking workloads.
I think that makes it pretty clear that if you’re just running MT4 then you could easily run it on a new i3 without any issues whatsoever. In-fact you could make an argument that this is still overkill.
‘Yeah but my software is a lot more demanding than MT4’
Okay, I accept that the MT4 example is pretty extreme but the point holds true for a lot of other examples as well.
I had an existing customer call recently who had bought a PC and screens off us over 7 years ago. He was looking to buy a new computer and had been looking at an i7.
We chatted and I asked him how his 7 year old machine handled his workload (which included NinjaTrader 8, Rhytmic, Trading View and MT4) and he said pretty well actually. He was looking for something faster and wanted to move to Windows 11 but said the older machine definitely coped okay.
When we had the processor chat he said he didn’t want to get an i5 as he thought it would be slower than his current i7, because i5’s are not as good as i7’s.
I explained that due to it being a much newer i5 that it would be a lot better and gave him some figures, he was shocked, and then pleased, I’d just saved him over £250 on an upgrade he didn’t need by advising him on sticking with the i5 in our Trader PC.
He told me he was very glad he spoke to me before ordering something online.
He could have actually gone with an i3 (and I did tell him this) and saved even more. That’s because the 13th generation i3 CPU (the ‘worst’ processor we offer!) was still significantly faster than his 6th generation i7 chip.
In-fact, it would also outperform a 7th, and 8th generation i7 and when compared to a 9th generation i7 9700K it matches the multi-threaded performance and remains over 25% faster in terms of single core (raw processing) speed.
Not bad for a lowly i3 eh?
‘Yeah but I spoke to my trading platform provider and they recommend an i7’.
Okay great, but which I7?
Do they test their software every time new processors are released and rewrite their recommendations?
Or did they test it once when they released their software probably 5+ years ago and have never bothered to test it or update their recommendations again?
I know which is more likely.
‘Yeah but if I get an i7 my software will run even faster won’t it?’
Maybe, or maybe not.
Let’s go back to MT4, in-fact almost any bit of software for that matter.
Having a faster processor will only make your programs run faster if they are currently running slow or feel laggy.
If we run MT4 on a new i3 based computer and it is super responsive with no lag, then running it on an i7 will not make it run any faster.
The i3 is fast enough that things feel instant so even if you had a faster CPU you still can’t really improve on instant, things can’t really get ‘more instant’.
Whilst an i7 may have the ability to run faster, if the software doesn’t or can’t make use of that extra speed then it’s kind of pointless.
The exception to this rule is when you have some multi-thread software. These are programs that can distribute workloads across all of a CPU’s resources to complete jobs quicker.
Generally this is stuff that takes a while to calculate, think of a large back testing job if you’re a trader, or a video rendering job if you work in that kind of field.
These workloads can sometimes take hours to complete a task. With a faster CPU and the right software the time to complete tasks can be dramatically cut down.
These workloads are not common though. The vast majority of software is not multi-threaded to any great extent.
The key takeaway is that if an i3 or i5 can more than handle your workload with room to spare then an i7 or i9 will not make things run any faster, you will just have a lot of potential sat there never being used.
‘Yeah but I may as well get an i7 as it future proofs my computer’
I can see this argument, and a lot of people buy i7’s or i9’s for this very reason, but the reality is that most people would need to see a dramatic change in workload to justify this.
From experience there are very few people that need something like an i9 processor, again only traders really into backtesting or content creators running lots of complex rendering jobs will really make good use of that level of processing power.
If someone asked me 12 months ago what the absolute most powerful desktop processor was then it would have been the 12th generation i9 chip, this was top of the performance pile.
The current 13th generation i5 13600KF pretty much matches the performance of this and the newer i7 and i9 push levels even further.
So if you didn’t need i9 performance levels 12 months ago then even a current i5 is still going to be overkill for your needs.
And if many trading platforms and programs have not particularly changed in any meaningful way in the past 4 – 5 + years then what are the chances that a new version will be released that consumes dramatically more CPU resources?
I7’s and i9’s consume more power, they generate more heat, this means they need bigger (and sometimes louder) cooling systems that in turn consume more power, and for many people they simply sit there adding nothing in terms of performance because your software doesn’t get anywhere near pushing the CPU to its limit.
Final Thoughts on Processors
I’d honestly say that 90%+ of people I talk to could use a 13th generation Intel 13400F and it would be more than they will ever need.
This is the processor we use by default in our lower priced Trader PCs.
It’s a performance beast, outperforming an 11th generation i7 with around half the power consumption meaning less heat, less noise, and lower running costs.
If you’re moving from anything older than a 9th generation i7 then the 13th generation i3 will still feel like a decent upgrade for probably a lot less money then you spent the first time around.
The i5 13600KF is a meaningful upgrade over the 13400F and if you go for this you basically have the equivalent of a 12th generation i9 in your machine which is pretty ridiculous for most workloads.
If you are in that small bracket of people that need as much power as they can get then sure, go for it, but web browsing, pretty much all standard desktop software (think Office programs), email clients, and 90% of trading software does not require an i7 or above and will not run any faster on one over an i5.
Hopefully you can see that perhaps you don’t need to go massively high end on your new processor and this has saved you some money.
If you have any questions or want a personal recommendation on what would be the best option for your needs just let me know. You can reach me via phone or email using the details on this site.
Written by Darren @ Multiple Monitors
Last Updated: August, 2023