Core m3 vs i5 vs i7 processors – year 2017

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surface pro 2017

Core m3 vs i5 vs i7 processor comparison has been around for a long time. And for each processor generation, the “best” option differed depending on individual needs. This is the year 2017, and Microsoft has finally released a new version of their Surface Pro with the Kaby Lake processors.

So how does this generation of Core m3 vs i5 vs i7 perform within the 2017 Surface Pro skin?

Here are the specs on paper:

CPU Core m3 7Y30 Core i5 7300U Core i7 7660U
# of cores 2 2 2
# of threads 4 4 4
Clock speed 1.0 – 2.6 GHz 2.6 – 3.5 GHz 2.5 – 4.0 GHz
Cache 4MB 3MB 4MB
TDP 4.5W 15W 15W
GPU Intel HD 615 Intel HD 620 Intel Iris Plus 640

As you can see, the number of cores and threads don’t change across the range just as it has been in the past.

As expected, there is a big jump in clock frequency from the Core m3 to Core i5 models, but Intel has artificially crippled the Core i5 model by reducing the cache size slightly to 3MB. The Core i7 model still features the same ‘smart’ cache as the one found in the Core m3 model. The Core i7 model’s base frequency is actually lower than the Core i5’s! But it does peak well beyond the level of the Core i5’s ‘turbo’ frequency.

Also interesting to note here is that the TDP difference between the Core m3 and the Core i5 is absolutely huge (which is to be expected given their frequencies), but the Core i5 and the Core i7 models feature identical TDP numbers. Does this mean the Core i7 model will not have much in a way of battery life penalty?

Stay tuned – another article will address this.

The GPU units are difference across the board as well. In theory, the Iris Plus 640 found in the Core i7, should give 3D tests huge boosts.

Let’s move on to the benchmark scores…

Novabench – Core m3 vs i5 vs i7

Novabench has been around forever. It reports nice simple set of numbers for easy comparison between different Windows (or iMacs) devices.

Novabench measures the CPU performance (integer, floating point, and MD5 hashing), GPU test (3D graphics), and raw hardware performance (RAM, Disk speeds). The entire test only runs for few minutes so I would not call it extensive but it is easy to compare across different devices.

Here are the results for each of the Surface Pro 2017 machines:

System RAM Test CPU Test 3D Graphics Test Drive Write Speed Test
Core i7 7660U 211 534 231 36
Core i5 7300U 159 526 63 26
Core m3 7Y30 152 408 61 19

Core i7 7660U vs Core i5 7300U – The results are all over the place. RAM is 33% faster, but the CPU is only 2% faster! The SSD drive is also 38% faster! But as expected, Core i7’s graphics performance is far far better, almost 4 times better! This is of course, due to the presence of Intel Iris 640 built into the Core i7’s die.

Core i5 7300U vs Core m3 7Y30 – Between these two, the differences are much more subdued. The Core i5 is 5% faster in RAM test, 29% faster in CPU test, only 3% faster in graphics test, and 37% faster in SSD drive speed test.

PCMark v10 – Core m3 vs i5 vs i7

PCMark v10 is a benchmark designed to produce numbers realistically mimic the work environment. It uses wide variety of tests, hence it doesn’t heavily rely on one type of test over another.

The results are split into 3 categories – ‘Essentials’, ‘Productivity’, and ‘Digital Content Creation’. And finally, it produces a single number that represents the overall performance, called ‘PCMark 10 score’.

Essentials Productivity Digital Content Creation PCMark 10 Score
Core i7 7660U 6900 5866 2740 3444
Core i5 7300U 6103 4712 2277 2889
Core m3 7Y30 5824 3749 1807 2440

Core i7 7660U vs Core i5 7300U – The Core i7 outperforms the Core i5 by 13% in Essentials, 24% in Productivity, and 20% in Digital Content Creation.

Core i5 7300U vs Core m3 7Y30 – The Core i5 outperforms the Core m3 by 5% in Essentials, 26% in Productivity, and 18% in Digital Content Creation.

Overall, the performance gap between the Core i7 and the Core i5 is roughly similar to that of the Core i5 and the Core m3 based on these results.

3DMark v11 – Core m3 vs i5 vs i7

3DMark measures exactly what the name says – 3D graphics performance of each devices.

 Tests Core m3 7Y30 Core i5 7300U Core i7 7660U
Time Spy Failed Failed 571
Fire Strike 721 824 1,099
Sky Diver 3,249 3,442 4,354
Cloud Gate 4,953 5,543 6,820
 Ice Storm Extreme 31,780 33,979 46,521

Both the Core m3 and the Core i5 models have failed the Time Spy test which also happens to be the newest and the most stressful test of this group. Time Spy test needs more V-Ram to run the entire test clean and completely.

The results are pretty clear – there is a small incremental improvement going from the Core m3 to the Core i5. But by far the biggest gap exist between the Core i5 and the Core i7 models.

Browser tests – Core m3 vs i5 vs i7

Google Octane is a browser based benchmark site. You don’t need to install any applications on your laptop. It basically measures the execution speed of the Javascript engine.

Similarly, Mozilla Kraken also measures the Javascript execution speed. I’ve added this to get some diversity.

CPU Core m3 7Y30 Core i5 7300U Core i7 7660U
Google Octane v2.0 22,018 31,440 36,030
Mozilla Kraken v1.1 1626 ms 1153 ms 1031 ms

The results here show that the Core i5 performs much better than the Core m3 in both tests. The Core i7, on the other hand, only returns slight advantage over the Core i5.

Conclusion

If you are looking to get some nice performance in 3D graphics, you have no choice – you must get the Core i7 model. The difference is so big that it would be stupid to consider other model even if they are significantly cheaper.

If you are looking for a productivity model with some value, then the choice is less obvious. One factor that will weigh significantly in your purchasing decision is that the Core m3 model only comes in 4GM of RAM and 128GB of SSD. If you need more capacity, the m3 model isn’t for you.

For the rest of you, the Core i5 model (with the options of 4 or 8GB RAM, 128 or 256GB SSD) will probably suit you the best.

(UPDATE: Please check out this article for in-depth battery life comparison!)

(More comparison tests are coming soon – storage speed, sdcard performance, battery life test, etc. Also more tests to compare the performances between the Surface Pro 2017 vs Surface Pro 4.)


6 COMMENTS

  1. It’s about time we get some new content here. Thank you for this very detailed comparison. I have been waiting for this post for a while. I am especially eager to see the battery test results. I have always been an i7 kinda guy, but is the battery test show a significant difference between the i7 and the i5, then I might sacrifice the graphics for the battery life. Great post. Please keep us updated with articles and content. Thank you!

  2. I notice that compared to the last generation, the core i5 / i7 has higher boost clocks compared to the core m3.

    On the SP4, the boost clocks were
    m3: 2200MHz
    i5: 3000MHz
    i7: 3400MHz
    Making for a difference of 800 and 400MHz respectively.

    With the Surface Pro 2017, the clocks differences are 900 and 500MHz.
    It’s not all that much and due to the higher overall clock speeds the ratio is still around the same, but still, I think it’s something worth noting.

  3. Thanks for this very detailed comparison, really looking forward to reading the rest.

    I would truly appreciate if you could tell us something about noise levels. I’ve read somewhere that the Core i5 model doesn’t have fans, using liquid cooling, but in other places (Microsoft’s, perhaps?) they mentioned a hybrid cooling system.

    Thanks again!

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