The Intel Core i7 8700K steals AMD's thunder with six cores and the highest clock-speed on an Intel chip yet

Since the time Intel took over the CPU scene sometime in 2011, that space has been a bit dull. It’s nothing to hold against Intel, the company did stellar work in bringing incredible architectural changes to CPUs, but is more a result of a lack of competition from nearest rival AMD.

Intel's 8th generation CPUs

Intel's 8th generation CPUs have arrived

All of that changed when AMD introduced Ryzen, a brand-new platform that came out of nowhere and offered the largest performance bump the consumer CPU space had seen in years. AMD’s CPU architecture was, and still is, years behind Intel’s, but brute force and extra cores more than made up for that difference.

By the looks of things, Intel was caught off-guard by Ryzen and it took a while to come up with an adequate response.

As mentioned earlier, AMD’s architecture is about 3-4 years behind Intel’s, which means that clock-for-clock, AMD’s processors are less efficient. However, more cores and aggressive pricing ensured that AMD Ryzen remained a better value proposition for most use-cases. As Anandtech points out, with Ryzen, AMD was offering eight cores for $300 at a time when Intel was offering 10 cores for $1,700.

Intel’s answer to that has been expected for a while, and yesterday, the first reviews started coming out. That answer is Intel’s 8th generation Coffee Lake platform.

To summarise, Coffee Lake is essentially a refinement of the 14 nm process-based architecture that saw its debut in Broadwell and Skylake and is not the 10 nm process based CPUs that we were expecting. The latter is expected to be dubbed Canon Lake and arrive on mobile devices first.

The story with Intel these last few years, in the absence of competition from AMD, was one of incremental improvements. If you look at the 7th generation Kaby Lake platform, all we really saw over Skylake was a slight bump in clock speeds and better 4K encoding/decoding capabilities for certain formats.

Coffee Lake is more of the same, but with one significant twist: More cores!

Almost since the beginning of this decade, Intel’s consumer-grade CPU tiers have been structured as follows: A Core i3 with two cores and four threads, a Core i5 with four cores and four threads and a Core i7 with four cores and eight threads. With Coffee Lake, we now get the following: A Core i3 with four cores and four threads, a Core i5 with six cores and six threads and a Core i7 with six cores and 12 threads.

Core i3 Core i5 Core i7
Before Coffee Lake (Core/Threads) 2/4 4/4 4/8
Coffee Lake (Core/Threads) 4/4 6/6 6/12

As a side-effect of this, Intel says that you now need a new motherboard because of the chip’s power requirements.

In total, there are at least four new Coffee Lake CPUs on the way.

i7-8700K i7-8700 i5-8600K i5-8400 i3-8350K i3-8100
Core/Threads 6/12 6/6 4/4
Base Clock (GHz) 3.7 3.2 3.6 2.8 4.0 3.6
Turbo Boost 2.0 4.7 4.6 4.3 4 NA NA
L3 Cache (MB) 12 9 8
DRAM Support DDR4 2666 DDR4 2400
Integrated Graphics GT2: 24 EU GT2: 23 EU
IGP Base Clock (MHz) 350
IGP Turbo (GHz) 1.20 1.15 1.05 1.15 1.10
PCIe Lanes 16
TDP (W) 95 65 95 65 91 65
Price (USD) 379 314 260 190 180 117

Most notable is the fact that while the 8700K does see a drop in base clock speed from 4.2 GHz on the 7700K to 3.7 GHz, its boost clock has hit a whopping 4.7 GHz, the highest official clock speed on any Intel CPU yet.

Other than the core count and clock speed, the rest of the CPU is virtually identical to the previous generation, including the integrated GPU.

So, how does Intel’s latest fare in a world now enamoured by AMD’s Ryzen? Here’s what we found out.

We’re not in the habit of reviewing processors ourselves, but there are experts on the internet who’ve made it their life’s mission to do just that. Linus of Linus Tech Tips fame said that he was excited that we were “finally getting a 6-core chip on a mainstream platform at mainstream prices.”

In his testing, he noted that when gaming, the 8700K was roughly on par with the previous gen 7700K. Performance in productivity related tasks was where he noted the biggest performance bump, where the 8700K “surpasses everything” and performing at par with the more expensive AMD Threadripper 1950x.

ArsTechnica also reports a similar experience, noting that AMD’s equivalently priced competitors, the Ryzen 1700 and 1700X, are beaten by a “good margin”. Ars goes on to add that “if all you're interested in are stock speeds, the 8700K's raw clock speed grunt is impressive” and that in real world tests, there’s simply no comparison.

Speculating on the Ryzen connection, Linus also suggests that Ryzen’s launch had something to do with a bump in core count, but he’s quick to point out that either way, this is a big win for consumers. “Value is where Coffee Lake shines,” says Linus.

In its review, Ars did note that Intel’s fastest chip runs hot, noting that one would need “substantial cooling” if a user is interested in overclocking. They claim that even a high-end air cooler or liquid cooler couldn’t do enough to keep the temperatures below 80 degrees Celsius.

On overclockability, the reviewers are almost universally in agreement that hitting 5 GHz is easy if you have the right cooling. They also seem to think that Coffee Lake has even more overclocking headroom than that, but that thermal limitations are holding it back.

From what we can gather, the recommendations are as follows:

If you’re already on Ryzen, there’s really no reason to upgrade. Coffee Lake is better, but you’re already on a modern platform anyway.

If you’re on 6th or 7th gen Intel, there is, again, little reason to upgrade. More cores are nice, but the performance difference in gaming is marginal. For heavy workloads like rendering, it might be worth it, but note that you’ll need to replace your motherboard as well, making the upgrade quite expensive.

If you’re on anything older, upgrade.

The best value for money CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 1600X

The best gaming CPU: Intel Core i7 8700K

Updated Date: Oct 06, 2017 20:19 PM