Intel Core i7-8700K Review: A 6-Core Chip That Punches Far Above Its Weight
Today, Intel is unveiling its new Coffee Lake line of desktop CPU cores and its first mainstream desktop response to AMD’s Ryzen architecture since that platform launched in March. That’s not to say we haven’t seen some significant shifts in Intel’s desktop parts–in fact, even before today’s launch, we’ve seen more price drops and feature improvements from Intel in 2017 than at any point since at least 2011.
As we’ve previously discussed, the Core i7-8700K isn’t a new CPU architecture. It’s still based on the same Kaby Lake processors that debuted last January with the Core i7-7700K, which itself was a clock-boosted version of the Skylake architecture that launched with the Core i7-6700K. The new chip is built on Intel’s 14nm++ process, however, which offers a modest frequency increase and hopefully better power efficiency than the previous 14nm+. The Z370 chipset is similarly identical to the Z270 chipset, with the exception that it supports the new Coffee Lake CPUs, while the old Z270 hardware doesn’t. If you’re looking for a major architectural update with Coffee Lake, you’re going to be disappointed, but the core clocks have come up some despite adding two additional cores.
Intel’s Six-Core Evolution
At the same time, however, Intel’s decision to bring a six-core solution to market is a big deal. For most of the past seven years, Intel’s six-core processors have carried a hefty premium. In 2011, Intel released the Core i7-980 and i7-970, which offered six-core processors in the LGA 1366 form factor and were drop-in compatible with its original LGA1366 chipset, but only the Core i7-980 was less than $800, and it ran $583 at launch. Intel’s initial line of six-core chips post-Westmere held to this price point. In 2014, Intel introduced a new Haswell-based Core i7-5820K at $400, and it launched a six-core Broadwell-E at $434 in May, 2016. The company’s current Skylake-X six-core, the i7-7800X, has an MSRP of just $389, which puts it right in the Core i7-8700K’s price bracket.
This progression makes the Core i7-8700K look a bit pedestrian at first glance, but there are two distinct differences between this core and the six-core chips Intel has previously launched. First, the Core i7-8700K has a much higher base and boost clock. The chart below shows how Intel’s lowest-end / cheapest six-core processors have stacked up against each other, going back to 2014 and Haswell-E.
The 3.7GHz base clock is only about six percent higher than the 7800X, but the 4.7GHz boost frequency blows every other six-core chip out of the water, including older models not included here from Ivy and Sandy Bridge. While the all-core boost frequency is below 4.7GHz, that’s the case for every other six-core chip as well.
The second difference between the 8700K and Intel’s previous chips is while Coffee Lake requires a new motherboard, the boards themselves should be cheaper than Intel’s HEDT motherboards are. Intel Z270 motherboards start around $100 on Newegg, while X299 motherboards that support the full range of Intel’s X-Series chips as opposed to just the quad-core variants start at $215. The MSRP on our Asus Prime Z370-A is higher, at $169.99, but Asus’ HEDT-equivalent, the Prime X299-A is a $295 board. Either way, combine the cheaper motherboard costs with the Core i7-8700K’s lower price, and this is Intel’s cheapest six-core platform ever.
AMD: The Fly In Intel’s Ointment
If these launches had taken place in 2016 instead of 2017, this would be a straightforward, no-brainer of an article. The 8700K adds more cores and higher clock speeds. It’s obviously going to blow the 7700K out of the water, and while the 7800X features Intel’s higher-performing Skylake-SP architecture, high clock speeds have a performance advantage of their own. At the very least, we’d expect the Core i7-8700K to compete well against Intel’s six-core HEDT processor, provided the benchmark in question isn’t memory bandwidth-bound.
AMD’s Ryzen family complicates this situation for Intel. First, there’s the Ryzen 5 1600X, with a 4.1GHz boost clock, six cores, 12 threads, and a new $219 price point, though it’s not clear if AMD has cut prices across the board or if the reduction is temporary. Even at the official list price of $249, the Ryzen 5 1600X packs a serious punch in the performance-per-dollar category–at $219 it’d be an even stronger core. We’re assuming Intel has picked turbo clocks for the 8700K that’ll sweep the Ryzen 5 1600X in benchmarks, but the AMD chip is $110 to $140 cheaper.
Second, there’s an entire sale on AMD’s entire upper-end Ryzen 7 stack. Newegg shows the Ryzen 7 family at significantly lower prices for at least the next six days. Here’s how the current lineup breaks down (all prices current as of 10/04/2017):