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Intel’s 18-core CPU and, er, other exciting stuff

Stop that, it’s silly

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As I was saying, an 18-core CPU is obviously irrelevant for PC gaming. Actually, I was speaking then of AMD’s then-staggering 16-core Threadripper CPU. Two weeks later, Threadripper is already ancient news. It’s been comprehensively gazumped by a new 18-core CPU from Intel and suddenly the PC hardware landscape looks a little potty. I know I’ve been bleating for literally years about Intel’s sandbagging and how we needed AMD to spice things up. But this is a bit ridiculous. Be careful what you ask for…First and foremost, this is a developing situation. Just two weeks ago, it seemed Intel was all set to unleash its first 12-core desktop CPU. Now the ante has been upped to fully 18 cores in an official announcement for the Computex tech fest in Taiwan.

But the announcement was unusual in that it included some fully fleshed out details, including the full model names of the new chips along with core and thread counts, but excluded other critical items such as clockspeeds and power consumption ratings. It’s pure speculation on my behalf, but this feels to me like a very last-minute response to AMD’s CPU roll outs of late.

Anywho, the short version of this rather unusual story is that Intel is wheeling out no fewer than nine new processors for its equally new high-end platform, the latter composed of, again, a new socket in the form of LGA2066 and yet more newness courtesy of the X299 chipset.

Topping things off is the Core i9 (yup, the i9 family is new, too) 7980XE with 18 cores and 36 threads, but no known clockspeeds for now. It’s yours for $1,999 or very likely a painfully similar figure preceeded by a pound sign and is almost certainly irrelevant to all of us.

Ryzen 9 begat Core i9

Intel, of course, has long had the ability to fire out this kind of CPU. It has offered Xeon CPUs with almost countless cores for several generations. But it has taken AMD to finally force its hand. How many of these CPus get sold into the high-end desktop market, I’m not sure. My sense is that chips like the 7980XE are as much or possibly more about ensuring bragging rights for Intel as actually generating sales revenue.

The i9 line up also includes a range of nearly but not quite as exotic 16, 14, 12 and 10-core chips, the last of which seems almost accessible by comparison at $999. But it’s really the new core i7 models that are gamer-relevant. The new eight-core Core i7-7820X clocks in at $599 and has very healthy clockspeeds of 3.6GHz base, 4.3GHz Turbo and 4.5GHz Turbo 3.0 (that’s a special Turbo mode that actively determines which cores are capable of running at the highest stable frequency).

If you can afford it, that does rather seem to offer a pretty comprehensive combo of single-threaded frequency and multi-core parallelism that should make light work of pretty much any game for a few years to come.

But I’d say it’s the new Core i7-7800X that’s most interesting. It’s not exactly cheap at $389, but it is Intel’s most affordable six-core CPU yet and offers a decent Turbo speed of 4GHz. Certainly, it would be a tough choice between the 7800X and the lower end of AMD’s eight-core Ryzen 7 family. AMD still offers better value, to be sure. But Intel is at least more competitive at that rough price point.

I count 20 cores. Like I said, a developing situation…

As for the oddball Core i7-7740X and Core i5-7640X will sit in the bottom two rungs of Intel’s new LGA2066 range, I’m not sure what to make of them. My understanding is that they are the existing Kaby Lake quad-core CPU dies, as seen in the Core i7-7700K and Core i5-7600K for the mainstream LGA1151 socket, but rewired for LGA2066 and with the integrated graphics disabled.

At $339 and $242 respectively, they’re price parity with their LGA1151 cousins – at least at pre-announcement pricing for the existing pair – though they offer very slightly higher baseclocks but not Turbo speeds.

The only way I can see to make sense of them is as gateway CPUs for the LGA2066 platform. In other words, they help keep the overall up-front cost of upgrading to an LGA2066 PC under control and allow a future upgrade path to those big core count CPUs.

As things stand right now, then, these latest developments from Intel and AMD arguably don’t have much direct impact on the choices most gamers must make when configuring a new PC. All the 10-core and beyond models are arguably too much money for far too little gaming relevance.

Ermegerd, so many pins…er pads!

Even Intel’s new six and eight-core CPUs are probably too pricey for the majority. Meanwhile, the new Intel quad-core models come with some expensive baggage in terms of requiring an X299 motherboard.

In other words, the real-world choice remains that of Intel’s existing Core i5 and Core i7 chips for the LGA1151 socket, which offer the safest bet for ensuring good gaming performance in this very here-and-now, or AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7s, which are clearly better value and might well prove more future proof thanks to offering more affordable six and eight-core options.

Like I said, the situation is developing fast. I fully expect to see Intel add a six-core chip for its mainstream LGA1151 socket later this year and I’m hoping that will be part of a further re-jigging of prices that will see six cores slot in where Intel’s best quad-core chips currently reside in the price lists and those in turn become yet more accessible.

Things are moving in the right direction, then. But I’d be holding out just a little longer to see how things develop later this year before pulling the trigger on that new gaming rig.

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Jeremy Laird

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