Intel’s new Coffee Lake CPUs: right chips, wrong price

intelcore

Or should that be nearly the right chips at slightly the wrong prices? Either way, as I was saying Intel has finally pulled its finger out and given us PC diehards something to be other than apathetic about. No, not ridiculoso $2,000 processors with 18 cores. But new mainstream processors codenamed Coffee Lake that have now taken the leap from solid rumour to retail reality. With more cores across the board, it’s Intel’s biggest upgrade for at least five years and undeniably a good thing for gamers.

The single most important thing to take away from all this is that whatever you think about the utility of more than four cores for PC gaming, the new processors are good news. If you’re a many-cores sceptic and reckon four cores is plenty, fair enough.

But Intel has just pushed quad-core down into the low-end Core i3 range. By way of example, the old Core i3 7100 chip was a dual-core model sold for $117 or about the same figure in plummeting post-Brexit pounds sterling (on that note, stick a £ in front of any of the dollar prices quoted here and you won’t be far off reality). The new Core i3 8100 is also $117, but packs four cores.

Further up the stack, if you think (as I do) that more cores are worth having both for general computing in the here and now and for gaming in the long term, you’re getting six cores from Coffee Lake Core i5 where the old Core i5 used to offer four. Where things begin to break down is the Core i7 range, which merely adds Hyperthreading and a little more clockspeed to the new six-core Core i5 proposition.

On the one hand, that’s exactly as it has been for sometime, albeit four cores and eight threads have been trumped by six cores and 12 threads. But in my not remotely humble opinion, the obvious anti-bullshit product lineup ought to have been four cores for Core i3, six for Core i5, eight for Core i7, and then enable Hyperthreading for the lot.

Of course, Intel pretty much never does quite the right thing and the result is once again a slightly bodged range of CPUs with artificial limitations imposed upon them by Intel’s marketeers.

If that’s predictable and in reality tolerable, more annoying is what Intel has done with its pricing. first, it’s bumped prices up for several models. Not by a great deal, I’ll concede. The old Core i7-7700K was a $339 chip. The new Core i7-8700K rocks in at $359.

It’s all thanks to AMD’s Ryzen rebooting competition in the PC processor market…

But it’s the fact that the increases are inconsistent that rather grates. The non-K Core i7-8700, for instance, is the same $303 as the outgoing non-K 7700. It’s not the end of the world, but it is symptomatic of how Intel is always triangulating opportunities to stiff customers rather than setting itself the task of producing the best products its engineers can create and getting them into our hands.

For the record the new lineup looks like this:

Core i7-8700K 3.8/4.7GHz 6/12 Cores/Threads $359
Core i7-8700 3.2/4.6GHz 6/12 Cores/Threads $303
Core i5-8600K 3.6/4.3GHz 6/6 Cores/Threads $257
Core i5-8400 2.8/4.0GHz 6/6 Cores/Threads $182
Core i3-8350K 4GHz 4/4 Cores/Threads $168
Core i3-8100K 3.6GHz 4/4 Cores/Threads $117

Of the new chips, the i5-8400 looks like the sweetspot to me. Yes, the 2.8GHz baseclock looks a bit weedy and it’s a locked chip with little opportunity for overclocking. But I suspect it will run at near that 4GHz Turbo speed with all six cores loaded, so the single-thread grunt will be dandy.

It’s the kind of CPU you could buy today and have reasonable expectations of perhaps five years of solid gaming utility. The unlocked quad-core Core i3-8350K for $168 looks interesting, too, especially if you want to have loads of overclocking headroom.

But what of the choice between these new Coffee critters and AMD’s Ryzen CPUs. From a pure gaming perspective I would unambiguously favour these new Intel chips. Six cores should be plenty for the foreseeable and while Ryzen may occasionally have the advantage in some games, it will also occasionally perform poorly. Conversely, the Intel choice may not always be the fastest in every title, but I doubt it will ever give a bad experience.

However you slice it, despite the numerous annoyances in the fine details, and whether you even buy one or not, this new family of desktop chips from Intel is a good thing. It moves Intel’s game on at last and that will drag the entire PC gaming hardware ecosystem along with it. About bloody time, too.

56 Comments

  1. Sakkura says:

    The prices are pretty fair by Intel standards, considering you get extra cores and such. This way, Ryzen remains a very appealing value-for-money offering, but paying extra for top of the line single-threaded performance from Intel doesn’t feel like a total ripoff (except maybe the overclockable K chips). Competition, yay!

  2. Pizzzahut says:

    Always happy to pay extra for Intel CPU’s.

  3. Jokerme says:

    As long as the number of suckers is this high (as shown above) they can continue to charge ridiculous amounts for their dumbed down products.

    • Troubletcat says:

      I don’t think it’s so much that people are suckers.

      I would prefer better business practices from Intel. But if I want a top of the line CPU for my desktop, I don’t have a choice. AMD is definitely a much better option in the mid-range and budget range, but they just don’t compete at the top end.

      I wish they did – then Intel would actually have to stop pulling this shit. Until then, what are you going to do? Buy a product that doesn’t actually suit your needs/wants?

      • Jokerme says:

        There is nothing AMD can’t provide you compared to Intel. Yes, Intel is faster but if you are talking gaming, going absolutely highest speed possible is not mandatory, you know.

        When it comes to professional use AMD provides a lot more value than Intel and performances are comparable. AMD is the way to go for rendering without a doubt.

        • Troubletcat says:

          Yeah, I probably should’ve specified “for gaming” but I thought it was obvious from the context.

          In short, both you and the dude below agree that Intel offers the best performance for gaming currently, even if it’s overpriced? And so if you want the absolute best gaming performance you need to go with Intel?

          Cool, good, we all agree.

      • Bremze says:

        Funnily enough AMD looks the best in the top end. Threadripper compares favorably to Intel’s HEDT platform at a significantly lower cost. It’s gaming scenarios with limited threading and hefty single core performance requirements where Intel does the best but even that might slip away if AMD can get their clockspeeds up and decouple the interconnect and memory clocks with Pinnacle Ridge.

        • Premium User Badge

          MajorLag says:

          “It’s gaming scenarios with limited threading and hefty single core performance requirements where Intel does the best”

          That’s basically all gaming. At least all gaming where you’d care to have a newer CPU anyway.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      How do you dumb down a top of the line CPU? Did they go back to 32-bit? Not enough literary references in the manual?

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        I guess the obvious example would be Intel using cheap thermal interface material, rather than solder on all of their chips. I can see why a Celeron or an i3 doesn’t justify the extra cost, but it’s a bit of a joke on a £1000 CPU to gimp the performance through thermal throttling just so Intel can save a few dollars.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    I’d like to finally upgrade my old i5-4440 to an (old) i7, so I’m interested to see what happens to the prices for the previous line-up.

    • Sakkura says:

      Probably not much. Intel does not do price drops on old SKUs, so you’d have to get lucky and find a retailer doing a good sale.

    • RichUncleSkeleton says:

      They get discontinued and you can only find them on the secondary market where the good ones still sell for premium prices because of their overclocking potential and the crummy ones get offloaded for not much cheaper than their newer, more efficient counterparts.

  5. snv says:

    Just more cores? Is that all?

    No changes in regards to PCIE-Lanes? Anything new in regards to the memory?
    How does the single-tread performance change? Is it actually lower?

    • Sakkura says:

      No change to PCIe lanes AFAIK, but then Kaby Lake + Z270 already has more than plenty for mainstream users.

      The base-level memory speed support goes up from 2400 to 2666. There’s obviously still XMP support beyond that, just like today.

    • wackazoa says:

      Cache is changed. For example the i3 has 6mb now instead of 4. The i5 has 9mb instead of 6. The i7 has 12mb maybe? Im not sure on that one.

      • Sakkura says:

        The amount of L3 cache only goes up as much as the core count though. 1.5 or 2MB per core (2 for i7, 1.5 for i5, either for i3).

  6. left1000 says:

    I’d like to point out coffee lake is a stopgap measure, intel rushed it out, it wasn’t in the original pipeline at all. It’s a bandaid to buy time for cannon lake.

    Cannon lake next year is going to be a massive upgrade because of the die shrink. Cannon lake is going to be the biggest upgrade in many years.

    Coffee lake is probably literally just a reactionary move to ryzen. Because amd managed to get ryzen out before cannon lake. I do feel like no article on coffee lake is complete without a mention of how short it’s lifespan is likely to be with cannon lake rendering it entirely obsolete. Much moreso than coffee lake’s influence on kaby.

    • Sakkura says:

      Die shrinks are usually NOT massive upgrades at all. Intel usually separates the die shrinks from the actual changes to the microarchitecture, so Cannonlake will probably mostly be Kaby/Coffee Lake with lower power consumption and a bigger iGPU.

      • MiniMatt says:

        Though *personally* I find performance per watt to be a massive deal as it directly – and significantly – impacts performance per decibel.

        Not to mention performance per polar bear.

        • Person of Interest says:

          The most surprising thing to me about the Ryzen CPUs is that they actually beat Intel on thermals. I assumed their CPUs would be like their GPUs: runs hotter, runs louder. But not only are the Ryzens more efficient (Tom’s Hardware has the most accurate power readings of all reviewers–see their i9-7900x review for an Intel-AMD comparison), but they also have a soldered interface between the die and heat spreader, which is far better than Intel’s paste interface.

          The difference in solder vs. paste means that the heatsink on an AMD CPU can run hotter, and therefore more effectively/quietly, than on an Intel CPU, even if both CPU dies are kept at the same temperature and are consuming the same amount of power.

          • left1000 says:

            well the amd chip doesn’t have a built-in gpu so that should help save on heat, but also no one has street tested coffee lake against ryzen so it’ll be hard to see how they fare.

            I wouldn’t be surprised at all though if amd’s cpu’s crush coffee lake. It’s like I said, intel didn’t want to be forced to waste their time on coffee lake, but they had to. partially because cannon lake’s factory design took many years longer than expected, and because amd made the core increasing move and intel didn’t wanna get left behind.

            I think that ryzen might end up holding firm on their margin for budget gaming until 2018 and cannon lake. keep in mind of course that when cannon lake comes out there will ALSO be redesigns and new releases for kaby lake and skylake and whatnot because intel has decided starting in 2018 to sell a bizillion times more models of cpu, to try and keep each type of customer happy.

            no matter what categories amd can beat them in, they won’t be able to please individuals as effectively (in theory) with 10times fewer options.

    • wackazoa says:

      “I’d like to point out coffee lake is a stopgap measure, intel rushed it out, it wasn’t in the original pipeline at all.
      Coffee lake is probably literally just a reactionary move to ryzen.”

      Im not sure that is correct. Youre telling us that Intel has spent millions of dollars (at least) to slap something together they have never worked on? Going by how these things work and the money spent on R+D, Im sure the plan was to go this direction at some point. Maybe its wasnt supposed to be now. But Moore’s law has been dying the last several years, and with the troubles Intel is apparently having with the die shrink, Im sure the design was to go more cores in the near future. Im thinking Ryzen is just a happy early coincidence for consumers.

      • left1000 says:

        that’s not what i meant to imply. but roughly 2-3 years ago intel promised there would be no coffee lake timewaste and then 1-2 years ago they promised there would be, and now, it’s here. I think the main reason in was added to the pipeline was factory delays on getting prepared for cannon lake. it wasn’t added haphazardly necessarily but they never wanted to waste their effort on a coffee lake in the first place. but competition from amd combined with slow downs on inventing cannon lake forced their hand.

    • Frosty Grin says:

      Cannon Lake should be a big step forward – but not necessarily on the desktop. Progress can be limited to lower power consumption at lower clocks, which is great for laptops.

  7. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    Wrong chips, wrong price.

    Overall the new chips are faster, but a lot depends on software that exploits either AVX512 instructions or is very multithreaded. If it’s neither of these things it may be exactly the same speed as the prior generation (based on leaked benchmarks).

    It’s certainly not that enticing a proposition. Bit more useful for virtualisation and encoding whilst gaming, maybe – but so is AMD now. I have to admit, I’d probably still go Intel for high end gaming as it’s the fastest option available, but I’m vastly more impressed by how AMD has done than Intel.

    • ElementalAlchemist says:

      I think the point Jeremy was getting at is that multi-core progress has been artificially stagnated for the last decade by Intel’s refusal to push higher core counts in previous CPU generations. But now AMD has forced Intel’s hand with Ryzen, so while their latest offering is not fantastic in and of itself, the prospect of future improved multi-core utilisation by games and software in general is good.

      • Asurmen says:

        I don’t get this reasoning. Multi cores have been around for ages. Even more cores aren’t suddenly going to make specifically game devs support them.

      • Premium User Badge

        Tam-Lin says:

        No. I know there’s this thought going around that Intel needs to just add more cores, but the problem is that doing so is really hard, if you don’t want to decrease performance somewhere. A faster clock speed is great, free performance. More cores means that the CPU, the motherboard, the operating system, and the software all have to cooperate to ensure that performance is always acceptable, and this is really, really hard to do, as there are all sorts of edge cases to worry about.

  8. Siimon says:

    i5-8400 has a 4GHz Turbo on a single core. Each additional core will likely bring this down by 100MHz, and I bet it won’t Turbo to full speed for extended periods of heavy use due to power limits.

  9. Buggery says:

    The real unanswered question is: is my i5 4690k still good enough? I feel like it is still good enough.

    • pepperfez says:

      If it’s not then almost everyone needs a new CPU.

    • Carra says:

      My i5-3570K still runs everything I throw at it. Who knows, having more cores might mean games actually start using them and we will finally have a reason to upgrade?

      • sosolidshoe says:

        Yup. Whacked a Kraken cooler on it and upped the OC to 4.2 last year and it’s still perfectly adequate. I got worried when my PC shat itself with Battlefront and the BF1 beta, but doubling up to 16 gigs of RAM sorted that out(seriously what is it with DICE and godawful memory management?).

        There’s still a few years before MS try and fully kill off Windows 7 so unless there’s an unexpected major shift towards favouring multicore for gaming or the generation after this or after that provides actual, serious single-core performance boosts I don’t anticipate needing to replace the old 3570K until the eventual enforced switch to Windows 10.

        Honestly that CPU might be the best value for money computer component I ever bought by the time I’m finally through with it.

      • Chorltonwheelie says:

        Yup. Same here.
        3570k on a rock solid 5ghz overclock and smashes everything I throw at it.
        Still, that i5 8600K is making eyes at me.
        Really don’t get the snark in J’s reviews….not Intel’s fault if the other multinational megacorp after your money aren’t up to scratch.

    • MacTheGeek says:

      I haven’t found a reason to retire my ancient 2500K yet, so I think all you whippersnappers are just fine.

      Get off my lawn.

  10. starclaws says:

    ALWAYS be sure to use cpubenchmark.net to compare price vs performance. Love that website.

  11. Dogahn says:

    I’m still running a Phenom II X2 on the AM2+… was still competitive with the i3’s until this one comes out. More importantly, its been all I needed for my gaming. My shoddy internet is a bigger(tighter?) bottleneck.

    • Dogahn says:

      Forgot to add that it has seen some modifications, unlocked two more cores, and overclocked it to 3.3ghz… if I recall the symbols on that properties panel correctly.

      • tehfish says:

        Lucky, the old Phenom II X2 i had (555 model i think) was apparently unusual in being one of the rare few where the two disabled cores were actually physically defective and didn’t work. (over the years i’ve tried unlocking them on at least three different motherboards)

        Still got my moneys worth though, it overclocked to 4ghz easily and had the full amount of cache enabled, so it did make for a speedy dual-core chip. After being retired from a gaming PC it powered my server PC for many years. :D

        • Dogahn says:

          Cool, I went for the black edition, a later series one at that. Wouldn’t overclock nearly as well as yours though. Thing is a trooper, a power mongering beast of a chip. Looking forward to revised Ryzen chips.

  12. Zerpherion says:

    AMD probably not making much money on their CPUs to be market leader.

    Typical sales tactics.

  13. CaptainDju says:

    Sooooo, same question I have with each new generation: Is this when I should upgrade my antique i5-2500K overclocked at 4.3GHz?

  14. Pheon0802 says:

    Ok correct me pls if I am wrong… but how many games ACTUALLY use more than 2 cores? That’s been the gripe with it all along for me that Hardware keeps pushing out more cores… but the software doesn’t use it effectively.

    Often I see games straining 1 or 2 cores only and struggling.
    while the rest doesnt get accessed.

    • Dogahn says:

      Part of the hope is AMD marketing cores, pushing Intel to market cores, will encourage better mCPU utilization.

    • Cinek says:

      Plenty of modern games do, especially now when current gen of consoles is multi-cored too. Question is HOW they use them not if.

  15. breadbitten says:

    “Conversely, the Intel choice may not always be the fastest in every title, but I doubt it will ever give a bad experience.” — if the implication here is that the Ryzen CPUs sometimes provide a “bad experience” when it comes to gaming, I’ll have to disagree.

    While the performance may not be on the same level as Intel CPUs (in the here and now), I have yet to run into any performance-related issues with my 1500x.

    • Canadave says:

      I’m running a 1500x as well, and I’ve never experienced any performance issues either.

    • Person of Interest says:

      From one of Jeremy’s previous articles:

      The benchmark numbers mostly look solid. But there’s no getting away from the fact that some games run tangibly less smooth on Ryzen than Intel CPUs. I had a good hard look, for instance, at Total War: Attila and every Ryzen chip I’ve dabbled with exhibits some stutter from which Intel processors simply don’t suffer. I even sense checked what I was seeing with passing colleagues. It’s unmistakable. And you simply wouldn’t spot it in the relatively small gap in average frame rate.

  16. TotallyUseless says:

    Faith on Intel restored. I was about to begrudgingly switch to AMD, but with these new lineup, no thanks. I thought Intel would still mess up, no I was totally wrong. I’ll wait for the Coffee Lakes instead.

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    Don Reba says:

    Feeling like switching to Threadripper this coming Cyber Monday. I could really use more cores for my applications.

    • Sihmm says:

      I’m preparing to build a new PC, is it worth waiting for Cyber Monday? My experience of sale days tends to be its stuff you didn’t really want that’s discounted, so you end up either paying more than you planned (because something with a base higher price is on sale) or getting something you don’t need (because that XYZ you weren’t planning on getting is reduced so much!!!).

      If I’ve got a shopping list of parts is it really worth waiting two months in the hope of a sale?

      • Premium User Badge

        Don Reba says:

        Depends on how urgent it is and how important the potential (if maybe not likely) savings are to you. My experience is about the same, but the upgrade isn’t urgent.

  18. poohbear says:

    “But in my not remotely humble opinion, the obvious anti-bullshit product lineup ought to have been four cores for Core i3, six for Core i5, eight for Core i7, and then enable Hyperthreading for the lot.”

    This made me lol for realz! love the sense of humor of RPS!

  19. Retorrent says:

    My question is: Do the new CPUs use the same socket as the last 7th gen ones? Or are we going to have to fork out for a new mobo if you want to use these new CPUs?