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

Better late than never...

Featured post 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.

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Jeremy Laird


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