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Intel's Core i5-8400: the new go-to gaming CPU

Sub £200 scorcher...

Featured post corei5-8400-1

Intel’s new 8th Gen Core chips are out and there is much rejoicing. For the first time in about five years, Intel has made an unambiguous step forward with its mainstream CPUs. In short, they’ve bunged in an extra pair of cores across the board. Where once you had two cores or four cores, now you have four cores or six cores. Of course more cores don’t automatically translate into a better gaming experience. But I still think the new Core i5-8400 will become the chip of choice for gamers. Here’s why.

For a fuller overview of the new 8th Gen clobber, head over here. But the TL;DR is that the new range of CPUs is generally a very good thing indeed, albeit with the usual Intel-related caveats involving oddities in regard to product hierarchy (Hyperthreading in now exclusive to Core i7 models, as a for instance) and some pricing annoyances.

The other major take away is that regardless of whether you think there’s any point in going beyond four cores for gaming, 8th Gen Core hits the spot. That’s because the doubters can now get a fast four-core CPU for less cash and those who crave even more cores now have the option of six.

Personally, I’ll take the extra cores, and that’s where the new Core i5-8400 comes in. It’s the entry-level six-core effort of the new range and costs £180 / $190. That’s far cheaper than six cores have ever previously been available for from Intel.

But what’s it actually like to game with? In reality, little different to any reasonably high-clocked quad-core Intel processor of late. Even games that tend to reveal a modicum of CPU-related performance throttling, like the Total War series, don’t really throw up much by way of obvious benchmark deltas when you run games at the sort of settings at which people actually play games, rather than settings designed to isolate CPU performance at the cost of graphics quality.

Put it this way. Set the built-in benchmark in Total War: Attila to the popular 2,560 by 1,440 res, crank up the eye candy and let it rip courtesy of an Nvidia GTX 1080 and you get exactly the same average frame rate with everything from a Core i5-6600K through the new Core i9-7980XE 18-core monster. And indeed this new 8400 chip. The same goes for several other titles including Rise of the Tomb Raider, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and more.

Use a less powerful graphics card and you’re only going to be more limited by GPU performance. In other words, it’s the graphics card capping performance, not the CPU. Which then begs the question of why you’d bother paying more for the extra cores of the 8400.

In short, it’s all about future-proofing. On paper, the 8400 does look rather modestly clocked. Officially, it packs a baseclock of just 2.8GHz, which is pretty crappy by today’s standards. In reality, it runs much faster than that. In fact, no matter what I threw at it, I couldn’t get it to run slower than 3.8GHz under load – even with all the cores maxed out running a synthetic stress test like Prime95.

corei5-8400-2All six cores in full flight at 3.8GHz

That said, I couldn’t get it to run faster than 3.8GHz at all. Intel claims a maximum Turbo boost of 4GHz for single threaded software. But even with water cooling, 3.8GHz is the best I saw. And this is a non-K model, so overclocking is off the menu.

But at 3.8GHz, it’s still quicker in single-threaded stuff than the fastest AMD Ryzen CPUs. And with six full-fat Intel cores, there’s headroom to spare for any future game that can make full use of more than four cores.

Since we’re talking AMD, at this rough price point you’re looking at a Ryzen 1600 or 1600X. Either will give you more multi-threading performance and, in all honesty, comparable performance in most games – maybe even slightly better performance in the odd title that scales well with available cores.

But like I’ve said, before, the problem with Ryzen is that just occasionally its clever modular architecture runs out of ideas and the result can be a stuttery gaming performance. Intel’s architecture remains more polished and consistent. It’s that simple.

Thus, the bottom line is this. If you’re even considering a chip like the 8400, you’re probably buying at least the CPU itself, plus motherboard and memory. At which point, the £10 premium for the 8400 over the £170-ish Core i3-8350K is utterly inconsequential and I’d argue even the £70 extra you have to pay over the entry-level Core i3-8100 quad-core model is pretty small fry if you’re hoping to get at least three years of gaming out of the thing, and maybe as many as five years.

So, that’s my logic here. Given my firm belief is that we wouldn’t have a lovely six-core Intel processor at this price at all were it not for AMD socking it to Intel with Ryzen, I’d far rather be recommending some kind of Ryzen CPU. It’s Ryzen that’s made this all possible.

But Ryzen isn’t the best all-round, sensible-money gaming option right now. Like it or lump it, that‘s the Core i5-8400.

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