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Intel Coffee Lake: Everything you need to know about Intel's 8th Gen Core CPUs

Intel-ligent systems

Featured post Intel Coffee Lake Core i5-8600K

Intel’s 8th generation of Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs are in full swing. Officially launched in October 2017 under the umbrella term ‘Coffee Lake’, these are the CPUs powering almost every new PC and laptop you can buy today. There’s a smaller subset using AMD’s Ryzen+ CPUs (which have plenty to recommend them if you have a gander at our Ryzen 5 2600/2600X and Ryzen 7 2700/2700X reviews), but for the most part, Intel pretty much rule the roost when it comes to processors.

For those who don’t already know the ins and out of Coffee Lake (or feel in a need of a refresher), I’ve put together this helpful guide to fill in everything you need to know about Intel’s 8th Gen CPUs. This includes the price and specs of all the Coffee Lake processors you can buy right now, what separates a Coffee Lake from a Kaby Lake/Skylake/Cannon Lake and all other manner of ‘lakes’, which motherboards work with Coffee Lake, and a quick look what’s coming next from Intel.

What is Intel Coffee Lake?

Coffee Lake is the manufacturing codename given to all of Intel’s 8th (and currently latest) generation processors. This includes their most recognisable Core brand, as well as their entry-level Pentium and Celeron processors. The latter two only tend to be found in very basic systems that aren’t kitted out for gaming, so for the remainder of this article, I’ll be concentrating on the Core processors only.

The easiest way to find out if a Core CPU is a Coffee Lake one is to have a look at its model number. If it’s part of Intel’s 8000 family – for example, the Intel Core i5-8400 or Intel Core i7-8700K – then you’re in Coffee Lake territory.

Intel 8th Gen Coffee Lake

Coffee Lake CPUs all use a 14 nanometer (nm) manufacturing process. This refers to the size of a processor’s individual transistors. The smaller they are, the more you can cram onto a single piece of silicon, resulting in better performance than chips with larger, and thus fewer, transistors.

Technically, Intel are a bit behind the curve here, as AMD have already jumped to using a 12nm process for their new 2nd gen Ryzen+ CPUs. Intel, on the other hand, have chosen to stick with the same 14nm manufacturing process as its last three generations of processor for Coffee Lake, albeit using a process that’s greatly ‘improved’ and more efficient than their previous 14nm Broadwell, Skylake and Kaby Lake chips. To use the official parlance, it’s technically called 14nm++.

The most important thing about Coffee Lake, however, isn’t the number of transistors it has – it’s the number of cores that come with each CPU. Whereas previous Core i3 processors only ever had two cores at their disposal, Coffee Lake Core i3 CPUs now come with four. Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 branches also got a boost, going from four cores to six.

The end result is a massive increase in performance across the board – particularly at the lower end of Intel’s Core family – without too much of a massive increase in price, offering better value for money in the face of AMD’s ever-competitive Ryzen+ CPUs.

I’ll be going into more detail about the benefits of Intel’s Coffee Lake CPUs vs AMD’s Ryzen+ chips at a later date, but for now, let’s take a closer look at each processor’s specs.

Intel 8th Gen Coffee Lake CPU boxes

Intel Coffee Lake: CPU specs and price

Just like previous generations of Intel processor, desktop Coffee Lake CPUs are split into three main brackets: Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7. Core i3 CPUs are generally targeted toward lower-end budget PCs, Core i5s are generally a good shout for mid-range machines, while Core i7s are proper high-performance powerhouses.

There’s also a family of Core i9 Coffee Lake processors, but these are only found in gaming laptops at the moment. You may also see something called Core i9+ in this regard, which indicates the processor also has Intel’s super-duper Optane Memory on board for even faster speeds and lower latency.

Sticking with the Coffee Lake processors on desktops for now, though, here’s a list of all them in handy table form, with the fastest CPU in each Core category listed at the top.

 Core i3 Cores / Threads Base clock speed Max Turbo clock speed Price
Intel Core i3-8350K 4 / 4 4.0GHz N/A £154 / $185
Intel Core i3-8300 4 / 4 3.7GHz N/A £126 / $145
Intel Core i3-8100 4 / 4 3.6GHz N/A £102 / $120
 Core i5 Cores / Threads Base clock speed Max Turbo clock speed Price
Intel Core i5-8600K 6 / 6 3.6GHz 4.3GHz £219 / $245
Intel Core i5-8600 6 / 6 3.1GHz 4.3GHz £194 / $220
Intel Core i5-8500 6 / 6 3.0GHz 4.1GHz £170 / $205
Intel Core i5-8400 6 / 6 2.8GHz 4.0GHz £160 / $180
 Core i7 Cores / Threads Base clock speed Max Turbo clock speed Price
Intel Core i7-8086K 6 / 12 4.0GHz 5.0GHz £380 / $425
Intel Core i7-8700K 6 / 12 3.7GHz 4.7GHz £324 / $350
Intel Core i7-8700 6 / 12 3.2GHz 4.6GHz £280 / $302

 

You’ve probably noticed a couple of these have ‘K’s on the end of them. This signifies that the processor is ‘unlocked’ and can be relatively easily overclocked via your motherboard’s BIOS (although you’ll have to make sure you actually pair it with a motherboard that supports overclocking to take advantage of it). Speaking of which…

Motherboard CPU combo

What motherboard do I need for Coffee Lake CPUs?

Although Coffee Lake CPUs physically fit into the same LGA 1151 motherboard sockets as Skylake and Kaby Lake chips, you sadly can’t just bung your shiny new Coffee Lake chip into any old LGA 1151 board: chances are it won’t work. Instead, you need to make sure you get one with a 300-series chipset in it. 100- and 200-series chipsets are for Skylake and Kaby Lake processors only.

I’ve covered this subject in more detail over in our motherboard / CPU combo guide, but essentially, you’re looking for one of four main motherboard types:

Two more chipsets are due to arrive shortly – the mid-to-high-tier Q370 and the premium Z390 – but right now, that’s your lot. Naturally, cheaper 300-series motherboards are generally better companions for lower-end Coffee Lake chips, while more expensive motherboards will let you get the best out of your Core i7s and overclockable Core i5s.

Did I dream it, or is there a Coffee Lake CPU with AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics?

Nope, this is very, very real. Again, these are only for laptops for now, but Intel did indeed announce an 8th Gen CPU with onboard Radeon RX Vega M graphics at the end of 2017.

Technically, they’re not actually part of the Coffee Lake family. Instead, they exist in a weird subset of last year’s Kaby Lake family (formerly known as Kaby Lake G) that are still part of Intel’s 8th Gen of CPUs. It’s immensely confusing – especially when they’ve still got 8000G model numbers – but as I’ll explain in a minute, Intel’s release schedule has been somewhat confused of late.

Intel-8th-Gen-CPU-discrete-graphics-header

Getting back to the matter at hand, though, these 8th Gen Radeon RX Vega M chips currently consist of a single Core i5 CPU and four Core i7s. They’re the first Intel processors with discrete graphics bundled in a single package, and the idea is to give slim and light laptops a major boost in the gaming department, delivering significantly faster frame rates at higher graphical settings than their integrated Intel HD Graphics 630 chips could ever dream of.

So far, we know the new Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the HP Spectre x360 will definitely have them, as well as a couple of NUCs, but there are bound to be more cropping up over the coming year.

What’s with all the lakes? How is Coffee Lake different to Kaby Lake and Skylake?

Intel’s had a thing about watery naming conventions ever since the beginning of the 2010s. Before they started on their ‘Lake’ theme, we had a pair of ‘bridges’ in the form of 2011’s Sandy Bridge and 2012’s Ivy Bridge, before moving onto some ‘wells’ with Haswell and Broadwell.

Then came Skylake, which came to be known as Intel’s 6th generation of desktop CPUs. These chips also used the 14nm manufacturing process, and had model names such as Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700.

However, Skylake is also the name of the underlying microarchitecture used by Intel’s 7th generation of desktop processors, Kaby Lake (Core i5-7350K and Core i7-7600K, etc), and even the current 8th Gen, Coffee Lake. It’s also set to form the basis of Intel’s next set of processors, which are currently codenamed Cannon Lake.

So technically, we’ve been using ‘Skylake’ chips for the last three years and will continue to do so for at least another one. That’s largely down to Intel ditching their so-called ‘tick-tock’ upgrade model of yore, where a ‘tick’ year represented a shrinking of nanometers, and a ‘tock’ year introduced a new micro-architecture. Indeed, the last ‘tock’ was that initial introduction of Skylake. Now, we’re supposed to be in a ‘process, architecture, optimization’ model, but all we’ve had are optimizations because the next process (or nanometer shrinking) ended up getting delayed.

Indeed, those aforementioned Cannon Lake CPUs were originally meant to come after Skylake as a new 10nm family. Instead, we got Kaby Lake (14nm+), and now Coffee Lake (14nm++, because +s are cool), with Cannon Lake still to make an appearance.

Hopefully, Intel's Cannon Lake CPUs will blow a giant hole in these Spectre and Meltdown flaws

So where do Cannon Lake and Ice Lake fit in?

We still don’t really know when Cannon Lake is going to come out. At the moment, Intel don’t expect mass production of their 10nm chips to start until sometime next year in 2019, so we’re probably going to be sticking with Coffee Lake for the foreseeable future – unless Intel truly lose it and put out another 14nm+++ optimization refresh, that is.

After Cannon Lake, though, Ice Lake is set to (finally) introduce a new microarchitecture – helpfully named ‘Ice Lake’ – to finally bring an end to the reign of Skylake. Then, Ice Lake’s optimization stage is currently set to be called Tiger Lake, which will also be 10nm.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess. There will likely be one final Ice Lake family that shrink the nanometer process down to 7nm, but what it’s going to be called is currently a mystery.

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Who am I?

Katharine Castle

Hardware Editor

Katharine writes about all the bits that go inside your PC so you can carry on playing all those lovely games we like talking about so much. Very partial to JRPGs and the fetching of quests.

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