For some, spending more than £300 / $300 on a graphics card can sometimes feel like a step too far. For me, it’s spending that kind of money on a processor, as I’ve just never been able to justify forking out that kind of cash for a top-notch gaming CPU. Is it really worth it? In the case of Intel’s Core i7-8700, I’m not so sure it is, especially when its Intel Core i5-9600K cousin offers similar (ish) levels of performance for £100 / $80 less. Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely benefits to stepping up to one of Intel’s Core i7 Coffee Lake CPUs, but is the six-core i7-8700 really best gaming CPU material? Here’s wot I think.
One of the main advantages the Core i7-8700 has over the Core i5-9600K is the fact it supports Intel’s Hyper Threading technology, giving it 12 threads to deal with your PC’s various tasks and instructions instead of six. This effectively gives it much better multi-tasking potential for when you’re running CPU intensive applications such as photo and video editing software, as more threads a CPU has, the more hands it’s got to stuff all that juicy data into the CPU’s mouth, if you catch my drift.
It’s also more power efficient than the i5-9600K, with a TDP (or thermal design point) of 65W as opposed to 95W. The downside, though, is that it doesn’t support overclocking (there’s no K in its model name, you see), so you’re pretty much stuck with its base clock speed of 3.2GHz and its max Turbo Boost speed of 4.6GHz. The latter, at least, is exactly the same as the i5-9600K’s top Turbo Boost speed, but as I mentioned in my Core i5-9600K review, I was able to push that all the way up to 4.9GHz when I came to overclock it.
What’s more, while the i7-8700 does indeed offer quicker multi-tasking performance than an i5-9600K running at its stock speeds (see its multicore Cinebench results below), it quickly starts to lose ground again once you compare it to the i5-9600K’s faster overclocked score. In fact, there were just six points separating the two CPUs’ multicore Cinebench scores in the end, which rather negates the benefit of having all those extra threads on hand.
Or at least it does for general desktop tasks. When it comes to gaming, the Core i7-8700 is still very much in the race – if only just. Now, admittedly, testing any CPU’s gaming performance is still rather difficult. As our friends at Digital Foundry have explained in the past, a lot of benchmarks either don’t test your CPU properly, or simply aren’t very accurate in the first place. Fortunately, a handful of gaming benchmarks have got a lot better at this recently, with the likes of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Forza Horizon 4, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and more all providing an in-depth look at your CPU’s performance as well as what your graphics card’s doing.
That said, there are also several other factors that can impact gaming performance, such as your graphics card, the type of RAM you’ve got, and even what type of storage you’ve installed the game on. As a result, getting a truly accurate picture of a CPU’s gaming performance is tricky, but I’ve done the best I can with the equipment available to me.
I’ve also focused a lot more on gaming performance in this review than I have on, say, application performance or media creation bits and bobs because, well, I’m not really interested in that. As you’ve already seen above, I’ve included some cursory Cinebench scores as a basic indicator of what each CPU will be like for general PC tasks, but really, my main goal here is to work out what CPU is the best for gaming and gaming alone.
Compared to the Core i5-9600K, then, the Core i7-8700 is faster at both 1080p and 1440p in almost every game in my testing suite, but it’s also not the kind of blistering speed you might expect from a CPU that costs another hundred-odd quid. Its superior performance in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey might be enough for some to earn a place at the table, for example, but others will likely discard it immediately due to its lacklustre Forza Horizon 4 results.
One thing is clear, though. Regardless of how it shapes up to the Core i5-9600K, the Core i7-8700 is definitely a much better gaming CPU than either of AMD’s Ryzen 7 2700 / 2700X chips. Sure, the Ryzen 7 2700X is currently a lot cheaper than the i7-8700 (£265/ $280 vs Intel’s £320 / $305), but if I did have somewhere in the region of 300 quid to spend on my CPU, then I’d almost certainly be willing to spend the extra on the i7-8700 to get those significantly quicker gaming speeds.
Really, though, I think you’d probably be much better off saving yourself some of those hard-earned pennies and getting the i5-9600K instead. Admittedly, you’ll still have to factor in the cost of a cooler with the i5-9600K, as it sadly doesn’t come with one in the box like the i7-8700, but overall I reckon it’s still much better value for money.