Last week, Intel released their Coffee Lake-based 8th generation CPUs. Intel has been usually refreshing their processors at the beginning of each year, but this one happened a few months early. (Earlier in July, Intel’s X299-based Skylake-X CPUs also experienced a rushed launch.)
It seems that AMD’s Ryzen CPUs really did light a fire under Intel, with the underdog AMD slowly earning the hearts of both reviewers and customers around the globe. But how does Intel’s newest Coffee Lake mainstream flagship CPU, the i7-8700K, compare to AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors, as well as the previous generation’s i7-7700K?
Ryzen did not only push Intel’s release schedule forward, but also may have been one of the reasons for Intel to increase the core counts on its mainstream processors. The i7-8700K, unlike all previous mainstream 4-core 8-thread i7 CPUs, is instead 6-cores with 12-threads. The clockspeeds are impressive, with a max single-core frequency of 4.7 GHz. The cache has also been increased to 12 MB. The suggested retail price on the other hand, compared to previous year’s i7 processors, has also increased by around $20-30.
The mainstream CPUs from Intel are usually aimed less at content creators and more at gamers, with the flagship unlocked i7 SKUs aiming for a balance of both worlds. That said, with video games becoming more and more multi-threaded in recent years, the 4-core 8-thread i7 processors aren’t delivering on all fronts anymore due to a lack of cores. Streaming and/or multi-tasking with a pre-Coffee Lake i7 processor is doable, but not the best experience an i7 buyer should have. Ryzen, with its 8 cores, hit the right mark here, offering weaker single-threaded performance, but greater multi-threaded performance.
With the i7-8700K, Intel managed to further expand their single-thread advantage over Ryzen in gaming. Even though the new Coffee Lake chip may not be faster than the 7700K, we see a noticeable performance boost in games that take advantage of many threads.
Let’s take a look at some benchmarks from TechSpot:
Streaming and professional
Streaming is becoming more and more popular among mainstream PC users nowadays, and Ryzen’s marketing partly focused on this. Smoother CPU-based streaming with better quality is a desirable thing, and previous generation i7 CPUs struggled with that. With Coffee Lake, though, Intel has upped their game. GamersNexus did an in-depth review of the i7-8700K, and are one of the only publications who actually do methodical testing of this kind. The 6-core 12-thread i7-8700K is performing admirably in all of their stream testing, beating both the Ryzen 7 and i7-7700K.
Delidding, overclocking and power consumption
The i7-8700K is a great overclocker. Most media outlets managed to reach 5.0 GHz without delidding, some even going as far as 5.2 GHz. This does require a hefty watercooler, but the benefits are there. Delidding the processor and applying liquid metal, which is the most dangerous, but efficient thermal interface material, can lower temperatures by up to 20C, according to GamersNexus. Delidding is not required for the processor to reach 5 GHz, though, especially if you have a decent 240mm watercooler or a massive Noctua air-cooler. 4.8-4.9 GHz may be more realistic on cheaper heatsinks.
Power consumption is as expected with Intel’s recent releases: pretty high, especially if we look at per-core power efficiency.
It seems that Ryzen keeps on giving. Even if Intel wanted to release a 6-core 12-thread i7 processor years before Ryzen launched, they weren’t expecting this kind of fierce competition. In the end, though, the i7-8700K is definitely the better choice over both the i7-7700K and the Ryzen 7 1700 — at least until we account for the platform costs.
If you can find an i7-8700K for $380, then to overclock it you will need a Z370 motherboard and a cooler. The cheapest motherboard costs $120 and a tolerable air-cooler can be had for $30. That brings us to at least $530 for a 4.8-4.9 GHz OC on the i7-8700K. With the Ryzen 7 1700, you need $300 for the CPU and $100 for a decent B350 motherboard. All X370 and B350 boards support overclocking, and the boxed Wraith Spire cooler is decent. That leads us to $400 for a 3.9-4 GHz OC on the Ryzen 7 1700.
Due to the real difference between the CPUs being over $100, it is difficult to compare them. For that extra $130 it is possible to buy a more powerful graphics card or get a 1 TB SSD, which will most likely benefit the gaming experience much more than a powerful CPU. By lowering the CPU down a tier to the Ryzen 5 1600, one of the best-value processors on the market, it is possible to buy both a faster GPU and a 1 TB SSD.
The i7-8700K is definitely the best choice out of all the mainstream CPUs on the market right now, even more so if it’s going to be used to stream and game at utlra-high framerates. But for people who don’t need the absolute highest framerates, the Ryzen CPUs will offer more value, especially when accounting for the upgrade path, where AMD states that all future Ryzen CPUs will be compatible with the AM4 socket up to 2020.