Logical Increments Intel Coffee Lake Update

In early October, Intel launched its new Coffee Lake lineup of CPUs. In many ways, it’s a very exciting launch, with the entire range of CPUs receiving a core count upgrade for the first time since 2009.

However, the launch has also been plagued with some issues. Namely, availability has been extremely limited, with the most desirable CPUs selling out faster than most people can snag them.

As a result, we have been intentionally slow to add the new CPUs to the main computer parts list on our homepage. We don’t like recommended hardware that people cannot reliably buy.

That said, we are past due for addressing Coffee Lake, so this post should fully inform you of our thinking. Read all the gory analysis below:

A much-awaited core-count upgrade

In recent years, we have lamented Intel’s complete lack of new CPU configurations. Since the first generation of Core i3/i5/i7 CPUs from 2009, the core/thread configuration of all of Intel mainstream CPUs has remained unchanged.

After what felt like a decade, AMD launched its Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs, and changed the landscape dramatically. (This is a polite way of saying that AMD kicked some buttocks.) Single-threaded performance was still a bit behind Intel, but multi-threaded performance was very competitive. Ryzen and Threadripper took over as the recommended CPUs for a huge chunk of our tiers.

Early in October, Intel hit back with the Coffee Lake CPU launch. These “new” CPUs are not really new, having the same cores that powered the Kaby Lake stuff. But the configuration is different, and definitely in the customer’s favor. i3 CPUs are now true quadcores, while i5 chips are hexacores. The new i7’s are hexacores with hyperthreading. In effect, Intel has added two cores to its entire lineup, at (roughly) the same price! Hooray!

Well, while the new chips are awesome, perhaps it is not all worth celebrating.

The bad stuff

Let us get the bad stuff out of the way first: While the new CPUs use the same cores, and use the same socket (1151), they require a new chipset. The pin configuration of the socket is electrically different, too. Your new 1151 CPUs will not work with older 1151 motherboards, even if they physically fit into the socket. Some reviewers have called this a bad decision on Intel’s part, and I agree.

And while the new CPUs range from the affordable ~$120 i3 chips to the pricier ~$400 i7 chips, all the released motherboards are using the pricier Z370 chipset. We would typically recommend coupling the i3 or non-K i5 chips with the cheaper B360 chipset (if that will continue to be the name). However, B360 boards are not available yet, so we are forced to buy a motherboard with features that we will not use with some of these new CPUs.

And last but not least, all the high-end Coffee Lake CPUs were sold out almost immediately upon launch. It has been nearly a month, and they are still out of stock. It’s difficult to recommend items that are not available for purchase!

To sum up the bad stuff:

  • The new Coffee Lake CPUs are (core-for-core) the same stuff as Kaby Lake and Skylake, but they do not work in the older 1151 motherboards.
  • Lower-budget motherboards are not yet available.
  • The CPUs are out of stock everywhere.

OK, enough bad stuff. On to the good stuff!

The good stuff

For the majority of the new CPUs, Intel is following their previous price structure, essentially giving you two extra cores for free. The i5-8600K and i7-8700K are a bit pricier than their predecessors, but one could argue that 2 extra cores are worth the ~$30 price increase.

While the CPUs perform the same clock-for-clock, most of the new CPUs comes with a higher turbo clock, giving them an edge. The 8700K goes all the way up to 4.7Ghz, making it the new best CPU for single-threaded performance, period.

And now the bad news for AMD:

When Ryzen and Threadripper came out, we were very happy to add them to our homepage, as they offered good performance at a good price. Intel now equalizes Ryzen in terms of multithreaded performances, and forges ahead with single-threaded performance. As such, many Ryzen CPUs will require a price cut to be competitive again. To be sure, AMD has responded with $20, $50, and in some cases $100 price cuts, without which some Ryzen CPUs would be disappearing from our charts.

And for non-Coffee Lake CPUs, Intel has also recently released a series of high-end Skylake-X CPUs, with the most exciting being the $1,800 16-core 32-thread i9-7960X, and the heart-stopping $2,100 absolute mania 18-core (eighteen, not a typo) 36-thread i9-7980XE.

The “E” in the i9-7980XE stands for “insanity,” because at $2,100 you ignore the spelling. The i9-7890XE obliterates everything in multi-threaded performance, and does quite well in single-threaded, too. But the i9-7960X only ties with the $1,000 Threadripper 1950X in multi-threaded and beats it by ~10% in single-threaded. For $700 extra, it is not really worth getting. (Intel also released a 12-core i9-7920X at $1,200 and 14-core i9-7940X at $1,650 to completely bridge the gap.)

Our Coffee Lake (and Skylake-X) update

With that done, let us get into the nitty gritty! Here are the changes we will be rolling out as availability for each CPU improves:

  • The otherworldly-priced i9-7980XE claims the top spot as our newest Monstrous CPU. And it will be alone unless its younger brothers (the i9-7960X, i9-7940X, and i9-7920X) receive some serious price cuts.
  • The Threadripper 1920X and 1950X move down one tier from Monstrous to Extremist.
  • The Intel i7-7820X moves down one tier from Extremist to Enthusiast, replacing Ryzen 7 in that tier.
  • The i9-7900X has been removed and will not return unless it receives a price cut. At $1,000, it’s just not as logical of a purchase as Threadripper.
  • The i7-8700K has the best single-threaded performance, and great multithreaded performance for the price. It replaces the i7-7700K in the Exceptional tier, and puts the stillborn i7-7800X and Threadripper 1900X firmly in their coffins.
  • The i7-8700 (with the 8700K) replaces the i7-7700K in Outstanding.
  • The i5-8600K, i7-8700, and i7-8700K replaces the i5-7600K and i7-7700K in Excellent.
  • The Ryzen 5 1600 and 1600X remain in Superb.
  • The i3-8350K and i5-8400 replace Ryzen 1500X and 1600 in the Great tier.
  • Ryzen 5 1400 and 1500X replace the Ryzen 3 1300X in the Very Good tier.
  • The Ryzen 3 1300X moves down to the Good tier.
  • The i3-7100 (and later, i3-8100 when suitable mobos are available) move down to the Fair tier.
  • The Ryzen 3 1200 moves down to Modest

Additional non-Coffee-Lake related changes include the following:

  • The Celerons of the Minimum tier are dropped in favor of the Pentiums.
  • The Pentium G4560 is too pricey at $100, and we are removing it until the price comes back down. We currently only recommend the G4600 in the Minimum and Entry tiers.
  • The AMD A4-7300 is removed from the Poor tier, to be replaced with the G3930 and G3950 CPUs.
  • The Minimum tier GPU changes from the R7 240 to the integrated HD630 iGPU of the Pentium G4600. This iGPU has roughly the same performance as the R7 240, but it is free.

Again, all of these changes will only occur as the CPUs under consideration become relatively available to purchase. So, for example, as we continue to check the stocks of the i7-8700K, we will wait to recommend it until we feel there’s a reasonably good chance that our readers are able to actually purchase it.

We’re excited that Coffee Lake is here (or… eventually here). Now we just hope everyone who wants the chips are able to acquire them reasonably soon.