New Intel Coffee Lake CPUs

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I’ve been reading and watching several reviews and benchmarks covering the new Intel Coffee Lake processors released on October 5th. Here’s my opinion on them.

First of all, congratulations to Intel for providing more competition in the CPU space, which is always good for us consumers. Reviewers have mainly focused on the i7-8700k and the i5-8400 as that’s mainly what Intel provided them. Availability for both in these first months is going to be limited and the only motherboards available will have the Z370 chipset and will be expensive until more limited chipsets and cheaper motherboards are released in 2018. This issue will be present for the whole Coffee Lake lineup, so it has to be taken into account for now.

The i7-8700k is like an i7-7700k with two more cores and four more threads. This means it’s now able to be tied or surpass the Ryzen 7 1700 in some multithreaded tests and be right behind it in others. That’s actually pretty good, and in thread-limited scenarios its single-thread performance is much better thanks to its superior IPC and clock frequencies. Also, its floating point performance and support for AVX-512 makes it a clear winner in isolated video encoding tests using x264 and similar software (i.e. when encoding video without gaming at the same time). It is, however, more expensive, requires paying for a separate cooler and uses more power than the R7 1700. Of course, it’s a clear winner for gaming.

The i5-8400 is a nice answer to the Ryzen 5 1600 in some scenarios. It clearly wins in gaming benchmarks. The two extra cores and threads are a welcome upgrade in the i5 line and pave the way for game developers to focus on using more threads and distribute CPU load better. It features some very interesting turbo clock rates while keeping the global TDP low. The Ryzen 5 1600, however, is more than enough in most 60FPS scenarios and still wins in many multi-threaded benchmarks.

Another i5 in the line, the i5-8600k, basically obsoletes the i7-7700k at a lower price, because apparently 6 cores with 6 real threads are able to perform almost as fast as 4 cores with hyperthreading. To me, however, the i5-8600k is way less interesting because it costs over 70 dollars more than the i5-8400 and needs a separate cooler.

Which CPU would I get?

Tough call. Let’s examine different situations. Take into account I may be very bad at judging these things.

Gaming at 120Hz or more? Intel is your best bet. i7-8700k if you’re streaming or multitasking while gaming and can afford it, or the i5-8400 if just gaming or on a tight budget. Maybe wait to see if Intel will offer any middle ground and if it’s worth it. i5-8500? i5-8600? But, initially, the i5-8400 is a very affordable gaming beast.

Gaming at 60Hz and with production workloads benefiting heavily from CPU multithreading? Let’s say virtual machines or heavily-multithreaded applications. I’d probably stick with the Ryzen 7 1700 thanks to its current price/performance ratio, but the i7-8700k is also very nice if your particular productivity programs show it being superior, and maybe if you want to put more emphasis on the gaming part of the equation. The i7 will definitely cost more and require a separate cooler, but has been shown to perform better in some productivity cases.

Gaming at 60Hz with some multitasking and multithreading? Tough call, but I think I’d stick with the Ryzen 5 1600 for now. That may change in the future as more games are released and cheaper motherboards for Intel become available, showing how the i5-8400 performance evolves. The Ryzen 5 1600 has a better cooler, will cost around the same, and uses the AM4 socket which will probably be around for longer. Again, if you have a specific use case showing the i5-8400 to be better in benchmarks, then buy that.

Strictly gaming at 60Hz? Any of the previous two. This is mostly my situation and I’d still pick the R5 1600 for now, because the multithreaded performance will be there if I ever need it. I may be wrong, though, and maybe the gaming industry will take more time to adapt and some future games will make the R5 1600 struggle for some reason. There are a few games where the R5 1600 struggles a bit now. The i5-8400 is probably the conservative choice as shown by gaming benchmarks, but it really needs cheap motherboards available. Picking the R5 also means going with the market underdog and encouraging competition.

Strictly gaming at 60Hz with specific titles that require good single thread performance or make the R5 1600 struggle and bottleneck the GPU to keep the framerate above 60? i5-8400 with a future cheap motherboard, or a Kaby Lake CPU.

Minimizing CPU cost as much as possible for a cheap gaming rig? The i3-8100 looks nice on paper, but I’d wait for more desktop CPUs to be announced and released. We’ll see what the new Pentium-class processors have to offer. As things stand right now, I wouldn’t bother with the Ryzen 3 line. Maybe go down to the Pentium G4560 and spend more on the GPU?

Office desktop with no gaming? Go with an Intel Pentium, either Kaby Lake (the Pentium G4560 is awesome) or wait for Coffee Lake Pentiums with cheap motherboards and Raven Ridge APUs. The integrated GPU is essential to save costs, and Intel’s provided cooler is more than adequate for Pentiums. Don’t consider Ryzen unless you have a very specific use case for a separate low-power GPU like the GeForce GT 1030 or RX 550. Keep an eye on motherboard and power supply costs.

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