INTEL CORE i7-7700K
The return of 5GHz
KABY LAKE is eighth processor iteration since the introduction of the Intel Core series that started with Nehalem. For eight years, the company has pressed to push the advantage in its processor lineup, and each and every time it’s managed a marginal 10–15 percent performance increase. This process has been, for the longest time, based around the concept of Tick-Tock. In short, a new architecture would be designed based on the latest transistor size, then that transistor size would be shrunk the following year. For instance, Sandy Bridge (or the Core i5-2500K) held the new architecture, while Ivy Bridge (Core i5-3570K), released a year later, was the die shrink, and so on.
However, this hasn’t always been the case, and Intel has, time and time again, come up against issues. The first we saw of this was with the Haswell refresh, known as Devil’s Canyon, then once more as Broadwell was delayed for around six months—each drop in transistor size becoming ever more difficult for the technology giant to achieve. Fast-forward to the release of Skylake, Intel’s first 14nm architecture, and we’re greeted with news that Tick-Tock is finally being annexed in favor of a new scheme called PAO, or Process, Architecture, Optimization. In short, the die shrink (originally the Tick) has turned into the Process part; the architecture (the Tock) is now, well, the Architecture; and lastly we also have Optimization. A new piece to the puzzle, where Intel attempts to gain the maximum amount of performance possible from both a mature manufacturing process and a more optimized architecture. On top of giving Intel an additional year to perfect its manufacturing processes, it also gives us another chip.
Ignoring Devil’s Canyon, Kaby Lake is the first true Optimization release we’ve seen, and with it comes a lot of questions. If Intel’s generational gains have been so minimal from generation to generation, what on earth can Kaby Lake do to make that any different? Well, that’s what we’re here to answer.
Intel’s Core i7-7700K is a four-core, eight-threaded, low-power rendering powerhouse. It is, in short, the pinnacle of what Intel has managed to achieve with Skylake and the 14nm technology. With greater performance and better overclocking potential than we’ve seen from any of Intel’s last few generations of chips, it comes packing a whopping 4.2GHz core frequency, turboing up to 4.5GHz with boost. We were immediately impressed with its out-of-box performance. In Cinebench R15, we saw scores planted well into the high 900s, with single-core performance peaking at 194—a sweet little 8 percent increase over Skylake. It was a similar experience across the board.
What really impressed, however, was the overclocking potential. We increased the multiplier up to 48 without the core batting so much as an eyelid, and stock voltages happily keeping the 4.8GHz chip on track. 5GHz came next, needing only a 0.05V increase to the Vcore, with temperatures sitting comfortably at 62 C under our 280mm NZXT Kraken X61. But it kept going, higher and higher, until eventually we topped out at 5.2GHz with 1.4V added to the Vcore—a substantial increase, but temperatures still only sitting at 80 C. This chip runs cool—ice cool, in fact. Stunningly impressive compared to older editions, this is an overclocker’s core.
Is it worth upgrading today? Well, that depends on what interests you. Generally speaking, the Z270 chipset is featurerich, and adds additional support for PCIe devices and such. But in contrast to the change from Z97 to Z170, it pales in comparison. Putting the processors side by side, the difference between Skylake and Kaby Lake is minimal. If you’re already set up with the sixth generation of processor, it’s certainly not worth your time, unless you’re an overclocking fiend after the highest possible performance, with lower temps, and better power draws. Upgrading from Ivy Bridge, Haswell, or Devil’s Canyon, on the other hand, is very much worth your time. And we can’t recommend this core enough in that regard.