HEALTHY COM­PE­TI­TION

The prices of In­tel’s Core X CPUs show how com­pe­ti­tion from AMD ben­e­fits the in­dus­try, ar­gues James Gor­bold

Custom PC - - OPINION -

It’s taken just over a decade, and I’ve grown some grey hairs in the in­ter­ven­ing pe­riod, but there’s fi­nally se­ri­ous com­pe­ti­tion in the x86 CPU mar­ket again. After a shaky start in March, with con­cerns around game per­for­mance and mem­ory fre­quency, AMD’s Ryzen 5 and 7 pro­ces­sors have proven to of­fer se­ri­ous al­ter­na­tives to In­tel’s Core i5 and i7 pro­ces­sors. As a re­sult, they’re be­ing bought by con­sumers in suf­fi­cient num­bers, grow­ing AMD’s desk­top CPU mar­ket share for the first time in years.

This trend took a few months to emerge, as the take-up of any new desk­top CPU is much slower than in the past. The per­for­mance gains be­tween gen­er­a­tions has re­cently been so small that new CPUs aren’t such com­pelling pur­chases any more. Even so, of those people who do have a sys­tem need­ing a CPU up­grade, quite a few of them are choos­ing AMD over In­tel for the first time in sev­eral years.

We’ve now seen In­tel re­spond to this threat by pulling for­ward the launch of its new Core X se­ries. These pro­ces­sors are hardly revo­lu­tion­ary, be­ing based on a tweaked ver­sion of the old Skylake ar­chi­tec­ture, al­beit with a re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of the Level 2 and Level 3 caches, plus a new mesh in­ter­con­nect that links the cores to the mem­ory con­troller and PCI-E bus. The core count is cur­rently the same as the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion too, with up to ten cores avail­able, although Core X CPUs with up to 18 cores are promised for later this year.

The real change isn’t in the sil­i­con, how­ever, but in the pric­ing, with the Core i9-7900X re­tail­ing for sev­eral hun­dred quid cheaper than its pre­de­ces­sor, the Core i7-6950X. Given that both CPUs are at the cur­rent top of their re­spec­tive ranges and have ten cores, this sit­u­a­tion is a re­mark­able change for the bet­ter. This much more ag­gres­sive pric­ing con­tin­ues down the stack, with the 8-core and 6-core pro­ces­sors also be­ing much cheaper than their equiv­a­lent pre­de­ces­sors.

That said, In­tel still has some is­sues to ad­dress with Core X, such as the mas­sive price pre­mium of LGA2066 moth­er­boards – a prob­lem that doesn’t af­fect AMD’s cur­rent Ryzen CPUs, as they all use the same socket. I’m also scep­ti­cal about the value of the two LGA2066 quad-core Kaby Lake-X CPUs, as they’re barely any faster or more over­clock­able than stan­dard Kaby Lake chips and also re­quire a costly LGA2066 mother­board.

This rather mud­dled ap­proach by In­tel started me think­ing about what In­tel has got wrong in the years when it didn’t have a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor in the desk­top space. Two ex­am­ples im­me­di­ately sprang to mind – firstly, the mil­lions of dol­lars it spent try­ing and fail­ing to make a se­ri­ous in-road into the smart­phone and tablet mar­kets, and se­condly, its well-pub­li­cised and costly at­tempt to get into the dis­crete graph­ics card mar­ket with the Larrabee project, which never saw a sin­gle prod­uct re­lease.

All that said, In­tel is still a fan­tas­ti­cally suc­cess­ful com­pany with some in­cred­i­bly in­tel­li­gent people work­ing for it, and it has some big changes planned for the near fu­ture. I just hope that the next launch is bet­ter ex­e­cuted. After all, AMD is only just be­gin­ning to gear up with Ryzen, and is about to take on In­tel where it could re­ally hurt – in the server CPU mar­ket – where In­tel cur­rently has over 99 per cent mar­ket share.

AMD is only be­gin­ning to gear up with Ryzen, and is about to take on In­tel where it could re­ally hurt

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