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