In­tel’s Core i7-9700k aban­dons Hy­per-thread­ing: What it could mean for per­for­mance

In­tel’s 9th-gen gives the Core i7 a de­mo­tion in threads, but a pro­mo­tion in ac­tual cores.

PCWorld (USA) - - News - BY GOR­DON MAH UNG

Core i7, the boss wants to talk to you. The good news: you got a pro­mo­tion and a bump from six cores up to eight cores in In­tel’s 9th-gen­er­a­tion CPU lineup (see page 7). Woo-hoo! The bad news: Turn in your Hyper­Thread­ing, be­cause the cool fea­ture that gave you vir­tu­al­ized CPU cores and about 30 per­cent more per­for­mance is gone.

Yup. If you’re freaked out about the Core i7 los­ing a pre­mier per­for­mance-boost­ing fea­ture that it’s of­fered since, well, there was a Core i7, you may well be right to be con­cerned. But you may not be, too, de­pend­ing on how you use your com­puter.

In­tel first in­tro­duced Hy­per-thread­ing on con­sumer CPUS with the North­wood-based Pen­tium 4 in 2002. It works by split­ting a sin­gle phys­i­cal core into two log­i­cal cores.

Since most com­pute threads don’t con­sume 100 per­cent of a CPU’S re­sources, Hyper­Thread­ing lets the un­used re­sources do work as well. Hy­per-thread­ing, of course, is In­tel’s fancy-pants name for si­mul­ta­ne­ous mul­ti­thread­ing, which AMD also be­gan em­ploy­ing with its Ryzen chips ( go.pcworld.com/27rv).

Although Hy­per-thread­ing’s per­for­mance boost has been around for 16 years, it hasn’t al­ways been tapped into. No Core 2 CPUS ever used the fea­ture, for ex­am­ple, and In­tel’s Atom CPUS have had it off and on.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE THREAD COUNT

The real ten­sion with In­tel’s 9th-gen­er­a­tion main­stream lineup isn’t nec­es­sar­ily whether or not Hy­per-thread­ing gets deleted—it’s the over­all thread count.

When In­tel re­moved Hy­per-thread­ing on the 8th-gen Core i3, few raised a fuss be­cause they ended up with a true quad­core CPU (four cores, four threads), an im­prove­ment over the 7th-gen Core i3, which was a dual-core with Hy­per-thread­ing (two cores, four threads.)

The 9th-gen’s Core i7 shift doesn’t look as good at first glance, though. The 8th-gen Core i7-8700k ($380 on Ama­zon [ go. pcworld.com/by87]) fea­tures six cores with Hy­per-thread­ing for a to­tal of six cores and 12 threads. The new Core i7-9700k gets eight cores and eight threads. On pa­per, that looks like while In­tel charged $359 for 12 threads

on the Core i7-8700k, its re­place­ment will cost $374 for eight threads.

WHY IT MAT­TERS: CORE I7-9700K VS. 8700K

Pay­ing more to end up with fewer com­pute threads sounds like a recipe for dis­as­ter, but it’s not so straight­for­ward. The 9th-gen Core i7-9700k has a 100MHZ slower base speed and a 200MHZ higher Turbo Boost com­pared to the 8th-gen Core i7-8700k. In­tel also added a more ef­fi­cient sol­der ther­mal in­ter­face ma­te­rial to the 9th-gen CPU, which could lead to higher clock speeds on more of the cores, more of the time.

It’s en­tirely pos­si­ble the Core i7-9700k will gen­er­ally out­per­form the Core i7-8700k in games and ap­pli­ca­tions that aren’t heav­ily multi-threaded, which could jus­tify the loss of Hy­per-thread­ing and lower thread count. But yes, it’s also en­tirely pos­si­ble that we’ll see the older Core i7-8700k out­per­form its suc­ces­sor in more multi-threaded work­loads.

What’s likely to trig­ger con­sumers though is the lack of a per­for­mance bump at the same price as be­fore. When In­tel in­tro­duced the Core i7-8700k, it was a sig­nif­i­cant per­for­mance boost, jump­ing from the Core i7-7700k’s four cores and eight threads up to six cores and 12 threads. In­tel asked for $54 more for the 8700K, but it felt like a dis­count for the amount of per­for­mance from In­tel. This time, the Core i7-9700k could yield a much smaller per­for­mance in­crease over Core i7-8700k, yet cost slightly more.

You might want to wait for in­de­pen­dent re­views of the Core i7-9700k to see where the chips fall rather than pre­order­ing the pro­ces­sor ( go.pcworld.com/nvpr).

ALL EYES ON CORE I9

The big­gest per­for­mance boost oc­curs at the top of the 9th-gen lineup with the new Core i9-9900k ($530 pre­order on Ama­zon [ go. pcworld.com/pri9]). In­tel’s new flag­ship main­stream pro­ces­sor packs eight cores with Hy­per-thread­ing for a to­tal of 16 threads. In­tel de­clared the Core i9-9900k the “best gam­ing CPU in the world,” and even though we haven’t tested the chip yet, we don’t doubt that’ll wind up be­ing true. But it’ll also cost more, with a list price of $488 and real-world pric­ing cross­ing the $500 bar­rier.

The Core i9 is where the big per­for­mance gains are this round—and it’s not cheap.

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