Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K IPC Review

We have now gotten to spend a good amount of time with Intel's new Core i7-7700K processor, codenamed "Kaby Lake." This processor family is set to be launched at CES next year. Today we are pushing through a suite of benchmarks to see what Kaby Lake has in store for the enthusiast compared to the 6700K.

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Kaby Lake Conclusions

Performance

I know exactly what you are thinking. "Kyle forgot to change the CPUs between benchmarks you dumb bastard!" Quite frankly, that crossed my mind too. Rest assured I did check and double check (actually more than that) all our hardware and scores here today. We are using the latest INF drivers and our BIOS does have the latest microcode update that was pushed out by Intel a couple of weeks ago. There is at least one more 630 iGPU driver coming before launch and possibly a microcode and MEI update. I however would not expect these to impact the performance we have seen here today in any meaningful way.

With the exception of our power consumption data, every delta between our Intel Core-i7 7700K and 6700K benchmarks are easily within the margin of error. The data points we have shown here were our best scores after multiple runs. You could easily run single sets of benchmark scores and have the win/lose flip flop. In terms of enthusiast computing, crunching, gaming, and IPC at equal clocks there is absolutely no way to discern the Kaby Lake 7700K from the Skylake 6700K.

The Kaby Lake Good

First and foremost, if you are setting up an HTPC, Kaby Lake has some great capabilities with its new media extensions I am told. It seems that the entire processor's performance has been based on forward-looking multimedia experiences. Honestly, I don't know, and I don't care, I have other devices for those functions, although there is assuredly a niche for this.

Also, we now have an on-die USB 3.1 controller and on-die support for Thunderbolt 3, which can support two 4K displays, but I am not sure what value that has to the PC crowd. Do you even own a Thunderbolt device that you plug into your PC?

For the desktop computer enthusiast, there really is no "good." Am I appreciative of the power usage reductions? Absolutely, but that minimal savings is absolutely no reason for anyone with a "new" CPU to purchase a Kaby Lake.

Looking Forward

Is this where the lack of competition in the desktop CPU market has gotten us or where the market is not any more? No, I am not blaming AMD for Intel's lack of IPC evolution on the desktop, but it is certainly at least a small piece of the puzzle.

I think there are actually some more worrisome questions we need to think about. Is Intel signalling to us that its desktop progression is dead? Does Intel not even care about advancing desktop performance? Has CPU performance scaled to the point that being "faster" does not matter, except to a few? Even when Intel tries to sell you a new computer, they are only addressing the "old computer" owner. Intel, with all its resources, cannot even find a reason for you to replace your 1 or 2 year old laptop.

With that we have to ask, do we want more power on the desktop? You know we do, and I know we do, but is it profitable for Intel to serve our narrow enthusiast needs in a market that it has already saturated? And even if AMD were able to shatter Intel's IPC and clock speeds tomorrow, would it make a difference in the desktop market that is dominated on price outside of people like us?

Is Intel throwing in the towel? Is it going to abandon the immensely huge PC gaming market, forcing its game developers to finally get off their asses and utilize all those "extra" cores that devs have ignored for years now? (Lost Planet, that "crappy" 10 year old benchmark we still use, for good reason, still reaches into 8 cores and is still unmatched in CPU thread usage by new Triple A games today.)

Is Intel inking deals with AMD's Radeon Technology Group because it sees a consumer market future that is not defined by X86 computing power? Is it the ARM and GPU markets that it wants to focus on looking forward? Or is it as simple as asking, has Intel rested on its laurels and might get caught with its pants down?

Overclocking

I left out overclocking in this article on purpose. I want to spend more time with the Kaby Lake CPUs and motherboards we have before I discuss that in depth. However, things on that front do look good. With a "good" Kaby Lake CPU 5GHz can be downright easy. Just set the vCore from 1.31v to 1.35v on a good motherboard and you are done. However, I am not sure right now how many "good" motherboards there are. We are testing on a lot of boards and want to give you guys an informed opinion. Motherboard choice MIGHT be a bit more significant than it has been in the past, but I am not fully sure of that right now. "Bad" Kaby Lake CPUs are looking to do 4.8GHz at less than 1.3v vCore. "Good" Kaby Lake CPUs are looking to do the magical 5GHz at 1.35v or less. 5GHz looks to be where these hit the wall however. The "golden" Kaby Lake will deliver 5.1GHz, but at a high 1.37v vCore.

We will surely follow up in the next couple of weeks with our thoughts and results on overclocking more than a few 7700K processors. 5GHz is certainly magical and a milestone for the enthusiast, but I am sort of conflicted. Intel just gave me 200 to 300MHz more on the "easy" enthusiast overclocking front, but gave me nothing in terms of IPC when laying out big bucks for a new CPU. Intel is just now getting close to what Francois Piednoel, Principal engineer at Intel, promised us over two years ago with Devil's Canyon, but is going screw me on zero IPC gains.

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The Bottom Line

We have come to expect small advances in Intel IPC over the recent years and we have come to expect nothing from AMD. Intel has produced some fine silicon and injected excitement into our CPU industry when there were no others to lead. Thank you for that, it is much appreciated. As we watch Moore's Law fall, I have expected IPC and core width to be Intel's focus. Quite frankly, while I have not been impressed with 10% gains in IPC, I have been happy to at least see those.

With Kaby Lake, Intel has just given the big middle finger its fan base, loyalists, and every hardware enthusiast in the world. Intel has just told us, we do not matter to its corporate structure any more. To the enthusiast, Kaby Lake in its Core i7-7700K form is nothing more than what Francois promised two years ago. I would not spend my money on Kaby Lake simply in protest.

AMD, do we matter? Lisa Su? AMD has a hugely influential and substantial fanbase waiting to wave your flag again. We all still have that Blue Core Thunderbird and 9700 Pro love in our hearts. We are older now and have lots of money to spend on tech and its toys. We are established, influential, and well informed, and all our family members and all their friends ask our advice on computer purchasing and then it trickles down. That is the HardOCP reader profile. Wouldn't you love to have us once again direct all those purchasing dollars with a comment like, "Just look for the AMD Zen (and beyond) badge and you will be getting a quality product."

If we have learned anything this year, it is that grass roots support is monumental. God knows us enthusiasts can market better for AMD than Roy Taylor can any day. AMD, the door is open, give us a reason, please.

Our followup articles are at the links below.

Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K Overclocking Preview

Core i7-7700K - Kaby Lake & Corsair RAM Overclocking

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