Intel’s Kaby Lake is by far the most understated product launch they’ve ever had. The architecture isn’t that much faster than the generation it replaces (Skylake), and most of the work goes into improving the graphics core and power consumption. The new Tick-Plus product cadence that Intel has adopted now adds an extra year to the development cycle, where an updated architecture on an existing process gets both a design tweak and a silicon tweak before being replaced with a new architecture and a new production node. With the slowing down of process advancements, this is the new pattern that we’ll have to get used to, and it is more logical than the aggressive manoeuvres that Intel made with their products in the last decade.
However, Kaby Lake is a great platform to start building a rig on, and there are a few low-key hidden surprises lying in wait. It has the benefit of a wide range of motherboard support because it is pin-compatible with Intel 100-series boards, and the 200-series chipset only extends its capabilities further. While Kaby Lake may not impress power users and hardcore gamers all that much, if you’re looking for a flexible platform that gives you more options than you can shake a stick at, Kaby Lake might be on your radar.
Intel Kaby Lake Processors
|Cores/Threads||Clock Speed||Cache||Unlocked||AVX 2 Support||Graphics|
|Core i7-7700K||4/8||4.2-4.5GHz||8MB L3||Yes||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i7-7700||4/8||3.6-4.2GHz||8MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i5-7600K||4/4||3.8-4.2GHz||6MB L3||Yes||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i5-7600||4/4||3.5-4.1GHz||6MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i5-7500||4/4||3.4-3.8GHz||6MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i5-7400||4/4||3.0-3.5GHz||6MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7350K||2/4||4.2GHz||4MB L3||Yes||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7300T||2/4||3.5GHz||4MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7320||2/4||4.1GHz||4MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7300||2/4||4.0GHz||4MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7100T||2/4||3.4GHz||3MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Core i3-7100||2/4||3.9GHZ||3MB L3||No||Yes||HD 630|
|Pentium G4620||2/4||3.7GHz||3MB L3||No||No||HD 630|
|Pentium G4600||2/4||3.6GHz||3MB L3||No||No||HD 630|
|Pentium G4560||2/4||3.5GHz||3MB L3||No||No||HD 610|
|Celeron G3950||2/2||3.0GHz||2MB L3||No||No||HD 610|
|Celeron G3930||2/2||2.9GHz||2MB L3||No||No||HD 610|
Kaby Lake is interesting for several reasons, and those are things that don’t necessarily concern enthusiasts. While there’s a general uptick in clock speeds compared to Skylake, the Core i5 and Core i7 lineups don’t change too much. Those are still quad-cores with or without hyper-threading, with a decent amount of cache and support for the latest instruction sets. If you’re looking to run lots of virtual machines, the K-series is still not your best choice, especially if you want some sort of hardware passthrough system working. However, it’s now just a little bit easier to hit clock speeds of 5.0GHz on air cooling these days, taking us back to the golden age of Sandy Bridge where nearly every chip could achieve that lofty goal.
No, the biggest changes are in the low end and mid-range markets. Intel has been dragging their feet in this area for too long, and the incredible popularity of the Pentium G3258 showed them that there’s not a lot of options for someone who wants to game cheaply. Especially when you take into account that more and more games will only launch on a system with four or more cores, or more than 6GB of RAM. If they wanted to become competitive against the AMD Athlon quad-core family, they would need something with a bit more oomph. As it turns out, there are four of those that will soon be locally available.
Every Pentium processor in the Kaby Lake family now has hyper-threading enabled, giving it an extra two virtual cores, and allowing you to launch Far Cry 4 or Dragon Age: Inquisition without the game crashing. Intel’s HT technology is well advanced at this point, and you get a 30% boost from enabling it in applications that can make use of those extra threads. It’s the biggest jump they’ve had between generations since the Sandy Bridge days, and that’s saying something. I foresee myself including one of these chips in my next System Builder’s Guide at the cheapest price tier.
Keep in mind, though, that they lack support for the AVX 2 instruction set. While not a lot of games use AVX 2-specific code, some recent ones do as part of their AI and physics engines, because floating-point math is really good for that. Battlefield 1 is one example of game that uses AVX 2 extensions to increase throughput on systems with more than four cores. Productivity applications like Blender use AVX 2 instructions when rendering a project, and lacking this capability means that you may have to accept a lower level of performance in applications that make use of it.
While we don’t have the luxury of a Pentium G3258 to entertain us this time around, Intel has given us an overclockable Core i3 processor. Perhaps seeing all those enthusiasts hitting the benchmark leaderboards with Skylake Core i3 chips using hacked BIOSes last year was enough to convince them that this is something worth doing. I suspect that the price won’t deviate too far from the Core i5 family though, which means that Intel doesn’t want to end up cannibalising sales from lower-end Core i5 chips, especially if an overclocked Core i3-7350K at 5.0GHz turns out to be a beatstick like the Intel Wolfdale Celeron processors.
Intel Kaby Lake Price Comparison
|Rebel Tech||Wootware||Raru||Landmark PC||Evetech||Titan-Ice|
Looking at the pricing of the chips already available locally, nothing much changes in relation to the prices Skylake processors were being sold at. If you were looking to building out a Skylake system recently, you can drop a Kaby Lake CPU in without fuss, and the BIOS should be new enough to support the chip. In terms of bang for your buck, the Core i5-7500 has it made. It’s around R3,500 at most shops, and has a boost clock of 3.8GHz. Given that it won’t be running hot or overclocked, it should hit those frequencies on all cores pretty much all the time.
The Core i3-7350K looks like decent value at first, but it ships without a heatsink, so you have to add at least R400 on to the shelf price for something decent. Then, taking into account that you also have to be running a Z270 series motherboard to overclock it at all, you might be temped to just add R1000 on your budget for the full-fat Core i5-7600K. And if you do, I don’t blame you! You might as well, since you’re getting two extra real cores instead of virtual ones.
The value king would have been the Core i3-7100 in the past. At 3.9GHz with hyper-threading, it puts most older high-end processors to shame, and would be a cheap way to upgrade from something older like a Core 2 Quad Q9300. It still supports all the latest instruction sets, and it’ll be pretty efficient. But I’d like to hand that honour over to the Pentium lineup.
Pairing a Pentium G4560 with something like a Geforce GTX 1050 or a Radeon RX 460 would be a great, low-cost system that will play anything available today. With that, you get access to any game that requires four cores, as well as display technologies like FreeSync and G-Sync, and 4K HDR support. Look at this build as an example:
|720p with Low-to-Medium settings and 2x MSAA|
|Processor||Intel Pentium G4560 3.5GHz (socket LGA1151)||R1,025|
|CPU cooler||Stock Intel cooler||—|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte H110M-S2PH mATX (socket LGA 1151)||R1,011|
|Memory||Corsair ValueSelect 8GB DDR4-2133||R809|
|Graphics||Sapphire Radeon RX 460 Nitro 2GB GDDR5||R2,055|
|Power supply||Gigabyte 320W bundled||—|
|Chassis||Gigabyte M1 mATX w/ 320W||R784|
|Solid state drive||ADATA SP550 120GB SATA (Silicon Motion SM2256, TLC NAND)||R809|
That is savage. And that’s a wrap for my Kaby Lake pricing coverage! We’ll have more from the Intel’s launch soon. What are your thoughts on this generation, dear readers? Are you upgrading to any of these processors, or are you waiting for Socket AM4 and AMD’s family of new chips? Leave your comments below!