If you’ve already scrolled down to see the score and noticed that there actually isn’t one, it’s not a mistake, but intentional. That’s simply because it’s difficult to evaluate the 7700K and come up with a score that’s representative of what this CPU is to two different demographics.
On the one hand, it’s simply no different to the 6700K in terms of how it performs. In many games there’ll be no difference between the two, especially since the 6700K is also an unlocked processor. Thus, whatever frequency advantage the 7700K has out the box, the 6700K can match as well, and pretty easily. So in essence, for the average PC gamer and even enthusiast-level user, this may be a pointless CPU, only made somewhat relevant by the chipset it’s released with. As such, it’s perfectly understandable why so many on the web seem disappointed with this release. Some are even saying that Intel has given up on making sizeable gains in performance and is instead satisfied with marginal or, as in this case, zero improvements in raw performance.
There is merit to this sentiment and it’s understandable why people see it this way, but there’s another side to the 7700K which is overlooked not only by potential customers, but by reviewers as well. It lies in just how much more capable this CPU is at overclocking. Not only is it better at overclocking than the 6700K, it’s also more power efficient. Now, that may not seem right, but it’s true. For instance, Intel has managed to keep the same 91W TDP on the 7700K as on the 6700K, which operates at a lower frequency. Frequency has a direct impact on heat and, of course, on TDP. And yet, despite the respectable increase in clock speed for the 7700K, the TDP has remained the same.
For mobile parts, especially ones that stick to the same frequencies as the previous sixth-generation CPUs, the products based on these newer CPUs could potentially operate at lower temperatures or have slightly better battery life. Simply put, a Kaby Lake CPU operating at the same nominal clocks as its Skylake counterpart will consume less power. That specific benefit may not mean much to desktop PC gamers, but to the overclockers who buy the K SKU CPUs specifically, it means they’re getting a CPU with a potentially higher clock speed. To this end, Intel has delivered. They’ve actually delivered far more than they’ve done since the original second-generation Core CPUs, i.e. Sandy Bridge.
For the longest time, those on the Sandy Bridge platform (or at least some of them) have claimed that they’ll remain on this dated system simply because of the high clock speeds it allows, and at 5GHz it remains competitive against today’s CPUs. That is, or rather was true, but not because the high clock speed offsets the lower IPC. It’s because the 2600K, for example, had enough raw performance to run into GPU bottlenecks, especially at higher resolutions. As such, any advancements made in CPU performance since then were to some degree nullified when applied to single-GPU configurations. One of the only plausible ways to observe these advances would’ve been to run a multi-GPU system or dual-GPU solution. So, think something along the lines of four GTX 980 Ti GPUs, or TITAN X (Maxwell) GPUs. Such a configuration would expose the second-generation core CPUs, while finally making it apparent that something along the lines of a Core i7 6700K is much faster.
Since most people did not and do not run such configurations, the perception was and remains that the increases in per clock performance on Intel CPUs is marginal at best. There’s a limited truth to this, of course, but it is coincidental. The main issue is that, regardless of what CPU is used, post second-generation Core i7, there would be no tangible difference in game performance at resolutions of 2560×1400 and higher, depending on the GPU used. This is easily observed in how close the performance is at UHD resolution when comparing AMD’s lamentable Bulldozer-based FX CPUs and Intel’s cutting-edge Broadwell-E offerings. With the upcoming Ryzen CPUs, the situation won’t change much no matter how good the CPUs are. It’s near impossible (if not downright impossible) for any CPU architecture to alleviate a GPU bottleneck through IPC gains alone.
Hopefully this’ll give some context to the seventh-generation core CPUs, and more specifically, the Core i7 7700K. Ultimately, we don’t necessarily need a CPU capable of 5GHz, but we’d like to have one. Better yet, if we could have a CPU that performs like a 5GHz 6700K, but at, say, 4GHz or less, that would be ideal. Since we do not have such a part, we’ll have to take solace in the fact that Intel has provided us with a CPU which, once again, can operate at 5GHz continuously. This is ultimately what’s at the heart of the Core i7 7700K. From Intel’s perspective, it means they’ve reached a milestone in manufacturing 14nm processors, and this milestone will come in handy for the next-generation Skylake-X project, which will leverage all the manufacturing knowhow gained up until that point.
As stated earlier, there are obvious benefits for mobile devices, but on the desktop perhaps it makes more sense to “upgrade” to the 7700K only if you’ll change the motherboard alongside it in favour of the new Z270 boards. When the two are put together, especially if you’ve been using a Z68 or Z77 platform, they make for a worthwhile update because it’ll bring your connectivity options up to date.
For those interested only in HTPCs or living room mini-PCs, other offerings in the range make more sense. With the new CPUs, you’ll have hardware acceleration for the latest codecs, mainly VP9 and HEVC/H.265. These will be necessary for Netflix UHD streaming, and even if you’re not using the service these two codecs will certainly become more prevalent going forward. Again, if you fall into this user demographic, it’s best to consider one of the lower power 65W models.
For the competitive overclockers, Intel has enabled the AVX offset multiplier, which simply limits the CPU clock to whatever value you set which is equal or less than the prescribed CPU clock. That is, you can now operate the CPU at, say, 5GHz, while the AVX multiplier is 4.5GHz (5x offset, assuming you’re using a 50×100 multiplier/BCLK combination) or less if you desire. This has no performance impact on games and benchmarks, save for the handful of programs that make use of the instruction set. When the CPU detects an AVX load it’ll operate at the lower multiplier (45x), preventing instability that would otherwise occur at 5GHz. Thus far, only Blender, Prime95, Intel’s XTU, some video encoders and a number of distributed computing clients/workloads make use of AVX. As such, you may as well set it to 4GHz or less as it has no relevance to competitive overclocking or gaming (barring XTU competitions).
A bit of an odd review this one, but that’s simply because the CPU in question is more of a re-release than anything else. It’s what the Devil’s Canyon i7 4790K attempted to do, but failed to achieve. This time, Intel has executed things the right way, but instead of just a single model, Intel released an entire CPU range, dubbing it the seventh-generation Core family. Perhaps the most interesting of the line-up is the 7350K, because Intel has finally announced an overclockable Core i3 K SKU. How well that CPU overclocks will remain to be seen, but right now the most cutting-edge computing experience and technology is to be found in the 7700K and its stablemates.
Intel has made owning a K SKU CPU worthwhile again with its exceptionally high clock speeds and the increased clock frequency headroom. Some samples of the 7700K have gone as far as 5,500MHz using nothing but liquid cooling – which is unheard of, and impossible with any other CPU since the second-generation Core CPUs.
Should you spend your cash on the 7700K? Well, if you’re looking for an immediate and tangible performance gain in your games and applications, the simple answer is no, especially when you’re coming from a 6700K, for example. If you’re an overclocker, however, definitely buy this CPU, and if you’re looking to get into overclocking at a cheaper price point, consider the 7350K when it’s available. This CPU is what overclockers’ dreams are made of.