In a bizarre turn of events, Intel has publicly announced that PC enthusiasts and overclockers should not be overclocking their unlocked Core i5 and Core i7 processors in order to avoid damage to the chip or the system it’s in. It’s not a new policy by any means, they’ve had that same clause in their warranty for years, but the announcement came off the back of three months of accusations and complaints by owners of the Core i7-7700 and Core i7-7700K that their processors were throttling under load even when light work was being done on them, reducing performance heavily. Intel’s Kaby Lake family has been in the news several times for its poor thermal paste application, which leads to the processor running hotter than it normally should, but now owners of the regular Core i7-7700 are reporting the same issues and drops in performance.
In a thread on the Intel communities page started on 30 January 2017 by user “BC93Key”, the opening post briefly talks about an issue that BC93Key was experiencing where the reported temperature of the CPU would spike up sharply when performing actions like opening a browser or a folder (which is normal, every CPU does this to improve system response from an idle state). However, because the thermal performance of Kaby Lake processors is unusually high even when compared to Intel’s Haswell family, there’s a greater chance that the user will bump into the thermal limit of the CPU while performing these operations with a background process that already ramps the clock speed up quite a bit.
As you can imagine, sustained loads maintain those temperatures for longer periods of time. When it comes to synthetic benchmarks, the processor will underclock itself to prevent overheating as it approaches 100º Celsius, while workloads like rendering or gaming may have more inconsistent behaviour because those workloads do change frequently. As the thread’s size grew, and passed the thirty-page-mark, users became more frustrated with a lack of Intel’s response, until on page thirty-five, when an Intel rep finally appeared and offered this response:
“The reported behavior of the 7th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-7700K Processor, showing momentary temperature changes from the idle temperature, is normal while completing a task (like opening a browser or an application or a program). In our internal investigation, we did not observe temperature variation outside of the expected behavior and recommended specifications.
Most motherboard manufacturers offer customizable fan speed control settings that may allow for smoother transition of fan revolutions per minute (rpm). Please consult your motherboard manufacturer’s manual or website for instructions on how to change default fan speed control settings.
We do not recommend running outside the processor specifications, such as by exceeding processor frequency or voltage specifications, or removing of the integrated heat spreader (sometimes called “de-lidding”). These actions will void the processor warranty.”
This did not go down well with the users who had been reporting these issues to Intel, and there’s another ten pages of outraged enthusiasts who aren’t satisfied with Intel’s response at the time of writing. Suggestions from users ranged from taking Intel to the European Commission for false advertising, swapping to AMD’s Ryzen platform, or even delidding the processor in order to achieve lower temperatures. Delidding Kaby Lake has been extremely popular among enthusiasts and gamers with patience and the right tools, because there’s an average reported temperature drop of up to 28º Celsius under load, even though Intel prefers that users not do this to avoid voiding their warranty.
With that kind of a drop, the data suggests, the processor no longer overheats during a gaming session or a heavy workload, and thermal throttling hardly enters into the equation once users replace the thermal paste with a better product. In some extreme cases, enthusiasts and overclockers are even re-applying liquid metal thermal compounds to reduce the inefficiency of Intel’s heatspreader even more, and that typically nets another drop of 1-2º C.
It is rumoured that Intel’s upcoming Kaby Lake-X family, built for the X299 platform and using a different socket, may include metal solder instead of the thermal paste Intel has used in the past, which would allow enthusiasts better control over the temperature of the processor through the use of more effective cooling. However, a source close to the action told me that Intel does not plan to solder these new processors, which means that enthusiasts might end up disappointed once more.