The Intel Coffee Lake CPUs have unleashed six core mainstream chips with all of the 14nm processing goodness Intel can bring to bear against AMD’s finest. But while the K-series Core i7 8700K might be grabbing all the headlines, with its Ryzen-beating multi-threaded performance and 5.2GHz overclocking chops, it’s the Core i5 8400 which is really the best CPU for gamers.
And that means we’ve got a new winner at the top of our list of the best CPU for gaming...
It’s normal for the Core i5 chips in a new generation to be the ones we end up recommending for gamers - historically, the HyperThreading tech only offers a little extra gaming performance with the Core i7 - but this is the first time I’ve recommended ditching the K-series processors in their entirety.
The Core i5 8400 is also one of the few Coffee Lake chips you can actually buy right now, thankfully it's also the best one for purestrain gamers. It's also an absolute bargain, and the cheapest hexcore around at just $190 (£164). Shame there are no bargain motherboard chipsets around yet... or CPU stock.
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Intel Core i5 8400 specs
The Core i5 8400 is still a six-core CPU, but without HyperThreading it remains stuck at six threads of processing power. It’s also been saddled with a relatively low 2.8GHz base clockspeed, but is capable of hitting a maximum Turbo speed of 4GHz. That is, however, only on a single core, with the chip generally sticking to a 3.8GHz frequency during standard usage.
That would seem to make it very much the poor cousin to the Core i5 8600K. That’s still a resolutely six-core chip, but with an all-core Turbo of 4.3GHz (or 4.6GHz if you go for a belligerent Asus board that flouts Intel’s Turbo ratings), and is capable of overclocking to a massive 5.1GHz without much effort at all.
But the i5 8400 has still got the same 9MB of L3 cache, a lower-rated TDP of 65W - versus the K-series’ 95W TDP - and honestly performs like an absolute hero.
We’ve previously gone into depth on the Coffee Lake architecture, but suffice to say, it’s more or less the same 14nm design we’ve seen in Skylake and Kaby Lake, the 6th and 7th Gen, architectures.
This time, however, there is no option for backwards compatibility, unless you're happy to make with the microcode updates yourself. The new Coffee Lake chips, such as this ‘ere Core i5, will only function within the confines of a 300-series chipset. And, until later this year, your only option on that front is the high-end Z370 chipset. The H370 and B360 motherboards won’t be here for a while. That does take some of the shine out of this relatively budget-oriented hex-core CPU, as the expensive Z370 feature set isn’t really necessary with the 8400 and it’s locked down multipliers.
Back in the dark old Kaby Lake days of early 2017 there was only a modicum of gaming performance difference between the K-series Core i5 7600K and the Core i7 7700K. It was a no-brainer, then, for us to recommend gamers eschew the more expensive HyperThreaded chip in favour of the Core i5.
There was a non-K Core i5 - the i5 7400 - which had essentially the same core configuration, but with a slightly lower clockspeed. Sound familiar? But it was generally well off the pace of the 7600K in our gaming benchmarks so we largely ignored it. That was why I was less excited about the prospect of the Core i5 8400, despite its extra couple Coffee Lake cores. After all, if you wanted to save a few quid, and bag a hexcore chip regardless of its gaming performance, then AMD had you covered with the Ryzen 5 1600.
With the new Coffee Lake processors, however, there is zero difference in gaming performance between either of the Core i5s and the top-spec Core i7. And that remains the case whether you’re running the chips at stock speeds or hitting 5GHz+ with the K-series CPUs. The performance of the 8400 is genuinely pretty stunning for a processor that’s supposed to cost less than AMD’s cheapest six-core Ryzen 5. Then there’s the fact that it’s capable of delivering gaming frame rates that are higher than either the i7 7700K and i7 7800K.
Outside of the realm of gaming things are obviously different. The higher frequency of the overclocked i5 8600K, and the extra thread-count of the R5 1600 and 1600X, mean that they’re far better choices for anything that demands serious multi-threaded CPU performance.
Forget all the headline-grabbing overclocking figures, this is the Coffee Lake chip for gamers. Sure, the tantalising prospect of having your K-series i5 running at a heady 5.1GHz, without melting through the layered PCB of your motherboard, is like a siren call to us PC people, but if it’s not delivering anything tangible for games that hardly matters.
We’re going to see a whole lot of gaming machines built around the Core i5 8400 in the coming year, and rightly so. It’s a seriously powerful little gaming chip for the money, and it’s definitely grabbed my attention.
As I said earlier, if you need high-performance CPU power for $250 or less, then the K-series Coffee Lake and the six-core, 12-thread AMD Ryzen 1600, or 1600X, will be great shouts. But, for us gamers, it’s all about the Core i5 8400. It's an incredibly good value chip delivering unprecedented gaming performance for the money.