The Core i9 isn’t for gamers, it’s for ‘mega-taskers’ so it’s left to the Core i7 of the upcoming X-series to offer something tangible for the gaming faithful. And the only way it’s going to do that is to ensure you can overclock the transistors out of it.
Know your Ryzen 5s from your Core i7s? Of course you do, but which one’s the best CPU for gaming?
Intel’s very first E3 press conference was… well, it was kinda like your dad trying to pretend he’s down with the kids on the YouTubes. They wheeled out ‘influencers,’ talked esports and revelled in vom-inducing VR like it was 2015. But it was also a chance for them to stand in front of a rabid PC gaming audience and enthuse about why they needed Intel processors.
Yet, while they skipped quickly over the more affordable, gaming-focused processors in the most diverse CPU lineup in their history, they spent most of the allotted tech time trying to whip the audience up into a frenzy about "an 18-core beast of a product that delivers the ultimate in mega-tasking."
The Core i9 7980XE may well be as much of a beast as Intel’s Gregory Bryant wants you to believe, but if he’s genuinely been tasked with trying to convince gamers they need to spend $2,000 on a processor he’s got a mighty tough time ahead of him.
Yet this is when Intel really needs to step up their PR game in order to explain why PC gamers ought to be choosing one of their processors over the rejuvenated AMD-shaped competition.
For the longest time it’s been a relative no-brainer - if you’re a gamer you buy an Intel processor and an Nvidia graphics card. But it’s no longer that cut and desiccated because AMD are right back in the game with their Ryzen 5 chips and with the upcoming the Radeon RX Vega cards promising to seriously step up AMD’s graphics game too.
The potential seeds for Intel’s fight to retain gamers’ hearts and minds were sewn throughout the LA morning though. We had Bryant referring to the Kaby Lake-X Core i7 chips as “the ultimate in overclocking performance for uninterrupted, beautiful, immersive gameplay,” during their E3 press conference. And later that morning, back on stage for the PC Gaming Show, he promised “you gaming enthusiasts will love the Core i7 X. Overclocking capabilitym- it’s an amazing system.”
Before quickly going back to waving Intel’s 18-core tech-phallus around again for all those ‘mega-taskers’ in the audience... sorry, I promise this is the last time you’ll have to read ‘mega-taskers’ on this page. Feckin’ silly silicon marketing.
But it’s that overclocking potential which will govern just how relevant the newest Intel range is for gamers. For the same price as the Core i7 7700K you’ll soon be able to pick up the almost-identical 7740X and, while it’s only 100MHz quicker at stock speeds, the noises Intel have been making about the chip's overclocking chops make it sound like the Core i7 X could be far more than that.
Given the middling overclocking performance of the 7700K though should we believe what Intel are saying? We know the bigger chips don’t really overclock that well, with 4.3GHz sounding like it’s around the top-end of what you’ll be getting out of the 10-core 7900X, and Asus have also confirmed Intel are using the same ropey thermal interface material (TIM) on the new line as they have for the lower-end Kaby Lake-powered CPUs.
But overclockers have also been breaking records with the 7740X; both Asus and Gigabyte have been claiming speeds in excess of 7.5GHz. Now that may be as a result of fancy (and potentially lethal) liquid helium cooling, but it shows there’s headroom in that there silicon.
The X299 motherboards will play their part too. They will be more expensive than the Z270 boards, but they will generally have more power phases and be more capable of coping with the rigours of overclocking.
And, because the actual chip package itself is the same size as even the 18-core behemoth, this simple quad-core, 8-thread design will have a lot of room to breath under that expanded heatspreader which could help in the overclocking stakes. Though it does make me wonder why they chose not to clock the 7740X any higher if it does indeed have ‘ultimate overclocking performance.’
There is a Core i5 in the X-series lineup too, which six months ago could have been a genuine gaming contender. But with its resolutely quad-core design, and no HyperThreading, it feels like a bit of an anachronism in these days when you can get a 12-threaded Ryzen 5 for the same money.
Elsewhere, the $390 Core i9 7800X is probably the only i9 worth a mention for the enthusiast gamer, with its six cores and 12 threads. It’s also the cheapest of the Core X-series to come with quad-channel memory and more than 16 PCIe lanes to make good with the multi-GPU fun.
We shouldn’t have long to wait to find out the truth of it all though as we should find out about the Core X-series CPU performance numbers next week. Unfortunately, as we’re a European-based site, in a slice of the world recently out of favour with the chip giant, Intel are dragging their heels on getting us samples. But some favoured US sites have had the X-series processors for a while already and so should be able to post benchmarks as the pre-orders go live next week.