i5 7600K – Third time lucky with 14nm
Pull up a seat, and get comfortable. The following is gonna get philosophical, maybe even a little epistemological. The new Intel Core i5 7600K is very cool, you see. But it’s also kinda crappy.
Hold that thought while we square away the speeds and feeds. The i5 7600K is, of course, part of Intel’s new Kaby Lake family. That makes it a Tock in Intel’s now defunct “Tick Tock” cadence of processor development, where a Tock represents an architectural revision, rather than a new production process. Actually, it’s the second such Tock on Intel’s prevailing 14nm process, which reflects the fact that Tick Tock is dead, and now we have “Process, Architecture, Optimization.” In simple terms, Intel can’t keep up with its self-imposed strategy of introducing a new production process and then chip architecture in successive years. So Kaby Lake, with hindsight, has been classified as an optimization, the third 14nm family of CPUs following Broadwell and Skylake.
The i5 7600K slots into what has traditionally been the gaming enthusiast’s favored slot, namely the top of the Core i5 model tree, complete with unlocked CPU multiplier for simple overclocking. As a Core i5 chip, it doesn’t offer Hyper-Threading. Four cores and four threads are your lot. But with a base clock of 3.8GHz and a Turbo speed of 4.2GHz, it’s 300MHz faster than its progenitor from the Skylake generation, the Core i5 6600K. 6MB of cache and support for dual-channel DDR4 memory up to 2,400MHz round out the key CPU specifications.
The chip also has Intel’s latest integrated graphics in HD 630 trim. That’s unlikely to be of much interest to most customers, almost all of whom will be pairing the 7600K with some kind of dedicated graphics solution. The possible exception to that involves support for 4K Netflix streaming, though that itself may be problematic in concert with a discrete graphics card, and immediately we are going round in circles. A complication for another day, we think.
Anyway, to the benchmarks. At stock clocks, the new 7600K is unexciting. It’s quicker than the old 6600K by about the amount you’d expect, based on the increased clock speeds. So that’s singledigit increases in performance across the board, in percentage terms. That’s definitely better than nothing. But it’s also the sort of incremental improvement that’s become the norm from Intel of late. The harsh truth is that you will struggle to feel the difference in the real world between the old 6600K and the new 7600K.
Until, that is, you throw overclocking into the equation. This thing really flies when you open up the overclocking taps. The old 6600K could typically crank up an extra 600MHz or so, or 4.5GHz overall. But the 7600K winds up to 5.2GHz with ease using auto voltage settings. That’s a nice, round 1GHz overclock. It’s been a long time coming, but with Kaby Lake, Intel CPUs are once again absolutely worth overclocking.
That’s a very welcome and exciting development. But here’s where the philosophizing comes in. Even with that overclock, you’re only looking at about a 10 percent improvement in performance over Skylake. That’s not a huge surprise, of course. Kaby Lake is a minor revision, not a brand new architecture. It doesn’t have any additional CPU cores, either. Thus it’s a far cry from the kind of step forward we once saw when Intel, say, first introduced a dual- or quad-core processor, and virtually doubled performance in one fell swoop.
Meanwhile, AMD’s Ryzen is just around the corner, and if it’s as good as we hope, we might finally see Intel pull out the stops and start adding cores to its mainstream CPUs in order to keep things competitive. All of which means the extent to which Kaby Lake and the new 7600K get you fired up is all about context. Compared to other recent refreshes, it’s great. It’s also indisputably the weapon of choice for gamers on a middling budget. But in the broader context of CPU development over the past decade, the 7600K is hardly revolutionary. It’s not exactly cheap, either.
i5 7600k SPECIFICATIONS
Base Clock 3.8GHz
Turbo Clock 4.2GHz
Memory Support DDR4 up to 2,400MHz
Memory Channels Dual
Max PCIe Lanes 16x PCIe 3.0
Graphics Intel HD 630