Product on Review: Core i7-7700K & Core i7-7600K
MSRP (ex. V.A.T.):
i7-7700K - $339
i5-7600K - $242
The Consumer Electronics Show, a yearly event held in Las Vegas which sets the tone of the electronics market for the following year, is one of few marquee events throughout any year for the IT industry. In the PC sector it's only surpassed by Computex, and that's mainly down to the location and PC hardware focus of the Taiwan-based event. It is therefore unsurprising that Intel would choose this venue to debut their latest new CPU architecture on the desktop PC platform: the 7th Generation Core CPU, previously known by its codename Kaby Lake.
Strictly speaking Kaby Lake isn't brand new. An initial launch in August targeted the low-power 4.5W to 15W CPU market segment, primarily comprised of ultrathin laptops and 2-in-1 desktops, in order to capture sales during the back to school period. Currently in over 100 designs within this segment, from January 3rd Kaby Lake is being extended up to the 95W high performance desktop segment whilst also broadening the capabilities of PCs in the mid-range. Today's release signals the end of the Skylake era after almost 18 months of dominance as the CPU of choice for PCs.
Kaby Lake is also the culmination of a change in development strategy by Intel. Beginning with Broadwell and in response to competitive pressures and costs associated with manufacturing process shrinks, Intel modified the "Tic-Toc" development model to one whereby more CPU generations are released on the same process. The new development model, which has been shorthanded to "Process, Architecture, Optimisation", stipulates that three distinct CPU generations will exist on the same process technology rather than two. Where Broadwell was the first i.e. Process release, and Skylake was a new CPU architecture on the same 14nm process, Kaby Lake is an optimised version of Skylake with refined architecture and process technology.
Kaby Lake is being launched alongside a new motherboard chipset codenamed 'Union Point' and sold as the 200-series. This new platform will appear in familiar Z, B and Q classes, will utilise the same LGA1151 socket as the 100-series, and in general have a very similar feature-set to that of its predecessor. As a consequence the CPU will compatible with older 100-series models (after UEFI BIOS update), making life easier for partners and consumers who are looking to upgrade only the CPU and not any entire system, but you will lose out on a few features that are exclusive to the new platform. Many of the partner designs for 200-series motherboards were previewed at Computex last year and scheduled for release in November of 2016, but circumstances have changed and Intel's partners will be showcasing the motherboards at CES alongside the new processors.
In today's review we're focussing on two CPUs positioned in the performance/enthusiast segment: the Core i7-7700K and Core i5-7600K. Defacto replacements for the Core i7-6700K and Core i5-6600K, both have unlocked multiplier and BCLK, and sit within the 91W thermal envelope at their default speeds. In keeping with Kaby Lake's billing as an optimisation of Skylake, both include clock speed bumps over their Skylake equivalent; however the updated development strategy indicates that very little has changed under the hood. Obviously that's something we want to check.
Although this review focuses on the flagship Core i7-7700K and performance-class Core i5-7600K, today's launch includes CPUs in other segments such as low power and mainstream desktop as well as a few mobile SKUs. Not launching today but a particular highlight to the enthusiast community will be the inclusion of a long-awaited dual-core hyperthreaded unlocked CPU, the Core i3-7350K. This SKU will be released at the end of January and may provide an affordable alternative for performance overclocking, although pricing is yet to be confirmed.