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Core i7-4790K Review: Devil's Canyon Tantalizes Enthusiasts

Core i7-4790K Review: Devil's Canyon Tantalizes Enthusiasts
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Despite a clear performance advantage, Intel just doesn't seem like an enthusiast-friendly company. Certain elements in the organization want to change that perception, though. Devil's Canyon is meant to allay power users with more speed.

Man. I just realized almost one year has passed since I last wrote about Intel as a desktop processing company. And even then, the piece was Intel Core i7-4960X Review: Ivy Bridge-E, Benchmarked, about a slight evolution to a platform that launched nearly three years ago (X79 Express, in case your memory is rusty). That’s a pretty good indication of the extent that Intel was overlooking our enthusiast segment.

Actually, I’m not being entirely fair. Intel is running short on competition, after all. AMD's processor wing is really what's struggling to stay relevant amongst performance-hungry power users. As a result of the disappointing stagnation, I end up writing stories like The Core i7-4770K Review: Haswell Is Faster; Desktop Enthusiasts Yawn. In that piece, I was hard on the Core i7-4770K. The same went for my coverage of Core i7-3770K. Neither mainstream flagship gave you a compelling reason to upgrade. And it didn’t help that the shift from Z77 to Z87 to Z97 Express was pretty boring, too.

The good news is that Intel is listening.

Now I’m sitting here, in the lab, with the Core i7-4790K in front of me. As the CPU’s name suggests, this is still Haswell on an LGA 1150 interface. It’ll even drop into existing Z87-based motherboards, if your vendor of choice is being diligent about updating firmware. What’d Intel do to make the -4790K more enthusiast friendly, though?

Meet The Core i7-4790K

To begin, it addressed the one complaint that drove some power users and certain system builders to de-lid their CPUs: modest thermal transfer between the processor die and integrated heat spreader. We don’t know much about the “Next-Generation Polymer Thermal Interface Material” Intel is now using on its Devil’s Canyon parts. But we do know Intel worked uncharacteristically fast to implement it. In fact, the speed at which the company moved is cited as one of the reasons it couldn’t switch back to the solder that figured so prominently in Sandy Bridge overclocking successes.

The bottom of Core i7-4790K also features additional capacitors that Intel says help smooth power delivery to the processor die.

Those modifications come together, enabling a replacement for Core i7-4770K that drops into the same LGA 1150 interface. Vital specifications are very much similar; you get four physical cores able to address eight threads through HT technology, 8 MB of shared L3 cache, DDR3 memory support that officially tops out at 1600 MT/s, the same old HD Graphics 4600 engine, and a 16-lane PCI Express 3.0 controller.

Core i7-4790K operates at a base 4 GHz, though, and, in stock form, accelerates up to 4.4 GHz through Turbo Boost technology. This pushes the processor’s thermal ceiling up to 88 W (from 84).

You can expect the Devil’s Canyon parts to work in 9-series motherboards. However, Intel says board vendors may also update the firmware on their 8-series platforms.

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    neon neophyte , June 10, 2014 1:45 AM
    so one of their biggest selling points ended up resulting in a 6 degree difference.

    bring back solder intel.
  • 10 Hide
    roymustang , June 10, 2014 1:18 AM
    It would've been nice to show benchmarks and temps vs sandy bridge (2600K) at same frequency to help us gauge the progress (or the lack of) that's been made in the last three and a half years.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    NBSN , June 10, 2014 12:06 AM
    Really nice read. I am very excited to see how well the i7-4790k performed, and that means in 2-3 years the CPUs that will be out are going to be amazing. It will be nice to start seeing stock clocked 4 GHz to 4.5 GHz Intel CPUs to better keep up with the AMD overclocking that many builders do. I prefer Intel and really feel that they offer the best performance for their CPUs.

    I built my PC at the end of last year, beginning of this one and went with a i7-4930k. I really wanted a six core processor and have not been disappointed. I have been itching to build another PC because it was really fun to put the plan of components together and although my hands were to big and my medical conditions prevented me from getting to do a lot of the building, my wife helped a lot with that part and it was nice to see the finished product in action. With that being said, I don't have a lot of money for anything right now and hope that my disability pay finally comes through so I can start picking together parts for a computer for my wife. She won't need anything as powerful as I have, and the i7-4790k sounds pretty sweet.
  • -3 Hide
    smeezekitty , June 10, 2014 12:20 AM
    4GHz base clock on an intel chip wowie
  • 1 Hide
    dark_wizzie , June 10, 2014 1:16 AM
    The average overclock based upon my Google Doc of about 185 overclocks now averages at 4.55ghz for Haswell. A tim change isn't going to gain an extra 200mhz and even then, it's being generous.

    On a side note, this website annoys me. I click to add comment and the default fields are for signing up, no logging in, and when I do, I am back to the homepage. Great.
  • 10 Hide
    roymustang , June 10, 2014 1:18 AM
    It would've been nice to show benchmarks and temps vs sandy bridge (2600K) at same frequency to help us gauge the progress (or the lack of) that's been made in the last three and a half years.
  • 13 Hide
    neon neophyte , June 10, 2014 1:45 AM
    so one of their biggest selling points ended up resulting in a 6 degree difference.

    bring back solder intel.
  • 8 Hide
    tomfreak , June 10, 2014 1:53 AM
    Seriously u should bench it against the old Hex core like 990X, 3930K, 4930K.
  • -8 Hide
    Amdlova , June 10, 2014 2:05 AM
    nice improve :)  please where i put my razor? no way 6ºc improve. my ambient temp hits 45ºc my old 3770k 4.6ghz hit 88ºc on core. with this "new shinning old tech" i can't hit the 4.2ghz. intel miss and miss Hard!
  • 5 Hide
    NBSN , June 10, 2014 3:39 AM
    I think that the whole real point of releasing this new processor and the others to follow it is simple. Intel wants to offer a better stock clock for those that do not want to or do not know how to overclock their processor. And since AMD allows easier overclocking, or at least a whole lot more processors that can be overclocked than the ones that Intel specifies for their own products. This will help a lot of consumers decide Intel over AMD if they continue to offer comparative clocks.
  • 2 Hide
    ssdpro , June 10, 2014 4:27 AM
    First problem: 6C between the old and new TIM is something, but not much. As one of the big improvement features, that is disappointing.

    Second problem: Why is Tom's using 1.275 V for 4200MHz on both units? Is that actually 1.275v with LLC disabled or is LLC on a setting resulting in the lowest load voltage? If one of those units need 1.275v to be stable at 4200 you have a real donkey sample on your hands. Even the worst i7-4770k are stable at 1.20v @ 4200. Or was the over voltage designed to test an unrealistic incompetent situation to either emphasize or DE-emphasize the TIM difference?
  • -1 Hide
    Adroid , June 10, 2014 5:55 AM
    Sorry, but I'm entirely unimpressed. Improved TIM is a waste of time. I thought this was going to release with fluxless solder. 6° worth the wait ? 6° is the difference between air cooling and water cooling.

    Voltage wall is still at the approximate same place. Heat is still the limiting factor. I expect some of the better binned 4670K will hit equal or better than the 4690K.

    I'll stay with my 3570K @ 4.3ghz - this clearly isn't much of a step up. Looks like I'm waiting for a DDR4 system in a couple years.
  • -1 Hide
    RealBloodyMess , June 10, 2014 6:13 AM
    In the comparison chart vs the 4770k on page 1, it lists the stock Turbo boost clock for the 4790k @ 4.4Ghz. Why then are you limiting it to 4.2? Seems unfair not to let us see what it's capable of even in stock form!
  • -3 Hide
    cknobman , June 10, 2014 6:37 AM
    This is about as exciting as watching grass grow.

    Not impressed.
  • 5 Hide
    dwatterworth , June 10, 2014 7:12 AM
    I'd be more interested in the i5 - 4690K overclocking ability than the i7 - 4790K. As a freelance 3d artist in the architecture and engineering field, I'm constantly running renders/animations that go for multiple days. With a very limited hardware investment budget, an unlocked i5 at the same clocks as an unlocked i7 will run ~15% slower or so once all translations etc are complete, yet the i5 costs ~30% less than the i7.

    My interest lies in, will the devils canyon i5 4690k be able to hit the same clocks and temperatures as the i7 4790k at the same voltages, or for the i7 is there just a more extensive binning process or something of the sort? Your comment at the beginning of the article when discussing these realistic and sustainable overclocks really hit home in relation to this.
  • 6 Hide
    anthony8989 , June 10, 2014 8:46 AM
    "You might call the Core i7-4790K Haswell’s Super Saiyan form." - You've just become my new hero.
  • 8 Hide
    cangelini , June 10, 2014 8:48 AM
    Quote:
    First problem: 6C between the old and new TIM is something, but not much. As one of the big improvement features, that is disappointing.

    Second problem: Why is Tom's using 1.275 V for 4200MHz on both units? Is that actually 1.275v with LLC disabled or is LLC on a setting resulting in the lowest load voltage? If one of those units need 1.275v to be stable at 4200 you have a real donkey sample on your hands. Even the worst i7-4770k are stable at 1.20v @ 4200. Or was the over voltage designed to test an unrealistic incompetent situation to either emphasize or DE-emphasize the TIM difference?


    The point of running both CPUs at the same voltage and the same clock rate is measuring the difference of the TIM. For the rest of the tests, each chip is pushed as fast as it'll go, stably.
  • 3 Hide
    dvanburen , June 10, 2014 9:11 AM
    So where is the variant with 4GHz base clock, without the 'K' modifier, and with vt-d?
  • 1 Hide
    Wisecracker , June 10, 2014 9:25 AM

    The FX-8350 at stock was roughly the same time as the i7-3770K in your 3DSM fly-by render ...

    So why would you go out of your way to compare Devil's Canyon to the A10-7850K ??

  • 0 Hide
    maddogfargo , June 10, 2014 9:49 AM
    Another few percent faster than the 4770 but at the same price, 6c cooler, and 4.4GHz turbo out of the box. I anticipate some nice OC results with this one.

    Still, even though the performance is another step faster than AMD, for my purposes the cost is still a bit high. Still, I'd love to see what it can do at 5.0 GHz.
  • 3 Hide
    loki1944 , June 10, 2014 10:07 AM
    Having jumped from an i7 960 to a 4770K for gaming (both had a GTX 780), and seen pretty much no performance improvement across the board between the 2 (960@4.1Ghz and 4770K@4.2Ghz), I definitely can't buy into this, these are minuscule performance increases overall from my personal experience.
  • -2 Hide
    babernet_1 , June 10, 2014 10:31 AM
    Why on Earth the Noctua NH-U12S? A good cooler, but not the best. They are leaving MHz on the floor! Something is fishy, I think Toms' and Intel are at war.
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