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

Core i7-4790K Adds Enthusiast Appeal To Haswell

You might call the Core i7-4790K Haswell’s Super Saiyan form. Intel didn’t rework its thermal interface material or power delivery because the Core i7-4770K was facing pressure from AMD. No. Devil’s Canyon appears as the company’s response to guys like me who’ve poked at it for multiple generations about a lack of attention shown to enthusiasts.

What we get in return is a CPU operating 500 MHz faster, designed to complement the just-released 9-series platform controller hubs, and best of all, available at the same ~$340 price point as Core i7-4770K. Intel didn’t need to pile on all of that frequency. It could have prevented partners from extending 8-series chipset compatibility. And the company would certainly be within its right to bump prices up. But it’s being more benevolent than the jaded critics might have expected.

Instead, Core i7-4790K surfaces as the Haswell-based flagship we should have had a little more than a year ago. Where our reception of the 4770K was tepid at best, Intel’s 4790K at least satisfies our desire for demonstrable performance improvement. The processor doesn't overclock worlds better than the 4770K, but additional headroom is never guaranteed. It's the extra 500 MHz promised from the same die you're going to want. With that said, if you ignored my original indifference and bought Haswell when it was introduced, 4790K isn't going to compel another upgrade. But if you’re coming from something in the Sandy Bridge generation, or even certain Ivy Bridge-based CPUs, it's going to be a lot more interesting than 4770K was.

Then again, if you’re on a budget, and spending $340 on a host processor isn’t viable, there are two other unlocked options from Intel sure to enjoy mainstream success. The Core i5-4690K operates at a 3.5 GHz base clock rate and 3.9 GHz top Turbo Boost setting, while the Pentium G3258 offers a 3.2 GHz frequency. We’ve tested K-series i5s before, and know they are some of the most effective gaming processors available thanks to efficient architectures and overclocking headroom. That 20th anniversary Pentium is something completely new, though. Will its dual-core configuration overclock well enough to outpace AMD’s Athlon X4 750K in general desktop and gaming tests? You can bet we’ll be answering that question soon enough.

One last parting shot: I know there aren't a ton of comparison numbers in today's charts. I really wanted the face-off to be between Core i7-4790K and -4770K using our latest benchmark versions. But paging back through some of the tests that haven't changed in Intel Core i7-4960X Review: Ivy Bridge-E, Benchmarked, it's worth noting that Core i7-4790K, even overclocked, trades blows with the Core i7-3930K at its stock clock rate in most threaded benchmarks (Haswell obviously smokes Sandy Bridge-E in tests that run on one core). I know that was a $600-something processor two-and-a-half years ago, but it sure holds up well. You have to be happy as an enthusiast if you're still sitting on a tuned -3930K.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • NBSN
    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.
  • smeezekitty
    4GHz base clock on an intel chip wowie
  • BoredErica
    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.
  • roymustang
    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.
  • neon neophyte
    so one of their biggest selling points ended up resulting in a 6 degree difference.

    bring back solder intel.
  • tomfreak
    Seriously u should bench it against the old Hex core like 990X, 3930K, 4930K.
  • Amdlova
    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!
  • NBSN
    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.
  • ssdpro
    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?
  • Adroid
    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.