Intel Core i7-4790K: Devil's Canyon Is For Enthusiasts
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.