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Intel Core i3-7350K Review

Our Verdict

The Core i3-7350K brings a big performance boost to the i3 series and is a win for enthusiasts, but we'd like it a lot more if it came with a lower price tag to offset the additional requirements.

For

  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Snappy single-threaded performance

Against

  • High price
  • Doesn't include a heat sink
  • Requires Z170 or Z270 for overclocking

The Unlocked i3 Cometh

Enthusiasts have long flocked to Intel’s Core i5, Core i3, and Pentium processors as go-to solutions for budget-minded gaming rigs, particularly in light of AMDs waning innovation over the years. Each series offers its own advantages, and in the past, Intel’s surgical trimming of overclocking, Turbo Boost, and Hyper-Threading features separated the families into a well-defined hierarchy. We could tune i5s with easily-overclocked K-series SKUs, for example, but the i3 and Pentium families employed locked multipliers.

Intel set the benchmark for affordable overclocking when it released the unlocked Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition in July 2014. We have to reach even further back to find the last unlocked Hyper-Threaded dual-core CPU, Intel's Pentium EE 965, which surfaced in 2006. Now, in 2017, we get another taste in the Kaby Lake-based Core i3-7350K. It includes the benefit of Hyper-Threading, which makes the -7350K even more enticing to gamers than the Pentium G3258. After all, two Hyper-Threaded cores can work on four threads at a time, and that's a requisite in many of today's most popular titles.

The chip operates at a base clock rate of 4.2 GHz, similar to a Core i7-7700K. But it doesn't support Turbo Boost, though this isn't altogether disappointing given the unlocked multiplier. Intel shares 4MB of last-level cache across the die, yielding a ratio of 2MB per core, also like the higher-end models. And whereas the locked Core i3s are rated at 35W and 51W, the Core i3-7350K is the lone 60W SKU. Intel also re-introduced TSX-NI support, which can boost multi-threaded performance, to the i3 series.

Core i3-7350K is of course based on the Kaby Lake architecture, the second tock of Intel’s 14nm process. Due to a lack of IPC improvements, Kaby Lake isn't inherently faster than Skylake on a per-cycle basis. Instead, faster transistors enable generally higher clock rates. Intel also focuses on adding more features to the low-end processors in a move that many see as preparation for AMD's Ryzen launch. Beyond the process improvement, we get a revamped SpeedShift to keep power consumption in check without sacrificing responsiveness and a refined media engine.

The Core i3 processors come armed with HD Graphics 630 in a GT2 configuration (that's 24 execution units (EU) operating at a base 350 MHz and able to hit 1150 MHz). The Gen 9.5 graphics architecture provides fixed-function hardware for HEVC 10-bit decode/encode, VP9 8/10-bit decode, and VP9 8-bit encode. Most enthusiasts will pair this CPU with a discrete GPU, so the integrated graphics certainly aren’t the main attraction. It's worth noting, however, that you need a Kaby Lake-based system to stream 4K video due to hardware-based DRM requirements.


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The Price Dilemma

The allure of an unlocked dual-core model really boils down to pricing, and the Core i3-7350K unsurprisingly bears a higher price tag than other Core i3s. Like all K-series SKUs, the -7350K doesn’t come with a stock heat sink. We wouldn’t recommend one for overclocking anyway. But you do need to add the price of a cooler to your budget when you consider this CPU. Also, you need a Z170 or Z270 motherboard in order to take advantage of the unlocked multiplier, which also adds cost. These days, Z170-based platforms slot in as your value option, while Intel's Z270 PCH offers increased connectivity options due to more HSIO lanes. The company also touts “Optane Ready” status for Z270, so the new chipset is your only option for adding a touch of next-generation 3D XPoint memory caching when it becomes available later this year.

Most games don't fully utilize Intel's big six-, eight-, and 10-core chips, so the quad-threaded Core i3-7350K should still offer potent performance with the right GPU at a $179 price point. However, after you invest in a capable cooler and enthusiast-oriented motherboard, the extra costs push this supposed budget processor into the same range as a quad-core Core i5-7400 with an H- or B-series chipset and Intel's stock heat sink. The i5 doesn't benefit from Hyper-Threading or an unlocked multiplier, but Turbo Boost takes it from a base 3 GHz up to 3.5 GHz. And four physical cores are complemented by 6MB of shared L3. The Core i5-7500 is even faster thanks to a 3.4 GHz base frequency and 3.8 GHz peak Turbo Boost rate, so long as you're willing to spend $192.

Then again, if overclocking an unlocked processor is your only concern, the Core i3-7350K is your best bet short of the $236 Core i5-6600K. The Pentium family is much cheaper, sure, but even with the addition of Hyper-Threading to select models, a locked multiplier means none of them can challenge an overclocked Core i3. The -7350K also supports AVX and AVX2, whereas the Pentiums do not. Core i3s give you more L3 cache, too.

The price of a CPU affects how much you can spend on a graphics card or SSD, so it’s always a challenge to strike the right balance. Intel's Core i3-7350K blurs the line between its i3 and i5 families, so let's take a closer look at how this model fares against pricier alternatives.

  • Justiceinacan
    As someone who just enjoys overclocking and was coming from an FX chip, it is nice but I agree with the rest of the article ; a locked i5 is a very solid chip for similar pricing to the unlocked i3 which may fare better or worse.
    Reply
  • Sakkura
    It simply needs to drop $20. I suspect they may have launched this chip, and the hyperthreaded Pentiums, as a precaution for Ryzen. Intel doesn't usually adjust pricing, but I would not be the least bit surprised if the 7350K becomes an exception after the Ryzen launch (assuming things go well for AMD).
    Reply
  • ubercake
    These processors are $159 at microcenter. That's the $20 price drop Sakkura is looking for! I think I'd still just fork over the additional $40 (again microcenter) for the i5 though.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    Given how expensive the top-end i3 has become and the extra expenses that go in actually leveraging its overclockability, I'd say that the i5-7400 with a h270 motherboard would be the better bang-per-buck option in most cases. At least until Ryzen comes along 2-3 weeks from now and redefines what good bang-per-buck is.
    Reply
  • ubercake
    I really hope Ryzen lives up to the hype. I can't wait to see the R7 1800X vs. i7-6900K reviews.
    Reply
  • Ashwaganda
    With 168$ MSRP this cpu just isnt attractive, considering i5-7400 182$ MSRP.
    Even if you could overclock it with cheaper H110/B150/B250 board, the i5-7400 is a better buy. Also the 63$ Pentium G4560 utterly destroys i3-7350K by value.
    Sure G4560 does not have AVX instructions, but who cares. For gaming and everyday use purposes AVX doesnt offer any real benefit.
    Reply
  • bak0n
    The only reason I'd pick up this would be for playing games like Sins of a Solar empire that don't make use of enough cores and loads the screen with lots of processing at end game.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    These are selling for $180 right now. Simply not worth it. At least the pentium G3258 was priced close to its locked siblings. The price needs to drop, significantly. At current prices, and with the hyperthreaded Pentiums, the i3 is kinda irrelevant right now. Wonder if Intel knows something about Ryzen, that we don't, because these recent moves don't make a lot of sense.
    Reply
  • why_wolf
    I really get the feeling this chip is being setup so Intel can drop the price on it if AMD eats to much of the low end market. As it stands right now, at this price point, I'd have to agree going to an i5 instead makes way more sense for the majority of users out there.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    the G4620 stands out more in this review to me than this i3 does. at ~$90 it is a much better buy than this i3 for a true budget build. once it's price drops in response to AMD, then it will be worth a revisit once we know what AMD has to offer. but for now, i won't be recommending this cpu to anyone. locked i5 much better bang for the buck with the locked i3 or this new HT Pentium for a budget build.
    Reply