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Intel Core i7-7820X Skylake-X Review

Final Analysis

Intel's designed its X-series line-up to hit (almost) every budget. Prices in the high-end desktop family range from $242 to $2000. Unfortunately, expensive X299-based motherboards and the need for liquid cooling make it difficult to find value in an Intel HEDT package, particularly compared to AMD's Ryzen 7 and the Skylake-S models.

Adopting a mesh topology for Skylake-X was necessary to pave the way for greater scalability in the future. But the move causes some complications. Core i7-7820X offers great frame rates through our gaming suite. However, we did encounter those same performance peculiarities observed during our Core i9-7900X review. We're told that software optimizations could ameliorate this in the future, and hopefully Intel delivers as quickly as AMD did after launching Ryzen.

Regardless, if gaming is your primary use case, we still recommend Core i7-7700K as the best option, even in high-end PCs. Intel's Z270 chipset is more affordable and more mature than the still-evolving X299 platform. It also leaves you more room to budget for a flagship-class graphics card.

In the past, Intel's HEDT portfolio offered the strongest performance in threaded workloads thanks to lots of cores. It couldn't keep up in single-threaded benchmarks, though, due to lower clock rates. Skylake-X changes this with higher base and Turbo Boost frequencies. The addition of Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 even introduces a 4.5 GHz ceiling that matches the Core i7-7700K. Of course, when you need greater parallelism, the clocks spin down to allow all eight cores to do their work in game streaming, rendering, and semi-professional apps.

Ryzen 7 1800X typically can't beat the -7820X in those scenarios. But it's certainly competitive. AMD's CPU is also $100 cheaper. On top of that, X370-based motherboards cost a lot less than Intel's X299 platform, and liquid-cooling isn't a requirement in Ryzen's case. Without question, the 1800X on an X370 motherboard presents a compelling alternative to Intel's overpriced combo.

Overclocking is a mixed bag on Skylake-X. The Core i7-7820X appears to enjoy quite a bit of frequency headroom. Thermal throttling jumps up to bite you long before the CPU's true potential is realized, though. Although enthusiasts would like to see solder between Intel's die and heat spreader, at least thermal paste isn't as big of a problem for overclockers on the lower-power Core i7-7700K. It's a much bigger issue with the fire-breathing Skylake-X design.

We don't know what to say about vROC, other than charging a premium for hardware keys to unlock RAID functionality won't go over well on the desktop. Intel remains silent on vROC pricing and availability, so for now, the storage redundancy feature lurks inside, waiting to be enabled.

Intel should probably feel lucky that Core i7-7820X won't be going up against AMD's Threadripper, since the cheapest model will sell for $800. As it stands, this $600 CPU has a hard time justifying its premium over Ryzen 7 1800X, which currently sells for as little as $420. Moving forward, Intel may have to get even more aggressive about winning over enthusiasts. Don't lop off PCIe connectivity. Leave the FMA units intact. Don't nickel-and-dime for storage functionality. Use solder under the IHS. We like the big dies with lots of cores able to clock up when most of them aren't active. But the competition is heating up and Intel is looking a little flat-footed.


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Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.