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Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up For Ivy Bridge

An Evolution That Makes Sense, But Doesn't Impress

A group of journalists recently went to visit AMD in Austin (including one of our writers) and came back talking about the value of an “experience,” and how benchmarks can’t tell you if a given piece of hardware is “good enough.”

I believe benchmarks are important and will remain the lowest-level tools for quantifying one component’s value over another. They’re the most precise measure of “good enough.” You can look at performance numbers and generalize for a broad audience using hard data. It’s not as easy to tell how long you’ll spend compiling code based on one person’s opinion that a workstation is fine and dandy, though.

But that’s a conversation for another day. Regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself, Core i7-2700K is subjectively “good enough” compared to Intel’s Ivy Bridge-based Core i7-3770K. No question. If you’re die-hard about data, the numbers also make it objectively clear that there is no reason to upgrade a high-end desktop Sandy Bridge CPU to a high-end Ivy Bridge CPU.

Intel succeeds in bolstering the performance of its integrated graphics solution, but insofar as HD Graphics 4000 applies to gamers from any walk of life, you’d really be selling yourself short by not complementing a ~$300 CPU with an add-in card. Although AMD’s A8-3850 is nowhere near as fast as Core i7-3770K in processing workloads, the $130 APU does deliver better frame rates, if entry-level gaming is all you need.

Can Core i7-3770K catch a break with power users eager to overclock? Unless you’re using an extreme form of cooling, I’m afraid not. Our boxed Core i7-2700K hit a more aggressive frequency, nearly matching the -3770K’s performance in the process.

What if you saw the award that Core i5-2500K won last year in Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review but didn’t upgrade? What if you’re still stuck on an old Core 2- or Phenom-based platform and need something new? In that case, of course a desktop Ivy Bridge-based chip makes more sense than buying what is now last-generation hardware. The Core i7-3770K is one option, but we’d also be fairly confident in a Core i5-3570K for $100 less, too. Intel is actually being really reasonable on pricing, so you’ll pay less for the i7-3770K than you would have for a -2700K yesterday, and less for an i5-3570K than the -2550K. Not bad at all. 

A Little Perspective

Although Core i7-3770K, as one model in Intel’s line-up, is fairly easy for enthusiasts with modern machines to dismiss, don’t take our judgment as a cloud over the Ivy Bridge architecture.

An emphasis on integrated graphics performance and lower thermal design power points makes it clear that Intel is out to conquer smaller form factors like all-in-one desktops and thin/light notebooks.

Soon, the first wave of Ultrabooks based on Ivy Bridge, code named Chief River, will wash over the mobility-obsessed masses, more accurately representing the purpose of Intel’s newest family of processors.

But before that happens, we have more Ivy Bridge-based coverage planned, including our first round-up of Z77 Express-based motherboards driven by a Core i7-3770K, a look at how four different Ivy Bridge-based Core i5s compare at as many thermal ceilings, more depth on overclocking performance, and a review of mobile Ivy Bridge in a brand new notebook. Stay tuned!

For a chance at winning a Core i5-3570K-based PC, please click this link to enter our CyberPower PC/Tom's Hardware sweepstakes. The system's specs are as follows:

  • Intel Core i5-3570K 3.40 GHz (Overclocked 4.5GHz)
  • NZXT Switch 810 Hybrid Full-Tower Gaming Case
  • Asus P8Z77-V LX LGA 1155 ATX Mainboard
  • AMD Radeon HD 7770 1 GB PCI Express 3.0 Video Card
  • Asetek 570LX Liquid Cooling System w/ 240 mm Radiator and Dual Fans
  • Corsair Vengeance 8 GB DDR3-1600 Dual-Channel Memory Kit
  • Corsair Force Series 60 GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD
  • 1 TB SATA 6Gb/s 32 MB Cache 7200 RPM HDD
  • NXZT 750 W Power Supply 
  • Microsoft Windows® 7 Home Premium  
  • 24x Dual-Layer Dual-Format Drive

The sweepstakes opens on April 23, 2012 9 AM PDT and closes May 7, 2012 9:00 AM PDT.

Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.