Drawing conclusions on this one is surprisingly easy. Intel gets major kudos for going somewhere it has never gone before: opening up enthusiast-class flexibility to the folks who don’t have $1,000 to spend on a new CPU.
It wouldn’t be fair to sarcastically toss out a, “way to join the party, Intel.” Remember that once upon a time, AMD only unlocked its $1,000 FX-series chips, too. But getting eclipsed on the performance front encourages creative thinking. The fact that Black Edition CPUs are available under $100 is less altruistic and more strategic.
At the end of the day, it’s all good news for enthusiasts, who now have more choice and more flexibility at price points they can more realistically afford.
If you’re looking at Intel’s product stack, these new chips (particularly the Core i7-875K) are just what the doctor ordered. I mean, I wouldn’t have ever suggested that a 2.93 GHz Core i7-870 was a good buy at $562 when the 2.8 GHz Core i7-920 was selling for $294. But a Core i7-875K at $342 is at least a little more attractive if you’re using that $562 price point as a reference.
At the same time, an unlocked Core i5-655K at $216 doesn’t sound daunting at all. For a processor that ran stable for us at 4.66 GHz, you couldn’t really ask for sweeter dual-core chip to take the place of Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8500 and E6300 in the annals of overclocking history.
At the same time, we have to wonder why Intel picked the SKUs that it did for K-series honors. Tom’s Hardware’s favorite overclockable Core i7 remains the LGA 1366-based -920 (or -930). Our favorite i5 remains the -750. Either one of those models, unlocked, could have been priced similarly, opening up X58’s PCI Express connectivity at the high-end, and giving enthusiasts a true quad-core LGA 1156 CPU with which to play, even if it’s a more-expensive-to-manufacture 45 nm design.
And that leads to the inevitable comparison to AMD’s Black Editions.
Versus the Core i7-875K, overclocked, AMD’s six-core Phenom II X6 1090T is generally outperformed at 4 GHz. But it’s also $30 cheaper. It also takes off in heavily-threaded video encoding titles. And it also populates a platform well-endowed with PCI Express 2.0.
While you could easily set the Core i5-655K up against AMD’s Phenom II X6 1055T, we chose the quad-core Phenom II X4 965 instead, which also hit 4 GHz stably. Threaded titles uniformly favored AMD’s offering, while workloads like iTunes gave the 32 nm chip’s insane 4.66 GHz clock the advantage. Again, though, Intel is asking an extra $35 over AMD’s price of entry.
As enthusiasts, we’ll again emphasize how happy we are to see Intel unlocking processors beyond its Extreme Edition parts.
But despite the excellent scaling you get from the company’s more advanced manufacturing technology, AMD’s Black Edition parts still come across as better values for the money, even when you overclock both parties involved to the limits of stability. With a slight massage to each model's price point, though, this story could easily turn back around and go the other direction.
The K-series chips give Intel significantly more street cred. Here's hoping the product family lives on and expands to include additional enthusiast-class parts.
Follow Chris Angelini on Twitter for updates from the Tom's Hardware lab.
Win A CyberPower Core i7-875K-Based PC Worth $1,499
Intel Core i7-875K CPU
Intel 40GB SSD OS Drive
CoolerMaster 690 II Advanced Case
Asus P7P55D-E PRO Motherboard
4 GB DDR3-1600 Kingston Hyper-X Memory
1 TB Hitachi Hard Drive
Samsung 8x Blu Ray Combo Drive
EVGA GeForce GTS 250 1 GB Graphics Card
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Card Reader, Keyboard, and Mouse
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