Dramatic changes to the Core line-up are a boon to PC enthusiasts, and there is little to complain about in the performance department. Intel's Core i3-8350K gives us twice as many cores at a supposedly comparable price point versus the previous generation. But considering we didn't like that last model much, the -8350K would need to be exceptional to earn our affection.
In the chart below, we plotted gaming performance with both average frame rates and a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness), which we then converted into an FPS measurement. We're also presenting price-to-performance charts that get split up to include CPUs-only and extra platform costs. For the models that don't come with a bundled cooler, we add an extra $25 for a basic heat sink. We also add $20 if overclocking requires a more expensive motherboard (as is the case for Z370).
It's hard to beat an overclocked Core i3-8350K for gaming unless you have the cash for a pricier Core i5 or i7. In fact, the i3-8350K is surprisingly competitive with those more expensive Coffee Lake-based models if you spend some time overclocking. And Core i3-8350K destroys Kaby Lake in everything. An overclocked Ryzen 5 1600 provides the biggest challenge from AMD, but it's only able to go up against the stock -8350K. Overclocking propels this chip into a league of its own. The less expensive Ryzen 5 1500X also makes a compelling case for enthusiasts willing to turn the overclocking dials, but its much lower stock performance isn't as attractive.
The Core i3-8350K is surprisingly agile in our application suite. We recorded impressive performance in lightly-threaded applications, and observed competitive results in the multi-threaded workloads, too. Of course, any threaded benchmark is going to go Ryzen 5 1600's way. But Intel's quad-core Core i3 does help close distance that Kaby Lake lost to Ryzen, so the losses in heavily-threaded workloads aren't as pronounced.
And that's the issue we have right now with Ryzen 5 1600. You gain some performance in productivity workloads, as expected from a 6C/12T processor, but you lose quite a bit of single-threaded speed in other applications. Core i3-8350K presents a more balanced profile.
Speaking of balanced, the Core i5-8400 is our biggest winner here. You can drop it into a cheaper B-series platform, once those arrive, and get a really good mix of performance across the board. It also comes with a bundled cooler. You won't get the extreme gaming performance available from an overclocked Core i3-8350K, but you're going to gain a lot of flexibility in other workloads. Software is undoubtedly evolving to utilize multi-core architectures more extensively, so the two extra cores should come in handy down the road.
We weren't particularly fond of Intel's Core i3-7350K. Its high-end motherboard requirement and lack of a bundled cooler were out of touch for this value-sensitive segment. Core i3-8350K suffers from the same problems, compounded by limited availability leading to insane premiums. Even at Intel's MSRP, you're only a few bucks away from the six-core -8400 that comes with a thermal solution and drops into a cheaper motherboard.
Given what we've seen from Coffee Lake, it's time to steer you clear of Kaby Lake. But Intel won't let us. The lack of any meaningful Coffee Lake availability is causing severe price gouging, making it difficult for us to recommend anything from Intel's line-up right now. Should the Coffee Lake models fall to where they're supposed to be, they'll represent a big step forward in computing power for your dollar.
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