Intel’s slow cadence of incremental upgrades hasn’t done much to distance its products from AMD's. Instead, you could argue that AMD fell behind on its own accord. The Ryzen processors will be launching soon, so it's time for the speculation to begin once again. We won't know how this match-up is going to turn out until AMD makes its move, though. Obviously we need a competitive AMD to help reinvigorate the desktop PC space.
The announcement that Intel was moving away from a tick-tock cadence prepared us for even smaller generational gains, and Kaby Lake doesn't disappoint. Intel went with the same overall architecture, so there are no extra cores, IPC throughput increases, or cache to get us excited. At stock settings, the Kaby Lake processors perform almost exactly like overclocked versions of their predecessors.
To its credit, Kaby Lake brings the mythical 5 GHz threshold into play for overclockers. But beyond the clock rate boost (roughly 200-300 MHz over Skylake overclocks), there is little reason for enthusiasts armed with Skylake CPUs to upgrade. If you already have a modern processor, spend those dollars on a new GPU or SSD. Kaby Lake is really only an option for power users building new PCs.
Intel’s beefier media capabilities are nice for mobile and mainstream desktop users, and the power consumption/CPU utilization savings are great if you use integrated graphics. However, those benefits don't do much for enthusiasts with add-in graphics cards. Streaming 4K content is awash in a sea of caveats. Until it's easily accessible, adoption is going to be limited.
The 200-series chipsets offer more HSIO lanes than the 100-series models, allowing motherboard manufacturers to enable diverse connectivity options. Unfortunately, much of that is going to be hidden behind the restrictive DMI 3.0 link. Intel also dangles Optane-branded 3D XPoint memory compatibility as another add-on hanging off the PCH. Although the prospect of futuristic memory is exciting, it's not ready yet. Intel also curiously chooses to use it as a cache layer for hard drives, which may yield questionable results among enthusiasts with SSDs. The real value of 3D XPoint lies in using it as a cheap supplemental layer of RAM, which would truly be revolutionary. Apparently we have to wait for the next generation to see that functionality.
The Core i7-7700K is a powerful processor, but it can also create a tremendous amount of waste heat. This creates a thermal ceiling for pursing aggressive overclocks; effective cooling is a must. The Core i5-7600K offers a better balance and more thermal headroom, but sacrifices Hyper-Threading and a few bins of base and Turbo Boost clock rate. The agile Core i5-7600 also offers a nice balance of performance and efficiency; it's just constrained to minimal BCLK adjustments.
An AVX offset mode is nice to have, but we would have rather seen Intel add Turbo Boost 3.0. The unlocked Core i3 SKU is tantalizing as a replacement for the Pentium G3258, but we can't recommend it until we run tests of our own.
The Kaby Lake CPUs are priced just like their predecessors, which we appreciate. Frankly, without much competition, Intel is free to price its products unchecked. If you do make the jump to Kaby Lake for its overclocking potential, or as part of a brand new PC, be sure to factor in a beefy liquid cooler and, if you don't already have one, a Windows 10 license.
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