Intel Coffee Lake review: 8th gen desktop chips are fast, but expensive

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Intel finds itself in an odd position in 2017. Historically, it’s held the whip hand over AMD, but with the release of its Ryzen chips this year, AMD has been making a comeback, its chips delivering more brute force power than Intel’s Kaby Lake CPUs but at far cheaper prices.

Intel Coffee Lake review: 8th gen desktop chips are fast, but expensive

Enter Intel’s Coffee Lake processors – Intel’s eighth generation of CPU – which have more cores than before and higher clock speeds as well.

To find out what Intel’s new chips are really capable of, we put the high-end Core i7-8700K through our regular desktop media benchmarks, running on Windows 10 64-bit with 8GB of DDR4-2400 RAM.

Read on to find out if Intel’s latest offerings are good enough to topple Ryzen and reclaim the CPU crown…

READ NEXT: AMD Ryzen review

Intel Coffee Lake review: Different models and features

There are six Coffee Lake processors to choose from at the moment: two Core i7 models, two Core i5 chips plus two low-end Core i3s. All the new CPUs are desktop PC parts, with no laptop versions announced just yet.

Coffee Lake is very similar to the chip giant’s Kaby Lake processors released last year. They use the same core design, and they’re also 14nm chips so no movement there. The days of ever-shrinking manufacturing processes seem to be well and truly over.

There are differences between the two ranges, though, with the first being the number of cores. The new Core i7 chips now have six cores, instead of four, with Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology allowing them to deal with twelve simultaneous processes. The Coffee Lake Core i5 chips have six cores but don’t benefit from Hyper-Threading, while the Core i3 models have gone from a core count of two to four.

That’s not all, though. Intel’s Coffee Lake chips also run at higher clock speeds than their predecessors. The Core i7-8700K runs at a stock speed of 3.7GHz and has a maximum Turbo Boost speed of 4.7GHz, which is an improvement over the 4.5GHz of last year’s model. You can push it even higher if you want to because the chip is unlocked.

One word of warning, though: Coffee Lake won’t be a cheap upgrade. As the new CPUs have higher power requirements, you can’t simply replace the Kaby Lake chip in your current motherboard; you’ll need a new one equipped with one of Intel’s latest 300-series chipsets.


Intel Coffee Lake review: Benchmarking

So, how quick is Coffee Lake? In a word: fast. Really, really fast. For the first test run, we left our review Core i7-8700K at its stock speeds and saw scores of 163 for image editing, 202 for video editing and 226 for multitasking for an overall score of 208.

PCs based on the previous Core i7-7700K have typically scored around 180 so that’s a big step up. It’s not enough to unseat AMD, though. Ryzen 7 1700 desktops tend to score around 240 overall at stock speed; with a high-end Ryzen 7 1800X CPU, we’d expect to see an overall score of 270 or more.

How about overclocking? Well, that’s a little more interesting. A new feature in the 300-series chipset allows you to set the maximum Turbo Boost ratio for each core individually so you can run every core at the absolute fastest speed it can stably support. To keep things simple, we didn’t spend too much time tweaking it and set all cores to the same frequency instead. However, we were still impressed with its performance.

Our test CPU remained stable at speeds up to 5.1GHz using a stock Intel air cooler. Thermal throttling quickly kicked in, though, meaning I saw almost no real improvement in performance: the overall benchmark score merely rose a few marks to 212. To make the most of the chip’s overclocking capabilities, it looks like you’ll have to resort to a pricey liquid cooling system.

Intel Coffee Lake: Graphics

Like the main CPU core, the UHD 630 graphics processor in the new Coffee Lake chips is essentially identical to the one in the previous generation. There’s native support for 4K HDR video and slightly higher clock speeds, but those are the only new features.

So yes, it is the most powerful integrated GPU Intel has yet produced, but you still can’t use it to play high-end 3D games – at least not without dumbing the detail and resolution down significantly. To get Metro Last Light: Redux to a playable level, we had to drop down to 720p and disable motion blur and anti-aliasing. Even then it reached only a sluggish 36fps.


Intel Coffee Lake: Prices

Intel’s Coffee Lake range covers a whole spread of price points, starting at £115 for the quad-core 3.6GHz Core i3-8100, rising to £355 for the Core i7-8700K we tested for this review.

AMD’s Ryzen range, though, still offers more bang-per-buck and you’ll typically get more cores to the pound than with Intel. The Ryzen 7 1700, for instance, has eight cores and handles sixteen threads and costs a mere £265. It’s officially clocked at 3.7GHz, but all Ryzen processors are unlocked so you can push it higher.

Then there’s the Ryzen 5 1600X, which offers six cores and can handle 12 threads at 3.6GHz. At £217, it’s cheaper than the Core i5, which can only handle six threads. The Ryzen 3 1200 has four cores and can cope with eight threads, while the quad-core Intel Core i3 is stuck on four. It’s also cheaper than the Intel at £95.

Intel Coffee Lake: Verdict

Intel’s new Coffee Lake chips are certainly more powerful than their predecessors, thanks to the extra cores and higher clock speeds. However, AMD’s Ryzen chips still deliver more for your money and, although they don’t have integrated graphics like the Intel chips, that disadvantage is offset by the fact that with the new Intel chips you’ll need to replace your motherboard anyway.

That doesn’t mean the Coffee Lake is a useless upgrade. Not at all. There’s enough power here to punch through any job, and while the graphics won’t impress hardcore gamers, for other purposes it’s ample and allows you to build a system that’s both simple and quiet.

At the moment, Coffee Lake is expensive compared with equivalent AMD Ryzen CPUs, but expect those prices to fall once the initial launch period is over. That will make it a far more tempting purchase overall.

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