Intel reveals its new Coffee Lake processors – the company’s “best ever gaming CPUs”

Intel has revealed its eighth-generation desktop CPUs – the company’s first chips to be built on the new Coffee Lake architecture. Six processors have been confirmed for release on 5 October: two new Core i7 chips, two Core i5 models and two low-cost Core i3 CPUs, each in both regular and unlocked “K” variants.

Internally, the new core design is all but identical to the seventh-generation Kaby Lake architecture and uses the same 14nm manufacturing process. There are some important updates to the packaging, though. First, Intel has pushed up the clock speeds: the top-end Core i7-8700K can boost up to 4.7GHz out of the box, up from the Core i7-7700K’s 4.5GHz.

 The new chips also have more cores than previous models – a response, perhaps, to AMD’s highly parallel Ryzen CPUs. The new Core i7 models have six cores, with Hyper-Threading allowing them to handle up to 12 threads at once, while the new Core i5 chips also have six cores but no Hyper-Threading. Even the lowly Core i3 gets a boost, stepping up to four physical cores for the first time.

To help keep those cores fed with instructions and data, the new chips also have more cache than the old Kaby Lake models. Last-generation Core i3 chips had either 3MB or 4MB of L3 “smart” cache; that’s now been extended to 6MB. Core i5 models are up from 6MB to 9MB, and Core i7 chips are raised from 8MB to 12MB.

Finally, the unlocked processors now offer per-core frequency settings. This means that if you’re willing to experiment, you can now wring the absolute maximum performance from a chip, by setting each individual core to run at the fastest speed it can handle.

Alongside these CPU improvements, the GPU has also been tweaked: the new UHD Graphics 630 component uses the same basic silicon as Kaby Lake, but clock speeds are higher, and there’s also now hardware support for 4K HDR video.

While independent benchmarks aren’t yet available (check back on 5 October for our full review), Intel is confident these enhancements make Coffee Lake its best platform yet for gaming and desktop applications – leaving aside the much more expensive “Extreme” chips, which it sees as a different market.

Motherboard blues

Coffee Lake’s extra cores and more advanced overclocking capabilities come with one catch: the chips require an updated power delivery system, and that means it can’t be used with existing motherboards. If you’re looking to build an eighth-generation desktop system, you’ll need a new Intel 300-series board. At launch, it looks like your only option will be the high-end X370 chipset.

As well as working with the latest processors, this new chipset also handles dual-channel DDR4 memory at up to 2,666MHz, Thunderbolt 3, Intel’s Optane cache memory and a generous 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes – even with the new Core i3 processors. Physically, the new motherboards use the same LGA 1151 socket as Skylake and Kaby Lake, but those older chips won’t work in an X370 board.

The road ahead

At the Coffee Lake launch, Anand Srivatsa, general manager of the Intel’s Desktop Platform Group, confirmed that the low-end Celeron and Pentium families are next in line for a revamp, with new products planned for later this year. Finally, the rest of the eight-generation processor family will appear in the first half of 2018.

Interestingly, Srivatsa also revealed that the company’s first 10nm chip design will appear before the end of the year, albeit in a “low-volume” product. The move to 10nm was originally planned for 2016 under the company’s old “tick-tock” timetable, but engineering challenges have seen the shrink repeatedly deferred.

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