Don't be fooled: Intel's new desktop CPUs aren't faster

You'd be better off buying an older chip on sale.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
2 min read
Watch this: Intel's latest chips aren't that great

Kaby Lake. Kaby Lake. Kaby Lake.

If you read tech news, you may seeing that phrase an awful lot this week: it's what Intel calls its latest seventh-generation processors for laptop and desktop PCs. But before you get all excited about a PC with the new processors, there's something you should know: they're not meaningfully faster than the chips you can already buy now.

We'd already known that Intel's new laptop chips weren't a big upgrade, but it seems the desktop chips are even less compelling: today, the reviews are in and experts are struggling to find meaningful differences between the new Intel Core i7-7700K and 7600K and their predecessors.

In page after page of benchmarks (I read 'em so you don't have to) at reputable PC component benchmarking sites like AnandTech, PC Perspective and Tom's Hardware, each site comes to the same conclusion: the new chips only seem faster because Intel sets the clock speed (GHz) a little bit higher before they leave the factory.

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Tom's Hardware

But if you overclock last year's Core i7-6700K and i5-6600K to that same speed, they perform identically -- sometimes even a hair better.

It's not a big difference even if you don't overclock. Depending on the benchmark, we're talking seconds, or sometimes just tenths of a second faster in apps like Photoshop and Office. The new chips also don't seem to run any cooler or more power-efficient.

And if you're a PC gamer, you should know that -- like usual -- a new Intel CPU also won't help your games run faster. Here's a chart showing how the six-year-old Intel Core i7-2600K is basically just as competent in games as Intel's latest chips:

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I've gotta agree with Mark Walton at Ars Technica: desktop chips are dead in the water.

That doesn't mean Intel's new Kaby Lake chips have nothing to offer, though: they're the only official way to watch Netflix in 4K on a desktop PC, and Intel promises they'll support a new form of hybrid memory/storage dubbed Optane (more on how Optane works here).

And there is one processor in Intel's new lineup that might be worth talking about: the new Core i3-7350K. For half the asking price of Intel's highest-end Core i7-7700K, it offers the same impressively high 4.2GHz clockspeed and overclocking capabilities (unheard of for a cheap Core i3!) for about half the price -- just with two cores instead of four, and four threads instead of eight. (See it in some of AnandTech's benchmark charts here.)

But as far as I can see today, the best thing about Intel's new chips are the sale prices you're about to find on last year's processors.

Better luck next year?