Intel's new 'Skylake' chip scores high marks for gaming
The first computers running Intel's sixth-generation processors are meant for expensive gaming rigs, but mainstream models will follow soon.
Dan AckermanEditorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications.
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Coming right on the heels of Intel's Broadwell line of processors, the new 6th generation of Core i-series CPUs, known by the code name Skylake, has officially debuted at the Gamescom video game trade show in Germany.
But before you toss your current-gen laptop, keep in mind that the first wave of new Skylake processors includes only a pair of very high-end chips for performance desktops, the Core i5-6600K and the Core i7-6700K. These K-series models are going to be found in expensive, high-end desktops from boutique PC makers such as Origin PC, Velocity Micro and Digital Storm. These companies are best known for making built-to-order desktops and laptops primarily for PC gamers.
Within the next couple of months, those initial Skylake chips should be joined by a wider range of options for mainstream desktops, laptop, tablets and hybrids. But for now, we've been able to benchmark a series of desktop gaming PCs with the both the new Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K processors, all paired with the new Intel Z170 chipset.
Intel claims you'll see about a 10 percent boost in overall performance over the previous generation of high-end desktop CPUs, along with easier overclocking, and native support for newer DDR4 RAM. More details on Skylake chips and the new features they offer can be found in our Intel Skylake FAQ.
In our hands-on testing with three Skylake-powered gaming desktops, ranging in price from $1,799 to $4,500 in the US, we found excellent overall performance, even in our challenging new Multimedia Multitasking 3.0 test, which transcodes an HD video while both HD and 4K videos play in the background.
Gaming scores were excellent as well, although that relies primarily on the Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 cards in these systems (in both single and double-card configurations).
Looking at the three Skylake desktops profiled here, consider these benchmark scores not as a head-to-head comparison, as each is configured differently and some of the CPUs are overclocked, but as a general idea of what the new high-end 6th-generation Core i-series CPUs are capable of. For comparison, we've included a previous-generation desktop from Maingear, with a high-end "Extreme Edition" Core i7-5690X, which is even higher in the CPU food chain than these new Skylake chips.
Skylake represents the "tock" of Intel's tick-tock update cycle. The "tick" represents a major physical, structural change, such as moving to a 14nm (which refers to the size of a transistor on the chip) manufacturing process, while the "tock" represents new features on top of the previous generation's size change, which is the case for this 6th generation of Core i-series processors.
More interesting will be the upcoming mainstream and mobile chips later in 2015, which will show whether this represents a major change despite the relatively short time period between the releases of Broadwell and Skylake, or if recent PC buyers can feel comfortable sticking with what they've got for now.