While at CES 2017, we were very lucky to have the opportunity to chat with Intel representative Scott Massey to get the full scoop on all of the company’s latest products. Of course, the big news at CES was the release of the complete family of 7th-generation Core processors, which officially launched on January 3rd and began shipping on January 5th. This product line, formerly code-named Kaby Lake, had its initial launch in August of 2016 with six ultra-low-voltage models. The 7th-gen family now includes high-end laptop Core i5 and Core i7 models, along with the full range of desktop Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 processors.

The stars of the show are the mainstream Core i5-7600K, a quad-core chip running at 3.8GHz with Turboboost to 4.2GHz, which is currently selling for around $240, and the high-end Core i7-7700K, currently available for $350, or just a few dollars more than its predecessor the Core i7-6700K. This processor has a base clock of 4.2GHz, a Turbo clock of 4.5GHz, and actually operates at 4.4GHz with a quad-core load. In this sense, the 7700K, along with the 7600K, are actually bigger improvements over previous-gen models than they might seem from the base clock spec that's printed on the chip and the box. The Core i7-6700K, for example, was sold as a 4GHz chip, and that's all it could sustain with a quad-core load.

But let’s get one thing out of the way here: Intel realizes that enthusiasts still aren’t exactly wowed by the 7700K, given that it utilizes the same architecture as the i7-6700K released in August 2015. As Intel explained, they’re running into the laws of physics, but even so, Kaby Lake was updated with a refined manufacturing process that allows for higher clocks out of the box, higher overclocking headroom (with 5GHz now a reasonable goal for the enthusiasts with high-end motherboards and cooling), and slightly-lower power use. While Intel doesn’t bin processors or spend a lot of time probing the far reaches of its processors’ OC abilities, it has received feedback from enthusiasts that the 7700K is much more consistent from sample to sample, meaning overclocking is going to be a bit less of a game of chance. There's also strong evidence so far that the new CPU's onboard memory controller can support much higher memory frequencies on Z270 motherboards, and in fact Intel specifies that the entire 7th-generation family of Core processors can support DDR4-2400 memory out of the box, up from the DDR4-2133 standard the previous generation chips supported.

Furthermore, the new Core family has been joined by an updated motherboard chipset, referred to as the 200-family, which offers a few significant upgrades over the previous-gen chipsets. First, additional high-speed IO lanes have been added, with the top-end Z270 and H270 chipsets now each offering 30 such lanes, up 4 and 8, respectively, versus their predecessors. Intel realizes that serious PC users have a growing demand for onboard storage and peripheral connections, and these lanes can be used for such devices as USB 3.0 ports, M.2 slots, and SATA ports. Intel is also touting that the 200-series chipset is "Optane Memory Ready," meaning it will work with Intel's forthcoming 3D XPoint Optane memory. Optane will first appear as a cache product for the latest generation of motherboards, accelerating I/O operations. Intel suggested that these cache products should arrive before the end of the year. In our opinion, this just isn't a convincing feature of the new platform... yet. Perhaps when it does finally appear, Optane will prove to be everything Intel promised it would be long ago. Our advice at this point, however, is to wait and see, and then draw conclusions. 

Ultra-high-end builders were probably also hoping to hear some news on the follow-up to Broadwell-E, Intel’s current extreme line of six-, eight-, and ten-core processors. Well, Intel isn’t sharing much, except to say that the Extreme line is one that will continue, and the Broadwell-E family, launched in May of 2016, has been a very good seller. We also asked Intel to comment on AMD’s claims that the new Ryzen 8-core processor would match or beat Broadwell-E at a lower pricepoint, and Intel simply said that it welcomes competition, and it would wait for AMD’s product release before responding. As the Intel rep pointed out, when people start talking about CPUs, whether they are Intel’s or AMD’s, Intel gains additional exposure, and the public becomes more interested in processor performance generally.

Flip to the next page to get the full scoop on Intel's updated line of NUC mini PCs!

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