Intel’s Coffee Lake processors have launched, well... kinda. They're still in such limited supply it's a little difficult to actually call it a launch. Yet the 8th Gen Core CPU range gives us Intel's first mainstream six-core CPUs, and their first real response to AMD’s Ryzen. These new CPUs represent the most interesting part of the bizarrely mixed 8th Gen Core architectures. And, in an AMD-inspired move, they're replacing the 7th Gen Kaby Lake processors after less than 12 months, but what can these new chips offer the previous ones couldn’t?
Coffee Lake chips would have topped our guide to the best CPUs for gaming... if you could buy the damned things...
Intel Coffee Lake CPU reviews
- Intel Core i7 8700K review: Coffee Lake beats Ryzen, but proves games don't care for cores
- Intel Core i5 8600K review: it only really exists to beat the Ryzen 5 1600X's benchmarks
- Intel Core i5 8400 review: THE gaming Coffee Lake, ignore those K-series' 5GHz+ OC numbers
Intel Coffee Lake motherboard reviews
- MSI Z370 Gaming Pro Carbon AC review: too honest to deliver top Coffee Lake performance
- Asus TUF Z370-Pro Gaming review: shows you don't have to spend big on an Intel Coffee Lake board
Intel Coffee Lake PC reviews
- Scan 3XS Gamer: maybe your best chance of getting Coffee Lake on your desktop this year
- Cyberpower Infinity X88 GTX Elite: a six-core rig which commits the cardinal sin of system building
- Intel Coffee Lake release date
Intel's latest desktop gaming CPUs launched October 5, 2017.
- Intel Coffee Lake pricing and availability
The top Core i7 should start at around $359, with the two Core i5s costing $257 and $182 respectively, but expect them to be much higher to start with. In the UK the only 8700K we've found is £500. Golly.
- Intel Coffee Lake specifications
There are four six-core chips: two K-series and two 65W. The Core i7 8700K will top out at 4.3GHz, and the i5 8600K at 4.1GHz, all-core Turbo clockspeeds. There's also a pair of four-core i3 chips finishing the lineup.
- Intel Coffee Lake performance
The single-core performance of Intel's new Coffee Lake chips makes them great gaming CPUs. And when you bring in the prospect of 5GHz+ overclocking that's going to make things tough for AMD's Ryzen.
After less than a year of 7th Gen Kaby Lake processors, we're now moving on towards the 8th Gen, featuring the brand new Coffee Lake and Cannon Lake designs... as well as some lively refreshes.
There's even going to be a new 8th Gen chip that's set to arrive sporting Radeon graphics silicon made by AMD. We're pretty confident that was one of Nostradamus' doom-laden prophecies foretelling the end of the world...
Intel unveiled the first 8th Gen Core CPUs back in August - these 15W chips are a set of ultra low-power Core i7 and Core i5 processors for super thin laptops, not the beefy desktop Coffee Lake CPUs some might have hoped for. They are still interesting little chips, if you want a quad-core 2-in-1 or ultrabook-style laptop. Intel have doubled the core count, and left HyperThreading turned on for both i7 and i5 variants, giving them both eight threads.
But now we’ve got the first Coffee Lake desktop chips, which are definitely the more exciting ones, right?
It might seem rather unusual for Intel to be retiring Kaby Lake so quickly, but there are a number of factors at play which are making this generation different from previous ones. For a start there is now increased competition in the CPU market from AMD’s Ryzen processors, but Intel are also struggling against the continual demand for CPU die shrinks and the increasing difficulty of making ever smaller transistors.
So now we’re looking at another stop-gap processor generation based on the same basic architecture as Skylake and Kaby Lake, as well as the same lithography Intel have been using since the 2015 Broadwell designs. Indeed there are set to be Kaby Lake refreshes mixed in with the Coffee Lake and Cannon Lake chips too.
Intel’s old-school tick-tock release cadence - where they launched a new architecture on an old process before re-engineering it again for a smaller lithography - was retired because successive CPU generations were having to stick on a particular production process for longer periods of time. It was then replaced by a new release cadence they called Process>Architecture>Optimisation... which didn’t even make it through one cycle. Now it’s just Process>Architecture>Optimise>Obey>Submit.
So if it’s all essentially the same why should we care about Coffee Lake? Well, this time it’s all about the AMD-inspired increased thread-count and a six-core i5...
Saying it is a little difficult to pick up a Coffee Lake chip right now is a bit of an understatement. The latest chips are almost universally out of stock worldwide, and availability issues aren’t expected to ease until the start of November. Stockists are promising pre-orders will be met at this time, and if new shipments are still limited, stock levels may remain low for walk-in sales. Prepare for another sales rush.
As for Coffee Lake pricing, it’s almost impossible to give a firm answer when it seems like less than a handful of chips are available worldwide. The few top-end processors available are listed at extreme price disparity to the MSRP. The four-core i3 processors so far seem to be unaffected by any price gouging, so if you are looking for a budget processor, the i3 8100 is available at $117 / £110, and the i3 8350K is available at $180 / £170.
Of course if you're willing to pay well over the odds you might be able to pick up a new Coffee Lake CPU... Amazon UK have a listing from EpsilonLondon where they've got a couple of Core i7 8700K chips available for the bargain price of £500. Yeah, just £150 more than they really ought to cost. Maybe just wait until the new year when they were meant to have launched...
Coffee Lake is the next 14nm CPU design after Kaby Lake, which Intel is calling 14nm++ in an attempt to make it seem different. What’s making the new generation relevant, however, is the fact they’re bringing six-core / 12-thread processors into high-end laptops and standard desktops for the first time.
This is the big news for Coffee Lake: both the Core i7 and Core i5 ranges will have a six-core CPU at the top. The Core i7 will come with six cores and 12 threads while the Core i5 version won’t come with HyperThreading and so will be stuck with a straight six-core design.
That's rather exciting for us gamers because it means there’s a robust 14nm six-core part combining Intel's high-end single-threaded gaming performance with an extra two cores to give it decent multi-threaded chops too. Intel's resolutely quad-core K-series i5 from the Kaby Lake generation were able to either keep pace with, or beat AMD's six-core, twelve-thread Ryzen 5 1600X, so adding another couple of Intel cores to the mainstream mix gives Intel one hell of a gaming chip.
There are four six-core Coffee Lake CPUs at launch: a pair of Core i7 chips, one a K-series and another non-overclockable variant, and another two six-core i5 CPUs. The specs show a disappointingly low base clockspeed for all the chips, most especially the Core i5 8600K. Thankfully they have more acceptableall-core Turbo clockspeeds, especially when matched with a belligerent Asus Z370. The Core i7 8700K has a rated Turbo of 4.7GHz, which is rather stellar if we're able to hit that as a matter of course. Some motherboards, such as the MSI Z370 we used in our testing, will stick to Intel’s guidelines and only offer 4.3GHz and 4.1GHz all-core Turbo speeds for the i7 8700K and i5 8600K respectively.
There’s also a quad-core processor making its way into the budget-oriented Core i3 range too, the Core i3 8350K. We haven’t been able to track one down at launch, which is a shame as it’s essentially a Core i5 7600K with a budget price tag. And if that can top a 5GHz overclock it could be a real budget champ, especially if Intel allow overclocking on the H370 platform when that finally launches next year.
Somewhat frustratingly Intel have nixxed backwards compatibility for the Coffee Lake chips, meaning you can’t just drop an 8th Gen chip into your existing 200-series motherboard. Given the Z270 and Z370 platforms look almost identical quite why the 200-series won't support Coffee Lake remains unclear, though there are suggestions it's down to the Intel Management Engine providing remote support in the corporate environment. It doesn't look like the 300-series will be backwards compatible either.
The latest leaked roadmaps from Intel suggest the remaining consumer 300-series chipsets are on their way in Q1 of 2018. The H370, B360, and H310 are mid-range and budget boards, which will grant budget-minded chips, such as the Core i3 8350K, some degree of value not afforded at launch with the exclusive Z370 chipset.
Also indicated in Intel’s plans is the release of power-efficient Coffee Lake desktop processors, with 65W and 35W models possibly arriving in Q1 2018. These will arrive as six, four, and two-core chips.
Pentium and Celeron processors have also not been forgotten, with a pre-new-year release for the four- and two-core Gemini Lake chips.
Last, but definitely not least, Enterprise will have vPro Coffee Lake desktop processors arriving in Q2, with coinciding chipsets, the Q370 and Q360.
There will also be Cannon Lake chips coming later on, and potentially eight-core Coffee Lake CPUs, and that might hint at why the new chipset needs to be separated out from the last-gen 200-series. But, at the moment it's still all speculation on that front until we hear a definite yes or no from Intel. But hopefully that won't be long coming.
The real headline grabber from the first Coffee Lake performance tests is the fact that you can easily get 5GHz+ frequencies out of both the K-series Core i7 and Core i5 parts. You don’t have to go crazy with liquid nitrogen or set the CPU voltage to dangerous levels to get there either, and the temperatures at those speeds shouldn’t frighten you either.
With that overclocked performance the Core i7 8700K is capable of outperforming the top AMD Ryzen CPU, the 1800X, despite the fact that it has two fewer cores than its main rival. The superior gaming performance was almost a given, but the fact it can match it for general multi-threaded performance too is seriously impressive.
It’s the same situation with the Core i5 8600K too. That’s able to match the multi-threaded performance of the similarly priced Ryzen 5 1600X, despite having half the thread count of the AMD processor.
The problem for the two Coffee Lake K-series chips, however, is the fact that such CPU-intensive performance doesn’t matter one jot to us gamers. Even when they’re running at over 5GHz that doesn’t deliver them any extra gaming frame rates compared with the brilliant Core i5 8400.
That’s a straight six-core Coffee Lake chip, with no HyperThreading, no access to multiplier overclocking and gaming performance to rival anything on the market right now. Only the super CPU-heavy Civilization VI gives it any cause for concern. Even then, it matches the Kaby Lake Core i7 7700K benchmarks in everything from Cinebench to GTA V.
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