Core i7-8700K Review: Intel's response to Ryzen is faster and cheaper than ever

Intel's aptly named Coffee Lake offers a frenetic amount of performance at prices unheard of from the chip giant.

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3DMark Time Spy Performance

Our first test is Futuremark’s 3DMark Time Spy test. Futuremark knows how to create beautiful test scenes, and Time Spy doesn’t let us down. For this test, we record Time Spy’s CPU score, which obviously focuses on the CPU rather than the GPU. Time Spy also favors more cores, good news for AMD, whose 8-core Ryzen 7 1700X lands a nose in front. 

core i7 8700k 3dmark time spy 1.0 IDG

3DMark’s Time Spy 1.0 CPU test gives the advantage to the 8-core Ryzen 7 1700X over the 6-core Core i7-8700K CPU.

Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor

The thing is, Time Spy uses DirectX 12, and the new API’s ability to use more CPU cores. Many games sadly just don’t care that much about having an 8-core CPU. For example, we use Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor with the high-resolution texture pack loaded to look at the real-world gaming performance of the two chips. That decent lead Ryzen 7 1700X had in Time Spy 1.0 evaporates, putting the Core i7-8700K slightly ahead rather than slightly behind when the game is set to Ultra.

core i7 8700k shadows of mordor 19x10 ultra IDG

Ticking the game quality up to Ultra makes most games GPU loads and the higher clock speeds of Core i7 just don't matter that much against the Ryzen 7 chip.

To get a better feel for what would happen if the graphics card weren’t the limit on performance, we also ran Shadows of Mordor using the High setting instead of Ultra. No surprise, the result favors the Core i7-8700K's higher clock speed and greater efficiency and you can see the performance gap open up a little more.

core i7 8700k shadows of mordor 19x10 high IDG

Using the High preset, the Core i7-8700K is just slightly ahead the Ryzen 7 1700X in Middle-earth: Shadows of Mordor.

Rise of the Tomb Raider Performance

We also ran Rise of the Tomb Raider at 1920x1080 resolution on the highest image quality preset, in DirectX 11 mode rather than DirectX 12. The Core i7-8700K just runs away with it here. If you think this is DirectX 11’s fault, we also ran it in DirectX 12 mode, which actually pushed the Core i7 even further ahead.

Mind you, Rise of the Tomb Raider recently received a patch that actually improves its performance on the new Ryzen CPUs. This is likely just the massive clock speed advantage that puts Core i7 in front.

core i7 8700k rise of the tomb raider 19x10 dx11 very high IDG

Running Rise of the Tomb Raider at its medium setting and placing more of a burden on the CPU, the Core i7-8700K is well ahead of the Ryzen 7 1700X chip. 

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

Like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege also agrees that the clock speed advantage Core i7 has over Ryzen 7 puts it in front.

core i7 8700k rise of the rainbow six siege 19x10 medium IDG

Rainbow Six Siege at medium heavily favors the Core i7 CPU over Ryzen 7.

As with most games, though, once you increase the image quality slider to higher settings, it turns into a GPU test. On Rainbow Six Siege, for example, Core i7 wins, but it’s pretty even.

core i7 8700k rise of the rainbow six siege 19x10 ultra IDG

In Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege at Ultra, the Core i7 Coffee Lake CPU maintains its lead, but not by much.

Deus Ex Divided

The bad news for Ryzen 7 come from Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. This particular game is one of the few AMD initially identified as running better on Ryzen. With the resolution at 1920x1080 and the High preset, though, Ryzen 7 just can’t beat that high clock speed. Core i7 runs away with it.

core i7 8700k deus ex mankind divided dx 12 19x10 high IDG

On game loads that aren’t constrained by the GPU, the higher clock speed and IPC of the Core i7-8700K Coffee Lake CPU lands it well ahead of the Ryzen 7 CPU.

The reality is, most people with beefy GPUs don’t tend to play at High or Medium settings, they pick Ultra. Once you do that (and it becomes more about the GPU), it really doesn’t matter that much does it?

core i7 8700k deus ex mankind divided dx 12 19x10 ultra IDG

Most games people play will be bottlenecked by the GPU, not the CPU, so Ryzen owners don’t have to sweat it too much.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation

Our last test is Stardock’s Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation. Made by Oxide as a showcase for the capability of DirectX 12, we ran the game at 1920x1080 using the Crazy preset. You might choose this to make it a GPU test, but Oxide has coded in a benchmark to stress the CPU more than the GPU. When we select CPU Focused, Ryzen 7 and its 8 cores come out ahead of the 6 cores in Core i7. Still, this is very much the exception. For the most part, the higher clock speeds of Core i7 will put it well ahead of Ryzen 7 in most games. Enough to care about or to matter? Probably not.

core i7 8700k ashes of the singularity escalation 19x10 crazy IDG

We run Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation using the CPU-focused test, and surprise—the 8-core Ryzen 7 1700X prevails over Core i7-8700K.

Core scaling

Before we close this up, we’ll hit you with two more charts. The first is Cinebench R15, but with the workload set by hand to run from single-core to 16-cores. If you look at the results, you can see the strengths of either $360 CPU. For the most part, Core i7 (orange bars) has the advantage until we get to about 12 threads in Cinebench. That’s no surprise as it is a 6-core CPU versus an 8-core CPU.

core i7 8700k vs ryzen 7 1700x cinebench r15 scaling IDG

The Core i7 and its higher clock speed and greater IPC lumps up the Ryzen 7 until you put enough of a load on it that the two extra cores in the AMD CPU give an advantage.

One thing our chart doesn’t show well, because of the scale, is just how much of an advantage the Core i7-8700K has in those lightly threaded tasks. So we crunched the numbers to find the percent difference the Core i7-8700K has over or under the Ryzen 7 1700X.

The results speak pretty clearly of the advantage Core i7-8700K has up to about 6 threads. Much of that, we believe, comes from the clock speed advantage. We also looked at the reported clock speeds of the CPU during these tests and found that while the Ryzen 7 1700X clocked up to 3.9GHz on single-threaded most of the time, it was seemingly locked in at 3.5GHz. The Core i7-8700K, on the other hand, would hit 4.7GHz before slowly settling down to 4.5GHz to 4.3GHz across the workloads. That’s just a huge clock speed disparity, and it shows.

core i7 8700k vs ryzen 7 1700x cinebench r15 scaling percentage IDG

This chart shows how much of huge advantage the Core i7-8700K has over the Ryzen 7 1700X in lightly threaded tasks. Once you get to heavier thread loads, the 8-core Ryzen 7 pulls ahead.

Conclusion

Ultimately how we judge the Core i7-8700K ($370 on Amazon) comes down to two areas: Performance and price.

In performance, it’s pretty clear Core i7-8700K is an impressive CPU. With its high clock speeds and efficient micro-architecture, it punches out of its weight class and can rival CPUs with two more cores. That high clock also aids it in the very important single-and lightly-threaded workloads that the vast majority of consumers rely on every day. 

In many ways, the Coffee Lake Core i7-8700K goes a long toward addressing a key weakness of Intel’s previous mainstream standard bearer—the Core i7-7700K.

While fast in single- and lightly-threaded tasks, the quad-core Kaby Lake would lose to the 8-core Ryzen CPUs in heavier-duty tasks. The Core i7-8700K doesn’t quite ace the comparable AMD CPUs in all heavy-duty work, but it comes uncomfortably close in a lot of them and can even match it in a few.

When Intel finally released its 18-core Core i9-7980X and 16-core Core i9-7960X, the company took back the performance crown from AMD’s Threadripper. Still, few took Intel seriously because the pricing on the CPUs was so over-the-top, it was clear Intel didn’t plan to sell many.

It’s clear with Coffee Lake, Intel really wants to sell them. At $360 list, it compares very favorably to the AMD Ryzen 7 1700X, which has a list price of $400 but can be had for $300 to $360.

As skeptical we were initially of how Intel’s 6-core CPU could go toe-to-toe with AMD’s 8-core chips, the tests show Coffee Lake is a lot more competitive than we expected and a lot more affordable than ever before from Intel.

Here’s what to buy

Pick Core i7-8700K over Ryzen 7 1700X if you mostly play games, drive Office and a browser, and don’t intend to push only content creation apps. Basically, it’s the CPU for most people who want more performance but don’t really do video editing all the time.

Pick Ryzen 7 1700X over Core i7-8700K if you're looking for a budget content creation machine without stepping up to a Threadripper part. As fast as Core i7-8700K is, most people who do 3D modelling will generally want more cores, and Ryzen 7 1700X has the advantage there. That advantage, however, is a pretty damned tiny in a lot of tests, and something AMD and its fans may lose a lot of sleep over.

Pick Core i7-7700K over Core i7-8700K if you want an immediate feeling of remorse. With the same basic list price between the two chips (Coffee Lake is $10 more) there’s almost no reason to choose a Core i7-7700K over Core i7-8700K, ever. Core i7-8700K can do everything Kaby Lake can do on light tasks, and then give the 8-core Ryzen chips a hard time, too. The only possible reason we could see to buy Core i7-7700K is a super-good price (it’ll still be sold, we’re told) or the motherboard you have just won’t work with Core i7-8700K. But yeah, just don’t.

Core i7-8700K Coffee Lake Gordon Mah Ung

Intel’s new Coffee Lake is like a double espresso with a Red Bull chaser for your PC.

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