Review Index:

The Intel Core i7-7700K Review - Kaby Lake and 14nm+

Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

Architectural Background

It probably doesn't surprise any of our readers that there has been a tepid response to the leaks and reviews that have come out about the new Core i7-7700K CPU ahead of the scheduled launch of Kaby Lake-S from Intel. Replacing the Skylake-based 6700K part as the new "flagship" consumer enthusiast CPU, the 7700K has quite a bit stacked against it. We know that Kaby Lake is the first in the new sequence of tick-tock-optimize, and thus there are few architectural changes to any portion of the chip. However, that does not mean that the 7700K and Kaby Lake in general don't offer new capabilities (HEVC) or performance (clock speed). 

The Core i7-7700K is in an interesting spot as well with regard to motherboards and platforms. Nearly all motherboards that run the Z170 chipset will be able to run the new Kaby Lake parts without requiring an upgrade to the newly released Z270 chipset. However, the likelihood that any user on a Z170 platform today using a Skylake processor will feel the NEED to upgrade to Kaby Lake is minimal, to say the least. The Z270 chipset only offers a couple of new features compared to last generation, so the upgrade path is again somewhat limited in excitement.

Let's start by taking a look at the Core i7-7700K and how it compares to the previous top-end parts from the consumer processor line and then touch on the changes that Kaby Lake brings to the table.

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With the beginning of CES just days away (as I write this), Intel is taking the wrapping paper off of its first gift of 2017 to the industry. As you can see from the slide above, more than just the Kaby Lake-S consumer socketed processors are launching today, but other components including Iris Plus graphics implementations and quad-core notebook implementations will need to wait for another day.

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For DIY builders and OEMs, Kaby Lake-S, now known as the 7th Generation Core Processor family, offer some changes and additions. First, we will get a dual-core HyperThreaded processor with an unlocked designation in the Core i3-7350K. Other than the aforementioned Z270 chipset, Kaby Lake will be the first platform compatible with Intel Optane memory. (To be extra clear, I was told that previous processors will NOT be able to utilize Optane in its M.2 form factor.)

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Though we have already witnessed Lenovo announcing products using Optane, this is the first official Intel discussion about it. Optane memory will be available in M.2 modules that can be installed on Z270 motherboards, improving snappiness and responsiveness. It seems this will be launched later in the quarter as we don't have any performance numbers or benchmarks to point to demonstrating the advantages that Intel touts. I know both Allyn and I are very excited to see how this differs from previous Intel caching technologies.

  Core i7-7700K Core i7-6700K Core i7-5775C Core i7-4790K Core i7-4770K Core i7-3770K
Architecture Kaby Lake Skylake Broadwell Haswell Haswell Ivy Bridge
Process Tech 14nm+ 14nm 14nm 22nm 22nm 22nm
Socket LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1150 LGA 1150 LGA 1150 LGA 1155
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8 4/8
Base Clock 4.2 GHz 4.0 GHz 3.3 GHz 4.0 GHz 3.5 GHz 3.5 GHz
Max Turbo Clock 4.5 GHz 4.2 GHz 3.7 GHz 4.4 GHz 3.9 GHz 3.9 GHz
Memory Tech DDR4 DDR4 DDR3 DDR3 DDR3 DDR3
Memory Speeds Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2133 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz Up to 1600 MHz
Cache (L4 Cache) 8MB 8MB 6MB (128MB) 8MB 8MB 8MB
System Bus DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI2 - 6.4 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s DMI2 - 5.0 GT/s
Graphics HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 530 Iris Pro 6200 HD Graphics  4600 HD Graphics 4600 HD Graphics  4000
Max Graphics Clock 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.25 GHz 1.25 GHz 1.15 GHz
TDP 91W 91W 65W 88W 84W 77W
MSRP $339 $339 $366 $339 $339 $332

Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i7-7700K Kaby Lake processor!!

So let's get into the details. The Core i7-7700K has a base clock of 4.2 GHz and a Turbo clock rate of 4.5 GHz for a single core. Thanks to the improved 14nm+ process technology that Intel continued to develop, Kaby Lake will see better overall clock speeds in both mobile and consumer desktop integration, giving us the performance advantages we'll see on the following pages even though we know not to expect changes on the IPC side. 

Default DDR4 frequency jumps from 2133 MHz to 2400 MHz and the integrated graphics gets a jump from HD 530 to HD 630 branding, but otherwise, that's pretty much all she wrote. The launch price will be the same as previous years - $339 for the Core i7-7700K. That's expected and reasonable considering the continued lack of competition from AMD.

How do the important consumer processors in the Kaby Lake family compare?

  Core i7-7700K Core i5-7600K Core i7-7700 Core i5-7600 Core i5-7500 Core i3-7350K
Architecture Kaby Lake Kaby Lake Kaby Lake Kaby Lake Kaby Lake Kaby Lake
Process Tech 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+
Socket LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1151 LGA 1151
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/4 4/8 4/4 4/4 2/4
Base Clock 4.2 GHz 3.8 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.5 GHz 3.4 GHz 4.2 GHz
Max Turbo Clock 4.5 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.1 GHz 3.8 GHz N/A
Memory Tech DDR4 DDR4 DDR4 DDR4 DDR4 DDR4
Memory Speeds Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2400 MHz Up to 2400 MHz
Cache (L4 Cache) 8MB 6MB 8MB 6M 6M 4M
System Bus DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s DMI3 - 8.0 GT/s
Graphics HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 630 HD Graphics 630
Max Graphics Clock 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz 1.15 GHz
TDP 91W 91W 65W 65W 65W 60W
MSRP $339 $242 $303 $213 $192 $168

The 7700K is the highest stock clocked processor of the bunch by 300 MHz at the Turbo clock level. In a similar pattern to previous generations, the 7600K offers a quad-core option without HyperThreading at slightly reduced clock rates but for ~$100 lower price tag. The Core i7-7700 (without the K) is a non-unlocked processor but runs at noticeably lower clock speeds as well - so why it shares the same name is confusing. (Same with the Core i5-7600.) 

Though the two K-series parts have 91-watt TDPs, the other options are at 65 watts or less, even when we are matching core count and HyperThreading enablement. 

Perhaps the most interesting new part is the Core i3-7350K, an unlocked processor that offers a dual-core + HyperThreading configuration for the first time. Intel has previously released parts like the Pentium Anniversary Edition but that was limited to two threads. With a 4.2 GHz base clock it should be a damn fast part with a modest $168 price tag. It would shock me if this doesn't become one of the budget segments new darling parts.

Kaby Lake Architecture Overview

Before we get into the systems and to our results, I think it’s worth taking some time to quickly go over some of what we know about Kaby Lake from the processor perspective. Most of this content was published back in August just after the Intel Developer Forum, so if you are sure you are caught up, you can jump right along to a pictorial look at the two notebooks being tested today.

At its core, the microarchitecture of Kaby Lake is identical to that of Skylake. Instructions per clock (IPC) remain the same with the exception of dedicated hardware changes in the media engine, so you should not expect any performance differences with Kaby Lake except with improved clock speeds.

Also worth noting is that Intel is still building Kaby Lake on 14nm process technology, the same used on Skylake. The term “same” will be debated as well as Intel claims that improvements made in the process technology over the last 24 months have allowed them to expand clock speeds and improve on efficiency.

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Dubbing this new revision of the process as “14nm+”, Intel tells me that they have improved the fin profile for the 3D transistors as well as channel strain while more tightly integrating the design process with manufacturing. The result is a 12% increase in process performance; that is a sizeable gain in a fairly tight time frame even for Intel.

That process improvement directly results in higher clock speeds for Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake when running at the same target TDPs. In general, we are looking at 300-400 MHz higher peak clock speeds in Turbo Boost situations when compared to similar TDP products in the 6th generation. Sustained clocks will very likely remain voltage / thermally limited but the ability spike up to higher clocks for even short bursts can improve performance and responsiveness of Kaby Lake when compared to Skylake.

Along with higher fixed clock speeds for Kaby Lake processors, tweaks to Speed Shift will allow these processors to get to peak clock speeds more quickly than previous designs. I extensively tested Speed Shift when the feature was first enabled in Windows 10 and found that the improvement in user experience was striking. Though the move from Skylake to Kaby Lake won’t be as big of a change, Intel was able to improve the behavior.

The graphics architecture and EU (execution unit) layout remains the same from Skylake, but Intel was able to integrate a new video decode unit to improve power efficiency. That new engine can work in parallel with the EUs to improve performance throughput as well, but obviously at the expensive of some power efficiency.

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Specific additions to the codec lineup include decode support for 10-bit HEVC and 8/10-bit VP9 as well as encode support for 10-bit HEVC and 9-bit VP9. The video engine adds HDR support with tone mapping though it does require EU utilization. Wide Color Gamut (Rec. 2020) is prepped and ready to go according to Intel for when that standard starts rolling out to displays.

Performance levels for these new HEVC encode/decode blocks is set to allow for 4K 120mbps real-time on both the Y-series (4.5 watt) and U-series (15 watt) processors.

It’s obvious that the changes to Kaby Lake from Skylake are subtle and even I found myself overlooking the benefits that it might offer. 

Video News

January 3, 2017 | 12:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

When you specify the bitrate of something in 'mbps' the reader can obviously infer that the 'm' stands for 'mega' instead of 'milli', but has no way to tell if the 'b' stands for 'bits' or 'bytes' seeing as you didn't bother to capitalize the previous letter even though it was appropriate.

January 3, 2017 | 04:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Little 'b' is bits. Always.

Mbps = Megabits/sec
MBps = Megabytes/sec

January 3, 2017 | 11:20 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

if you had actually read the comment you replied to, you would have felt stupid

January 5, 2017 | 01:13 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

People are generally a little more careful with the b since it can have two meanings. The m doesn't really, since there is no such thing as a millibit. Bits are not divisible by definition. You see mbps quite often, even when Mbps is meant. You don't see mBps very often though.

January 3, 2017 | 12:22 PM - Posted by Pixy Misa (not verified)

Kaby Lake: It's mostly not worse!

Hope you can get your hands on Zen soon. At least that should be different enough to make things interesting.

January 3, 2017 | 03:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

yay zen... less performance but its AMD so it different

January 3, 2017 | 03:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Anything to make Intel actually have to consider their pricing and have some competition would be quite worth it.

January 3, 2017 | 12:24 PM - Posted by Pixy Misa (not verified)

Minor nit - the TrueCrypt results on the clock-for-clock page are labeled MB/s at the side but GB/s at the bottom.

January 3, 2017 | 11:41 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Ah thanks!

January 3, 2017 | 12:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Kaby Lake in summary: womp womp

January 3, 2017 | 12:43 PM - Posted by Jason Becker (not verified)

So its pretty much official. Intel has shown they don't need to do anything with CPU's anymore. Outside of the HEVC decode Intel took Skylake and raised the CPU number. Just pathetic Intel...

January 3, 2017 | 03:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Whats pathetic that they made improvements every year? AMD is so impressive with there 40% on 5 year old architecture. This thing is still going to be faster than zen in 95% of the applications everyone runs but its pathetic because its not a huge gain?

January 12, 2017 | 07:22 AM - Posted by Dark_wizzie

NOW it's official? How many years after Sandy Bridge did it take to realize this, lol.

January 3, 2017 | 12:49 PM - Posted by John H (not verified)

Love the combined video and text article - thanks for doing this PCPer!. The 5.1 GHz stable for benching is awesome..

I think the 8-core Zen and the upcoming 6-core Coffeelake will give a really good reason for us 2600K holdouts to upgrade, although 7700K looks like a pretty big out of the box difference now..

January 3, 2017 | 01:01 PM - Posted by Tralalak (not verified)

It depends on the segment (little core) where Intel can increase the IPC and also performance levels for these new HEVC encode/decode blocks is set to allow for 4K 120mbps real-time on both the N-series (6 watt) and J-series (6 watt) 14nm Apollo Lake processors (Goldmount CPU microarchitecture).

January 3, 2017 | 01:32 PM - Posted by mouf

Glad to see the 7700k isn't a heat monster like the previously leaked info. Still worth picking up if building a new system though. I will hold onto my OCed 4790k for awhile longer....

January 3, 2017 | 07:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The temperature problem was legit however its not a problem with the cpu but with some of the z270 boards automatically increasing voltage to unreasonable levels out of the box resulting in 90-100 degrees temps.

January 5, 2017 | 01:07 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What do you run on your OC'ed rig? Overclocking just doesn't seem worth it anymore. Overclocking your GPU would make a bigger difference for most uses.

January 3, 2017 | 01:59 PM - Posted by jccalhoun (not verified)

So does the processor still do hvec decoding if you have a discrete graphics card or does it just get shut off?

January 5, 2017 | 10:30 PM - Posted by quest4glory

Hmmm...on second thought...good question.

January 3, 2017 | 01:59 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

10bit VP9 decode test?

January 3, 2017 | 03:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Looks like Intel was only targeting mostly power usage on Kaby and that HEVC hardware encode/decode block helps there but there is nothing new for the gamer that mostly uses the GPU for gaming and encoding/decoding IP. So this Kaby lake refresh looks to be targeting laptop usage more than desktop usage. I'm not very happy about the market for laptops still being dominated by that Thin and Light nonsense as it's impossible to find many Business laptops that are using quad core i7 HQ SKUs in some retail(Brick and Mortar) stores. I'd rather have a discrete GPU in my laptop and a quad core CPU but that will change once the Ryzen/Vega APU variants are on the market with much better integrated graphics and HBM2.

Well one good thing with Kaby lake out Skylake SKUs will maybe go down in price! Ryzen is going to eat Intel's lunch with AMD's price/performance metrics!

January 3, 2017 | 05:14 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

AMD will just eat their lunch and no one can stop them... not even a price adjustment.

January 3, 2017 | 06:11 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Intel has a lot of corporate blubber that has the get paychecks and benefit packages. Also Intel has loads of chip fab infrastructure to maintain at the costs of billions of dollars per quarter that will prevent Intel from having the pricing latitude that AMD has. AMD is so lean that it has no fat or chip facilities to drain its balance sheets with uber expensive physical plant/fab R&D costs or any of the unneeded management Blubber’s pay/benefits/stock options expenses. Intel also has an investor base that will not stand for any disruption(long term) of those mad dividends and such before they drop Intel and look for greener higher margin producing pastures.

AMD can only go up in market share while Intel will find it very painful do go down on its traditionally high margins to defend that market share, especially with the massive size of the non productive Bloat getting a fat paycheck/stock options/costly benefits in the Intel corporate organization!

January 3, 2017 | 06:54 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

you should put all your money in AMD stock and then go fuck yourself

January 3, 2017 | 07:04 PM - Posted by Tucker Smith (not verified)

Damn. If you had offered that sage advice a year ago I'd have nearly pentupled my money and have had a great deal of joy in the meantime.

January 3, 2017 | 09:28 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well AMD is a very low overhead operation and Ryzen has angered you somehow, just look at this review's Price/Performance(Performance Per Dollar) listing and AMD will look even better with Ryzen! Sounds like you have too much invested in Intel's stock but that may not be such a wise investment going forward!

One must understand that AMD has been paired down to mostly productive engineers over the last few years and now that lean operation is geared to generate some great revenue growth at an even lower price point than that obese Chipzilla can manage. Look at all that money that old Chipzilla wasted on Contra Revenue and AMD engineered Zen/Ryzen and Polaris and Vega and HBM/HBM2 on not even one tenth of what Intel wasted on Contra Revenue alone! What an obese dinosaur that Chipzilla has become!

January 4, 2017 | 12:44 PM - Posted by I Am Being A Faggot (not verified)


January 4, 2017 | 05:05 PM - Posted by Jeremy Hellstrom

Leaving this for the sheer brilliance of the unintentional irony.

January 5, 2017 | 12:52 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Since we are hitting limitations with process technology, I expect the rest of the industry to catch up soon. Part of Intel's lead has always been process technology, but with everyone hitting the same barriers, I would expect all of them to be approaching a similar point. We might see quite a few competitors with processors to rival Intel's best. There is going to be a lot of competition from ARM variants and possibly from Power architecture. IBM's power processors perform quite well, they just have been limited to high end market segments. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple gets quite close to Intel and AMD x86-64 performance with their mobile ARM processors in in the next year or two.

I am waiting to see what AMD has the offer with Zen. The rummors are making it sound quite good, but I am waiting for real benchmarks. For the average consumer, even enthusiast, the processor is just not that important anymore though. What specialized hardware is included is more important important. A higher end Core 2 Duo will still perform very well for most task, especially the 4 core variants with larger caches. These old CPUs will not be able to play 4K video, HEVC, or other compute intensive codecs. The inclusion of new codecs might be enough for people to upgrade eventually, but it isn't really compelling.

I still have an old i7 920 with 24 GB of memory and an intel DC 3500 SSD (old Dell 435t/9000 I picked up when my laptop died). It works quite well for most of the things I use it for. It can compile quite fast with 8 threads and quite a bit of cache. What it does need is a new video card; it has an old 8600 GT or something with only 256 MB of memory. It can play video okay, but software support is going away. It was working fine with the previous version of vlc (I run Linux), but it crashes with the latest due to lack of video memory. I might just add a modern video card and see how it does. Flash video in Firefox plays terrible on it, but a new video card might not fix that. HTML5 from YouTube does fine though. If Zen is a good deal, then I may just build a completely new system. They shouldn't be too cheap though. AMD needs the make some profits. I might be willing to go up to $500 if it performs well.

January 3, 2017 | 05:25 PM - Posted by Matt (not verified)

Are there any issues running Windows 7?

January 4, 2017 | 06:28 AM - Posted by Dark_wizzie

Good question, I almost forgot about Windows 7 and Kaby Lake.

January 4, 2017 | 12:00 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Comparing how kaby performs on Win 7 vs Win 10 would be a great article! Hint, hint.

January 3, 2017 | 06:28 PM - Posted by Ha-Nocri (not verified)

What about thermals?

January 3, 2017 | 10:27 PM - Posted by Broseph (not verified)

How did you manage 70C temps, when other sites are reaching 90C+ when overclocked?

January 4, 2017 | 06:26 AM - Posted by Dark_wizzie

Because just stating voltage is too vague. It matters what program you're running on the chip.

January 5, 2017 | 10:30 PM - Posted by quest4glory

Motherboard UEFI / BIOS revisions matter due to auto voltage tuning.

January 4, 2017 | 12:35 AM - Posted by Yumri (not verified)

So a GPU update that had to be in hardware and less errors in bit by bit transmissions? That is kinda weak to send out a new CPU but fixing leakage is good for when they get smaller any leakage will be a even bigger issue. I just hope that Intel gets their prices for desktop CPUs under control so the next time i buy a CPU it does not cost more than the rest of the computer combined.

January 4, 2017 | 04:57 AM - Posted by Michael Rand (not verified)

We really need graphene to start showing some promise now, silicone has hit a brickwall.

January 4, 2017 | 06:27 AM - Posted by Dark_wizzie

In case you didn't know, it's silicon, not silicone. Those are two quite different materials.

January 5, 2017 | 12:09 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Silicone Valley is a totally different place also.

January 4, 2017 | 07:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

While AMD always overhype and underdeliver I find it hard to believe any AMD solution until we see them in real life. That they will impact the market, such when the original 64 bit opteron hit the market, is not likely in my opinion.

Having seen Samsung Laptops with A8? or was it A10?-level processor does not make me confident their next product will do better than intel unless for a very particular workload.

Intel has clearly hit a brick wall for the past years. Even my 7 year old T400 "toy" laptop has a 2.8GHz dual core mobile processor, and yes it may draw more electricity than a current CPU, but all this 9-15W focus has made many laptops unusable after Ivy Bridge. You need macbook pro with i7 to get a higher clocked dual core processor in 2016/2017!

Yes, embedded graphics have improved, this might make me upgrade eventually when my next TV is fully capable of 4k input signals. AMD clearly has a lead over Intel here. But for CPU.. blah..

I find it strange the delays facing Intel the past years in getting Broadwell and Skylake products onto the market. Hopefully they will have full availability with Kaby Lake.

January 4, 2017 | 09:48 AM - Posted by rcald2000

Question: What is the 14+nm fabrication node? I'm unable to find information about it online. I'm curious how it differs from 14nm (non plus).

January 4, 2017 | 07:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"Other than the aforementioned Z270 chipset, Kaby Lake will be the first platform compatible with Intel Optane memory. (To be extra clear, I was told that previous processors will NOT be able to utilize Optane in its M.2 form factor.)"

So it is an m.2 form factor that isn't compatible with m.2 slots? Or is it just that you can't use it as a cache without the latest and greatest? I guess a 16 GB drive isn't that useful without utilizing a caching system to make it invisible. A hybrid drive seems like a better way to go, but that may not fit on a single m.2 easily. It would need to be u.2 or an actual pci-e card.

January 15, 2017 | 01:40 PM - Posted by Chris BC (not verified)

Great review. I would like to see some Adobe Photoshop CC and Bridge CC performance numbers, including the clock for clock comparison. The slow stuff measured would help, such as Smart Sharpen, Unsharp Mask, opening large files in RAW, and generating full screen size previews for hundreds of large files in a folder. With the clock for clock testing you could gauge whether serious overclocking of a 6850X or 6900X might be the way to go for a new Photoshop/Bridge rig would be the way to go, as opposed to the new 7700K.

I think Photoshop is a great test for high end CPUs. It's just a shame that Intel's extreme chips with more than 4 cores are one or more generations behind.

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