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Official Intel 7th-gen Kaby Lake Review: One big change makes up for smaller ones

Gordon Mah Ung | Jan. 4, 2017
Don’t dismiss Intel’s newest CPU with a meh just yet. There’s more to the chip than you expect.

Intel’s Tuesday rollout of 7th-generation Kaby Lake CPU for desktops has met a dubious fanfare of leaked reviews that dismiss the new chip as one huge Core i Yawn. Kaby Lake seems to offer barely any movement forward and when overclocked, apparently gets to nuclear-fusion levels of heat output.

But it's too early to write off Kaby Lake. There’s a lot more to it that you still need to know.

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Little-known fact: Kaby Lake gets the “7th gen” name because of the improved graphics core and video engine, while the x86 cores are essentially unchanged.

What Kaby Lake brings to the desktop

Kaby Lake launched in August with dual-core versions for laptops that offered reasonable performance upticks. The highlight is its video engine, which can handle 10-bit content without breaking a sweat. Play a 10-bit color depth file on a Skylake laptop with integrated graphics, and you drop frames and destroy battery life. The same video on Kaby Lake hums along with far less impact. You can see this demonstrated right here. The updated graphics core with the latest content protection can now stream 4K from services such as Netflix.com.

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Kaby Lake is the first K chip that seems able to hit 5GHz in several generations.

On the desktop side, however, power users don’t care about integrated graphics, focusing more on the lackluster x86 performance.To be fair, Intel set the expectation in August that Kaby Lake was basically Skylake on an improved process that squeezes out more megahertz.

For example, the top-end Core i7-7700K has a base clock of 4.2GHz and a Turbo Boost clock speed of 4.5GHz, vs. a Skylake Core i7-6700K’s base clock of 4GHz and Turbo Boost of 4.2GHz.

The cache size, the core count, the memory controller and even the same LGA1151 socket are unchanged from the previous chip.

kaby lake pricing updated Intel

Intel’s “S-series” compromises its desktop lineup of new Kaby Lake-based Core CPUs.

This is the real launch

Intel fleshes out the Kaby Lake lineup with a total of 42 CPUs: 17 ultra low power chips for laptops, two quad-core Xeons, seven quad-core laptop CPUs, and 16 desktop CPUs.

Of particular interest in that desktop lineup to DIYers are the three unlocked  “K” chips. The first two were expected: a quad-core with 4.2GHz Core i7-7700K with Hyper-Threading and a quad-core 3.8GHz Core i5-7600K without Hyper-Threading. The third is a surprise: the dual-core 4.2GHz Core i3-7350K. The CPU has Hyper-Threading but since it is a Core i3, does not have Turbo Boost enabled. 

 

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