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Intel's Kaby Lake-X CPUs Are Not What PC Gamers Are Looking For

After seeing AMD successfully release its new Ryzen platform this spring, Intel was heading into this summer ready to pull the covers off of its response, codenamed Basin Falls. They officially unveiled the new products at the Computex trade show in Taiwan on May 30, 2017. On display at the show were the company’s brand new X299 motherboard chipset and a full line of processors set to take advantage of the advancements made in the years since Intel last released an HEDT chipset, the X99 (codenamed Wellsburg). As expected, the long awaited Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs were debuted. Intel’s HEDT product line is made for desktop enthusiasts and comes with an enthusiast price tag to match. The Skylake-X products represent a continuation of previous chips made for the enthusiast crowd, featuring higher core counts, increased bandwidth, and cutting edge features. The Kaby Lake-X CPUs that were revealed came as a bit of a surprise, as they were refreshes of existing Kaby Lake CPUs that could run on the X299 motherboards.

Historically, the Intel HEDT platforms offered high-end features for high prices. Skylake-X chips continue that trend, finding themselves priced out of the hands of typical PC gamers. The new Kaby Lake-X CPUs, the 4-core/4-thread Core i5-7640X and the 4-core/8-thread Core i7-7740X, are offered at a price similar to what the mainstream Kaby Lake (non-X) chips sell for. In theory, prospective buyers could pair these lower-priced CPUs with the more expensive X299 motherboards as cheap way to enter into the HEDT ecosystem. The problem is that buyers will be unable to use many of the features on these X299 motherboards when using Kaby Lake-X CPUs.

Unlike the Skylake-X CPUs, Kaby Lake-X CPUs use a dual-channel memory controller, limiting the maximum number of DIMMS to four, even though the X299 motherboards come with 8 DIMM slots. Kaby Lake-X CPUs are also limited to just 16 PCI-E lanes versus the 44 lanes available on Skylake-X. Having extra PCI-E lanes is important for users who want to take advantage of PCI-E storage (super fast SSDs) or multiple GPU solutions. A quad channel memory controller and extra PCI-E lanes are the major selling points for the HEDT platform. Without them, the expensive motherboards become functionally identical to their cheaper, mainstream counterparts. Making the overall package look worse, Kaby Lake-X CPUs lack the integrated graphics processor (IGP) found on the regular i5-7600K and i7-7700K. Not all customers will use the built-in graphics, but it does have its uses.

The lack of high-end features and IGP aside, the Core i5-7640X and Core i7-7740X simply offer no meaningful performance increase in games or productivity over their mainstream K counterparts. Performance benchmarks from TechSpot and GamersNexus show no gains (and in some cases, losses) against the Kaby Lake CPUs on the Z270 chipset. While both the i5-7640X and i7-7740X have shown to have slightly more headroom for overclocking on the X299 chipset, they consume much more power. In heavily threaded loads, the i7-7740K can consume up to 50% more power than the i7-7700K.

It is unclear what niche Kaby Lake-X is supposed to fill. It offers PC builders very little in the way of features compared to Skylake-X and certainly offers no performance incentives for PC gamers to consider when shopping for a gaming CPU. At the time that this article was published, the cheapest X299 motherboard on NewEgg goes for $220. After pairing the board with one of the new Kaby Lake-X CPUs and ram, you are looking at a bill of almost $700. Gamers can buy into a similar platform upgrade using an AMD Ryzen B350 motherboard or Intel Z270 motherboard for as little as $400 (CPU and RAM included) and experience nearly identical performance. 

Would you consider using these new CPUs for a new gaming build or upgrade? Is the prospect of having an upgrade path into Intel’s Skylake-X CPUs worth the large initial investment? Let us know by joining the conversation in the Chatty below.

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