In our series of Buyer Guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended CPUs list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (7/6). Numbers in graphs reflect MSRP.
CPU Buyer’s Guide: Q2 2017
So far the first half of this year has been mildly insane. Back in 2016, we had the best part of 1.5-2 platform launches and it was a quiet year on the CPU side. So far this year we have had three or four launches, with another few in the pipeline to come. With Kaby Lake, Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 out of the way, in comes Kaby Lake-X and Skylake-X to the party, with Skylake-SP, ThreadRipper, EPYC and potentially more still on the invite list later this year. As much as I love writing about CPUs and testing the newest hardware, sometimes a doorman needs a rest (ed: 2018… maybe).
For consumers, it can be a fun time. With new platforms comes an opportunity to upgrade, either through the increase in performance or just because you want the latest and greatest. The idea is that the newest processors are more performant, or lower power, or fit into a particular niche better (and hopefully are the same or lower cost overall). For users who wanted to invest in AMD this year, Ryzen has been a good offering and ThreadRipper is around the corner. For users looking to upgrade that i7-2600K or i5-2500K, Intel is trying hard to tempt them with Kaby Lake processors and even Kaby Lake-X, with the best part of 25-35% IPC and some extra MHz as well. For anyone that wanted a 10-core CPU and thought $1721 was too much for the i7-6950X, Intel has you covered with the Core i9-7900X at $999-$1049 now as well.
Our big CPU reviews for 2017 have covered all the launches so far, and well worth a read:
The Intel Core i7-7700K (91W) Review
The Intel Core i5-7600K (91W) Review: The More Amenable Mainstream Performer
The Intel Core i3-7350K (60W) Review: Almost a Core i7-2600K
The Intel Skylake-X Review: Core i9 7900X, i7 7820X and i7 7800X Tested
Intel Announces Kaby Lake-X Processors
The AMD Zen and Ryzen 7 Review: A Deep Dive on 1800X, 1700X and 1700
The AMD Ryzen 5 1600X vs Core i5 Review: Twelve Threads vs Four at $250
In the pipe coming in the next few weeks include our Kaby Lake-X reviews (unfortunately one of our CPUs died, hence the delay), as well as retesting Ryzen with the latest updates, Skylake-X on gaming, and a few more projects underway.
One of the overriding issues so far this year worth mentioning is platform maturity. With new platforms come new challenges, and as far as we understand, extreme deadlines. Motherboard manufacturers, for both AMD and Intel, have had to rush through some of the production of their initial motherboards at launch. When we reviewed Ryzen 7 and Kaby Lake-X, both of those reviews did not have gaming results due to erroneous results on young hardware. At this point we expect both platforms to be running smoothly, but as an indication that this year is about time to market, it’s a big one to note for early adopters (and reviewers that end up wanting to throw products out a window).
The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well. Here’s a breakdown of those recommendations:
Peak Gaming / VR
In the midst of the launches this year, the talk of CPUs that are suitable for Virtual Reality has died down to some extent. Now that AMD has parts on the shelf that are unquestionably suitable, it just comes down to what price a user can enter into VR, or at what level a user can be future proof as VR gaming becomes more demanding. Even with this is mind, a non-VR gaming machine that wants to be ahead of the curve has similar demands, especially as DirectX12 titles are in the pipeline. Single thread performance still helps here, especially for the simpler casual games and driving high frame rates.
The new king of the crop is the Intel Core i7-7740X. It boasts the highest per-core performance of any x86 processor, and then heaps on a lot of frequency as a result. A good processor will run up to 5 GHz with a nod for overclocking, giving a user the best premium VR experience today. At $350 list price, plus some more for a good cooler and a decent motherboard, it should provide a premium gaming system for several years to come when a user wants the Peak experience.