To use any processing product for six years is a remarkable feat. GPUs struggle to hang on for that amount of time. You’d be reducing graphics settings heavily after the second or third year, and likely considering an upgrade around the same time. Intel’s CPUs are different – they don’t change much, and we almost always recommend skipping at least one generation between upgrades (for the gaming audience, anyway). The 7700K increased temperatures substantially and didn’t increase performance in-step, making it a pointless upgrade for any owners of the i7-6700K or i7-4690K.
We did remark in the review that owners of the 2500K and 2600K may want to consider finally moving up to Kaby Lake, but if we think about that for a second, it almost seems ridiculous: Sandy Bridge is an architecture from 2011. The i5-2500K came out in 1Q11, making it about six years old as of 2017. That is some serious staying power. Intel shows gains less than 10% generationally with almost absolute certainty. We see double-digits jumps in Blender performance and some production workloads, but that is still not an occurrence with every architecture launch. With gaming, based on the 6700K to 7700K jump, you’re lucky to get more than 1.5-3% extra performance. That’s counting frametime performance, too.
AMD’s architectural jumps should be a different story, in theory, but that’s mostly because Zen is planted 5 years after the launch of the FX-8350. AMD did have subsequent clock-rate increases and various rebadges or power efficiency improvements (FX-8370, FX 8320E), but those weren’t really that exciting for existing owners of 8000-series CPUs. In that regard, it’s the same story as Intel. AMD’s Ryzen will certainly post large gains over AMD’s last architecture given the sizeable temporal gap between launches, but we still have no idea how the next iteration will scale. It could well be just as slow as Intel’s scaling, depending on what architectural and process walls AMD may run into.
That’s not really the point of this article, though; today, we’re looking at whether it’s finally time to upgrade the i5-2500K CPU. Owners of the i5-2500K did well to buy one, it turns out, because the only major desire to upgrade would likely stem from a want of more I/O options (like M.2, NVMe, and USB3.1 Gen2 support). Hard performance is finally becoming a reason to upgrade, as we’ll show, but we’d still rank changes to HSIO as the biggest driver in upgrade demand. In the time since 2011, PCIe Gen3 has proliferated across all relevant platforms, USB3.x ports have increased to double-digits on some boards, M.2 and NVMe have entered the field of SSDs, and SATA III is on its way out as a storage interface.
Clock-rate, sure – that’s increased a bit. Process technology has gone through shrinks. TDP has managed to stay the same while relative performance increases. All good things, of course, but generally not the most exciting.
With the last two generations, we’re seeing reason to actually upgrade for gaming performance. That’s what we’re going through today.
In this revisit of the Intel i5-2500K, we’ll be testing the Sandy Bridge CPU’s staying power into 2017 by testing Blender rendering speed, a handful of modern games, and running some synthetic numbers. This testing is limited to just performance, with no discussion of power or thermals for the revisit. We’ll leave that to the reviews of new CPU SKUs. Temperature and power draw numbers have not changed since the launch of the i5-2500K, and so we’re not re-testing those.
We’ll most specifically be looking at the Intel i5-2500K vs. i5-7600K, i5-6600K, and i5-4690K. The 3570K is also included. We test overclocking configurations for most benchmarks.
We Are Still Adding CPUs to the Bench
Our i7-7700K review focused entirely on the i7 family of CPUs. We did not test a single i5, i3, or FX product for that review, entirely because of time (against CES) and as a judgment call that we wanted to focus on one family. We’ve now expanded to add i5 CPUs to our benchmark charts. We’ll soon be adding the i3 series from Intel and some FX series hangers-on from AMD, as we’re preparing for the inevitable Ryzen review and Intel i3 Kaby Lake reviews.
CPU Testing Methodology
Game Test Methodology
NVIDIA 376.33 drivers were used for benchmarking. Game settings were manually controlled for the DUT. All games were run at presets defined in their respective charts. All other game settings are defined in respective game benchmarks, which we publish separately from GPU and CPU reviews. Our test courses, in the event manual testing is executed, are also uploaded within that content. This allows others to replicate our results by studying our bench courses.
Windows 10-64 build 10586 was used for testing.
Each game was tested for 30 seconds in an identical scenario, then repeated three times for parity.
Some benchmarks disable EIST, Turbo, and other features -- please check each section to learn if that is the case. Otherwise, for game benchmarks, assume stock settings (Turbo enabled). We always disable C-states.
Average FPS, 1% low, and 0.1% low times are measured. We do not measure maximum or minimum FPS results as we consider these numbers to be pure outliers. Instead, we take an average of the lowest 1% of results (1% low) to show real-world, noticeable dips; we then take an average of the lowest 0.1% of results for severe spikes.
Core Components (Unchanging)
- NZXT 1200W Hale90v2
- For DDR4 platforms: Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB 3200MHz
- For DDR3 platforms: HyperX Savage 32GB 2400MHz
- Intel 730 480GB SSD
- Open Air Test Bench
- Cooler #1 (Air): Be Quiet! Dark Rock 3
- Cooler #2 (Cheap liquid): Asetek 570LC w/ Gentle Typhoon fan (this is the one we used for this particular article)
- Cooler #3 (High-end): Kraken X62
Note: fan and pump settings are configured on a per-test basis.
- MSI Gaming Pro Carbon
- i7-7700K (x2) samples from motherboard vendors
- i5-7600K purchased by GN
- MSI Gaming M7
- i7-6700K retail
- Gigabyte Z97X G1 WIFI-BK
- MSI GD65 Z77
- i5 3570K
Dx12 games are benchmarked using PresentMon onPresent, with further data analysis from GN-made tools.