Intel’s Coffee Lake CPUs aren’t a hard “response” to Ryzen; the CPUs have been taped-out for a while now, but the response appears to align more with the release timeline and pricing. X299 moved forward to compete with Threadripper, and Coffee Lake received a similar treatment. One thing we won’t know, of course, is whether the pricing is some sort of a response to Ryzen. Intel’s i7-8700K premiere CL CPU carries an MSRP target of $360 1ku, a $10-$20 jump over Kaby Lake 7700K CPUs with fewer cores and similar frequencies. Either way, the i7-8700K is here now, and we’ve got a densely packed review covering most aspects of Coffee Lake.

Our Intel i7-8700K review will focus on delidding, liquid metal application, overclocking, gaming & streaming benchmarks vs. Ryzen, power draw, and production benchmarks. Our i5-8600K review will post separately, as this is dense enough as-is.

We’ve talked about this in the past, but it’s worth reviving: The reason or keeping motherboard consistency during CPU testing is the inherent variance, particularly when running auto settings. Auto voltage depends on a lookup table that’s built on a per-EFI basis for the motherboards, which means auto VIDs vary between not only motherboard vendors, but between EFI revisions. As voltage changes, power consumption changes – the two are directly related – and so too the wattage changes. As a function of volts and amps, watts consumed by the CPU will increase on motherboards that push more volts to the CPU, regardless of whether the CPU needs that voltage to be stable.

We previously found that Gigabyte’s Gaming 7 Z270 motherboard supplied way too much voltage to the 7700K when in auto settings, something that the company later resolved. The resolution was good enough that we now use the Gaming 7 Z270 for all of our GPU tests, following the fix of auto voltages that were too high.

Today, we’re looking at the impact of motherboards on Intel i9-7960X thermals primarily, though the 7980XE makes some appearances in our liquid metal testing. Unless otherwise noted, a Kraken X62 was used at max fan + pump RPMs.

Our 7900X delidding benchmarks weren’t published by coincidence: Today, we’re expanding on our liquid metal vs. Intel TIM testing with the new Intel i9-7960X and i9-7980XE CPUs, the 16C and 18C Skylake-X parts, respectively. These CPUs are Intel’s highest multithreaded performers in this segment, and are priced alongside that status – the 7960X costs $1700, with the 7980XE at $2000.

Rather than focusing entirely on delidding and thermal benchmarks, we’ll also be including power testing and some production benchmarks (Blender, Premiere). This review of the Intel i9-7960X and i9-7980XE will primarily test thermals, power, delidded thermals, liquid metal thermals, rendering benchmarks, and some synthetics.

Recapping the previous test approach for delidding & liquid metal:

There are many reasons that Intel may have opted for TIM with their CPUs, and given that the company hasn’t offered a statement of substance, we really have no exact idea of why different materials are selected. Using TIM could be a matter of cost – as seems to be the default assumption – and spend, it could be an undisclosed engineering challenge to do with yields (with solder), it could be for government or legal grants pertaining to environmental conscientiousness, or related to conflict-free advertisements, or any number of other things. We don’t know. What we do know, and what we can test, is the efficacy of the TIM as opposed to alternatives. Intel’s statement pertaining to usage of TIM on HEDT (or any) CPUs effectively paraphrases as “as this relates to manufacturing process, we do not discuss it.” Intel sees this as a proprietary process, and so the subject matter is sensitive to share.

With an i7-7700K, TIM is perhaps more defensible – it’s certainly cheaper, and that’s a cheaper part. Once we start looking at the 7900X and other CPUs of a similar class, the ability to argue in favor of Dow Corning’s TIM weakens. To the credit of both Intel and Dow Corning, the TIM selected is highly durable to thermal cycling – it’ll last a long time, won’t need replacement, and shouldn’t exhibit any serious cracking or aging issues in any meaningful amount of time. The usable life of the platform will expire prior to the CPU’s operability, in essence.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t better solutions. Intel has used solder before – there’s precedent for it – and certainly there exist thermal solutions with greater transfer capabilities than what’s used on most of Intel’s CPUs.

Der8auer just delidded his high core-count Skylake-X CPU (12C to 18C), using the same kit that we used in our i9-7900X delidding video from Computex. Der8auer’s findings reveal a larger die than the 10C 7900X that we previously delidded, though the 12-18C units are ultimately using a die with disabled cores from the higher-end Xeon line. The delid also teaches us, critically, that even the 7920X CPUs are still not soldered. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, seeing as Intel’s operation has avoided soldering for the other recent CPUs, but we’re hoping that future Intel product lines move back to solder. Der8auer hasn't posted his findings of the 18C parts yet, so there is still room for a change -- but solder is looking unlikely.

We asked Intel why Kaby Lake-X exists at its recent press day, challenging that the refreshed 7700 & 7600 CPUs can’t be used on LGA1151 sockets, that they aren’t significantly different from the predecessors, and that LGA2066 boards are way more expensive. The socket and chipset alone have a higher BOM cost for manufacturers than 200-series boards, and that cost is passed on to consumers. That’s not free. The consumer also pays for the components that won’t go unused, like the trace routing for half of the DIMMs (and the physical slots).

But Intel gave us an answer to that query.

Intel’s past few weeks have seen the company enduring the ire of a large portion of the tech community, perhaps undeservedly in some instances -- certainly deservedly in others. We criticized the company for its initial marketing of the 7900X – but then, we criticize nearly everyone for marketing claims that borderline on silly. “Extreme Mega-Tasking,” for instance, was Intel’s new invention.

But it’d be folly to assume that Skylake-X won’t perform. It’s just a matter of how Intel positions itself with pricing, particularly considering the imminent arrival of Threadripper. Skylake-X is built on known and documented architecture and is accompanied by the usual platform roll-out, with some anomalies in the form of Kaby Lake X's accompaniment on that same platform.

Today, we're reviewing the Intel Core i9-7900X Skylake X CPU, benchmarking it in game streaming (Twitch, YouTube) vs. Ryzen, in Blender & Premiere rendering, VR gaming, and standard gaming.

Intel seemingly moved its KBL-X and SKY-X CPU launches up, with the spotlight pointed at nine new enthusiast-class CPUs. A few of these are more similar to refreshes than others, but we also see the introduction of the i9 line of Intel CPUs, scaling up to 18C and 36T on the i9-7980XE CPU. We’ll go over prices and specs in this Computex news item, and note that we’ve already got motherboard coverage online for EVGA’s new X99 motherboards.

Starting with the marketing, then.

Following our in-depth first-look coverage of the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti Kingpin card, we now turn to the company’s upcoming motherboard releases in the X299 family. This coincides with Intel’s Kaby Lake X (KBL-X) & Skylake-X (SKY-X) CPU announcement from today, and marks the announcement of EVGA’s continued embattlement in the motherboard market. All the boards are X299 (LGA 2066) to support Intel’s refreshed KBL and new SKY-X CPUs, consolidating the platforms into a single socket type and with greater DIMM support. That doesn’t mean, however, that the motherboard makers will fully exploit the option of additional DIMMs for HEDT CPUs; EVGA has elected to forfeit half the DIMMs on the new EVGA X299 DARK board in favor of greater overclocking potential. We’ll talk through the specs on the new EVGA X299 DARK, X299 Micro, and X299 FTW K, along with VRM design and power components used.

The motherboard lineup does not yet include pricing or hard release dates, but we do know that the tiering will go: Dark > FTW K > Micro, with regard to price.

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