One of the most popular processors of the last decade has been the Intel Core i7-2600K. The design was revolutionary, as it offered a significant jump in single core performance, efficiency, and the top line processor was very overclockable. With the next few generations of processors from Intel being less exciting, or not giving users reasons to upgrade, and the phrase 'I'll stay with my 2600K' became ubiquitous on forums, and is even used today. For this review, we dusted off our box of old CPUs and put it in for a run through our 2019 benchmarks, both at stock and overclocked, to see if it is still a mainstream champion.

The Core i7 Family Photo

If you want to see all of our Core i7 benchmarks for each one of these CPUs, head over to


Why The 2600K Defined a Generation

Sit in a chair, lie back, and dream of 2010. It's a year when you looked at that old Core 2 Duo rig, or Athlon II system, and it was time for an upgrade. You had seen that Nehalem, and that the Core i7-920 was a handy overclocker and kicking some butt. It was a pleasant time, until Intel went and gave the industry a truly disruptive product whose nostalgia still rings with us today. 

The Core i7-2600K: The Fastest Sandy Bridge CPU (until 2700K)

That product was Sandy Bridge. AnandTech scored the exclusive on the review, and the results were almost impossible to believe, for many reasons. In our results at the time, it was by far and above a leap ahead of anything else we had seen, especially given the thermal monstrosities that Pentium 4 had produced several years previous. Built on Intel’s 32nm process, the redesign of the core was a turning point in performance on x86, one which has not been felt since. It would be another 8 years for AMD to have its ‘Sandy Bridge’ (or perhaps more appropriately, a 'Conroe') moment with Ryzen. Intel managed to stand on the shoulders of its previous best product and score a Grand Slam.

In that core design, Intel shook things up considerably. One key proponent was the micro-op cache, which means that recently decoded instructions that are needed again are taken already decoded, rather than wasting power being decoded again. For Intel with Sandy Bridge, and more recently with AMD on Ryzen, the inclusion of the micro-op cache has done wonders for single threaded performance. Intel also launched into improving its simultaneous multi-threading, which Intel has branded HyperThreading for generations, slowly improving the core by making more of it dynamically allocated for threads, rather than static and potentially losing performance.

The quad-core design of the highest processor of the family on launch day, the Core i7-2600K, became a staple through Intel’s next five generations of the architecture, all the way through Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake. Since Sandy Bridge, while Intel has moved to smaller process nodes and taken advantage of lower power, Intel has been unable to recreate that singular jump in raw instruction throughput, with incremental 1-7% increases year on year, using that power budget to increase operational buffers, execution ports, and instruction support.

With Intel unable to recreate the uplift of Sandy Bridge, and with the core microarchitecture defining a key moment in x86 performance, users who purchased a Core i7-2600K (I had two) stayed on it for a long time. So much so in fact that a lot of people expecting another big jump became increasingly frustrated – why invest in a Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K quad-core processor at 4.7 GHz turbo when the Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K quad core processor is still overclocked to 5.0 GHz?

(Intel’s answer was typically for power consumption, and new features like PCIe 3.0 GPUs and storage. But that didn’t sway some users.)

This is why the Core i7-2600K defined a generation. It had staying power, much to Intel’s initial delight then subsequent frustration when users wouldn’t upgrade. We are now in 2019, and appreciate that when Intel moved beyond four cores on the mainstream, if users could stomach the cost of DDR4, either upgraded to a new Intel system, or went down the AMD route. But how does the Core i7-2600K hold up to 2019 workloads and games; or perhaps even better, how does the overclocked Core i7-2600K fare?

Compare and Contrast: Sandy Bridge vs. Kaby Lake vs. Coffee Lake

Truth be told, the Core i7-2600K was not the highest grade Sandy Bridge mainstream desktop processor. Months after the 2600K launched, Intel pushed a slightly higher clocked 2700K into the market. It performed almost the same, and overclocked to a similar amount, but cost a bit more. By this time, users who had made the jump were on the 2600K, and it stuck with us.

The Core i7-2600K was a 32nm quad-core processor with HyperThreading, offering a 3.4 GHz base frequency and a 3.8 GHz turbo frequency, with a listed 95W TDP. Back then, Intel’s TDP was more representative: in our recent test for this article, we measured an 88W peak power consumption when not overclocked. The processor also came with Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics, and supported DDR3-1333 memory as standard. Intel launched the chip with a tray price of $317.

For this article, I used the second i7-2600K I purchased back when they were new. It was tested at both its out of the box frequency, and an overclocked frequency of 4.7 GHz on all cores. This is a middling conservative overclock – the best chips managed 5.0 GHz or 5.1 GHz in a daily system. In fact, I distinctly remember my first Core i7-2600K getting 5.1 GHz all-core and 5.3 GHz all-core during an overclocking event in the middle of the peak district one winter with a room temperature around 2C, where I was using a strong liquid cooler and 720mm of radiators. Unfortunately I crippled that chip over time, and now it won’t even boot at stock frequency and voltage. So we have to use my second chip, which wasn’t so great, but still a good representation of an overclocked processor. For these results, we also used overclocked memory, at DDR3-2400 C11.

It’s worth noting that since the launch of the Core i7-2600K, we have moved on from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The Core i7-2600K doesn’t even support AVX2 instructions, and wasn’t built for Windows 10, so it will be interesting to see where this plays out.

The Core i7-7700K: Intel's last Core i7 Quad Core with HyperThreading

The fastest and latest (final?) quad-core processor with HyperThreading that Intel released was the Core i7-7700K, which falls under the Kaby Lake family. This processor was built on Intel’s improved 14nm process, runs at a 4.2 GHz base frequency, and a 4.5 GHz turbo frequency. The 91W rated TDP, at stock, translated to 95W power consumption in our testing. It comes with Intel’s Gen9 HD 630 Graphics, and supports DDR4-2400 memory as standard. Intel launched the chip with a tray price of $339.

The Intel Core i7-7700K (91W) Review: The New Out-of-the-box Performance Champion

At the same time as the 7700K, Intel also launched its first overclockable dual core with hyperthreading, the Core i3-7350K. During that review, we overclocked the Core i3 and compared it directly to the out-of-the-box Core i7-2600K, trying to answer the question if Intel had managed to make a dual-core reach a similar performance to its old flagship processor. While the i3 had the upper hand in single threaded performance and memory performance, the two fewer cores ultimately made most tasks heavy work for the Core i3.

The Core i7-9700K: Intel's Latest Top Core i7 (now with 8 cores)

Our final processor for testing is the Core i7-9700K. This is not the flagship of the current Coffee Lake generation (which is the i9-9900K), but has eight cores without hyperthreading. Going for the 9900K with double the cores and threads is just a little overkill, especially when it still has a tray price of $488. By contrast, the Core i7-9700K is ‘only’ sold in bulk at $374, with a 3.6 GHz base frequency and a 4.9 GHz turbo frequency. The 95W TDP falls foul of Intel’s definition of TDP, and in a consumer motherboard will actually consume ~125W at full load. Memory support is DDR4-2666 as standard.

Upgrading an Overclocked Intel Core i7-2600K
Comparison CPUs
at 4.7 GHz
Released Jan 2011 Jan 2011 Jan 2017 Oct 2018
Price (1ku) $317 $317 $339 $374
Process 32nm 32nm 14nm 14++
uArch Sandy Bridge Sandy Bridge Kaby Lake Coffee Refresh
Cores 4 plus HT 4 plus HT 4 plus HT 8, no HT
Base Freq 3.4 GHz 4.7 GHz 4.2 GHz 3.6 GHz
Turbo Freq 3.8 GHz - 4.5 GHz 4.9 GHz
GPU Gen 6 6 9 9.5
GPU EUs 12 12 24 24
GPU Freq 1350 1350 1150 1200
DDR Support DDR3-1333 DDR3-2400 DDR4-2400 DDR4-2666
PCIe 2.0 x16 2.0 x16 3.0 x16 3.0 x16
AVX Yes Yes Yes Yes
AVX2 No No Yes Yes
Thermal Solder Solder Grease Solder
TDP 95 W N/A 91 W 95 W

The Core i7-2600K is stuck on DDR3 memory, has PCIe 2.0 rather than PCIe 3.0 support, and although not tested here, isn’t built for NVMe storage. It will be interesting to see just how close the overclocked results are to the Core i7-7700K in our tests, and how much of a direct uplift is seen moving to something like the Core i7-9700K.

Pages In This Review

  1. Tackling the Core i7-2600K in 2019
  2. Sandy Bridge: Inside the Core Microarchitecture
  3. Sandy Bridge: Outside the Core
  4. Test Bed and Setup
  5. 2018 and 2019 Benchmark Suite: Spectre and Meltdown Hardened
  6. CPU Performance: System Tests
  7. CPU Performance: Rendering Tests
  8. CPU Performance: Office Tests
  9. CPU Performance: Encoding Tests
  10. CPU Performance: Web and Legacy Tests
  11. Gaming: World of Tanks enCore
  12. Gaming: Final Fantasy XV
  13. Gaming: Civilization 6
  14. Gaming: Ashes Classic
  15. Gaming: Strange Brigade
  16. Gaming: Grand Theft Auto V
  17. Gaming: Far Cry 5
  18. Gaming: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  19. Gaming: F1 2018
  20. Power Consumption
  21. Analyzing the Results
  22. Conclusions and Final Words
Sandy Bridge: Inside the Core Microarchitecture


View All Comments

  • versesuvius - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    There is a point in every Windows OS user computer endeavors, that they start playing less and less games, and at about the same time start foregoing upgrades to their CPU. They keep adding ram and hard disk space and maybe a new graphic card after a couple of years. The only reason that such a person that by now has completely stopped playing games may upgrade to a new CPU and motherboard is the maximum amount of RAM that can be installed on their motherboard. And with that really comes the final PC that such a person may have in a long, long time. Kids get the latest CPU and soon will realize the law of diminishing returns, which by now is gradually approaching "no return", much faster than their parents. So, in perhaps ten years there will be no more "Tic", or "Toc" or Cadence or Moore's law. There be will computers, baring the possibility that dumb terminals have replaced PCs, that everybody knows what they can expect from. No serendipity there for certain. Reply
  • Targon - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    The fact that you don't see really interesting games showing up all that often is why many people stopped playing games in the first place. Many people enjoyed the old adventure games with puzzles, and while action appeals to younger players, being more strategic and needing to come up with different approaches in how you play has largely died. Interplay is gone, Bullfrog, Lionhead....On occasion something will come out, but few and far between.

    Games for adults(and not just adult age children who want to play soldier on the computer) are not all that common. I blame EA for much of the decline in the industry.
  • skirmash - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    I still have an i7-2600 in an old Dell based upon an H67 chipset. I was thinking about using it as a server and updating the board to get updated connectivity. updating the board and using it as a server. Z77 chipset would seem to be the way to go although getting a new board with this chipset seems expensive unless I go used. Anyone any thoughts on this - whether its worthwhile etc or a cost effective way to do it? Reply
  • skirmash - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    Sorry for the typos but I hope you get the sentiment. Reply
  • Tunnah - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    Oh wow this is insane timing, I'm actually upgrading from one of these and have had a hard time figuring out what sort of performance upgrade I'd be getting. Much appreciated! Reply
  • Tunnah - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    I feel like I can chip in a perspective re: gaming. While your benchmarks show solid average FPS and all that, they don't show the quality of life that you lose by having an underpowered CPU. I game at 4K, 2700k (4.6ghz for heat&noise reasons), 1080Ti, and regularly can't get 60fps no matter the settings, or have constant grame blips and dips. This is in comparison to a friend who has the same card but a Ryzen 1700X

    Newer games like Division 2, Assassin's Creed Odyssey, and as shown here, Shadow Of The Romb Raider, all severely limit your performance if you have an older CPU, to the point where getting a constant 60fps is a real struggle, and benchmarks aside, that's the only benchmark the average user is aiming for.

    I also have 1333mhz RAM, which is just a whole other pain! As more and more games move into giant open world games and texture streaming and loading is happening in game rather than on loading screens, having slow RAM really affects your enjoyment.

    I'm incredibly grateful for this piece btw, I'm actually moving to Zen2 when it comes out, and I gotta say, I've not been this excited since..well, Sandy Bridge.
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    "I don’t think I purchased a monitor bigger than 1080p until 2012."
    Wow, really? So you were a CRT guy before that? How could you work on those low res screens all the time?! :D I got myself a 1200p 24" monitor once they became affordable in early 2008 (W2408hH). Had a 1280x1024 19" before that and it was night and day, sooo much better.
  • PeachNCream - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    Still running 1366x768 on my two non-Windows laptops (HP Steam 11 and Dell Latitude e6320) and it okay. My latest, far less uses Windows gaming system has a 14 inch panel running 1600x900. Its a slight improvement, but I could live without it. The old Latitude does all my video production work so though I could use a few more pixels, it isn't the end of the world as is. The laptop my office issued is a HP Probook 640 G3 so it has a 14 inch 1080p panel which to have to scale at 125% to actually use so the resolution is pretty much pointless. Reply
  • PeachNCream - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    Ugh, phone auto correct...I really need to look over anything I type on a phone more closely. I feel like I'm reading comment by a non-native English speaker, but its me. How depressing. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    I've done some horrendous posts when I used my phone to make a comment somewhere. Mostly because my phone is trained to my German texting habits and not my English commenting habits. And trying to mix them leads to sub par results in both areas, so I mostly stick to using my phone for texting and my PC and laptop for commenting. But sometimes I have to write something via my phone and it makes a beautiful mess if I'm not careful. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now