Comparing the Quad Cores: CPU Tests

As a straight up comparison between what Intel offered in terms of quad cores, here’s an analysis of all the results for the 2600K, 2600K overclocked, and Intel’s final quad-core with HyperThreading chip for desktop, the 7700K.

On our CPU tests, the Core i7-2600K when overclocked to a 4.7 GHz all-core frequency (and with DDR3-2400 memory) offers anywhere from 10-24% increase in performance against the stock settings with Intel maximum supported frequency memory. Users liked the 2600K because of this – there were sizable gains to be had, and Intel’s immediate replacements to the 2600K didn’t offer the same level of boost or difference in performance.

However, when compared to the Core i7-7700K, Intel’s final quad-core with HyperThreading processor, users were able to get another 8-29% performance on top of that. Depending on the CPU workload, it would be very easy to see how a user could justify getting the latest quad core processor and feeling the benefits for more modern day workloads, such as rendering or encoding, especially given how the gaming market has turned more into a streaming culture. For the more traditional workflows, such as PCMark or our legacy tests, only gains of 5-12% are seen, which is what we would have seen back when some of these newer tests were no longer so relevant.

As for the Core i7-9700K, which has eight full cores and now sits in the spot of Intel’s best Core i7 processor, performance gains are very much more tangible, and almost double in a lot of cases against an overclocked Core i7-2600K (and more than double against one at stock).

The CPU case is clear: Intel’s last quad core with hyperthreading is an obvious upgrade for a 2600K user, even before you overclock it, and the 9700K which is almost the same launch price parity is definitely an easy sell. The gaming side of the equation isn’t so rosy though.

Comparing the Quad Cores: GPU Tests

Modern games today are running at higher resolutions and quality settings than the Core i7-2600K did when it was first launch, as well as new physics features, new APIs, and new gaming engines that can take advantage of the latest advances in CPU instructions as well as CPU-to-GPU connectivity. For our gaming benchmarks, we test with four tests of settings on each game (720p, 1080p, 1440p-4K, and 4K+) using a GTX 1080, which is one of last generations high-end gaming cards, and something that a number of Core i7 users might own for high-end gaming.

When the Core i7-2600K was launched, 1080p gaming was all the rage. I don’t think I purchased a monitor bigger than 1080p until 2012, and before then I was clan gaming on screens that could have been as low as 1366x768. The point here is that with modern games at older resolutions like 1080p, we do see a sizeable gain when the 2600K is overclocked. A 22% gain in frame rates from a 34% overclock sounds more than reasonable to any high-end focused gamer. Intel only managed to improve on that by 12% over the next few years to the Core i7-7700K, relying mostly on frequency gains. It’s not until the 9700K, with more cores and running games that actually know what to do with them, do we see another jump up in performance.

However, all those gains are muted at a higher resolutions setting, such as 1440p. Going from an overclocked 2600K to a brand new 9700K only gives a 9% increase in frame rates for modern games. At an enthusiast 4K setting, the results across the board are almost equal. As resolutions are getting higher, even with modern physics and instructions and APIs, the bulk of the workload is still on the GPU, and even the Core i7-2600K is powerful enough for it. There is the odd title where having the newer chip helps a lot more, but it’s in the minority.

That is, at least on average frame rates. Modern games and modern testing methods now test percentile frame rates, and the results are a little different.

Here the results look a little worse for the Core i7-2600K and a bit better for the Core i7-9700K, but on the whole the broad picture is the same for percentile results as it is for average frame results. In the individual results, we see some odd outliers, such as Ashes of the Singularity which was 15% down on percentiles at 4K for a stock 2600K, but the 9700K was only 6% higher than an overclocked 2600K, but like the average frame rates, it is really title dependent.

Power Consumption Conclusions
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  • Death666Angel - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    Well, laptops and desktops (with monitors) are in a different category anyway, at least that's how I see it. :-)
    I work with a 13.3" laptop with a 1440p resolution and 150% scaling. It's not fun, but it does the job. The advantage of the larger screen real estate with a 15" or 17" laptop is outweight by the size and weight increase. I've also done work on 1024x768 monitors and it does the job in a pinch. But I've tried to upgrade as soon as the new technology was established, cheap and good enough to make it worth it without having to pay the early adopter fee or fiddle around to get it to work. Even before Win7 made it a breeze to have multiple windows in an orderly grid, I took full advantage of a multi window and multi program workflow for research, paper/presentation writing, editing and media consumption. So it is a bit surprising to see someone like Ian, a tech enthusiast with a university doctorate be so late to great tech that can really make life easier. :D
    Reply
  • Showtime - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    Great article. Was hoping to see all the CPU's tested (my 4770k), but I think it shows enough. This isn't the 1st article showing that lesser CPU's can run close to the best CPU's when it come to 4k gaming. Does that look to change any time soon? I was thinking I should upgrade this year, but would like to know if I should be shooting for an 8 core, or if a 6 will be a decent enough upgrade.
    Consoles run slower 8 core proc's that are utilized more efficiently. At some point won't pc games do the same?
    Reply
  • Targon - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    There is always the question about what you do on your computer, but I wouldn't go less than 8 cores(since 4-core has become the base on the desktop, and even laptops should never be sold with only 2 cores IMO). If you look at the history, when AMD wasn't competitive and Intel stopped trying to actually innovate, quad-core was all you saw on the desktop, so game developers didn't see a reason to support more threads(even though it would have made sense). Once Ryzen came out with 8 cores, and Intel finally responded, you have to expect that every game developer will design with the potential that players will have 8+ core processors, so why not design with that in mind?

    Remember, a program that is properly multi-threaded in design will work on lower-core processors, but will scale up well when processors with more cores are being used. So going forward, quad-core would work, but 8 or more threads WILL feel a lot better, even for overall use.
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    This was a fascinating article! And what I am seeing in the real world seems to reflect this.
    For the most part, the IPC for general use has improved, but not by a whole lot. But if doing anything that hits the on-chip GPU, or requiring any kind of decrypt/encrypt, then the dedicated hardware in newer chips really makes a big difference.
    But at the end of the day, in real-world scenarios, the CPU is simply not the bottle neck for most people. I do a lot of video ripping (all legally purchased, and only for personal use), and the bottleneck is squarely on the Blu-Ray drive. I recently upgraded from a 4x to a 10x drive, and the performance bump was exactly what was expected. Getting a faster CPU or GPU will not help there.
    I do a bit of video editing, and the bottle-neck there is still almost always in storage. The 1gbps connection to the NAS, and the 1GBps connection to my RAID0 of SSDs.
    I do a bit of gaming at 4k, and again the bottleneck there is squarely on the GPU (GTX1080), and as your tests show, at lower resolution my chip will be slower than a new chip... but still faster than the 60-120fps refresh of the monitor.

    The real reason for an upgrade simply isn't the CPU for most people. The upgrade is the chipset. Faster/more RAM, M.2 SSDs, more available throughput for expansion cards, faster USB/USB-C ports, and soon(ish) 10gig Ethernet. These are the things that make life better for the enthusiast and the normal user; and the newer CPUs are simply more capable of taking advantage of all the extra throughput, where Sandy Bridge would perhaps choke when dealing with these newer and faster interfaces that are not available to it.
    All that said; I am still not convinced to upgrade. Every previous computer was simply broken, or could not do something after 2-3 years, so an upgrade was literally necessary. But now... my computer is some 8 years old now, and I am amazed at the fact that it still does it all, and does it relatively quickly. Without it being 'broken' it is hard to justify dropping $1000+ into a new build. I mean... I want to upgrade. But I also want to do some house projects, and replace a car, and do stuff with the kids... *sigh* priorities. Part of me wishes that it would break to give me proper motivation to replace it.
    Reply
  • webdoctors - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    Great timing, I've been using the same chip for 7 or 8 years now and never felt the need to upgrade until this year, but I will upgrade end of this year. DDR4 finally dropped in price and my GTX1070TI I think is getting throttled when the CPU ain't overclocked. Reply
  • atomicWAR - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    Gaming at 4K with a i7 3930K @ 4.2ghz (4.6ghz capable when needed) with 2 GTX 1080s...I was planning a new build this year but after reading this I may hold off even longer. Reply
  • wrkingclass_hero - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    I've got a 3930K as well. I was planning on upgrading to Threadripper 3 when that comes out, but if it gets delayed I may wait a bit longer for a 5mm Threadripper. Reply
  • mofongo7481 - Saturday, May 11, 2019 - link

    I'm still using a sandy bridge i5 2400 overclocked to 3.6Ghz. Still playing modern stuff @ 1080p and pretty enjoyable. Reply
  • Danvelopment - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    I think the conclusion is slightly off for gaming, from what I could see it's not that the newer processors were only better higher resolutions, it's that the newer systems were better able to keep the GPU fed with data, resulting in a higher maximum frame rate.

    So at lower resolutions/quality settings, when the GPUs could let loose they could achieve much higher FPS.

    My conclusion from the results wouldn't be to keep it for higher res gaming, but to keep it for gaming if you're still using a 60Hz display (which I am). I bet if you tuned quality settings for all of the GPUs to run at 60 FPS your results would sit pretty close at any resolution.

    I'm currently running an E5-2670 for my gaming machine with quad channel DDR3 (4x8GB) and a 1070. That's the budget upgrade path I'd probably recommend at 60Hz.
    Reply
  • mr_tawan - Sunday, May 12, 2019 - link

    Just upgraded to Core i7 4790 (from i5 4460) late last year. At first I was thinking about upgrading to the shiny Ryzen 7, but overall cost is pretty high considering I have my H97 mainboard with 16GB of memory. I don't want to shell out that much money and getting stuck at older platform, again.

    It does work ok, with the performance around the current gen Core i5 I guess (with less power efficiency). Consider what I paid, I think it's not too bad.
    Reply

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