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 anandtech.com/Bench

 

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
  Core
i7-2600K
Core
i7-2600K
at 4.7 GHz
Core
i7-7700K
Core
i7-9700K
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
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  • mapesdhs - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    "... the best chips managed 5.0 GHz or 5.1 GHz in a daily system."

    Worth noting that with the refined 2700K, *all* of them run fine at 5GHz in a daily system, sensible temps, a TRUE and one fan is plenty for cooling. Threaded performance is identical to a stock 6700K, IPC is identical to a stock 2700X (880 and 177 for CB R15 Nt/1t resp.)

    Also, various P67/Z68 mbds support NVMe boot via modded BIOS files. The ROG forum has a selection for ASUS, search for "ASUS bolts4breakfast"; he's added support for the M4E and M4EZ, and I think others asked the same for the Pro Gen3, etc. I'm sure there are equivalent BIOS mod threads for GIgabyte, MSI, etc. My 5GHz 2700K on an M4E has a 1TB SM961 and a 1TB 970 EVO Plus (photo/video archive), though the C-drive is still a venerable Vector 256GB which holds up well even today.

    Also, RAM support runs fine with 2133 CL9 on the M4E, which is pretty good (16GB GSkill TridentX, two modules).

    However, after using this for a great many years, I do find myself wanting better performance for processing images & video, so I'll likely be stepping up to a Ryzen 3000 system, at least 8 cores.
    Reply
  • mapesdhs - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    Forgot to mention, someting else interesting about SB is the low cost of the sibling SB-E. Would be a laugh to see how all those tests pan with with a 3930K stock/oc'd thrown into the mix. It's a pity good X79 boards are hard to find now given how cheap one can get 3930Ks for these days. If stock performance is ok though, there are some cheap Chinese boards which work pretty well, and some of them do support NVMe boot. Reply
  • tezcan - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    I am still running 3930k, prices for it are still very high ~$500. Not much cheaper then what I paid for it in 2011. I am yet to really test my GTX 680's in SLI. Kind of a waste, but they are driving many displays throughout my house. There was an article where some Australian bloke guy runs an 8 core sandy bridge - e (server chip) vs all modern intel 8 core chips. It actually had the lowest latency so was best for pro gamers, lagged a little behind on everything else- but definitely good enough. Reply
  • dad_at - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    I run 3960X at ~ 4 GHz on X79 ASUS P9X79 and have nvme boot drive with modified BIOS. So it is really interesting to compare 2011/2012 6c/12t to 8700K or 9900K. I guess it's about 7700K stock, so modern 4c/8t is like old 6c/12t. Per core perf is about 20-30% up on average and this includes higher frequency ... So IPC is only about 15% up: not impressive. Of course in some loads like AVX2 heavy apps IPC could be 50% up, but such case is not common. Reply
  • martixy - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    Oh man... I just upgraded my 2600K to a 9900K and a couple days later this article drops...
    The timing is impeccable!

    If I ever had a shred of buyer's remorse, the article conclusion eradicated it thoroughly. Give me more FPS.

    I saw a screenshot of StarCraft 2. On a mission which I, again, coincidentally (this is uncanny) played today. I can now report that the 9900K can FINALLY feed my graphics card in SC2 properly. With the 2600K I'd be around 20-60 FPS depending on load and intensity of the action. With the new processors, it barely ever drops below 60 and usually hovers around 90FPS. Ingame cinematics also finally run above the "cinematic" 30 FPS I saw on my trusty old 2600K.
    Reply
  • Ranger90125 - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    Using a 4790K for years and increasingly disillusioned with Intel's shady practices and lack of progress. Last AMD processor was an Athlon 64 3400 from the glory days of Intel decimated by the competition. Next processor will be 7nm Zen and I look forward to Intel being under the cosh for as long as AMD can manage it. Thanks for a great nostalgic read...I liked the lean and mean Cutress LAN machine :) Reply
  • akyp - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    In less than 5 months my i7-860 will celebrate its 10th birthday. I've been keeping an eye on Ryzen 3 and Navi but never feel the need to upgrade (unless something goes wrong). It doesn't feel any slower than my work-issued i7-6700. Reply
  • curley60 - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    About 5 years ago I went backwards and downgraded(?) my Core i7 2600K to a Gulftown Core i7 990x when they became affordable. The Core i7 990x on my Asus Rampage Formula is running @ 4.660 and is really quite faster in all benchmarks than the Core i7 2600K. Those gulftown processors were ahead of their time. Sure a core i7 7700k is 18% faster in single core work but the 990x destroys it in multi-threaded work. As long as it keeps running I'm going to keep using it with my current GTX 1080ti. Reply
  • Potatooo - Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - link

    Would like to see comparisons with a more budget GPU (e.g. 1060/580) and 1080p gaming, probably a more realistic pairing. Reply
  • Bash99 - Wednesday, May 15, 2019 - link

    It's wired Handbrake 1.1 hevc 1080p encoding can have 60 fps with x265, even in very fast setting, I can only got 1x fps. Reply

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