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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  • MxClood - Saturday, May 18, 2019 - link

    In most test here it's around 100% or more increase in perf, i don't see where it's 40%.

    Also when you increase the graphics/resolution in gaming, the FPS are the same because the GPU becomes the bottleneck of FPS. You could put any futuristic cpu, the fps would be the same.
    So why is it an argument about disappointing/abysmal performance.
  • Beaver M. - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    After so many decades being wrong you guys still claim CPU power doesnt matter much in games.
    Youre wrong. Again. Common bottleneck today in games is the CPU, especially because the GPU advancement has been very slow.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - link

    GPU advancement slowing down *makes the CPU less relevant, not more*. The CPU is only relevant to performance when it can't meet the bare minimum requirements to serve the GPU fast enough. If the GPU is your limit, no amount of CPU power increase will help. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, May 17, 2019 - link

    Is it abysmal because of the CPU though, or because of the software?

    Lots of software isn't written to take advantage of more than four cores tops, aside from the heavy hitters, and to an extent, we've hit a celing with clock speeds for awhile, with 5GHz being (not exactly, but a fair representation of) the ceiling.
    AMD has caught up in a big way, and for server apps and rendering, it's an awesome value and a great CPU. Even with that, it still doesn't match up with a 9700K in games, all other things being equal, unless a game is dependent on GPU alone.
    I think most mainstream software isn't optimized beyond a certain point for any of our current great CPUs, largely because until recently, CPU development and growth has stagnated. I'm really hoping real competition drives improved software.
    Note also that it hasn't been like the 90s in some time, where we were doubling CPU performance every 16 months. Some of that is because there's too many limitations to achieving that doubling, both software and hardware.

    I'm finding considerable speed boosts over my i7-4790K that was running at 4.4GHz (going to an i9-9900K running constantly at 4.7GHz on all cores) in regular apps and gaming (at 1900x1200 with two GTX 1070 cards in SLI), and I got a deal on the CPU, so I'm perfectly happy with my first mainboard/CPU upgrade in five years (my first board was a 386DX back in `93).
  • peevee - Tuesday, May 14, 2019 - link

    Same here. i7-2600k from may 2011, with the same OCZ Vertex 3.
    8 years, twice the cores, not even twice the performance in real world. Just essentially overclocked to the max from the factory.

    Remember when real life performance more than doubled every 2 years? On the same 1 core, in all apps, not just heavily multithreaded? Good thing AMD at least forced Intel go from 4 to 6 to 8 in 2 years. Now they need to double their memory controllers, it's the same 128 bits since what, Pentium Pro?
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, May 10, 2019 - link

    Same here. Over the years I've stuffed it full of RAM and SSD and been pleased with the performance. I'm thinking it's time for it to go though.

    In 2016 I put a 1060 in the machine and was mildly disappointed in the random framerate drops in games (at 1200p). Assuming it was the GPU's fault, I upgraded further in 2018 to a 1070 Ti some bitcoin miner was selling for cheap when the market crashed. The average framerates went up, but all of the lows are just as low as they ever where. So either Fallout 4 runs like absolute garbage in certain areas, or the CPU was choking up both GPUs.

    When something that isn't PCIe 3 comes out I suppose I can try again and see.
  • ImOnMy116 - Friday, May 10, 2019 - link

    For whatever it's worth, in my experience Fallout 4 (and Skyrim/Skyrim SE/maybe all Bethesda titles) are poorly optimized. It seems their engine is highly dependent on IPC, but even in spite of running an overclocked 6700K/1080 Ti, I get frame drops in certain parts of the map. I think it's likely at least partially dependent on where your character is facing at any given point in time. There can be long draw distances or lots of NPCs near by taxing the CPU (i.e. Diamond City). Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Friday, May 10, 2019 - link

    Yeah, that makes sense. F4's drops are definitely depended on location and where the character is facing for me too.

    The country side, building interiors and winding city streets you can't see very far down are just fine. Even Diamond City is okay. It's when I stand at an intersection of one of the roads that runs arrow straight through Boston or get up on rooftops with a view over the city that rates die. If the engine wants pure CPU grunt for that, then the 2600 just isn't up to it.

    Strangely, Skyrim SE has been fine. The world is pretty sparse compared to F4 though.
  • Vayra - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    Fallout 4 is simply a game of asset overload. That happens especially in the urban areas. It shows us that the engine is past expiry date and unable to keep up to the game's demands of this time. The game needs all those assets to at least look somewhat bearable. And its not efficient about it at all; a big part of all those little items also need to be fully interactive objects.

    So its not 'strange' at all, really. More objects = more cpu load and none of them can be 'cooked' beforehand. They are literally placed in the world as you move around in it.
  • Vayra - Monday, May 13, 2019 - link

    This is also part of the reason why the engine has trouble with anything over 60 fps, and why you can sometimes see objects falling from the sky as you zone in. Reply

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