The Intel Core i7-8086K Reviewby Ian Cutress on June 11, 2018 8:00 AM EST
Conclusions: Save Your Money
Intel launching the Core i7-8086K as a 40th Anniversary part took us by surprise. The processor on paper is a slightly higher binned version of the Core i7-8700K, with a +300 MHz bump on the base frequency and the single core turbo frequency, allowing Intel to announce the 8086K as Intel’s first 5 GHz processor in the market.
We must give a BIG thanks to ASRock for letting us borrow a system in Taipei at such short notice.
Our Final Analysis comes in three parts, depending on how you are planning to use the processor.
1) Running at Stock
On paper, the change in specifications are a little underwhelming to be honest. At stock frequencies, the per-core turbo of the CPU is identical to the i7-8700K from two-cores of load up to a full-load. Meanwhile the processor will almost never shift out of turbo and drop to its improved base frequency thanks to the ample power and cooling capabilities of desktop PCs. This means that the only real performance benefit users will see is when the CPU is under a single-core stress.
Given the nature of PCs having multiple applications open at once or running in the background, a truely isolated single-core load almost never happens: in fact with our processor we only able to trigger a core to 5.0 GHz unless we set the affinity to a single core. In that respect, the Core i7-8086K is very limited, especially when it commands a premium price ($425) over its nearest rival, which is often sold at much less (8700K at $350 or below).
In our ‘stock’ results, this analysis bore fruit. In most benchmarks, the 8086K was on par with the 8700K. In a few, like CineBench R15 ST, it took a lead and afforded a new record due to the high frequency, but in others it seemed to perform worse, such as Blender and WinRAR, likely due to the thermal performance and response of our specific chip.
For anyone looking to buy the Core i7-8086K to run it at stock frequencies, save your money. There are better deals elsewhere.
2) Going to Overclock
In our testing, and corroborated by extreme overclocker Alva Jonathan, the Core i7-8086K seems to be a nice part if you want all six cores running at 5.0 GHz. Our chip ran a full flat 5.0 GHz by only adjusting the CPU multiplier, and the motherboard sorting out the rest, and with a little care we could get 5.1 GHz under our Blender-stable test.
High performance is great, and a Core i7-8086K at 5.0 GHz gets a nice level of performance. It is possible to get a nice Core i7-8700K for overclocking within the silicon lottery, but these processors are binned slightly better, so the chances of a full flat 5.0 GHz are much higher. If removing that risk is worth another $65+, then the Core i7-8086K should be on that list.
As showed by Alva, going beyond 1.3 volts can benefit from delidding the processor, as it uses the same thermal goop found in the previous Coffee Lake processors. Intel did not make any change to the thermal interface, which I know is not what enthusiasts want to hear. Intel constantly states its commitment to its enthusiasts, and moving away from the very average thermal interface would be the easiest way to show that commitment.
A downside to going up and over 5.0 GHz is the power consumption. Overclocking to 5.0GHz improved performance by 16% in CPU-bound scenarios thanks to the matching frequency gain, but it increased the chip's power consumption by 68%. Intel's 14++ manufacturing process can indeed turn out a Skylake CPU core capable of these kinds of high frequencies, but it's clear that it's well past the knee in terms of energy efficiency. The up shot is that while energy efficiency does take a dive when overclocking, the performance can still easily be yours, as these kinds of voltages and wattages are exactly what high-end CPU coolers are designed for.
3) For CPU Collectors
Intel is set to only produce 50,000 of these processors, so it is likely a must-buy for any collectors, and you probably have your orders in already. If not, our Amazon link is below.
Or fingers crossed that you entered the sweepstakes and might win. Those processors are likely to arrive in 6-8 weeks.
Is This Launch Just a Stunt?
Ultimately Intel did not need to launch a 40th Anniversary processor. While it is a multiple of ten, 40th anniversaries are not especially notable for corporations. Still, for a product that was seemingly spurred by a Twitter joke, the 8086K is not entirely without merit.
At this point Intel is between a rock and a hard place: the Core i7-8700K competes directly against the Ryzen 7 2700X, winning in single threaded performance and low resolution gaming, losing in multi-threaded performance, and equal at GPU-limited high resolution gaming. We know that the 8-core Coffee Lake processor is due out later this year, but that is in Q4, which is a while away. In that time, AMD will launch a 32-core Threadripper 2 product available to everyone. In terms of actual launches, this is more a hold-over.
Intel had many options for a new Coffee Lake processor, and on paper the Core i7-8086K does not look that great compared to the Core i7-8700K. The best thing Intel could have done here is given the top SKU a little extra TDP to play with, so that the per-core turbo values across the range would get a sizeable bump. Sure going to 105W might seem like Intel was copying AMD, but the performance should speak for itself. Otherwise users are paying +$75 for a better binned part.
The danger of offering a significantly higher performance processor in that way might be seen as cannibalizing future sales. If the 9th Generation ‘i7-9700K’ does not have a 105W TDP, it might not sell. But Intel is promising that these 8086K processors are limited edition and a limited run, meaning that Intel controls the flow of product in the market. If there are no 8086K processors left to buy, then the 9700K takes the best spot. Intel could have done this, and make the Core i7-8086K a better step up worthy of an anniversary edition, but the company decided not to. It's clear why Intel did not seed the press for the launch of the part, given the minor uptick in frequencies, but also Intel expects to sell the whole lot anyway, so additional media coverage wasn't really needed.
The flip side of that however is that – as Ryan and I have been debating internally – is whether this is a processor even meant for stock usage. Intel’s binning process means that for one core to be able to run at 5.0 GHz at a reasonable voltage, all of the other cores are practically guaranteed to do this as well. Which is to say that this chip is incredibly trivial to overclock to 5.0 GHz, even more so than the 8700K. In fact it feels like Intel really wanted to release a true all-core 5GHz CPU – damn the power requirements – but chickened out at the last moment and decided to require end-users to press the magic awesome button to unlock its full potential.
Ryan says that he can't imagine anyone well-read on the subject of CPUs not overclocking this chip to a flat 5.0 GHz, and after discussion I’m inclined to agree with him. Which makes the 8086K’s merits all about how it’s framed. Is it a one-off CPU whose stock performance improvement is too low to matter, or is it a backdoor attempt by Intel to release a highly-binned, high wattage Coffee Lake processor for customers who want the highest clocked Intel CPU out there?
Ultimately the question becomes whether the Core i7-8086K is a good buy or not. The Core i7-8086K is, without a doubt, Intel’s best performing mainstream desktop processor ever, and benefits in some tests from the additional single core turbo frequency, although only in a few select tests. The best benefits of the processor come in its overclocking, with the two units mentioned in this review easily hitting 5.0 GHz across all cores. It is nice performance, and if you want the best it makes sense that you have to pay the most (or get lucky), but it is a hard sell for most users.
Intel Could Have Done More
My advice? If you are truly deciding between the Core i7-8700K and the Core i7-8086K, then get the i7-8700K. While having an anniversary edition might make you feel proud in the short term, being able to have it in your forum signature or reddit flair for a few years, or having that higher overclock puts a grin on your face, the ultimate difference is minimal and down to perception and placebo effect. Spend the extra on a bigger SSD or more memory. It’s a nice part, but Intel could have done more.