While Moore’s Law is not at all dead, as has been increasingly claimed in the last few months, it’s clear that its impact is lessening as the years go by.
“The number of transistors doubles every 18 months” is more than a fact — it was a surprising insight, beyond being an obvious stimulus for microprocessor producers to constantly try to increase the power and continue their research to improve production processes. Intel itself develops its chips with a synthesized strategy using the so-called “tick-tock” model. The company strives to continue innovation in production processes technology and in the microarchitecture of the processors by alternating “tick” cycles—progress made by Intel in production process technology—with “tock” cycles, where the production process technology developed in the “tick” cycle is used to introduce significant innovation in the microarchitecture of the processors.
Even though it is difficult to believe that extreme-performance processors can evolve in a surprising way, in reality the high-end market is stronger than ever and is seeing a constant increase in buyers. We are living in a period of huge growth in the PC gaming sector, so it’s natural to see constant demand for more powerful, cutting-edge products that are also more efficient, can be housed in smaller units about the size of current games consoles, and can be used with a TV so that PC gaming can be enjoyed from the comfort of the couch.
This year’s undisputed king is the Intel Core i7 7700K, the pinnacle of the K Series processors, distinguished by their unlocked multipliers, meaning they are overclocking ready. It features four cores with Hyper-Threading at a 4.2 GHz factory setting, which can reach 4.5 GHz with Turbo Boost, but in a few (now much simpler) steps it can reach a frequency of 5 GHz, obviously using a special liquid cooling system. This is excellent performance for a consumer processor that is currently sold on the market for between € 350 and € 400.
In the recent past, we have become accustomed to video games that have overlooked multi-threading, while looking for the maximum core speed. The subject has changed recently, and many of the latest graphics engines are able to better manage the calculations on different threads. From this viewpoint, the eight threads of the Intel i7 7700 provide an excellent solution to provide maximum in-game performance.
By comparing the Intel Core i7 7700K and its little brother, the Intel Core i5 7600K with a base frequency of 3.8 GHz and up to 4.2 GHz with Turbo Boost (but the main difference being that it has four fewer threads), it is clear how the Intel Core i7 offers up to a 35% increase in performance compared to the Intel Core i5, with the biggest leap seen in games that best exploit multi-threading. When the Intel Core i7 and Intel Core i5 are directly compared at the same clocking frequency (then overclocking the 7600K), it is even easier to see the jump. For example, a heavily CPU-based game such as Ashes of the Singularity has an average frame rate of 10 FPS more on the Intel Core i7 compared to its little brother; in Crysis 3, now old in gaming terms but still relevant when it comes to testing the limits of a PC, an improvement of more than 30 FPS was measured; and finally, the recent Rise of the Tomb Raider game had an average frame rate increase of 30 FPS. The Intel Core i5 is still a highly capable processor with a slightly lower price — this comparison serves to demonstrate how much the Intel Core i7 surpasses the capabilities of its little brother, offering truly exceptional results.
So what about the previous generations? Because of the aforementioned “tick-tock” model, the difference in performance compared to the equivalent Intel Core i7 from the previous year is obviously more limited. However, a more marked difference emerges particularly in the use of RAM, which with this generation can be exploited at a frequency of 2400 MHz, with the possibility of overclocking to reach 3000 MHz.
In the meantime, however, motherboards are starting to be introduced with support for up to 4200 MHz, and memory producers are following suit. Thanks to this, in the future we are probably going to see a boost in performance not only due to the clocking of the core, but also thanks to the bandwidth of the RAM.
Essentially, if you are already using a machine equipped with an Intel Core i5 or even a previous-generation Intel Core i3, changing to an Intel Core i7 7700K would meet all of your requirements for video games currently on sale, especially those that exploit multi-threading — an increasing majority of games.
For the same reasons, if you are planning to get a new gaming PC, a slightly bigger investment in an Intel Core i7 would allow you to remain at the top in terms of FPS for a number of years, especially working alongside high-performance RAM to avoid any CPU bottlenecks.
By Tommaso Valentini