Intel Core i7 2700K £258
1st Dec 2011 | 12:45
Topping off it's original Sandy Bridge lineup is Intel's latest
The vanilla Sandy Bridge lineup has a new chip in the Intel Core i7 2700K . As well as populating a new socket with the Sandy Bridge E Intel Core i7 3960X, it has seen fit to give us another brilliant processor, but what makes it different to the Intel Core i7 2600K?
Short answer: not a lot.
Not that long ago, things moved fast in the CPU industry.
Between 2005 and 2010, we progressed from piffling little 100 million transistor single-core desktop CPUs to six-core, billion-trannie mofos capable of implausible feats of number crunching.
During that period, the technology used to knock out computer chips has powered ahead, too.
We've transitioned through 90nm, 65nm, 45nm and 32nm silicon, with 22nm CPUs just around the corner. Along the way, we've picked up all manner of fabulous new chip tech, including SOI, strained silicon and latterly tri-gate and 3D transistors.
It was relentless stuff.
Indeed, Intel has committed itself to rolling out either a new CPU architecture or a new production process every single year.
And yet here we are at the apex of 2011 and 2012 wondering where it's all gone wrong. The evidence comes in the form of both of Intel's new PC processors.
We've proselytised plenty enough on the subject of the new Core i7-3960X. Suffice to say we view its hidden cores as evidence Intel has taken its foot off the gas.
Intel's new top-end Sandy Bridge is quite some chip. Sadly it was quite some chip when it was the slightly slower-clocked Intel Core i7 2600K. Not a lot has changed apart from the price.
It comfortably hoses the best that AMD has to offer and in the grand scheme of things isn't even the best that Intel can chuck into a desktop motherboard.
Multi-threaded CPU performance
Video encoding performance
CPU gaming performance
This new chip is the Core i7-2700K. In many ways it's a much more interesting processor than the Intel Core i7 3960X.
We don't mean that in a technological sense. Deep down, the 2700K is nothing new.
It's the same four-core Sandy Bridge generation die seen in several existing chips, including the Intel Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K. The number of four-core Sandy Bridgers is legion.
However, the 2700K is the new de facto king of Intel's line of LGA1,155 models.
For us, it's the LGA1155 socket that's really relevant to PC enthusiasts and gamers, not the highfalutin', server-derived LGA 2011 platform and its quad-channel silliness.
The 2700K, then, is the fastest chip any mere mortal is likely to run in his PC any time soon.
Unfortunately, what it ain't is a big step forward over the existing Core i7-2600K. You suspicions will first be aroused by the pathetic clockspeed bump from 3.4GHz to 3.5GHz.
That's right, it's clocked fully three per cent higher. Needless to say, at stock clocks, the 2700K achieves absolutely nothing of interest.
Yes, it's a very nice little quad-core chip. Yup, it has the edge on AMD's ostensibly eight-core flagship, the AMD FX 8150 Black Edition, across the board. And yey, it absolutely hammers said AMD chip in any benchmark that majors on per-core performance rather than multi-threaded throughput.
All of which means the 2700K's only hope of giving something we haven't already got is overclocking.
What'll she do, mister? The answer during our testing, and in the context of air cooling and a modicum of extra voltage, is 4.8GHz. A very good result, we think you'll agree. But not materially better than you can expect from most Intel Core i7 2600K processors. Again, the game doesn't move on.
That said, the hefty 1.3GHz gap between what the 2700K is nominally clocked at from the factory and what it will do with a bit of tweaking is perplexing.
Why on earth doesn't Intel give us a 4GHz chip?
You can't argue with the fact that this is a fantastic processor. It's way in advance of what AMD's top processor can manage.
There's also a huge amount of overclocking headroom nestled in that unassuming CPU enclosure.
Sadly there's absolutely no difference between this chip and the cheaper Intel Core i7 2600K apart from a higher price tag and a CPU multiplier upped by one notch.
And every single 2600K out there could manage that on the reference cooler.
A great chip, but barely any better than the 2600K. Hardly worth Intel's bother bringing it out.