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i7-2600K vs. i7-8700K - Is Upgrading Worthwhile?

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Sandy Bridge. That name alone conjures up some pretty strong memories in the hearts and minds of PC users. Back in 2011 Intel’s then-new architecture represented a significant step up from the previous Clarkdale / Lynnfield generation for users who weren’t already attached to one high end desktop platform or another. Not only did Sandy Bridge bring forward a much better price / performance ratio than its ill-fated Lynnfield predecessor but its platform also represented a pretty significant step up from the previous generation. As a result, processors like the i7-2600K and 2500K became overnight success stories.

They staying power of Sandy Bridge can actually still be seen today since many who bought into that ecosystem haven’t really been given any good reason to upgrade in the previous six years. Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Skylake and Kaby Lake have all come and gone while only offering incremental updates in terms of performance and overall platform connectivity. Sure, things like support for NVMe storage devices, USB 3.1 and PCIe 3.0 have all been gradually rolled into Intel’s mainstream offerings. However, prices on products that support the former two have been high while the latter’s impact upon in-game performance is negligible at best. Folks who bought a quad core, eight thread i7-2600K have been sitting pretty for an eternity in PC years.

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This brings us to The Great Coffee Lake Conundrum. With this new architecture comes a move away from the quad core layout that has defined the upper part of Intel’s mainstream offerings for the better part of a decade. Now both the i7-8700K and i7-8700 have six cores and a dozen threads alongside higher clock speeds and a bevy of architectural enhancements, all of which could make them appealing options for i7-2600K buyers. More importantly, this new CPU costs $360. While that’s a good $40 more than what the i7-2600K launched at, the premium reflects the price of inflation between 2011 and 2017 almost perfectly so in today’s dollars this Coffee Lake CPU doesn’t technically cost more.

The technology backstopping Coffee Lake is impressive to say the least but is it actually worthwhile for you to upgrade a six year old system right now? I guess that’s the million dollar question and one that will define this particular article. I’m actually going to break it all down into a pretty straightforward manner too. There will be real world benchmarks (no synthetics this time folks!) and gaming at two different resolutions, 1080P and 1440P.

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But before I get into the benchmarks there are a few other items that need to be discussed, first and foremost of those, the platform differences between Z370 and a system that was bought more than six years ago. I alluded to them above but other than the lack of M.2, NVMe support, USB 3.1 Gen 2 and PCIe 3.0, there are a few others. For example, unless you had a Z77 board alongside Sandy Bridge (a rare thing indeed) SATA 6Gbps was added through slow and sometime buggy third party controllers. This not only limited high speed RAID setups but compatibility with certain drives as well.

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In addition to that, while the integrated PCIe 2.0 lanes aren’t detrimental to performance of a single graphics card, the added bandwidth of Z370’s 3.0 standard could help with dual GPU performance when using higher end cards. While the number of users who are actually looking at buying over $1000 of modern GPUs to upgrade Sandy Bridge could be counted on your fingers and toes, this is still something to take into account.

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But what I’m after here isn’t to compare Z370 and P67 / Z68. What I want to find out is whether or not people with Sandy Bridge processors should finally look into upgrading. Basically the test setups will consist of the Z370-E STRIX Gaming and i7-8700K or the ASUS PZ68V-PRO and i7 2600K. Along with those I’ll be using a GTX 1070, 16GB of memory and all the other components you see in the chart above. The GPU was chosen since it represents an excellent price / performance option for either new-build systems or simply upgrading Sandy Bridge.

Just for the heck of it I’ll also be including a GTX 680 alongside the Sandy Bridge results since that happens to be the highest-end graphics card available in the months following Intel’s launch. That should give a good baseline for performance then versus now.

There’s also a completely fresh install of Windows 10 and multi core enhancement was turned off. The only major difference will be the memory speeds with Sandy Bridge operating at 1333MHz while the Coffee Lake system will operate at 2666MHz. Those speeds were chosen since they represent the upper range of Intel’s stock specifications for each respective platform.

Naturally, there are several key challenges when comparing two systems launched in very different timeframes. Something, somewhere on the older setup will prove to be a bottleneck while we also can’t forget that buying a whole new Coffee Lake system isn’t an inexpensive proposition either. Buying the motherboard, i7-8700K, memory and GTX 1070 listed in this review will put you back well over $1200 USD whereas buying just the GTX 1070 will cost about $400.

The real question here is whether or not either of those monetary investments is really worthwhile at this point in time. Folks tend to have an “I’m waiting for xxx” mentality, something I chastised in a previous review but there’s no denying people who invested in the i7-2600K made a good choice. It is now 6 years later and the platform as a whole seems to be doing well, but will Coffee Lake change that in any meaningful way? Let’s find out.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
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Montreal
Productivity Benchmarks: Adobe Premier Pro / Blender

Adobe Premier Pro CC


Adobe Premier Pro CC is one of the most recognizable video editing programs on the market today as it is used by videography professionals and YouTubers alike. In this test we take elements of a 60-second 4K video file and render them out into a cohesive MP4 video via Adobe’s Media Encoder. Note that GPU acceleration is turned on.

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Blender


Blender is a free-to-use 3D content creation program that also features an extremely robust rendering back-end. It boasts extremely good multi core scaling and even incorporates a good amount of GPU acceleration for various higher level tasks. In this benchmark we take a custom 1440P 3D image and render it out using the built-in tool. The results you see below list how long it took each processor to complete the test.

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Unfortunately, a lot of these benchmarks will very much be a foregone conclusion. Remember, the i7-8700K has received six years of architecture evolutions, it has four more processing threads and it operates at higher frequencies than Sandy Bridge ever did. These two first tests prove that in a big way. If you are a content creator or someone who is simply looking to save some time in semi-pro tasks then Coffee Lake looks like an awesome upgrade.
 

SKYMTL

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Productivity Benchmarks: GIMP / Handbrake

GIMP


While it may be open source, GIMP is actually one of the most popular free photo editors available right now. It uses both CPU and GPU acceleration for certain tasks. In this test we use an 8K image and use a script to run eight different filters in succession. This is considered a lightly threaded workload since the memory, CPU and storage drive can all play a role in performance.

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Handbrake


Video conversion from one format to another is a stressful task for any processor and speed is paramount. Handbrake is one of the more popular transcoders on the market since it is free, has a long feature list, supports GPU acceleration and has an easy-to-understand interface. In this test we take a 6GB 4K MP4 and convert it to a 1080P MKV file with a H.264 container format. GPU acceleration has been disabled. The results posted indicate how long it took for the conversion to complete.

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Like many other programs, since GIMP is a natively single thread program Coffee Lake’s additional threads and other optimizations can’t be put to full use. That means it still beats Sandy Bridge by a noticeable margin but nothing like we’ve seen in previous multi core tests. If you are someone that edits photos for a living, I’d still recommend you look into an upgrade since this amount of time being saved could lead to money being saved too.

Switching back to a program like Handbrake that benefits from both multi core enhancements and overall frequencies sees the i7-8700K jump way out to a massive lead again. But remember that Coffee Lake is being compared against a processor that was launched six YEARS ago so the improvements were expected.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
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Montreal
Productivity Benchmarks: POV Ray / WinRAR

POV Ray 3.7


POV Ray is a complex yet simple to use freeware ray tracing program which has the ability to efficiently use multiple CPU cores in order to speed up rendering output. For this test, we use its built-in benchmark feature which renders a high definition scene. The rendering time to completion is logged and then listed below.

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WinRAR


WinRAR is one of those free tools that everyone seems to use. Its compression and decompression algorithms are fully multi-core aware which allows for a significant speedup when processing files. In this test we compress a 3GB folder of various files and add a 256-bit encryption key. Once again the number listed is the time to completion.

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By now it should be pretty obvious that Coffee Lake will keep winning rendering tests by a big margin and that’s what POV Ray shows.

Meanwhile, I was actually expecting the WinRAR results to be a bit closer since its algorithms typically benefit from fast platform storage, low memory latency and high clock speeds. However, after I looked a bit closer at the output it looks like the 2600K was actually preventing the SSD from writing information at its peak speeds. The processor became a bottleneck.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1080P Gaming: Battlefield 1 / COD: IW

Battlefield 1


Battlefield 1 will likely become known as one of the most popular multiplayer games around but it also happens to be one of the best looking titles around. It also happens to be extremely well optimized with even the lowest end cards having the ability to run at high detail levels.

In this benchmark we use a runthough of The Runner level after the dreadnought barrage is complete and you need to storm the beach. This area includes all of the game’s hallmarks in one condensed area with fire, explosions, debris and numerous other elements layered over one another for some spectacular visual effects.


COFFEE-SANDY-40.jpg


Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare


The latest iteration in the COD series may not drag out niceties like DX12 or particularly unique playing styles but it nonetheless is a great looking game that is quite popular.

This benchmark takes place during the campaign’s Operation Port Armor wherein we run through a sequence combining various indoor and outdoor elements along with some combat.


COFFEE-SANDY-41.jpg


Here we are with the first round of gaming benchmarks and I have to say, the initial results came as something of a surprise. Actually, in some ways they are a shock since I thought this lower resolution would allow the i7-8700K to pull quite far ahead of its 6 year old predecessor. That wasn’t the case at all!

In both Battlefield 1 and Call of Duty the average framerates for both systems were nearly identical while the lower 1% frame times –a key metric for perceived smoothness- showed a slight edge to Coffee Lake. Straight off the bat it seems like upgrading your 2600K’s graphics card holds a ton of value but the same can’t be said about spending over a thousand bucks to update the entire system.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
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1080P Gaming: Deus Ex / DOOM

Deus Ex – Mankind Divided


Deus Ex titles have historically combined excellent storytelling elements with action-forward gameplay and Mankind Divided is no difference. This run-through uses the streets and a few sewers of the main hub city Prague along with a short action sequence involving gunplay and grenades.

COFFEE-SANDY-42.jpg


Doom


Not many people saw a new Doom as a possible Game of the Year contender but that’s exactly what it has become. Not only is it one of the most intense games currently around but it looks great and is highly optimized. In this run-through we use Mission 6: Into the Fire since it features relatively predictable enemy spawn points and a combination of open air and interior gameplay.

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Deus Ex and Doom show very much the same results as previous tests but both systems ran even closer to one another than in the last page. It seems like DX12 and Vulkan don’t discriminate about your CPU, provided it has enough threads and operates at high enough clock speeds.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1080P Gaming: GTA V / Overwatch

Grand Theft Auto V


In GTA V we take a simple approach to benchmarking: the in-game benchmark tool is used. However, due to the randomness within the game itself, only the last sequence is actually used since it best represents gameplay mechanics.

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Overwatch


Overwatch happens to be one of the most popular games around right now and while it isn’t particularly stressful upon a system’s resources, its Epic setting can provide a decent workout for all but the highest end GPUs. In order to eliminate as much variability as possible, for this benchmark we use a simple “offline” Bot Match so performance isn’t affected by outside factors like ping times and network latency.

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Switching back to DX11 and there are finally some results that favor the i7-8700K. Grand Theft Auto shows it commanding a pretty significant leads straight across the board whereas in Overwatch it provides a smoother experience while averages are well aligned. The Overwatch result is actually quite important since many of today’s most popular games (Overwatch, CS:GO, PUBG and others) rely on DX11 and high framerates to achieve a proper level of competitive fluidity.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1080P Gaming: Ghost Recon / Witcher 3

Ghost Recon Wildlands


While the latest Ghost Recon game isn’t compatible with DX12, it happens to be one of the best looking games released in quite some time. It also has an extensive set of in-game graphics options. This 90-second benchmark is based in the tropical jungle of Espiritu Santo as well as a vehicle drive into a slightly more arid zone. As with some other games, the in-game benchmark on this one is out to lunch and doesn’t give a good representation of what you can expect within gameplay.

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Witcher 3


Other than being one of 2015’s most highly regarded games, The Witcher 3 also happens to be one of the most visually stunning as well. This benchmark sequence has us riding through a town and running through the woods; two elements that will likely take up the vast majority of in-game time.

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The two final tests actually focus on DX11 once again but neither shows a meaningful lead for the Coffee Lake system. This is likely because within the high detail setting realm, the GTX 1070 I’m using in these tests becomes a bottleneck long before the CPU. As we transition to 1440P tests, this gap will like narrow even further.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P Gaming: Battlefield 1 / COD: IW

Battlefield 1


Battlefield 1 will likely become known as one of the most popular multiplayer games around but it also happens to be one of the best looking titles around. It also happens to be extremely well optimized with even the lowest end cards having the ability to run at high detail levels.

In this benchmark we use a runthough of The Runner level after the dreadnought barrage is complete and you need to storm the beach. This area includes all of the game’s hallmarks in one condensed area with fire, explosions, debris and numerous other elements layered over one another for some spectacular visual effects.


COFFEE-SANDY-48.jpg


Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare


The latest iteration in the COD series may not drag out niceties like DX12 or particularly unique playing styles but it nonetheless is a great looking game that is quite popular.

This benchmark takes place during the campaign’s Operation Port Armor wherein we run through a sequence combining various indoor and outdoor elements along with some combat.


COFFEE-SANDY-49.jpg


Moving on to a slightly higher resolution and the results are very much the same, if not even tighter than they were at 1080P. This was completely expected since in these tests the onus is on the graphics card and the GTX 1070 can become a bottleneck as resolutions and detail settings increase. Hence, the processors tend to take a back seat.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
1440P Gaming: Deus Ex / DOOM

Deus Ex – Mankind Divided


Deus Ex titles have historically combined excellent storytelling elements with action-forward gameplay and Mankind Divided is no difference. This run-through uses the streets and a few sewers of the main hub city Prague along with a short action sequence involving gunplay and grenades.

COFFEE-SANDY-50.jpg


Doom


Not many people saw a new Doom as a possible Game of the Year contender but that’s exactly what it has become. Not only is it one of the most intense games currently around but it looks great and is highly optimized. In this run-through we use Mission 6: Into the Fire since it features relatively predictable enemy spawn points and a combination of open air and interior gameplay.

COFFEE-SANDY-51.jpg

There really aren’t any changes here either, though the lower 1% of framerates is even closer than it was at 1080P. It really is interesting to see how well the Sandy Bridge platform does, even with a PCIe 2.0 interface. Another thing is becoming clear too: whereas a new processor won’t help performance by all that much, upgrading your older graphics card can have a dramatic effect upon in-game performance.
 

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