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The Intel Kaby Lake-X i7-7740X Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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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.




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.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,264
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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.



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.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Gaming Performance (Synthetic)

3DMark Fire Strike (DX11)





3DMark Time Spy (DX12)


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
Gaming Performance (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.




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.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
Gaming Performance (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.



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.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Gaming Performance (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.



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.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,264
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Montreal
Power Consumption

Power Consumption


I don’t typically dedicate a whole page to power consumption but there’s a pretty substantial story lurking behind the numbers you see below and how they directly relate to TDP claims from both Intel and AMD. Without getting too technical, the way these two companies go about measuring TDP is fundamentally different from one another. Intel themselves published a very comprehensive and quite neutral White Paper (Word doc download) about the differences a few years ago and its worth a quick read if you have a chance.

What you need to know is that TDP values are a universally poor way to determine actual power consumption for end users since they are simply thermal design guidelines that are given to system integrators. As I say in every review, TDP is not actual power consumption so don’t take it as such.

As both Intel and AMD recommend, the best way to measure true power deltas between processors is via a simple (yet calibrated) power meter plugged into the wall outlet. That’s exactly what we do but add in a controlled 120V power input to eliminate voltage irregularities from impacting the results.


You may remember that earlier in this review I mentioned the Kaby Lake-X processors were given higher TDP ratings due their upscaled packaging and some other factors. Those TDP ratings my not directly translate to power consumption but there's no denying the i7-7740X and X299 platform consume more power than the i7-7700K and Z270. It isn't a massive amount but its still measurable.

Some of this could also be due to platform maturity since I still don't feel like the processor's C-States and Turbo modes are properly implemented, even after numerous revisions in the days leading up to launch. Hopefully as time goes on additional refinements will be built in and we'll see the gap narrow somewhat.
 
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SKYMTL

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Overclocking Results; Beyond 5GHz

Overclocking Results



I’m going to keep this section a lot shorter than I normally would since with the rushed nature of this launch I haven’t had much time to play around with the lone Kaby Lake-X processor I have in hand. With that being said, if there is one thing Intel did well on this Core-X lineup it’s overclocking. The i7-7740X has a good amount of additional TDP headroom and according to our contacts at various motherboard vendors, these chips should easily hit between 5.0 and 5.5GHz with proper cooling.

Now the term “proper cooling” is a loose one since it doesn’t necessarily mean water cooling. Rather, I was able to easily overclock my engineering sample with a relatively simple Noctua NH-U12S. Naturally the larger 10 core CPUs will require substantially more heatsink mass but don’t start thinking that you’ll need to spend $100 or more on a cooler to achieve optimal clock speeds.

After retesting a number of Ryzen processors over the last few weeks, I have to say that overclocking on this X299 platform is like breath of fresh air. Instead of a struggle ending with smashing face first into a wall at 4GHz, the i7-7740X easily blazed through the 5GHz mark on its way to an even 5.1GHz. And this was after a mere 15 minutes of trial and error and an hour of stress testing to insure the overclock was stable. I’m sure that given a few more hours I would have been able to go quite far beyond that point.

 
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SKYMTL

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13,264
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Montreal
Conclusion: What a Tangled Web We Weave

Conclusion: What a Tangled Web We Weave


The lead up to Intel’s Core-X launch has been filled with critique, some of it well placed and the rest based off of a simmering anger against Intel which has in many cases led to very real bias. A good amount of that angst stems from the fact that many enthusiasts feel Intel’s HEDT platform’s cost structure has reached the point where it is no longer a viable solution. The i7-7740X featured in this review goes a long way towards lowering the cost of entry into X299 territory but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good value.

At first glance the i7-7740K seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered: it has a solid architectural pedigree, high clock speeds and a price that looks pretty appealing given the tangible benefits we’ve been led to believe X299 brings to the table. After crunching the numbers it looks pretty competitive as well, that is until there’s further analysis and you realize that not much has changed with Intel’s approach to segmentation.

What could have been a compelling product ended up being a complete re-launch of the i7-7700K at the exact same price. But in this case it comes with lower performance and not one additional feature to distinguish the whole X299 + Kaby Lake-X combo from Z270. Drop an i7-7740X processor into an X299 motherboard and everything that makes the platform unique is thrown out the airlock. If you want additional PCI-E lanes, quad channel memory, compatibility with VROC or Turbo 3.0, look elsewhere. As a matter of fact, the “new” chipset’s capabilities are no different from Z270 either so nothing is gained there either. This whole situation is simply mind boggling.

The lower performance part of that equation is likely due to the platform’s immaturity and the obviously rushed pace at which Intel’s motherboard partners had to cobble together BIOSes. As a matter of fact, just three days before launch I received key BIOS updates from ASRock, ASUS and Gigabyte which optimized Turbo responsiveness and netted performance gains of between 2% to 5%. Unfortunately, that still didn’t help the i7-7740X win against the i7-7700K but it does show there may be a bit more in the tank.

Whether Intel wants to admit it or not, outside of the obvious parallels you can draw between their i7-7700K and the i7-7740X’s, this processor’s main competitor will be the Ryzen 7 1700X. Against AMD’s $399 alternative I feel the i7-7740X falls flat from an overall value standpoint. While it competes well in gaming (though not as well as I would have expected), it is comparatively terrible for multitasking due to the lower core and thread counts. The only saving grace is that the Kaby Lake architecture can run at much higher core frequencies than anything in the Zen stable right now.

The main challenge facing the i7-7740X isn’t the cost of the processor itself but rather the overall platform’s pricing structure. X299 motherboards are being marketed as premium products even though dropping in a Kaby Lake-X CPU knocks their capabilities down to near-Z270 levels. Let’s take Gigabyte’s Aorus Gaming 7 series as a good example of this: the Z270 version retails for about $240 whereas the X299-based board will hit $399. That’s a $160 premium for no mentionable benefits. I’m picking on Gigabyte here but the situation will repeat itself with every vendor.

So is there any silver lining here? I happen to think the i7-7740X does provide a balance of positive and negative points but a very specific set of requirements are needed for it to be a viable solution. Unlike the 7700K which locks you into a pretty narrow performance bracket, you can buy an i7-7740X now and then upgrade to a more capable LGA2066 CPU sometime down the road. Kaby Lake-X does indeed bring down the price of entry into the HEDT space and a savvy buyer can certainly use that to their advantage.

I also have to commend Intel on the ease at which their processors overclock. With AMD's Ryzen, overclocking feels like a fight to the death against an unwilling platform whereas the 7740X I have on hand blazed through the 5GHz mark and didn't show any sign of letting up. The only thing that limited my overclock to 5.1GHz was time rather than any limitation in the motherboard or chip. Overclocking is what the HEDT platforms are all about and this is a key win for Intel in my books.

However, this doesn’t make the i7-7740X a great processor, nor is this a smooth launch worthy of Intel’s name. With the i7-7740X Intel is forcing you to make a decision: either buy a Kaby Lake-X and lose all of the features which make X299 an enthusiast-level platform or buy a processor that costs a thousand bucks. There is no middle ground anymore since every one of the i7-7800 processors is seriously nerfed in some way.

Meanwhile, the advent of the i7-7740X and i7-7640X does bring down the cost of entry but due to their truncated feature sets the situation is literally no different from a year ago when the Z170 versus X99 debate was raging. I’m actually quite sure many will end up sticking to Z270 or jumping on the Ryzen bandwagon due to the significantly lower cost of their motherboards. What this leads to isn't necessarily a failed launch but rather one which has introduced a pair of misplaced Kaby Lake-X processors that feel a bit like orphans in their own house.
 
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