The reports of the desktop PC’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Intel and AMD are back in a new battle of processors, with Intel launching a new series. It’s called the Core i9, and it’s the fastest consumer desktop processor ever.
The Core i9 has a lot going for it. It starts with a 10-core CPU for $999, the Core i9-7900X, and goes all the way up to the Core i9-7980XE for $1,999 with 18 cores. That’s far higher than the dual-cores and quad-cores we are used to. So far, only the base-level 7900X is available for sale.
Apart from more raw speed, the Core i9 series makes small changes under the hood. It rebalances the cache hierarchy, introduces a new Turbo Boost, supports four-channel DDR4 RAM, and Intel’s Optane Memory. If you want to know more, we have a detailed article explaining what makes the Core i9 the fastest processor today.
Along with the Core i9, Intel also launched new models of the Core i5 and Core i7 processors. They’re part of Intel’s Skylake-X series, which runs on the new X299 chipset –– the same as what the Core i9 series uses. This means you will need a new motherboard if you plan to use any of these new processors.
A series of new processors leads to the natural question: should I buy this? Intel continues to sell its Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 series of processors, along with the new X299 Core i9. So which CPU should you buy?
The Office Goer
“I want a simple laptop that does the basics.”
Common Activities: Browsing the web, email, social networking, Microsoft Office, sometimes watching movies.
The trusty old Intel Core i3 should be able to serve all your needs efficiently. It is a low-cost processor and is also energy-efficient to give you longer battery life. I’d recommend the Intel Core i3 7100, one of the best-reviewed starter processors.
The Core i3’s onboard graphics chip is perhaps its biggest limitation. While it’s decent enough to watch movies, you might see some lag while skipping back and forth on a 1080p movie file.
You should also consider a device running Intel Core M, a power-optimized processor with a better HD 5300 graphics chip. Its cost falls between a Core i3 and a Core i5, and is available in laptops or Intel’s palm-sized NUC computers.
“I want to do a whole lot of things simultaneously, and get my assignments done.”
Common Activities: Watching movies, listening to music, social networking, browsing the web, Microsoft Office, some gaming, specialized software depending on the course.
For students, we would suggest either the Intel Core M or the Intel Core i5, depending on your needs.
If you won’t play games, carry your laptop around campus all day, and don’t have any graphics-intensive needs, then the Intel Core M should be fine. Plus, its energy efficiency makes it ideal to use for long periods in a day. We also recommend checking out the best laptops for students, by major.
But most students should stick to the Intel Core i5 series of processors. These are built for performance, and even offer some graphics oomph if you want. The i5 series also supports Turbo Boost to speed up tasks at the right time.
If you’re building a desktop PC, get a Core i5 quad-core processor. Even the base level Core i5 7500 should do for this, and it’s a tremendously popular choice among PC builders.
“I want to play the latest games with no drop in framerates.”
Common Activities: Gaming, screen recording, internet chat, intense multitasking.
If you’re building a gaming rig, there are two possible scenarios. Either you are starting from scratch, or you are upgrading your current processor.
Those who are upgrading their CPU but don’t want any other investment should look away from the new X299 chipset processors. Any of those will invariably mean upgrading your motherboard, and maybe other parts too. In fact, you might want to build an eight-core gaming rig with cheap server parts.
If you are building a new high-end gaming PC, then start with the new Skylake-X series, since it will make you future-compatible. On the other hand, for those building within a modest budget, the Core i3, Core i5, or Ryzen (what’s Ryzen?) processors might be more appropriate picks.
The starting point in this is the Intel Core i5-7640X for $250, which has a quad-core processor but no hyperthreading. If you aren’t upgrading, then the previous generation’s Core i5 7600K comes for the same price and is unlocked for overclocking.
Those looking for more oomph from their gaming build’s processor should get the Intel Core i7-7800X for $400. The six-core CPU has hyperthreading for 12 virtual cores and supports up to 28 PCI Express lanes. Whether you’re gaming, streaming, or even playing virtual reality games with a headset, this one can handle it all.
“I want a beast that handles my intense workload.”
Common Activities: Coding, video editing, 3D modeling.
There is one lot of users who are looking for workhorses. From graphics designers and video editors to coders and architects, some people need pure horsepower. If you’re one of these, get the Intel Core i7-7820X for $680.
The main reasons to go with the Skylake-X series over an Intel Xeon or existing Core i7 is the cache and the RAM.
Processor cache is one of those little-known parts that slow down PCs. The new Skylake-X series changes how it handles cache so that it’s faster than anything on current Intel processors. Plus, you’ll get a whopping 11 MB of L3 cache.
The second point, RAM, is something most people already know about. The Skylake-X series allows for four-channel DDR4 RAM, theoretically letting you add up to 64 GB of RAM. That’s far better than normal processors, but Xeon users might want to double-check their needs.
Some professionals cannot afford the slightest bit of corruption of any data. Xeon processors support ECC RAM, which prioritizes data safety and correction. Only a few specialist jobs require this though, so unless you’re a system administrator for a large corporation, you can look beyond it.
“I want the best of the best of the best.”
Common Activities: Wanting the best.
This one is pretty simple, isn’t it? If you want the best, that means you go buy the best. And right now, that’s the Intel Core i9-7900X for $1,240.
This is about having the latest and greatest. Sure, it’s the best, but the improvements you will see are negligible for most daily uses.
Be warned that the Core i9 has some trouble with the current line of top-range graphics cards, according to Anandtech. It should be resolved with time, but it’s something to keep in mind for now.
Which Motherboard Should You Use?
Unless you are sticking with the current line of processors, the Skylake-X series is a reason to upgrade your motherboard. And there aren’t that many cheap motherboards that support the X299 chipset right now.
Which motherboard and processor combo are you eyeing?