Over the past year or so the Intel i9 9900K has proven itself to be a superb flagship CPU amongst our mid-range systems. With the chip having some of the best IPC (instruction per clock-cycle) results that we’ve seen on any platform and the ability to leverage up to 16 threads of that performance, it has proven the perfect fit for many studio upgrades already this year.
Indeed you would have to spend a sizable chunk of cash more in the enthusiast range above it, in order to find a chip that can stand up to this powerhouse. Needless to say, it’s proven to be one of the most popular CPUs we’ve ever supplied when it comes to audio workstations.
When I took a look at the chip at launch, we realised that cramming this many cores into a CPU of this size, there would be some questions about heat dissipation and that we would have to carefully consider the cooling. This caused us to set out and try and construct a new solution for our ultimate 9900K based system and the result is the TW390.
So what sets this apart from our other systems?
A few years back I took a look at a number of cases that had appeared that featured bottom to top cooling solutions. Heat rises and given the majority of our noise comes from fans having to force air through the case, the thought process here was one of letting nature take it’s course.
At the time the testing went well, but the available fans couldn’t prove themselves capable and quiet enough for us to introduce them into our system range. Super large fans were still relatively unheard of at that time and of the options available to us back then, none of them had been specifically developed with quietness in mind.
Fast forward back to the present and this design idea has been revisited by a few more case manufacturers and in the meantime, more and more firms have begun to concentrate on larger format fans and specifically making them more sonically pleasing.
The perfect time to take another look perhaps?
Enter Cooler Master in the shape of the MasterCase SL600M.
The case features the required bottom to top airflow with a set of 200mm mounting points at the bottom of the case. We set out to test all the fans that would fit and see which ones sonically would stand up to the task in hand.
We found a winner and they were LED-based. It was at this point that we decided that we’d run with this new case design and introduce our first low noise, windowed, illuminated and overclocked studio solution.
The cooling allows us to run the 9900K at its dual-core turbo, but we have more than enough room to overclock all cores to that same turbo speed of 4.9GHz. In real terms, this means no changing of CPU clock speeds on the fly and that ensures that the power is always there when recording. No concerns here about potentially being caught short by your system power saving as the performance is always available when you need it.
We’ve chosen a board ideal for the task as the model here features full Asus AuraSync functionality. This allows you to have full control of all the connected addressable LEDS both inside and outside of the machine. We’ve set it up with 4 strips around the case and those colour changing fans, but you can also hook up a keyboard, mouse, mouse mats, monitors and anything else that features similar compatible RGB LED’s including the Philips home Hue system and have your whole room sync with the system!
Those fans, however, are not just about the light show. After all with all this power to cool you would expect it to be working hard and generating a sizable amount of background noise. This system, however, is tuned to allow us to run the fans at under 700RPM even with the machine running at a 100% full CPU load and in conjunction with the BeQuiet! cooler inside of this machine, it remains well below our demo room noise floor of 28db/a at less than a meter away!
This is a very, very quiet machine… at least sonically. To see more check out the video showcase below.
This system is available now with your choice of storage and memory options allowing up to 64GB of RAM to be included.
Coffee Lake has been with us now for just over a year and it’s been a rather turbulent period for Intel. AMD’s continued gains over the last 12 – 18 months has marked a change in the marketplace and the first generation Coffee Lake launch perhaps felt a little rushed last time around, especially as Intel was attempted to respond to the opening volley in the now ongoing CPU wars.
This time around I find myself looking over the selection of chips in front of me and the key question on my mind right now is one of “have they managed to extract the platforms potential this time around?”
So, I’ve got 3 different models here all new to the Intel mid-range:
1. The new flagship in the form of the 8 core + Hyper-threading i9 9900K running at 3.6 with a turbo clock of 5GHz out of the (oddly) shaped box.
Chip is being run at all core 5GHz
2. The i7 9700K featuring 8 cores but no Hyper-Threading. The chip is clocked to 3.6GHz and 4.9GHz out of it’s rather more normally shaped box.
Chip is being run at all core 4.9GHz
3. Lastly the 9600K in another boring box. 6 cores, no Hyper-Threading and 3.7GHz with 4.6GHz on the turbo.
Chip is being run at all core 4.6GHz
So, we see some firsts here and some repositioning in the range. The i9’s go mainstream and in this case, we’re seeing a few notable key differences there. The big one is that it’s the first time we’ve seen Intel put out an 8 core mainstream chip. Given we only got our first mainstream 6 core back on the last range refresh, it’s good to see them again being pushed into cramming more value onto the die this time around.
The i9’s are also promising us solder under the heat-spreader this time around, rather than the paste found in models elsewhere in the range, so this should in theory help with overclocking for those wishing to push them a bit more.
The i7 & i5 models this time around are limited to 8 cores and 6 cores respectively with no hyper-threading. Whilst it helps to differentiate between the respective ranges, it is going to come as a bit of a shock to anyone used to the current i5/i7 naming convention. On first thought, we wondered it this meant that we could expect the new 8 core with no HT to be outperformed by the older 6 core + HT models or not, although this could very well come down to specific workloads.
Hyper-Threading by its very nature is based around stealing unused clock cycles to get more work done, so if your workload is already thrashing the CPU, then having Hyper-Threading isn’t really going to have much of an impact. In previous testing I’ve tended to note anywhere between 20% and 60% gains with it turned on depending upon the software in use, so it could be argued that having an extra 2 real cores, could equate to somewhere in the region of 4 or even more lost Hyper-Threads (once again, workload permitting) and we’ve also got to consider clock and IPC gains here, so playing off the 9600K & 9500K’s against their predecessors are going to be certainly interesting.
So lets get down to it.
All the standard tests to start with and nothing unusual going on so far. Whilst they are all clocked fairly close together as far as the cores go, you can note differing amounts of L3 cache on each of the chips, which is no doubt going to help a little in both the single and multi-core benchmarks.
So on with the DAWBench SGA DSP Test and we can see the 3 new chips in Yellow above. Starting with the 9600K the obvious comparison here is against its predecessor and frankly, it’s a little underwhelming with a somewhere between a 1% – 10% increase depending upon the buffer in play and scaling upwards as the buffer size is increased.
The 9700K is next and we get to compare its new design configuration of 8 true cores and no Hyper-threading, which also appears to come off poorly here when compared against the older 8700K with the results showing up a 20% – 40% drop off against Intel’s own previous generation class leader.
The loss of Hyper-threading here really looks to have impacted the testing on the new generation at least under the DAWBench classic test. I do get the thought process here with the chip design itself, as the largest new segment in recent years that seems to have captured the marketing teams imagination has been the rise in content creation users who are live streaming. True cores for that sort of content generation is far more beneficial, especially gamers who wish to live stream at the same time, so I fully understand this design choice, in fact it could be argued that this style of chip would be preferential for anyone working live but for anyone looking for raw performance in the studio it’s all a bit disappointing so far.
The flagship here, however, is no longer the i7 model, but rather the i9 9900K and it’s at least here where things are making rather more sense. It’s the first time that we’ve seen an 8 core in Intel’s mid-range line up and looking at the result above, it looks to have settled itself just above the 7820X from the Intel Enthusiast range (X299) and to be fair, on paper at least it makes perfect sense that it would replace that chip.
It’s the same core count, a few generations newer and clocked higher, so it was always going to be a contender, what it does mean, however, is that once again we see one of Intel’s mid-range chips start to cannibalize their own enthusiast class of chips. In fact, we’ve now reached the point where the lower end i7 enthusiast class has had a dearth of releases over the last 15 months and largely been killed off, wherein the same period AMD has successfully taken a sizable bite out of that part of the market space too and we see them continue to take advantage of Intel’s lack of new competing models.
Indeed, in the chart here sat above it, we see the large core count AMD’s as well as the older generation i9’s outlining exactly what this test is good at, which is small files being spread efficiently over the all the available processing space and honestly, the results here once again don’t really give us any surprises as to how and where the chips are being positioned in the range.
Switching over to the DAWBench VI Kontakt based test we see a more interesting picture as the higher single core clocks appear to give us a welcome boost here. In the one thing, it does really outline for us here is that the Kontakt handling looks to benefit from IPC figures all around.
Having the dedicated cores looks to help when working at tighter ASIO buffer settings on both the 9600K and 9700K, although we can see that this benefit disappears on the 9700K once we slacken that setting off to around the 256 buffer. It appears at this point that the Hyper-threading on the older 8700K finally gets a bit of room to breath and flex it’s stuff once you open up the buffer far enough and this in itself is interesting information.
Thinking about this from a live point of view where you’re aiming for the tightest RTL score and quite likely to be making use of Rompler style libraries, this does outline that going with these new chips that feature all real cores might well pay off for you in this situation. However, if you’re working in the studio, the loss performance at the larger buffer settings, at least in comparison with the older generation might once again prove a little perplexing.
Taking a look at the i9 9900K by comparison and it starts to make more sense again, with it doing rather a good job at once more making the older 7820X chip irrelevant. There is less challenge up this end of the chart from the red team largely due to the lack of solid benchmarks obtained in the last round which you can catch up on if you hit the link.
What this means is that the options here do seem to be becoming even more divided. It’s been pointed out that the higher latency jobs that the Zen chips were excelling at are applicable to all sorts of media editors still and with each additional chip it becomes ever more clear that these continue to remain very scenario dependent, and that Kontakts way of working tends to favour highly clocked cores and larger IPC figures over the workload being spread out over more numerous but slower cores.
Before I round up I just want to throw out a couple of additional charts. I didn’t get a chance to do it with all of them, but I did record the i9 9900K at both stock and at the all core overclock, largely so you can see the difference it can make by setting it to the all core turbo.
Depending on the test and buffer size it’s up to around 8% in these benchmarks, although this can grow as you use more complex chains of processing in your projects. A chip is only really as strong as it’s the weakest core, as once you max out any given core you begin to run the risk of audio artefacts creeping in.
I mention this specifically with the i9 9900K as a lot of premium boards have been shipping with 5GHz profiles now for a few years and it’s rather easy to hit the results I’m showing above with a halfway decent cooler solution. Above that, you’ll probably want to move to a water cooler solutions with 5.2GHz looking to be the target for anyone wanting to really drive it.
I’ll also note that the i7 9700K was running comfortably just below 80 degrees by the time I all core turbo’d it, whereas the i5 9600K was sitting nicely around the 60 degrees mark even with Prime 95 absolutely thrashing it, so I reckon for anyone wanting true cores only, you might have quite a chunk of headroom there to play with if you want to tinker with it.
So, overall, what are my final thoughts?
The i5 9600K and i7 9700K both feel like a step backwards for our part of the market to a degree. Sure, they have some strengths and I’ll come back to the example of low latency machines for live use again being a prospective user base, but their value proposition in comparison to other chips already out there is where it really falls over in the studio.
Having a sideways move in the overall performance is a little disappointing but we’re seeing an initial street price on the i7 9600K of around £350 against the i5 8600K historical showing of around £250. Similarly the 8700K was around £350 for most of its lifecycle and the 9700K sits at £499 at launch, so we’re seeing price increases with each of those ranges, although I suspect as supply catches up with the initial demand we may find some price realignment over the coming months and I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see the new chips reflect older price points once the market stabilises. This is a fairly common occurrence with any new chip release, but admittedly it leaves me feeling a rather underwhelmed given all I’ve discussed already from a performance point of view.
The i9 9900K, on the other hand, replaces the 7820X which spent most of its lifecycle between £400 – £500 in the UK and the i9 9900K has landed at £599. Assuming it’s going to drift over the coming months we’re still essentially looking at £100 mark up over the older model.
The DAWBench classic test here shows us mixed gains depending upon the workload and it’s up against the AMD’s which manage to still outperform it within this test. By contrast, the DAWBench VI test flips it with it outperforming the chips on the chart and keeping in mind the Threadripper results previously.
So, does even the i9 9900K make sense? Well, yes, it’s the one that really does here. With the change to the Z390 platform, we see a cost saving over the older X299 platform complete with a more advanced feature set. With the cost differences between boards often totalling and surpassing the £100 amount, the overall cost of going with an i9 9900K over an i7 7820X looks to come out in the i9’s favour and that’s before considering the performance gains it offers.
The additional good news here is that the other previous sticking point with the Z390 platform for some users is it’s restricted memory capabilities, as the four slots could only handle a maximum of 64GB. We’ve seen an announcement recently however that they are going to start offering double stacked DIMM’s over the coming months to support this platform, so hopefully, it shouldn’t be all that long until these boards can handle 128GB as well.
Overall this feels like Intel’s real response to AMD’s advances last year although given the swift execution and release of the second generation Zen chips, perhaps they are still a tad on the backfoot here. It’s kinda where Coffee Lake should have been last time around and it’s of course good to see more power in the mid-range. It does leave me questioning where exactly it’s going to leave the enthusiast class, as anything less than an i9 on that platform is going to prove to be poor value at this point and given the age of that platform I really can’t help but hope that the next Intel enthusiast platform can’t be all that far off now.
It feels like this is the repostioning that Intel needed to happen to put it’s own range back into some context, but it may not prove to be the change that everyone was looking for, at least in our small corner of the market.
At the very least here the i9 9900K emerges as a rather strong contender for us audio users and I suspect any other i9 based refresh over the coming months is going to make this all make a whole load more sense when the dust settles. But with AMD already promising updates to its own platform and announced tweaks for their memory balancing promised over the next few weeks Intel may have to work even harder over the coming months.
It’s been a while now since we sat down and took a good look at any of the mobile processor releases. It’s a market segment that has been crawling along slowly in recent years with minor incremental upgrades and having checked out the last couple of mobile flagship chips, it was obvious that with each generation we were seeing those refinements focused more on improved power handling rather than trying to extract every drop of performance.
Admittedly in the shape of last years 7700HQ they perhaps got closer to the equivalent desktop model than any generation previously managed to achieve in previous years. Whilst welcome, this was really more a symptom of stagnating desktop speeds, rather than any miraculous explosion in mobile power. Whilst the chip itself was a great performer, the fact that it got there by eaking a few percent generation, upon generation… well, by the time we got there, it was all ultimately a little underwhelming.
But now, thanks to AMD’s continued push in the current desktop CPU war, we’ve seen Coffee Lake emerge from the blue camp and now we’re going to get hands-on with the mobile equivalent.
The i7 8750H we have here today is a 6 core with hyperthreading, running with a base clock of 2.20GHz and a max single core turbo frequency of 4.10GHz and leads the way when it comes to mobile i7’s.
Just as a side note before we kick this off, there is another chip above this, in the form of the i9 8950HK which is also 6 cores + hyperthreading but with another 500MHz on the clock. I mention this as Apple has just announced it’s going into the flagship Macbook later in the year, we do have them due to land with us in PC laptops as well in a month or two, so I will be benchmarking that when it arrives with us too.
Already in the very first screenshot above, we’ve inadvertently tipped a nod to what’s going to be the crux of this write-up. The clock speeds are somewhat wide-ranging, to say the least. On paper, there is almost 2GHz worth of clock between the base and turbo clocks. Keeping in mind that it’s single core turbo only up to the 4.1GHz and suddenly you find yourself asking about what the rest of the cores will be doing at that point.
Quickly throwing CPUid on and running it returns us a result of 3890GHz, which if it had been all cores would have been rather impressive for a mobile chip. In this instance, however, I wasn’t doing anything other than sitting on the desktop when this snapshot was taken. The score you see is the highest core score and it’s hyper-thread was showing as matching it.
The rest of the cores, however, well, they were largely unused and sat around the baseline 2.0GHz – 2.6GHz level. What we really want to know of course is what sort of average speed we can expect from all the cores being kicked up to 100% load.
Any longer term followers of these pieces will already be well aware that my preference for testing involves doing an all core overclock or in more basic terms, I tend to favour locking all the cores to the single core max turbo speed.
Yes, it’s an overclock, but it’s one that the chips are kind of rated to. Admittedly, it’s not rated to quite the level we’re working at here, but hey… that’s why we favour some chunky aftermarket cooling in those systems to make everything alright.
Except, when dealing with laptops we can’t go strapping a large chunk of copper to it, in fact, a lot of the tweaks we would wish to make on a desktop system, simply don’t exist in laptop land. Often with laptops, it’s a case of a unit either working out of the box or with a few basic tweaks or otherwise due to drivers or hardware choices it’ll never really be suitable for the sort of real-time processing required for working with audio.
I grabbed a copy of AIDA64 and gave it a quick run, at least enough to force the CPU to load up all the cores and simulate a heavy workload and how those cores would respond to such a load.
What we see here is all the cores being pushed, with the highest speed core running about 3000MHz in the screenshot. Monitoring it in real-time it was bouncing around 3000 – 3200MHz range. Similarly, at the lower end, we see a core sat around 2600MHz and this would bounce up to around 2800MHz at times.
So, where’s our 4.1GHz turbo? Well, that single core turbo only really achieves such lofty heights if the rest of the cores are sat around doing nothing. In the interest of load balancing and heat management should more than a couple of cores need to be turbo’d then all of them will shift to a safer average.
You see on desktops with chips that have a range of a 3.8Ghz to 4.3Ghz sitting mostly around the 4GHz level and is why I tend to notch them all up to 4.3GHz in that sort of situation. It ensures no sudden ramping up and down and ensures we get some nice stable but optimized performance out of a setup without taking any major risks.
With these laptops, we don’t get those sort of options, nor I suspect would heat permit us to be quite so aggressive with the settings. Whilst the headline here of 6 cores is fairly unprecedented within a consumer level laptop, and certainly, on a fairly mainstream chipset, it’s a little bit smoke and mirrors with how it’s presented if you don’t fully understand how the turbo presents itself.
The potential issues it presents to us are in the form of the ASIO buffer. With whole channels being assigned to each given thread, we ideally want the performance level across all cores to be as equal as possible. For audio systems the overall performance can often be limited by how powerful the weakest core is, this is something we need to keep in mind heading into this results roundup.
With the DAWBench DSP test, we’re using the SGA1566 variant running under Reaper for this generation of testing and we see the 8750H performing around the level of an entry-level desktop i5 chip. In comparison to previous generations, this isn’t overly surprising as historically the mobile i7 CPU of any given generation tends to sit around the level of the leading i5 desktop solution in the performance stakes.
Running the DAWBench Vi test we see similar results here too, with the chip coming in just behind the i5 8400 once again. It’s a reasonable showing and in reality, we’re probably looking at maybe a 25% gain over the last generation flagship mobile chip.
Given that we’ve seen 3 or 4 generations now where 10% gains year on year has been the standard then normally we’d be pretty happy about seeing a jump of 25% coming out of single refresh and indeed it’s certainly a far better value option than the model it replaced.
However, we saw a jump of 40% on the desktop last year and frankly all we’re doing here is shoehorning in another couple of cores, rather than bringing in a whole new platform. It looks like they’ve played it cautiously by not pushing the chip too much and the temperatures do seem a little on the safe side even under stress testing.
To be fair to them, this is pretty much what the average user wants from a laptop chip, giving us quick bursts to deal with any sudden intensive activity, but otherwise, aggressive power-saving to ensure a long battery life when on the move.
Which of course, is pretty much the opposite of what most of us power users want, as we tend to be looking for a high-performance desktop replacement solution. It’s clear there is a bit of headroom here which will no doubt be leveraged over the next couple of range refreshes, it’s just a little bit frustrating that we can’t extract a bit more of it right now ourselves.
With all that said I suspect that after seeing the CPU war kick expectations up a notch as it did last year, that I may have headed into this with slightly higher expectations than normal this time around.
Overall, the final result here is a solid release with above average generational gains that I’m sure will be more than appreciated by anyone who is in the market for a new model this year.
No doubt, the hottest topic in I.T. at the start of 2018 continues to be the CPU security risks that have come to light as 2017 came to a close.
Otherwise known as “Spectre” and “Meltdown ” an exhaustive amount of information has been written already in regards to how these design choices can lead to data being accessed within the computer by processes or other code that shouldn’t have access to it, potentially leaving the system open to attacks by malicious code run on the computer.
For instance one of the more concerning attack vectors in this scenario are servers hosting multiple customers on one system, and in a world where it might be common to hear about many virtual machines being used in a hosting environment in order to keep them separate and secure, allowing this type of code to access the data with poor security in place opens up the possibility of transaction details, passwords and other customer records in a manner that has obviously raised a large amount of concern in both security professionals and end consumers alike.
Off the back of this have emerged the patches and updates required to solve the issue, and along with those are some rather alarming headline figures regarding performance levels potentially taking a hit, with claims of anywhere up to 30% overhead being eaten away by certain types of workload.
As there are many great resources already explaining this including this one here that can help outline what is going on, I’m not going to delve too much into the background of the issues, rather focus on the results of the updates being applied.
We’re going to look at both the Microsoft patch at a software level and test the BIOS update released to support it. There are two issues here with Meltdown and Spectre and there happens to be two variants of Spectre, one of which can be handled at the software level, with the other requiring the microcode update applied via a BIOS update.
Microsoft has, of course, released their own advisory notes which are certainly worth a review too and available here. At this time it is advised that Meltdown and all Spectre variants can both affect Intel CPU’s and some ARM compatible mobile chips, whereas AMD is only affected by the Spectre variants with AMD themselves having just issued an updated advisement at the time of writing which can be found here. This is also largely an OS platform agnostic issue with Microsoft, Apple, Linux and even mobile OS’s all having the potential to be affected and over the last few weeks rapidly deploying updates and patches to their users.
At this point, I’m just going to quote a portion taken from the Microsoft link above verbatim, as it outlines the performance concerns we’re going to look at today. Keep in mind that in the text below “variant 1 & 2” are both referring to the Spectre issues, whereas Meltdown is referred to as simply “variant 3”.
One of the questions for all these fixes is the impact they could have on the performance of both PCs and servers. It is important to note that many of the benchmarks published so far do not include both OS and silicon updates. We’re performing our own sets of benchmarks and will publish them when complete, but I also want to note that we are simultaneously working on further refining our work to tune performance. In general, our experience is that Variant 1 and Variant 3 mitigations have minimal performance impact, while Variant 2 remediation, including OS and microcode, has a performance impact.
Here is the summary of what we have found so far:
With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don’t expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.
With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance.
With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.
Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.
For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel. We will publish data on benchmark performance in the weeks ahead.
The testing outlined here today is based on current hardware and Windows 10. Specifically, the board is an Asus Z370 Prime A, running on a Samsung PM961 M.2. drive, with a secondary small PNY SSD attached. The CPU is an i5 8600 and the is 16GB of memory in the system.
Software wise updates for windows were completed right up to the 01/01/18 point and the patch from Microsoft to address this was released on 03/01/18 and is named “KB4056892”. I start the testing with the 605 BIOS from late 2017 and move through to the 606 BIOS designed to address the microcode update specified by Intel.
Early reports have suggested a hit to the drive subsystem, so at each stage, I’m going to test this and of course, I’ll be monitoring the CPU performance as each step is applied. Also keep in mind that as outlined in the Microsoft advisory above, different generations of hardware and solutions from different suppliers will be affected differently, but as Intel is suggested as being the hardest hit by these problems, it makes sense to examine a current generation to start with.
Going into this, I was hopeful that we wouldn’t be expecting to see a whole load of processing power lost simply due to the already public explanations of how the flaw could potentially affect the system didn’t read as being one that should majorly impact the way an audio system handles itself.
Largely it’s played out as expected, as when you’re working away within your sequencer the ASIO driver is there doing its best to keep itself as a priority and generally, if the system is tuned to work well for music, the shouldn’t be a million programs in the background that should be affected by this and causing the update to steal processing time. So, given we’re not running the sort of a server related workloads that I would expect to cause too much of an upset here, I was fairly confident that the impact shouldn’t be as bad as some suggestions had made out and largely on the processing side it plays out like that.
However, prior to starting the testing, it was reported that storage subsystems were taking a hit due to these patches and that of course demanded that we take a look at it along the way too. Starting with the worst news first, those previous reports are very much on the ball. I had two drives connected and below we see the first set of results taken from a Samsung M.2. SM961 model drive.
To help give you a little more background on what’s being tested here, each test should be as follows:
Seq Q32T1 – sequential read/ write with multiple threads and queues
4K Q32T1 – random read/ write with multiple threads and queues
Seq – sequential read/ write with a single queue and thread
4K – random read/ write with a single queue and thread.
The is no doubt a performance hit here to the smaller 4k files which are amplified as more threads are taken up to handle the workload in the 4K Q32T1 test. On the flip side of this is that the sequential handling seems to either escape relatively unscathed and in some instances even improved to some degree, so there is some trade-off here depending on the workload it’s handling.
The gains did confuse me at first and whilst first sifting through the data I started to wonder if perhaps given we were running off the OS drive, and perhaps other services had skewed it slightly. Thankfully, I also had a project SDD hooked up to the system as well, so we can compare a second data point against the first.
The 4k results still show a decrease and the sequential once again hold fairly steady with a few read gains, so it looks like some rebalancing to the performance levels has taken place here too, whether intentional or not.
The DAWBench testing, on the other hand with the DSP test, ends up with a more positive result. This time around I’ve pulled out the newer SGA based DSP test, as well as the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test and both were run within Reaper.
The result of the DSP test which concentrates on loading the CPU up shows little difference that doesn’t fall within the margin of error & variance. It should also be noted that the CPU was running at 99% CPU load when it topped out, so we don’t appear to be losing any overhead here in that regard.
With the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test, we’re seeing anything between 5% and 8% overhead reduction depending on the ASIO buffer, with the tightest 64 buffer suffering after each update whereas the looser settings coped better with the software update before taking a small hit when we get up to the 256 buffer.
Ultimately the concern here is how will it impact you in real terms?
The minor loss of overhead on the second testing set was from a Kontakt heavy project and the outcome from the drive tests would suggest that anyone with sample library that has a heavy reliance on disk streaming may wish to be careful here with any projects that are already on the edge prior to the update being applied.
I also timed that project being loaded across all 3 states of the update process as I went with the baseline time frame to open the project being 20 seconds. After the software update, we didn’t see a change in this time span, with the project still taking 20 seconds to open. However, the BIOS update once applied along with the OS update added 2 seconds to this giving us roughly a 10% increase in the project load time.
So at this time, whilst any performance is certainly not welcome, we’re not seeing quite the huge skew in the performance stakes that has been touted thankfully, and certainly well short of the 30% figure that was being suggested initially for the CPU hit.
There have been suggestions by Microsoft that older generations might be more severely affected and from the description of how it affects servers I suspect that we may well see that 30% figure and even higher under certain workloads in server environments, but I suspect that it’ll be more centered around the database or virtual machine server workstation segments than the creative workstation user base.
Outside of our small corner of the world, TechSpot has been running a series of tests since the news broke and it’s interesting to see other software outside of the audio workstation environment seems to be largely behaving the same for a lot of end users, as are the storage setups that they have tested. If you’d like to read through those you can do so here.
The issue was discovered over the course of 2017 back but largely kept under wraps so it couldn’t be exploited at the time. However, the existence of the problem leaked before the NDA was lifted and feels like a few solutions that have been pushed out in the days since may have been a little rushed in order to stop anyone more unethical capitalizing upon it.
As such, I would expect performance to bounce around over the next few months as they test, tweak and release new drivers, firmware and BIOS solutions. The concern right now for firms is ensuring that systems around the world are secure and I would expect there to be a period of optimization to follow once they have removed the risk of malware or worse impacting the end user.
Thankfully, it’s possible to remove the patch after you apply it, so in a worst case scenario you can still revert back and block it should it have a more adverse effect upon your system, although it will then leave you open to possible attacks. Of course, leaving the machine offline will obviously protect you, but then that can be a hard thing to do in a modern studio where software maintenance and remote collaboration are both almost daily requirements for many users.
However you choose to proceed, will no doubt be system and situation specific and I suspect as updates appear the best practice for your system may change over the coming months. Certainly, the best advice I can offer here is to keep your eye on how this develops, make the choices that keep you secure without hampering your workflow and review the situation going forward to see if further optimizations can help restore the situation to pre-patch levels as a resolve for the problem is worked upon by both the hardware and software providers.
Today we have a few more models from the Intel i9 range on the desk in the shape of the 14 core 7940X and the 7960X. I was hopeful that the 18 core would be joining them as well this time around, but currently, another team here have their hands on it so it may prove to be a few weeks more until I get a chance to sit down and test that one.
Now I’m not too disappointed about this as for me and possibly the more regular readers of my musings, the 16 core we have on the desk today already is threatening to be the upper ceiling for effective audio use.
The reason for this is that I’ve yet to knowingly come across a sequencer that can address more than 32 threads effectively for audio handling under ASIO. These chips offer 28 and 32 threads respectively as they are hyper-threaded, so unless something has changed at a software level that I’ve missed (and please contact me if so), then I suspect at this time the 16 core chip may well be well placed to max the current generation of sequencers.
Of course, when I get a moment and access to the larger chip, I’ll give it a proper look over to examine this in more depth, but for the time being on with the show!
Both chips this time around are advising a 165W TDP figure, which is up from the 140W TDP quoted back on the 7920X we looked at a month or two back. The TDP figure itself is supposed to be an estimate of the power usage under regular workloads, rather than peak performance under load. This helps to explain how a 14 core and 16 core chip can both share the same TDP rating, as the 14 core has a higher base clock than the 16 core to compensate. So in this instance, it appears that they have to some degree picked the TDP and worked backward to establish the highest performing, clocks at that given power profile point.
Once the system itself starts to push the turbo, or when you start to overclock the chip the power draw will start to rise quite rapidly. In this instance, I’m working with my normal air cooler of choice for this sort of system in the shape of the BeQuiet Dark Rock Pro 3 which is rated at 250W TDP. Water-loop coolers or air coolers with more aggressive fan profiles will be able to take this further, but as is always a concern for studio users we have to consider the balancing of noise and performance too.
Much like the 7920X, we looked at previously, the chips are both rated to a 4.2GHz max two core turbo, with staggered clocks running slower on the other cores. I took a shot at running all cores at 4.2GHz but like the 7920X before it we could only hit that on a couple of cores before heat throttling would pull them back again.
Just like the 7920X again however if we pull both of these chips back by 100MHz per core (in this instance both to 4.1GHz) they prove to be stable over hours of stress testing and certainly within the temp limits we like to see here, so with that in mind we’re going to test at this point as it’s certainly achievable as an everyday setting.
As always first up is the CPUid chip info page and benchmarks along with the Geekbench results.
Intel i9 7940X @ 4.1GHz
Intel i9 7960X @ 4.1GHz
Both chips are clocked to the same level and the per-core score here reflects that. The multi-core score, of course, offers a leap from one chip to the other as you’d expect from throwing a few more cores into the equation.
The DAWBench classic and newer DSP test with Kontakt follow this and once again as there isn’t a whole lot I can add to this.
The added cores give us improvements across both of these chips as we’ve already seen in the more general purpose tests. The 7960X does appear to offer a slightly better performance curve at the higher buffer rates, which I suspect could be attributed to the increase in the cache but otherwise, it all scales pretty much as we’d expect.
Given the 7940X maintains the roughly £100 per extra core figure (when compared to the 7920X) at current pricing that Intel was aiming for at launch, it does seem to offer a similar sort of value proposition as the smaller i9’s just in this case more is more. The 7960X raises this to roughly £125 per core extra over the 7940X at current pricing, so a bit of cost creep there but certainly not as pricey as we’ve sometimes seen over the years on the higher end chips in the range.
The main concern initially was certainly regarding heat, but it looks like the continued refinement of the silicon since we saw the first i9 batches a few months ago has given them time to get ahead of this and ensure that the chips do well out of the box given adequate cooling.
With the launch of the CoffeeLake’s in the midrange, some of the value of the lower end enthusiast chips appear to have quickly become questionable, but the i9 range above it continues to offer performance levels henceforth unseen by Intel. The’s a lot of performance here, although the price matches it accordingly and we often find ourselves at this time where more midrange level systems are good enough for the majority of users.
However, for the power user with more exhaustive requirements who find that they can still manage to leverage every last drop of power from any system they get their hands on, I’m sure there will plenty here to peak your interest.
I’ll be honest, as far as this chipset naming scheme goes it feels that we might be starting to run out of sensible candidates. The Englishman in me wants to eschew this platform completely and hold out for the inevitable lake of Tea that is no doubt on the way. But alas the benchmarking has bean done and it’s too latte to skip over it now.
*Ahem* sorry, I think it’s almost out of my system now.
Right, where was I?
Time To Wake Up and Smell The….
Coffee Lake has been a blip on the horizon for quite a while now, and the promise of more cores in the middle and lower end CPU brackets whilst inevitable has no doubt taken a bit longer than some of us might have expected.
Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the AMD’s popular releases earlier this year? I suspect the platform itself isn’t, as it takes a lot more than 6 months to put together a new chipset and CPU range but certainly it feels like this new hardware selection might be hitting the shelf a little earlier than perhaps was originally planned.
Currently its clear that we’ve had a few generations now where the CPU’s haven’t really made any major gains other than silicon refinement and our clock speeds haven’t exceeded 5GHz from the Intel factory (of course, the more ambitious overclockers may have had other ideas), the obvious next move for offering more power in the range would be to stack up more cores much like the server-based bredrin in the Xeon range.
What is undeniable is that it certainly appears even to the casual observer that the competitor’s recent resurgence has forced Intel’s hand somewhat and very possibly accelerated the release schedule of the models being discussed here.
I say this as the introduction of the new range and i7 8700K specifically that we’re looking at today highlights some interesting oddities in the current lineup that could be in danger of making some of the more recent enthusiast chips look a little bit redundant.
This platform as a whole isn’t just about an i7 refresh though, rather we’re seeing upgrades to the mainstream i7’s, the i5’s and the i3’s which we’ll get on the bench over the coming weeks.
The i7’s have gained 2 additional physical cores and still have the hyperthreading meaning 12 logical cores total.
The i5’s have 6 cores and no hyperthreading.
The i3’s have 4 cores and no hyperthreading.
Positioning wise Intel’s own suggestions have focused towards the i5’s being pushed for gaming and streaming with up to 4 real physical cores being preferred for games and then a couple extra to handle the OS and streaming. The i3’s keep their traditional entry-level home office and media center sort of positioning that we’ve come to expect over the years and then that gives us the 6 core i7’s sat at the top of the pile of the more mainstream chip options.
Intel traditionally has always found itself a little lost when trying to market 6 cores or more. They know how to do it with servers where the software will lap up the parallelization capabilities of such CPUs with ease. But when it comes to the general public just how many regular users have had the need to leverage all those cores or indeed run software that can do it effectively?
It’s why in recent years there has been a marked move towards pushing these sorts of chips to content creators and offering the ability to provide the resources that those sort of users tend to benefit from. It’s the audio and video producers, editors, writers and artists that tend to benefit from these sorts of advances.
In short, very likely you dear reader.
Ok, so let’s take a look at some data.
At base clock rates the chip itself is sold as a 6 core with Hyper-threading and runs with a clock speed of 3.7GHz and a max turbo of 4.7GHz. For testing, I’ve locked off all the cores to the turbo max and tested with a Dark Rock 3 after testing various models before starting. With the cooler in hand, it was bouncing around 75 degrees after a few hours torture testing which is great. I did try running it around the 5GHz mark, which was easy to do and perfectly stable, although with the setup I had it was on the tipping point of overheating. If you updated it to a water cooling loop I reckon you’ll have this running fine around the 5GHz and indeed I did for some of the testing period with no real issues, although I did notice that the voltages and heat start to creep up rapidly past the 4.7GHz point.
The Geekbench 4 results show us some interesting and even slightly unexpected results. With the previous generation 7700K being clocked to 4.5GHz when I benched it and the 8700K being run at 4.7GHz I was expecting to see gains on the single core score as well as the increase in the multicore score. It’s only a few percent lower and I did retest a couple of times and found that this was repeatable and I had the results confirmed by another colleague.
The multicore score, on the other hand, shows the gains that this chip is all about with it not only exceeding the previous generation as you would expect with more cores being available. The gains here, in fact, highlight something I was already thinking about earlier in the year when the enthusiast i7’s got a refresh, in that this chip looks to not only match the 7800X found in the top end range but somewhat exceeding its capabilities at a lower overall price point.
In the testing above both the DAWBench DSP and the DAWBench vi tests continue to reflect this too, effectively raising questions as to the point of that entry-level 7800X in the enthusiast range.
The is almost price parity between the 7800X and 8700K at launch although the X299 boards tend to come in around £50 to £100 or more than the boards we’re seeing in the Z370 range. You do of course get extra memory slots in the X299 range, but then you can still mount 64GB on the mid-range board which for a lot of users is likely to be enough for the lifecycle of any new machine.
You also get an onboard GPU solution with the 8700K and if anything has been proven over the recent Intel generations, its that those onboard GPU solutions they offer are pretty good in the studio these days, perhaps also offering additional value to any new system build.
Grinding Out A Conclusion
I’m sure pricing from both sides will be competitive over the coming months as they aim to steal market share from each other. So with that in mind, it’s handy to keep these metrics in mind, along with the current market pricing at your time of purchase in order to make your own informed choice. I will say that at this point Intel has done well to reposition themselves after AMD’s strongest year in a very long time, although really their biggest achievement here looks to have been cannibalizing part of their own range in the process.
That, of course, is by no means is a complaint as when pricing is smashed like this then the biggest winner out there is the buying public and that truly is a marvelous thing. Comparing the 8700K to the 7700K on Geekbench alone shows us a 50% improvement in performance overheads for a tiny bit more than the previous generation cost, which frankly is the sort of generation on generation improvement that we would all like to be seeing every couple of years, rather than the 10% extra every generation we’ve been seeing of late.
Whether you choose to go with an Intel or an AMD for your next upgrade, we’ve seen that the performance gains for your money are likely to be pretty great this time around on both platforms. If your current system is more than 3 or 4 years old then it’s even more likely that the will be a pretty strong upgrade path open to you when you do finally choose to take that jump. With hints of Ryzen 2 being on its way next year from AMD and the likelihood that Intel would never leave any new release unchallenged, we could be in for an interesting 2018 too!
Back in June this year we took a look at the first i9 CPU model with the launch of the i9 7900X. Intel has since followed on from that with the rest of the i9 chips receiving a paper launch back in late August and with the promise of those CPU’s making it into the publics hands shortly afterward. Since then we’ve seen the first stock start to arrive with us here in Scan and we’ve now had a chance to sit down and test the first of this extended i9 range in the shape of the i9 7920X.
The CPU itself is 12 cores along with hyper-threading, offering us a total of 24 logical cores to play with. The base clock of the chip is 2.9GHz and a max turbo frequency of 4.30GHz with a reported 140W TDP which is much in line with the rest of the chips below it in the enthusiast range. Running at that base clock speed the chip is 400MHz slower per core than the 10 core edition 7900X. So if you add up all the available cores running at those clock speeds (12 X 2900 vs 10 X 3300) and compare the two chips on paper, then the looks to be less than 2GHz total available overhead separating them but still in the 7920X’s favor.
So looking at it that way, why would you pay the premium £200 for the 12 core? Well interestingly both CPU’s claim to be able to turbo to the same max clock rating of 4.3GHz, although it should be noted that turbo is designed to factor in power usage and heat generation too, so if your cooling isn’t up to the job then you shouldn’t expect it to be hitting such heady heights constantly and whilst I’m concerned that I may be sounding like a broken record by this point, as with all the high-end CPU releases this year you should be taking care with your cooling selection in order to ensure you get the maximum amount of performance from your chip.
Of course, the last thing we want to see is the power states throttling the chip in use and hampering our testing, so as always we’ve ensured decent cooling but aimed to keep the noise levels reasonable where we can. Normally we’d look to tweak it up to max turbo and lock it off, whilst keeping those temperatures in check and ensuring the system will be able to deliver a constant performance return for your needs.
However, in this case, I’ve not taken it quite all the way to the turbo max, choosing to keep it held back slightly at 4.2GHz across all cores. I was finding that the CPU would only ever bounce of 4.3GHz when left to work under its own optimized settings and on the sort of air cooling we tend to favour it wouldn’t quite maintain the 4.3GHz that was achieved with the 7900X in the last round of testing without occasionally throttling back. It will, however, do it on an AIO water loop cooler, although you’re adding another higher speed fan in that scenario and I didn’t feel the tradeoff was worth it personally, but certainly worth considering for anyone lucky to have a separate machine and control room where a bit more noise would go unnoticed.
Just as a note at this point, if you run it at stock and let it work its own turbo settings then you can expect an idle temperature around 40 degrees and under heavy load it still should be keeping it under 80 degrees on average which is acceptable and certainly better than we suspected around the time of the 7900X launch. However, I was seeing the P-states raising and dropping the core clock speeds in order to keep its power usage down and upon running Geekbench and comparing the results that my 4.2GHz on all cores setting gave us an additional 2000 points (around 7% increase) over the turbo to 4.3GHz default setting found in the stock configuration. My own temps idled in the 40’s and maxed around 85 degrees whilst running the torture tests for an afternoon, so for a few degrees more you can ensure that you get more constant performance from the setup.
Also worth noting is that we’ve had our CAD workstations up to around 4.5GHz and higher in a number of instances although in those instances we’re talking about a full water loop and a number of extra fans to maintain stability under that sort of workload, which wouldn’t be ideal for users working in close proximity to a highly sensitive mic.
Ok, so first up the CPUz information for the chip at hand, as well it’s Geelbench results.
More importantly for this comparison is the Geekbench 4 results and to be frank it’s all pretty much where we’d expect it to be in this one.
The single core score is down compared with the 7900X, but we’d expect this given the 4.2GHz clocking of the chip against the 4.3GHz 7900X. The multicore score is similarly up, but then we have a few more cores so all in all pretty much as expected here.
On with the DAWBench tests and again, no real surprises here. I’d peg it at being around an average of 10% or so increase over the 7900X which given we’re just stacking more cores on the same chip design really shouldn’t surprise us at all. It’s a solid solution and certainly the highest benching we’ve seen so far barring the models due to land above it. Bang per buck it’s £1020 price tag when compared to the £900 for the 10 core edition it seems to perform well on the Intel price curve and it looks like the wider market situation has curbed some of the price points we might have otherwise seen these chips hit.
And that’s the crux of it right now. Depending on your application and needs the are solutions from both sides that might fit you well. I’m not going to delve too far into discussing the value of the offerings that are currently available as prices do seem to be in flux to some degree with this generation. Initially, when it was listed we were discussing an estimated price of £100 per core and now we seem to be around £90 per core at the time of writing which seems to be a positive result for anyone wishing to pick one up.
Of course, the benchmarks should always be kept in mind along with that current pricing and it remains great to see continued healthy competition and I suspect with the further chips still to come this year, we may still see some additional movement before the market truly starts to settle after what really has been a release packed 12 months.
Following on from our first look at the i9 7900X, we’ve now had a chance to take a look over a few more interesting chips from this enthusiast class range refresh.
We have before us today two more chips with the first being the i7 7800X which is the replacement for the older 6800K, once more offering us 6 physical cores with hyper-threading giving us a total of 12 logical cores to play with. It’s running a 3.5GHz base clock and features an all core turbo of 4GHz although being the 6 core it offers us the most potential to overclock we’ve seen within this range.
The second chip we have here is the 7820X and on paper it looks to be the most interesting one for me on this generation due to its price to performance ratio. Replacing the 6900K from the previous generation but coming in for around £350 less, this chip offers 2 more cores and a higher all core turbo rating along with a 1/3rd more cache than the 7800X edition.
For reference the current price at time of writing for the 7800X is £359 and the 7820X currently retails for £530.
I’m not going to go too much into the platform itself this time around, I gave some background to the changes made on this generation including possible strengths and flaws back in the i9 7900K first look over here. If you haven’t already checked that out and wish to bring yourself up to speed, now is the time to do so before we go any further.
Everyone up to speed? Then let us begin.
The Long Hot Summer
The first question I had from the off was one of how are these going to handle given the heat we saw with the 10 core? The quick answer is surprisingly well compared to the earlier testing we carried out. The retail releases I’ve been playing around with here are allowing us to drop the voltages on them to almost half the level that we expected to see with the previous generation and certainly a few notches lower than we saw in the earlier testing we carried out.
So whilst I did hope for some marked improvements on the final release I didn’t quite expect to see it quite so quickly, normally these sorts of improvements take a few months of manufacturing refinement to appear and its great we’re seeing this right now. It certainly gives me some confidence that we’ll be seeing improvements across the range over the coming batches and I’m now far more confident that the larger i9’s that they have already announced should hold up well when they do finally arrive with us in the future.
If I was to give a rough outline of the state of these Skylakes i7’s I’d say they are still running maybe 10% hotter than the last generation Broadwell-E clock for clock. However Intel has these designed to throttle at 105 degrees, essentially giving it 10% more overhead to play with so they do seem to be confident in these solutions running that much hotter in use over the longer term.
One thing I noted in testing was that we were seeing a lot of micro-fluctuations across the cores when load testing. By that I mean we’d see temperatures bouncing up and down by anything up to 6 or 7 degrees as we tested, but never on more than a core or two at the time and it would be pulled straight back down again moments later only for another core to fluctuate and so on.
Behind this is Intels new PCU (Package Control Unit) that has been added to Skylake X series, and whilst I did note the ability to turn it off inside of the BIOS by doing so we’d also see some additional rise in the temperatures with it disabled. One of the strengths of the PCU and these new P-States appears to be the ability to load manage well and it actively aims to offer the smoothest experience as far as power saving goes. It’s certainly welcome as it does seem to offer more control over the allocation of system performance and doesn’t appear to be causing the same sort of C-State issues we saw when that first appeared so this looks to be another welcome feature addition at this time.
Once again we’re seeing the same sort of 99% CPU load efficiency across the board as we saw when testing in Cubase on the 7900X. This I suspect is in no small part down to the board and CPU trying their hardest to strike that power to performance balance I mention above and is great to see.
Hit The Bench
On to the figures then and first up the standard synthetics in the shape of Geekbench 4 and the CPU-Z benchmark.
7800K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.4GHz
7800K Geekbench 4 @ 4.4GHz
The obvious comparison here it to line it up against the previous generations 6 core solution. The 6800K saw Geekbench single core scores in the region of 4400 and multi core scores around the 20500 mark, meaning that these results are sitting in the 10% – 15% increase range which is pretty much where we expect a new generation to be.
7820K CPU-Z 4 @ 4.3GHz
7820K Geekbench 4 @ 4.3GHz
In a similar fashion we can take a look at the last generation 6900K which had a Geekbench score in the 4200 range and the multi-core was sitting around the 25000 level. Once again we’re looking at around a 10% gain in these synthetics, which is pretty much in line with what we’d expect.
Hold the DAW
So far, so expected and to be honest the isn’t any real surprises to be had here as we start with the DAWBench DSP test.
With the 7800X can see small gains over the previous 6800K chip which is just short of the 10% mark so even perhaps just a little lower than we would have expected. In fact in this test the 7820X offers similar modest gains over the older 6900K model and doesn’t do much to surprise here us here either.
The DAWbench VI test tells a similar story at the lowest buffer setting with the 7800X and 7820X both sitting roughly where we expect. What proves to be the one point of interest beyond this however is that both chips scale better than their previous iterations once you move up to the larger buffer sizes. Whilst testing these chips much like the high-end 7900K, we saw them managing to hit CPU loads around the 99% mark, but you can see that each chip scaled upwards with better results overall when compared not only with their previous edition but also when placed up against the chip above them in the previous range.
We saw a similar pattern with the Ryzen chips too and their infinity fabric design is similar in practice mesh design found in the Skylake X CPU’s. The point of these newer mesh style designs are to improve data transference within the CPU and allow for improved performance scalability, so with both firms looking to be moving firmly in this direction we can expect to see further optimizations from software developers in the future that should continue to benefit both platforms moving forward.
Looking towards the future and the are already plenty of rumours already circulating regarding the expectation of a “Coffee Lake” refresh coming next. This includes a new mid-range flagship that is shaping up to offer us a contender against the 7800X and might prove to be an interesting option for anyone looking for a new system around that level, but doesn’t currently find themselves needing to pick up a new system right away.
Also we’re expecting Threadripper to arrive with us over the next few months which is no doubt the comparison that a lot of people will be waiting on. It’ll be interesting to see if the scaling characteristics that were first exhibited by Ryzen get translated across to this newer platform.
The entry level enthusiast chips have long proven to be the sweet spot for those seeking the best returns on the performance to value curve when considering Intel CPU’s. This time around however whilst the 7800X is a solid chip in its own right, it’s looking like the the extra money for the 7820X could well offer a stronger bang per buck option for those looking to invest in a system around this level.
Intels i9 announcement this year felt like it pretty much came out of nowhere, and whilst everyone was expecting Intel to refresh its enthusiast range, I suspect few people anticipated quite the spread of chips that have been announced over the recent months.
So here we are looking at the first entry to Intel’s new high-end range. I’ve split this first look into 2 parts, with this section devoted to the i9 7900X and some discussion of the lower end models as the full range is explained. I’ll follow up in the near future with a forthcoming post to cover the i7’s coming in below this model, just as soon as we have the chance to grab some chips and run those through the test bench too.
There has been a sizable amount of press about this chip already as it was the first one to make it out into the wild along with the 4 core Kabylake X chips that have also appeared on this refresh, although those are likely to be of far less interest to those of us looking to build new studio solutions.
A tale of two microarchitectures.
Kabylake X and Skylake X have both launched at the same time and certainly raised eyebrows in confusion from a number of quarters. Intels own tick/tock cycle of advancement and process refinement has gone askew in recent years, where the “high-end desktop” ( HEDT chips) models just as the midrange CPU’s at the start of this year have gained a third generation at the same 14nm manufacturing process level in the shape of Kabylake.
Kabylake with the mid-range release kept the same 14nm design as the Skylake series before it and eaked out some more minor gains through platform refinement. In fact, some of the biggest changes to be found were in the improved onboard GPU found inside of it rather than the raw CPU performance itself, which as always is one of the key things missing in the HEDT edition. All this means that whilst we have a release where it’s technically two different chip ranges, the isn’t a whole lot left to differentiate between them. IN fact given how the new chip ranges continue to steam ahead in the mid-range, this looks like an attempt to help bring the high-end options back up to parity with the current mid-range again quickly which I think will ultimately help make things less confusing in future versions, even if right now it has managed to confuse things within the range quite a bit.
Kabylake X itself has taken a sizable amount of flak prior to launch and certainly appears to raise a lot of questions on an initial glance. The whole selling point of the HEDT chip up until this point has been largely more cores and more raw performance, so an announcement of what is essentially a mid-range i5/i7 grade 4 core CPU solution appearing on this chipset was somewhat of a surprise to a lot of people.
As with the other models on this chipset range, the 4 cores are being marketed as enthusiast solutions, although in this instance we see them looking to capture a gaming enthusiast segment. The have been some early reports of high overclocks being seen, but so far these look to be largely cherry-picked as the gains seen in early competition benchmarking have been hard to achieve with the early retail models currently appearing.
Whilst ultimately not really of much interest in the audio & video worlds where the software can leverage far more cores than the average game, potentially the is a solid opportunity here for that gaming market that they appear to be going after if they can refine these chips for overclocking over the coming months. However early specification and production choices have been head-scratchingly odd so far, although we’ll come back to this a bit later.
Touch the Sky(lake).
So at the other end of the spectrum from those Kabylake X chips is the new current flagship for the time being in the shape of the Skylake 7900X. 10 physical cores with hyper-threading give us a total of 20 logical cores to play with here. This is the first chip announced from the i9 range and larger 12,14,16,18 core editions are all penciled in over the coming year or so, however, details are scarce on them at this time.
At first glance, it’s a little confusing as to why they would even make this chip the first of its class when the rest of the range isn’t fully unveiled at this point. Looking through the rest of range specifications alongside it, then it becomes clear that they look to be reserving the i9’s for CPU’s that can handle a full 44+ PCIe lane configuration. These lanes are used for offering bandwidth to the connected cards and high-speed storage devices and needless to say this has proven a fairly controversial move as well.
The 7900X offers up the full complement of those 44 lanes although the 7820X and 7800X chips that we’ll be looking at in forthcoming coverage both arrive with 28 lanes in place. For most audio users this is unlikely to make any real difference, with the key usage for all those lanes often being for GPU usage where X16 cards are the standard and anyone wanting to fit more than one is going to appreciate more lanes for the bandwidth. With the previous generation we even tended to advise going with the entry level 6800K for audio over the 6850K above it, which cost 50% more but offered very little of benefit in the performance stakes but did ramp up the number of available PCIe lanes, choosing instead to reserve this for anyone running multiple GPU’s in the system like users with heavy video editing requirements.
Summer of 79(00X)
So what’s new?
Much like AMD and their infinity fabric design which was implemented to improve cross-core communication within the chip itself, Intel’s arrived with its own “Mesh” technology.
Functioning much like AMD’s design, it removes the ring based communication path between cores and RAM and implements a multi-point mesh design, brought in to enable shorter paths between them. In my previous Ryzen coverage I noted some poor performance scaling at lower buffer settings which seemed to smooth itself out once you went over a 192 buffer setting. In the run-up to this, I’ve retested a number of CPU’s and boards on the AMD side and it does appear that even after a number of tweaks and improvements at the BIOS level the scaling is still the same. On the plus side, as it’s proven to be a known constant and always manifests, in the same manner, I feel a lot more comfortable working with them now we are fully aware of this.
In Intels case I had some apprehension going in that given it is the companies first attempt at this in a consumer grade solution and that perhaps we’d be seeing the same sort of performance limitations that we saw on the AMD’s, but so far at least with the 7900X the internal chip latency has been superb. Even running at a 64 buffer we’ve been seeing 100% CPU load prior to the audio breaking up in playback, making this one of the most efficient chips I think I’ve possibly had on the desk.
So certainly a plus point there as the load capability seems to scale perfectly across the various buffer settings tested.
RAW performance wise I’ve run it through both CPU-Z and Geekbench again.
The multi-core result in Geekbench looks modest, although it’s worth noting the single core gains going on here compared to the previous generation 10 core the 6950X. On the basic DAWBench 4 test this doesn’t really show us up any great gains, rather it returns the sort of minor bump in performance that we’d kind of expect.
However whilst more cores can help spread the load, a lot of firms have always driven home the importance of raw clock speeds as well and once we start to look at more complex chains this becomes a little clearer. A VSTi channel with effects or additional processing on it needs to be sent to the CPU as a whole chain as it proves rather inefficient to chop up a channel signal chain for parallel processing.
A good single core score can mean slipping in just enough time to be able to squeeze in another full channel and effects chain and once you multiply that by the number of cores here, it’s easy to see how the combination of both a large number of cores and a high single core score can really translate into a higher total track count and is something we see manifest in the Kontakt based DAWBench VI test.
In this instance the performance gains over the previous generation seems quite sizable and whilst there is no doubt gains have been had from a change in architecture and that high-efficiency CPU usage we’ve already seen it should be noted here that this is close to a 20% increase in clock speed in play here too.
When we test we aim to do so around the all core turbo level. Modern Intel CPU’s have two turbo ratings, one is the “all core” level to which we can auto boost all the cores if the temperatures are safe and the other is the “Turbo 3.0” mode where it boosts a single core or it did in previous generations, but now we see it boosting the two strongest cores where the system permits.
The 7900X has a 4.5GHz 2 core turbo ability of 4.5GHz but we’ve chosen to lock it off at the all core turbo point in the testing. Running at stock clock levels we saw it boost the two cores correctly a number of times, but even under stress testing the 2 core maximum couldn’t be hit constantly without overheating on the low noise cooling solution we are using. The best we managed was a constant 4.45GHz at a temperature we were happy with, so we dialed it back to all core turbo clock speed of 4.3GHz across all cores and locked it in place for the testing, with it behaving well around this level.
It’s not uncommon for a first few batches of silicon on any new chip range to run a bit hot and normally this tends to get better as the generation gets refined. It’s the first time we’ve seen these sorts of temperatures on a chip range however and the is a strong argument to be made for going with either one of the top 2 or 3 air coolers on the market currently or defaulting to a water loop based cooling setup for any machine considering this chip. In a tower case this shouldn’t prove a problem but for rack systems, I suspect the 7900X might prove to be off-limits for the time being.
I’d fully expect the i7’s that are going to come in below it to be more reasonable and we should know about that in the next update, but it does raise some questions regarding the chips higher up in the i9 range that are due with us over the next 12 months. The has already been some debate about Intel choosing to go with thermal paste between the chip and the heatsink, rather than the more effective soldering method, although early tests by users de-lidding their chips hasn’t returned much more than 10 degrees worth of improvement, which is a fairly small gain for such a drastic step. We can only hope they figure out an improved way of improving the chips thermal handling with the impending i9’s or simply return to the older soldered method, otherwise, it could be quite some time until we see the no doubt hotter 12+ core editions making it to market.
In isolation, it looks fine from a performance point of view and gives the average sort of generation on generation gains that we would expect from an Intel range refresh, maybe pumped up a little as they’ve chosen to release them to market with raised base clocks. This leaves little room for overclocking, but it does give the buyer who simply wants the fastest model they can get out of the box and run it at stock.
The problem is that this isn’t in isolation and whilst we’ve gotten used to Intel’s 10% year on year gains over recent generations, there has to be many a user who longs for the sort of gains we saw when the X58 generation arrived or even when AMD dropped the Athlon 64 range on us all those years ago.
Ryzen made that sort of gain upon release, although they were so far behind that it didn’t do much more than breaking them even. This refresh puts Intel in a stronger place performance wise and it has to be noted that this chip has been incoming for a while. Certainly since long before Ryzen reignited the CPU war and it feels like they may have simply squeezed it a bit harder than normal to make it look more competitive.
This isn’t a game changer response to AMD. I doubt we’ll be seeing that for a year or two at this point and it will give AMD continued opportunities to apply pressure. What it has done however is what a lot of us hoped for initially and that it is forcing Intel to re-examine its pricing structure to some degree.
What we have here is a 10 core CPU for a third cheaper than the last generation 10 core CPU they released. Coming in around the £900 it rebalances the performance to price ratio to quite some degree and will no doubt once more help make the “i” series CPU’s attractive to more than a few users again, after a number of months of it being very much up for debate in various usage segments.
So will the impending AMD Threadripper upset this again?
I guess we’re going to find out soon enough over the coming months, but one thing for sure is that we’re finally seeing some competition here again, firstly on pure pricing but surely this should be a safe bet for kick-starting some CPU advancements again. This feels kinda like the Prescott VS Athlon 64 days and the upshot of that era was some huge gains in performance and solid improvements being made generation upon generation.
The cost and overall performance here keeps the 7900X in the running despite its obvious issues, and that raw grunt on offer makes it a very valid choice where the performance is required. The only real fly in the ointment is the heat and noise requirements most audio systems have, although hopefully as the silicon yields improve and refine this will mature into a cooler solution than it is now. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how this pans out as the bigger models start making it to market over the coming year or so and of course with the smaller i7 brethren over the coming days.
In our first benchmark update of the year, we take a look at the Broadwell-E range, taking over as the new flagship Intel CPU range. Intel’s Enthusiast range has always proven to be a popular choice for audio systems, based around a more established and ultimately stable server chipset, whilst still letting you get away with the overclocking benefits founds on the mid-range solutions, making this range very popular in studios up and down the country.
The previous round of benchmarks can be found here and whilst handy to have to hand, you’ll notice that results that appear on the older chart when compared with newer results obtained found on our 2016 results chart show a marked improvement when the same chips are compared side by side.
A number of things have lead to this and can be explained by the various changes enacted since our last round up. Windows 10 is now the testing platform of choice, offering a marginal improvement over the older Windows 7 build, this along with new drivers and firmware for our Native Instruments KA6 which remains our testing tool of choice as well as a newly updated DAWBench suite, designed to allow us to be able to test these new chips as the first round of testing exceeded the older version of the test!
If you do wish to compare with the scores on the older chart, we’re seeing a roughly additional 20 tracks when comparing like for like chips across both set of results, so it’s possible that if you have a chip that is on the old chart and not the new, then you may be able to establish a rough comparison by simply adding 20 tracks on top of the old chip result to give you a very rough estimate to allow some degree of comparison.
Leaving behind the old results and in order to establish a level playing field, I’ve set out to retest some of the older chips under the new conditions in order to ensure these results are fair and to allow for easier comparison, so without any more delay, let’s check out those results.
As normal we’ll dive into this from the bottom upwards. At the low end of the testing round up we see the current i5 flagship, the 4 core 6600K both at stock and overclocked. A modest chip and certainly where we’d suggest the absolute lowest point of entry is when considering an audio setup. Offering enough power for multi-tracking and editing, and whilst we wouldn’t suggest that it would be the ideal solution for anyone working fully in the box as this CPU would be likely to be easily maxed out by high performance synths, the is certainly enough power here to achieve basic studio recording and editing tasks whilst not breaking the bank.
Next up are the mid-range i7’s and the 6700T is first up, offering 4 cores and 8 threads this is the low power i7 option this time around and sits as you would expect between the i5 6600K and the full power 6700K. It’s performance isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it’s certainly hitting performance levels that we would have expected from a mid-range class leading 2600K a few years back, but with a far lower power usage profile. This is a chip that certainly has its place and we expect it to be well received in our passive silent specs and other small form factor systems.
The other 6700 variant we have here is the all singing, all dancing 6700K which is the current consumer flagship offering a unlocked and overclockable 4 core / 8 thread configuration. Popular in home recording setups and certainly a reasonable all-rounder its price to performance makes it a great fit for anyone looking to edit, process and mix audio, whilst not relying upon extremely CPU intensive plugins and other tools.
But what if you are? What if Diva and Serum and their ilk are your tools of choice, and CPU’s are regularly chewed up and spat out for breakfast?
Well then, the enthusiast range is the choice for you. Popular for just this reason, the chart outlines the amount of extra overhead these CPU’s can offer you above and beyond the performance found in the mid-range.
The 5820K and 5960X scores you see are the previous generations 6 core and 8 core flagship solutions respectively and certainly the ones to beat by our new entries.
The 6800K is another 6 core CPU along with the 6850K which isn’t shown here which directly replaces the last generation 5930K. As with the last generation, the key difference between the 6800K and 6850K other than the few hundred more MHz which don’t really offer much of an improvement as far as benchmarks go, is the additional PCIe lanes on offer with the more expensive chip. For roughly 50% more over the 28 lane 6800K edition, the 6850K offers up a total of PCIe lanes making it ideal for systems running multiple graphics cards, which may require up to 16 lanes each. For audio systems that only have a single graphics card however, the 28 lane chip will be more than adequate for most users and is certainly one place you can afford to cut corners an save money in the event that you’re not working with multiple graphics cards. All this as well as the keen price when considered against the performance found in the 6700K below it, perhaps makes the 6800K the best bang per buck option at this time.
The 6900K is a 8 core / 16 thread direct replacement for the last generation flagship 5960X chip and offers a sizable performance increase over the older CPU for roughly the same price. Not ground breaking but certainly an improvement for any outlay if you were considering the options around this price point.
Topping off the chart is the new high-end flagship 6950X which offers previously unseen levels of performance from the enthusiast class CPU’s and certainly offers reasonable performance for your money when compared against the dual Xeon setups that compete with it. With a £1400 UK street price at the time of writing it may appear to offer poor value when put up against the £500 cheaper 6900K, the is little else to touch this CPU for its price if you find yourself in need of the performance it is capable of offering.
Looking to the future the next high-end refresh will be Skylake-E although that isn’t due to be with us until sometime around the middle of 2017. KabyLake around the same time next year in the midrange promises some interesting features, namely X-point and the advances it’ll bring for storage which may even appear (we hope!) in the Skylake-E chipset around the same time. Either way you look at it, Broadwell-E is looking to be the high performance option of choice for the rest of 2016 and we’re sure will find itself powering many new studio systems over the coming year.