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Explainer: Intel X-Series, i9, and the New Best Gaming CPUs

TL;DR

9 New Intel “X-Series” Extreme CPUs

New X299 Motherboard Platform

New LGA 2066 Socket (replaces 2011-V3)

5 New i9 CPUs: 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 core (Skylake-X)

3 New i7: 4 core 8 thread, 6 and 8 core

1 New i5: 4 core, 4 thread

Kaby Lake X are the New Top Gaming CPUs

Skylake X are the Top Prosumer CPUs

LGA2066 CPU Socket won’t accept old CPUs

CPUs not compatible with 2011-v3 or 1151 sockets

CPU cooler mounting same as 2011-v3

DDR4 RAM up to 128GB, speeds up to 4400MHz

Intel's new X-Series platform is a big deal --monster i9 CPUs, 4 to 18 cores, top gaming models, prices from $242 to $1999 and a single platform to rule them all. Confused? We’re here to help!

Now, if you take one thing from this article, it's that the new Intel X-Series is a unified platform for gaming and content creation. If you overclock or care about performance and not budget or form factor, then it's X-Series CPUs and X299 motherboards moving forward.

X-SERIES IS THE NEW EVERYTHING SERIES

First, the new X-Series CPUs have codenames using both Kaby Lake X and Skylake X. Technically, Intel’s X-Series is part of the High End Desktop (or HEDT) platform. Basically, big ol’ chips with all the bells and whistles. “Whistles” being eight DDR4 slots, up to 44 PCIe lanes and, because it’s a more expensive platform, more motherboard tech like fancy DACs, cooling, and RGBs like Ibiza. "Mainstream" CPUs are what you're used to and have been the go-to models for years. No longer.

X-Series CPUs ditch the integrated graphics on the CPU because we use graphics cards like big kids. Leave integrated graphics for mini boxes and 2-in-1s.

X299 replaces the X99 platform launched last year. X99 chips were called Broadwell-E, which were consumer variants of Xeon processors. Skylake-X is drawn from Xeon CPUs while Kaby Lake-X is upgraded Kaby Lake "Mainstream" 200-series consumer CPUs like the i7-7700k.

Below, i7-7740X vs i7-7700:

The New Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs rock the “X” at the end to let you know they’re eXtreme and overclockable. For example, the consumer 4 core, 8 thread overclockable CPU is the i7-7700K. The new X-Series version is the i7-7740X. X for Xtreme, get it?

As for price, the top 18 Core (Yes, 18 cores) is $1999. The lowest end i5 X-Series is $242. The i7-7740X will be $339 -- the exact same price as the i7-7700K.

Also, the i9 models are called Skylake-X while the i7 and i5 models are Kaby Lake X. But didn’t Kaby come out after Sky? So why are the highest end given the older name? We explain.

YES, THE i9 IS HERE! BUT WHAT’S AN i9??

The Intel i9 chips are just what you think they are -- Intel’s fanciest chips. All new X-Series chips, like the regular desktop variants, are built on Intel’s 14nm process.

Here, the i9s are Skylake-X CPUs and come in 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 core models. 18 cores! That’s not as rare as you’d think, but it’s new in the consumer desktop world. Intel makes Xeons with up to 24 cores (32 rumored), but the 18 core i9-7980XE is overclockable and claiming the throne as the most extreme (and expensive) desktop CPU your bitcoins can buy.

Also, “XE” signifies “Xtreme Extreme.” Honestly, at $1999, I’d want a third extreme or RGBs on the CPU, but that’s just me.

Intel hasn’t released full specs for the 12+ core models, but the early interesting details include a Boost Clock of 4.5GHz on the 10 core i9-7900X model. Previously, the 10 core 6950X maxed at 3.5GHz out of the box before overclocking or Turbo 3.0. So 3.5GHz to 4.5GHz is a pretty significant jump in performance. Though the chip hits 4.5GHz on a single, super boosted core, rather than all cores at once. What does this mean for real world performance? Probably good things since few programs blast 10 cores with 20 threads all at once. Hashtag smartCPUs or something.

Finally, threads: all new X-Series (save for the i5-7640X) double the threads, just like normal chips. So 10 cores, 20 threads. No 3 or 5 threads per core nonsense here.

WAIT, SKYLAKE IS BACK?

Sorta. For the eXtreme CPUs, their naming has always been one generation behind. Broadwell-E was released months after Skylake came out. Now, Skylake-X is here after Kaby made its debut.

That said, Kaby Lake-X has also arrived at the same time. Where the desktop Kaby chips were better than Skylake (ie the Kaby 7700k is the direct replacement for the Sky 6700k), the new Kaby-X isn’t “better” than Sky-X. Instead, Kaby-X is staying at four cores while Sky-X covers 6 to 18 cores.

It’s not the most logical naming scheme, but Intel doesn’t want you talking about their codenames anyway -- it’s all “X for Extreme” as far as the consumer knows.

Will we see a Kaby-XE with 12 cores? Or some successor to Skylake-X? Basically, what will the next 18+ core Extreme Intel CPU be called? No word yet, but 8th gen Coffee Lake has been announced (as well as 9th gen Cannon Lake. Yes, this is real life), so one assumes Intel will just skip the high core count Kaby-XX CPUs and just do Coffee-X for the Intel-X399 platform. But that’s, ya know, total speculation.

SO WHAT IS KABY LAKE-X?

The easiest way to think of Kaby-X is as Intel’s Ultimate 4-core gaming CPUs. It’s not above Skylake-X in absolute CPU horsepower (or price), so it keeps the i7 and i5 brands.

Basically, Intel is taking the current Kaby Lake overclockable i7-7700k and i5-7600k and upping their juice from 91w to 115w and sticking them in the thick LGA2066 body.

Here, Kaby Lake-X features the four core, eight thread i7-7740X and the four core, four thread i5-7640X. Yes, there is an X-Series i5. A week ago the CPU was an i7-7640k, now it’s the i5-7640X. Naming conventions change, but I think Intel made the right decision here.

KABY-X OVERCLOCKING, FIRST TESTS

Yes, we have samples! Read our article about dipping our toes in the overclocked waters. Below, Aorus's BIOS insta-upgrades to the 4 core X-Series models. 

SO IS KABY-X THE BEST GAMING CPU IN THE UNIVERSE? 

“Best” and "fastest" for gaming is a hot topic with much debate, so I'll only say this: yes, absolutely. If the i7-7700k was the most recommended gaming CPU then the i7-7740X will take its spot as number one ultimate gaming CPU. In our tests, the 7740X hit a comfortable 5.2-5.3GHz compared to 4.9-5.0GHz of the 7700k. Will this hold true for everyone? Time will tell.

Currently, four core CPUs are favored for all-around gaming. More cores is better for video editing and other professional work. For now, at least, until the game developers offload more work to the CPUs rather than GPUs.

Also, Kaby-X is, while not a revolutionary leap over their 4-core Z270 brothers, still a good deal faster than Kaby-vanilla. So Kaby-X will be the fastest per-core gaming CPUs on the market.

As for overclocking, ASUS has already hit a world record of 7.560GHz with a 7740X on an ASUS X299 Rampage VI Apex motherboard. Liquid nitrogen was involved. But even if the specs don't look insane on paper, the concept of moving overclockable CPUs to the bigger Extreme CPUs makes a ton of sense.

Also, buying into X299 means upgradability. If you want to go up to 18 cores or future X-Series CPUs (assuming Intel keeps the 2066 socket for a few years), you can upgrade without buying a new mobo, cooler, etc. This is Intel's intention. 

Look at the chart below -- the current 7700k and 7600k are orphans between "mainstream" and "extreme." Since they're essentially the same chip as the 7740X and 7640X, it's looking like Z270 is going to disappear soon. Our guess is future top 4 core CPUs will appear on X299 (or X399, X499 or whatever) rather than the "Mainstream" platform. 

KABY-X GETS ONLY FOUR DIMMS? BUT I SEE EIGHT

Also, since Kaby Lake X is basically fancied versions of the regular 7700k and 7600k models, Kaby-X only uses the four right slots, not all eight -- or any on the left side, for that matter. Yes -- only the right DIMMS work with Kaby-X CPUs.

Also, like Z270, you’re capped at 64GB of DDR4 RAM (unless ECC RAM is supported by the mobo manufacturers). And, as of this moment, most of the other Kaby Lake specs follow over to the Kaby-X models -- RAM speeds, etc.

Really, Kaby-X is everything from the Z270 Kaby CPUs, just on the X299 platform. And faster. For the same price. Don't buy Z270 guys, X299 is it. 

X-SERIES MOTHERBOARDS

If you're confused about this X299 motherboard thing, basically, that's the code name of the motherboards that will work with X-Series CPUs. Z270 works with 7th gen Kaby CPUs (and others, but let's not get too complex). Among Intel's top CPUs, X299 replaces X99 that has been around since August 2014 with Haswell-E (E being old Extreme).

Now, before X99 was X79. So then why X299 and not, say, X109, X119? X199?

Because two is bigger than one. And Intel is finally unifying their series names. For example, Z170 went to Z270. So now “200 Series” motherboard marketing will include features that can be found on X299. Expect the next generation to go with Z370 and X399 and so forth...except there is another X399 board on the market. What will happen? We’ll clutch our pearls until 2018.

44 PCIE LANES! QUAD CHANNEL RAM! TDP!

That’s right, the i9 chips with 10 or more cores get 44 PCIe lanes. The 6 and 8 core versions go with 28 while the i7 Kaby-X versions get 16 lanes, just like their Z270 siblings.

Also, just like previous X99 motherboards, the X299 chips get 8 DIMMs for quad channel RAM running out of the box at DDR4-2666. Of course, motherboard manufacturers will support the ultra fast fancy RAM up to 4400MHz.

That said, Kaby Lake X chips only get dual channel and four slots, not eight.

As for wattages, the 4 core CPUs use 112 watts (up from 91 on Z270), the 6, 8 and 10 core chips go up to 140w, with the 12+ core said to be around 165 watts. Though nothing is finalized on the high end CPUs as of yet. 

TURBO BOOST 3.0 MAX!

As for the Skylake-X numbers, the 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 core feature Turboboost Max 3.0. Previous gen Broadwell-E simply had Turbo 3.0 “enabled” -- now, Skylake-X CPUs feature Turbo 3.0 out of the box and on the packaging.

This means the 10 core 7900X advertises boost clock of 4.5GHz, or roughly +0.2GHz above the Turbo 2.0 clock.

Let that sink in -- the four core Kaby-X i7-7740X has a Turbo boost of...4.5GHz. So the 10 core also has 4.5GHz? Yes...on one core.

The Turbo 3.0 system decides which cores are best and ramps it up when you need it.

YES, SOCKET 2066 HAS THE SAME MOUNT AS 2011-V3

Yup, your coolers will work, no need for additional brackets. It’s the same mount and much better than the LGA1151 setup on consumer boards. The LGA 2066 socket has a full front and back metal mount pulled right from 2011-V3 (most will still have that branding). It’s clearly more expensive than the non existent mount (aka holes-in-a-board) of LGA 1151. But since Intel unifies the mounting threads you don’t have to deal with bizarre mounting mechanisms from some cooler manufacturers. This is good news.

Also, 2011 socket has 2011 pins, right? So 2066 adds more pins, meaning the Broadwell-E CPUs you have stuffed in your desk won’t fit in a X299 mobo and vice versa.

LET’S SHARE OPINIONS

Boy do I have thoughts. First, X299 wasn’t supposed to launch for another 20 weeks. That’s about five months from now. With Intel moving the release up by 20 weeks, it’s clear Intel sees a competitive landscape in CPUs. But ignoring the CPU flame wars filling the forums (since we have nothing better to do as a society, I guess), the real world implications of an X-Series HEDT platform for the masses is more interesting.

In the past, the Extreme platform was a strange orphan -- expensive overclocked CPUs but not really better performance for gaming. Many video editing and 3D creation PCs were stuck between Xeon and HEDT.

Then who bought X99 chips? Really, the all-around pro consumer who wanted a top editing rig but also did some gaming on the side. Or just wanted features that weren’t found on Xeon mobos like Thunderbolt 3, audiophile DACs, RGB LEDs, etc. Or just wanted the top CPU in the world. And Xeons were really for servers anyway, right? Aside from the Mac Pro, Xeon never really saw adoption in any meaningful way in proconsumer desktops. Sure, you could buy desktop Xeon PC rigs, but they were a niche of a niche.

Taking a step back, it makes sense Intel would have a mainstream platform and an extreme platform.

With Kaby Lake X, Intel’s X-Series i5-7640X starts at $242. Currently, the lowest priced consumer i5 Kaby Lake one would consider for gaming is the i5-7400 running $189. The i5-7600k (overclockable) is $239.

Also, the new Kaby-X i7-7740X is $339 while the consumer i7-7700k is…$339  (hint: that’s the same price)

So $242 is the right price for the low end of the Extreme platform. Also, considering the i7-7700k outsells the i5-7600k, it’s clear gamers and builders don’t typically shop the low end, even if they don’t need those 4 extra threads of the i7. They want “the best.”

Additionally, the X-Series CPUs ditch the onboard graphics. No gamer uses them, so why include them? Why indeed.

Really, Intel is separating out their platforms -- X-Series for the gamers and enthusiasts and Consumer for everyone else.

Now, what about motherboard prices? X299 motherboards will be more expensive, but not by much. Yes, if looking at historical data, the extreme boards were always pricier.

But you’ll start seeing budget X299 boards with four RAM slots, not eight, and more consumer-grade construction rather than professional construction of the premium boards. This will reduce entry prices to around $150-$200.

Also, remember, all X-Series are overclockable. The cheapest ASUS Z270 overclockable motherboard is $145 MSRP. So we’re really not far off in price parity.

SHOULD I UPGRADE?

Yes! No! Depends! Yeah, I don't know you. But if you were considering a 7700K or 7600K with a Z270 motherboard, empty that cart. The 7740X and 7640X with a X299 mobo will give you better performance for the same price. 

If you're a video editor, engineer or "content creator" cranking out dank memes all day long, then the immediate benefit of X299 is obvious. The Broadwell-E 10 core 6950X is $1700. The new 10 core is $999. The 8 core is now $599. And all noticably faster than Broadwell-E from last year. 

But how does the new X-Series benchmark compared to other CPUs? No idea. The 8, 10, 12, 14, 16 and 18 core CPUs will no doubt go through endless benchmarks when they hit the shelves at somepoint in the future. And then the flames begin. 

COMPETITION IS GOOD

Yes, folks, competition means it’s a core Christmas. The new X-Series CPUs and X299 motherboards will, I believe, be a more compelling platform for gamers and performance users moving forward. X marks the...you get the idea.