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Why Intel needs a six-core mainstream CPU

Posted on 16th May 2017 at 12:09 by Antony Leather with 17 comments

Antony Leather
I have to admit that having more cores on a CPU has rarely been a reason for me to want to buy one or even to lust over leaked information or benchmarks in the past. I can still remember comparing dual-core CPUs such as the E8600 to the likes of the Q9650 in group tests and finding the massively overclockable E8600 was faster in games and many other applications, much to the surprise of my colleagues who were obsessed with core counts and were amazed that my main system ran an E8600.

That was nearly 10 years ago, of course, and while I felt somewhat vindicated at the time, things do change. Quad-cores are now the mainstay of enthusiast PCs and for good reason, since many games still don't make use of more than four threads. As such, Intel's overclockable quad-cores, such as the Core i5-7600K, usually offer the best performance you'll see in games, and there are many other tasks that do benefit from having at least four physical cores.

It's important to remember too that a lot depends on the game code and how well it utilises more than one thread. A lot of the hype around Ryzen was people expecting AMD's new CPUs to offer big increases in frame rates, and they were to be disappointed. Ryzen has some very strong sweet spots, but in reality, games are rarely CPU-limited these days, so it's little wonder that for the mainstream, Intel has focussed on quad-cores for a long time.

However, games are quickly becoming more demanding, and we're also doing more with our PCs and at higher resolutions too. Most of us think nothing about having a dozen browser tabs open along with chat programs, anti-virus, email clients, word processors, and various streaming applications all while firing up games. This is something that the latest update for Windows 10, the Creators Update, tapped on with its Game Mode, which prioritises system resources for your game, and benchmarks show that it does have a tangible benefit.

Why Intel needs a six-core mainstream CPU

There are other tasks outside the world of pure gaming, too - streaming, video editing, rendering - and they're all potentially quite demanding of your CPU, and it's very clear to anyone that's tried that quad-cores suffer here, even Hyper-Threaded ones such as the Core i7-7700K. Sadly, you need to opt for an Intel X99 system to get more than four cores, and this demands a lot of cash, and until Ryzen's launch, while AMD did have six and eight-core parts, they suffered from poor efficiency and low IPC, so while they might have been faster in some multi-threaded tests, Intel would wipe the floor with them elsewhere.

Then along came Ryzen, and the massive increase in IPC and efficiency has helped things no end. Not only are the eight-core parts excellent value for multi-threaded tasks, but AMD has had the foresight to offer better multi-threaded performance in the mid-range too. The Ryzen 5 1600 and 1600X are cases in point. They offer six cores and 12 threads and in many cases can keep up with the Intel Core i7-6850K, which is much more expensive.

Why Intel needs a six-core mainstream CPU

For the first time, there are CPUs that offer great multi-threaded performance and decent single-threaded grunt that don't cost a fortune. The Ryzen 5 hex-cores are very reasonably priced, as are AM4 motherboards. However, while the extra grunt will no doubt be useful, I realised I'm simply bored with quad-cores too, and when I tested the Ryzen 5 1600 and 1600X recently, the enthusiast in me started yearning for a six-core system.

Eight cores is still excessive for most people's needs, and the Ryzen 7 series starts at around £300 as well. However, the £195 Ryzen 5 1600 is right in the middle of mid-range/high-end enthusiast territory price-wise, and if you do venture into multi-threaded work, it has the grunt to usually outperform the Core i7-7700K and give the Core i7-6850K a run for its money too. In many ways, it's the perfect mid-range all-rounder, which makes me wonder why Intel hasn't offered a hex-core CPU in the mainstream yet. It's been busy shrinking manufacturing processes, increasing efficiency, and cramming more and more transistors into its CPUs, but has it missed one key factor that would have made more people reach for their wallets and stop spouting the usual 'my Sandy Bridge 2500K is still okay' comments in review threads.

I can fully appreciate that the X99 platform is just too expensive for many, even if you're lusting after a hex-core CPU. The Core i7-6800K will set you back £400 on its own; you'll then need a quad-channel memory kit and a more expensive motherboard, plus there are very limited choices when it comes to micro-ATX and mini-ITX LGA2011-v3 motherboards. The point here is that not everyone that wants more CPU grunt necessarily wants two or more graphics cards in their system too. Admittedly, that's where the Core i7-6800K comes in, as it doesn't have enough PCI-E lanes to provide full bandwidth to more than one card.

Why Intel needs a six-core mainstream CPU

I think what Ryzen has shown in general, though, and not just with the excellent Ryzen 5 1600 and 1600X, is that enthusiasts actually want more cores and threads now. This is part of what the Ryzen pre-launch frenzy was about - that enthusiasts would get competitive single-threaded performance along with more cores and threads for a lot less than Intel's X99 platform. We've already seen rumours of an Intel hex-core hitting its mainstream CPU socket, and I think the time is right for it to do so. We can only hope it's unlocked.

Would you be interested in a six-core CPU for Intel's mainstream platform? Let us know in the comments.
Tags am4, amd, intel, ryzen, x99

17 Comments

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IanW 16th May 2017, 13:16 Quote
Leaks are now appearing of Intel i9 CPUs, in the 6-12 core range.

http://hexus.net/tech/news/cpu/105679-intel-said-readying-core-i9-cpus-6-8-10-12-cores/
Wakka 16th May 2017, 13:25 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by IanW
Leaks are now appearing of Intel i9 CPUs, in the 6-12 core range.

http://hexus.net/tech/news/cpu/105679-intel-said-readying-core-i9-cpus-6-8-10-12-cores/

They aren't mainstream though, that's Intel's successor to X99 and will be priced accordingly (aka, out of reach for most people).

But as I said in the other i9 news thread, it's all gonna get very confusing with Z370/Coffelake bringing an actual mainstream 6c/12t chip... Gonna be interesting to see how they approach it really, it's no secret Ryzen has forced Intel's hand here. With the inevitable performance crossover between high end Z370 and entry level X299 parts, along with AMD no doubt undercutting them in price-per-core metrics across the entire range, Intel are going to have to bite a few bullets I reckon.
Tyrmot 16th May 2017, 13:57 Quote
After - what 7(?) - years I am finally actually starting to think that my Sandy Bridge 2500K is not still okay...! The one before that was also a very OC'd E8500 which was chosen over 4C and it was also a beast. Feel that intel have definitely missed a trick here letting AMD beat them to the punch, but perhaps they did get a bit too complacent.

I've been using intel/nV for a very long time now but I think finally I can switch to AMD for the next build.
jrs77 16th May 2017, 14:11 Quote
I guess my 4C/8T i7 will last me for atleast another five years to come. Most of the professional software, besides the 3d-renderers which are moving towards GPU-rendering, are still not making any use of the additional cores/threads allthough 4 cores are standard for years now.
Some applications don't seem to be doable with multiple cores it seems, so I'd rather prefer more power-efficiency for the foreseeable future.
Hustler 16th May 2017, 14:16 Quote
Well I thought the incoming 6c 12t Coffee Lakes were the answer to this article.

..of course this being Intel, they'll still try and charge a ridiculous price for them relative to the Ryzen parts, probably filling the 7700K price slot of £320-350.

There's no doubt that they'll clock higher and have a superior IPC to the Ryzen 1600, so I guess those that are willing to pay the price premium for the extra performance that the Intel cores have, will do so.

Everyone else can go with Ryzen.
RedFlames 16th May 2017, 14:24 Quote
Whilst 6c/12t at the top end [of the consumer line] would be great... really wish intel would move away from 2c at the bottom end...
Wakka 16th May 2017, 14:36 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by RedFlames
Whilst 6c/12t at the top end [of the consumer line] would be great... really wish intel would move away from 2c at the bottom end...

This is a good point, actually. The lowest Ryzen 3 parts will still be quad cores, but if Intel continue to sell bucket loads of cheap Pentium/Celeron systems to schools and offices, developers will continue to optimise to the lowest denominator... Which will render all these tasty HEDT chips mostly redundant for all but the 5% of the 5% that can afford them.
Vault-Tec 16th May 2017, 14:55 Quote
If this is really the start of things to come then Intel will need far more than a 6c 12t chip. I don't want people wanting a 6c 12t chip tbh. That just means we are giving Intel the flag to go ahead and keep us stuck for years and years like they have already. There is an all out core war coming (Starship and X299 etc) well if AMD can keep the price of the 10 core Starship down to affordable levels Intel are going to have to do a lot better than 6 cores.

I've been a bit of a core whore since Piledriver. Multi tasking, for example, was always very good on the PD chips. Kinda like I7 920 IPC w/o HT but when it was threading it was very nice indeed.

I've since moved on to higher cored Intel chips and tbh? if this core war kicks off and both teams start getting more cores involved and more importantly added by devs then what I have should be more than good enough going into the future (as it is now really).

Sure, if I dropped core count and went with higher IPC and clocks I am sure I could get more performance but I suppose I am at that bit where I just want enough and that's good for me.
Anfield 16th May 2017, 15:09 Quote
Even if Intel existed in isolation and Ryzen wasn't far better value per core there would be a problem with 6 core chips from Intel:

Currently you pay around £320 for a 7700k and around £420 for a 6800k (which will get a like for like replacement soon).

Logic would dictate that that gap of ~£100 will be filled by the quadcore(s) on their new HEDT platform.

So where would a 6 core chip on the mainstream platform fit in?
Because if it costs anywhere near the 6800k (or its replacement) then who would buy it?
Vault-Tec 16th May 2017, 15:35 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Anfield

So where would a 6 core chip on the mainstream platform fit in?
Because if it costs anywhere near the 6800k (or its replacement) then who would buy it?

Somebody who would not buy Ryzen no matter how fantastic or cheap it is?

There were plenty of them in the past. Intel's P4/Netburst was fail and AMD were making chips for half of the price that were faster yet Intel managed to get through it.

I watched a video recently about ATI and how they continued to lose money even when they had the 5000 series GPUs. People were still buying GTX 260s, even though they were crap compared to AMD.

I think AMD getting in with Intel could well prove to be their best move ever really.
Anfield 16th May 2017, 15:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Vault-Tec
Somebody who would not buy Ryzen no matter how fantastic or cheap it is?

Even if Ryzen didn't exist it would still be a problem.

If the price of the 6 core chip on the mainstream platform ends up near the 6 core on the high end platform then who would choose the inferior platform?
DbD 16th May 2017, 16:43 Quote
Another 2500k owner, been waiting for intel to produce something for years because basically there is little point in upgrading - same number of cores, IPC boost isn't that great.

You look at how gpu's have changed since sandy bridge was released, and then look at cpu's...Intel have practically done nothing in comparison. For such a big rich company they don't seem to get much done.

Anyway Rizen has put the pressure on Intel at last - and Rizen's limited IPC gives Intel a chance. If they can deliver 6 cores and more IPC at sensible prices then they have a winner.
edzieba 16th May 2017, 17:00 Quote
I'll be sticking with fewer, faster cores until I have some actual workloads that can benefit from more slower cores. I can't remember the last time I transcoded a video (even cheap media-player devices happily ingest High Profile h.264 in MKV nowadays, many can even do raw BD .ts streams without even needing to remux), any rendering I do is on the GPU anyway (raster or otherwise), and I've yet to bench any perceptible impact on gaming with a few hundred Firefox & Chrome tabs open vs. the game on its own.

At the moment, I'd have to pay a whole lot more (to either vendor) just to approach performance parity with a 6/8 core part. And until Amdahl's Law stops applying (and Gustafson's law applies to massive HPC workloads only) I'm not expecting adding more cores to provide a practical boost to everyday tasks anytime soon.
Pete J 16th May 2017, 18:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
I can still remember comparing dual-core CPUs such as the E8600 to the likes of the Q9650...

That was nearly 10 years ago

Thanks for making me feel old :(
Anfield 16th May 2017, 22:32 Quote
16 Cores from AMD this Summer official now rather than just open secret:

http://www.guru3d.com/news-story/amd-announces-threadripper-processors-16-cores-and-32-threads-confirmed.html
AiA 17th May 2017, 15:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete J
Quote:
Originally Posted by Article
I can still remember comparing dual-core CPUs such as the E8600 to the likes of the Q9650...

That was nearly 10 years ago

Thanks for making me feel old :(

i'm still using my Q9650 and its nice to see all 4 cores being used (:
Xir 23rd May 2017, 08:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by edzieba
I'll be sticking with fewer, faster cores until I have some actual workloads that can benefit from more slower cores.
This...cause it accounts for most situations except benchmarks
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