INTEL Skylake Releases with Mixed Emotions
The long wait for Skylake is finally over and reviews are beginning to pour in. Unfortunately, the hype train was going full throttle on this release and even INTEL gave what seems to be some slightly unrealistic expectations. It’s pretty hard to come to a solid conclusion on the i7-6700K. There are some really good features but there are also some very lackluster improvements to take into consideration. Overall, I think the release is pretty solid and I’ll try to highlight what I’m picking up from the reviews but ultimately, it’s up to the end user to make the best decision based on individual circumstances as to whether to upgrade or not.
My first impression of Skylake was pretty bland. When comparing to last year’s Devil’s Canyon launch, there isn’t enough performance gains to merit a subtle nod, let alone an upgrade. When following some of the graphics performance to that of the recent Broadwell release, we see much of the same story. It’s the comparison to Sandybridge that makes Skylake more interesting. Now, I know what you’re thinking but hear me out. Sandybridge was the latest architecture from INTEL that really turned heads. The IPC improvements were huge and what really sold enthusiasts on the chip was the great overclocking headroom. With decent cooling, 4.7 or 4.8 GHz was a very realistic possibility. As newer iterations of the architecture came out, headroom also decreased. What people were finding out was that while the performance was better at stock frequencies, the lack of extra overclocking headroom meant that the performance gap was closed by simply having a higher frequency from a Sandybridge chip. While it’s disappointing that Skylake isn’t hitting the 5 GHz mark that was being hyped up earlier, ASUS did a massive test on multiple CPUs that show that the average consumer should be getting 4.6-4.7 GHz fairly consistently with the new CPUs. Great chips will probably be hitting 4.8 GHz. This puts Skylake back in the same overclocking bracket as Sandybridge, but with the much higher performance gains across the board, this may be the chip that will convince a lot of Sandbridge hold outs to finally upgrade.
Speaking of overclocking, there’s a couple of other things I came across that I think are worth noting. PC Perspective did a review in which they were able to hit 4.7 GHz stable with their sample. What was interesting was that it only increased power consumption by 23 watts. That means a very high performing chip with a decent overclock on it will only be running about 110-120 watts power consumption and that’s actually very impressive for that level of performance. The other take away I was noticing is that the CPU can support memory overclock frequencies of up to 4133 MHz. Granted, you would need to find the DDR4 memory to do it, but ASUS claimed that reaching 3600 MHz on all 4 slots was pretty easy to do as long as you had a good enough board to handle it. That brings us to motherboards which is still a major highlight about the Skylake release. The Z170 chipset is one of the best ones we’ve seen in a while with it’s support of DDR4, upgraded PCIe 3.0 lanes for the chipset, and more integration of Sata Express and M.2 interfaces. The other factor is the FIVR (Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator) is gone from the i7-6700K. That means voltage control is being given back to the motherboard manufacturers and they have some extremely impressive power phases to make the best use of Skylake.
At first, I was feeling a bit disappointed with Skylake but the more I looked into the details, the more my disappointment turned to a pretty high level of excitement. In short, the real takeaways here are twofold. Overclocking seems to be back at INTEL. Sure, we didn’t see the hype numbers but the results are still a good sign that team Blue is taking their words seriously in this matter. That being said, the mention of having an overclockable i3 CPU is something that would be nice to see in the future and hopefully INTEL keeps improving in this area. The other huge takeaway is the Z170 chipset. The innovations are great and it’s nice to have motherboard manufactures in control of voltage regulation again. This helps spread the heat across more components rather than everything being tied up in the CPU. On the other hand, this release isn’t completely knocking it out of the park for a few reasons. Performance just isn’t good enough to justify moving away from Haswell or Broadwell, especially if you’re not into overclocking. The other issue is that while the Z170 chipset offers great features, you would have to have the new memory and storage options to put these feature to full use. If you’re thinking about upgrading, but also know that you’ll be using a SATA III SSD for a long time to come, the money might be better spent on a discounted Z97 motherboard with an i7-4790K if the prices are right. In conclusion, I feel like Skylake is a solid release from INTEL and I’m sure it will grow on us more as the CPU and motherboard reviews mature.