Intel Core i7-11700K review: The chip of last resort

The Intel Core i7-11700K offers excellent performance for an octa-core chip, but its price makes it a last resort that you should only buy if competing chips are out of stock and you need an octa-core chip specifically for productivity.

Intel Core i7-11700K

The $399 Intel Core i7-11700K processor sits in Intel’s Rocket Lake product stack at a price that falls between two of AMD’s most popular Ryzen 5000 processors. The price of the 11700K should make it an attractive chip if you want as much performance from a mainstream Intel platform as you can get without paying the flagship price, but it faces stiff competition from AMD chips that have dominated our list of the best CPUs (at except when available at retail).

Cypress Cove, Intel’s first new architecture for desktop PC chips in six years, gives Rocket Lake chips a 19% increase in IPC under most workloads. But the backed Cypress Cove (which was designed for 10nm) comes with a big trade-off: Rocket Lake is still etched in the 14nm process and maxes out at eight cores and sixteen threads. That’s a step down from the previous generation’s 10-core Comet Lake i9 models and pales in comparison to AMD’s beastly 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

Rocket Lake’s 19% IPC gain largely offsets the performance hit from the reduced core count, but it left Intel in a tough spot by splitting its product stack into Core i9 and Core i7 families, both series exceed the same eight cores.

The $399 Core i7-11700K fits the definition of being a lower-end Core i9-11900K with the same eight cores and sixteen threads as the $539 flagship. And you might as well save some money by opting for the Core i7-11700KF with no graphics (it’s identical in all other respects) and getting the chip for $374. That opens up a $75 gap between the 11700K and the Ryzen 7 5800X, which also doesn’t come with an integrated graphics engine.

To account for the vagaries of binning and crippling the 11700K to create artificial pipelining, Intel reduced the maximum boost frequency of the 11700K by 300 MHz compared to the Core i9-11900K, lowered the memory frequencies in low-latency mode, and dropped its support for the new Adaptive Boost Technology (ABT). ABT technology is effectively an automatic overclocking feature that does not void your warranty, but the 11700K is a fully overclockable chip. That means losing that feature, or the extra 300MHz of maximum boost speed, might not deter overclockers looking to save $140 on the 11900K.

The 11700K falls into a huge gap in AMD’s product stack: AMD has a $150 gap between the $449 Ryzen 7 5800X, which also comes with eight cores, and the $299 six-core Ryzen 5 5600X. The obvious price gap in AMD’s stack should give the 11700K some breathing room for now, though AMD says its upcoming Ryzen 5000 G-series chips, also known as ‘Cezanne’ APUs, will fill that price gap when the Ryzen 5 5700G of $359 hits the market in August 2021.

However, the 5700G seems to target the downstream Core i7-11700 rather than the K-series model, giving the 11700K a chance to thrive as a less expensive 11900K and/or Ryzen 7 5800X alternative. As it happens, Intel’s own strict targeting significantly affects the 11700K’s performance, reducing its appeal.

Ultimately, though, the winning chip is the chip that you can actually buy. As such, the Core i7-11700K has benefited from an almost insurmountable advantage: availability. AMD has been hampered by supply shortages caused by pandemic-related supply chain disruptions, coupled with unprecedented demand, causing almost its entire stack to spike in price.

The deal is getting better for AMD though, and the Ryzen 7 5800X has been widely available at or near its MSRP for the past month or so. And supplies seem to be holding steady, creating a pitched battle with the Core i7-11700K.

We covered the Rocket Lake family in depth in our launch day review, so head over there for more in-depth details on the architecture and broader product family. Intel distributes Rocket Lake (RKL-S) chips in the familiar Core i9, i7 and i5 families, but Comet Lake Refresh (CML-R) chips are involved for Core i3 and Pentium. Those chips feature the same architecture as other Comet Lake chips, but come with slightly higher clock speeds. You can learn more about them here.

Intel’s chip frequencies have become a confusing array of four different flavors of Turbo Boost, many with single-core or multi-core ratios, differing by chip family. We’ve narrowed these listings down to the peak boost frequencies in the table below, with each indicating the peak boost technology used. More information on Rocket Lake boost technology and a larger list of all frequencies can be found here.

 

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