Review: Intel Core i7 3770K

Our score: 5/5
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May 4, 2012 10:43 AM
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Published: May 4, 2012 10:34 AM
By Régis Jehl
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
After a widely acclaimed generation of Sandy Bridge processors, Intel has made a series of relatively minor updates to its architecture with the new Ivy Bridge range of CPUs. The Core i7 3770K is one of the first in this line of CPUs to make it onto the market, promising boosted processing speeds and even lower power use than its predecessor, the Core i7 2700K.

Ivy Bridge represents a 'Tick' in the 'Tick-Tock' development model of Intel's CPU architecture (see diagram below). Unlike 'Tock' stages, this is a fairly minor evolution of Sandy Bridge (Core i7 2600K, Core i5 2500K etc). The Ivy Bridge series is Intel's first to boast a 22 nm wafer (32 nm for Sandy Bridge) and, more importantly, to use Tri-Gate transistors—1.4 billion of them, none the less!

Intel tick tock ivy bridge mini
Click to enlarge


Like Sandy Bridge CPUs, the Ivy Bridge series will use an LGA 1155 socket. Previous-gen motherboards (Intel H61, H67, P67 and Z68 chipsets) will therefore be compatible with the new CPUs so long as Intel provides the necessary firmware updates. However, Intel has still decided to accompany the Ivy Bridge launch with a new batch of chipsets (Series 7) whose main new features include native support for USB 3.0 (finally!) and extra functions for boosting your computer's responsiveness by using an SSD alongside a standard HDD (Smart Response, Rapid Start).

Obviously, you'll find all the technology you'd expect from Intel these days, including Hyper-Threading and the Turbo mode. Hyper-Threading optimises performances in applications that effectively make use of multiple cores by adding a virtual core to each physical core. In a quad-core processor, then, the operating system would 'see' a total of eight cores.

The Turbo mode can be more useful for programs that don't make use of multi-core architectures. Turbo mode boosts the clock speed of the CPU cores by varying degrees in relation to the workload, which in turn gets data processed more quickly.

Intel Core i7 3770K: A Core i7 2700K, But Better!

The Core i7 3770K shares some basic tech specs with the Core i7 2700K CPU (Sandy Bridge). It's a quad-core processor (plus four virtual cores via Hyper Threading) with cores clocked at between 3.5 GHz (base frequency) and 3.9 GHz (maximum frequency in Turbo mode) depending on workload. There's 8 MB of L3 cache shared between the various cores and the thermal design power is a pretty low 77 watts (compared with 95 watts for the Core i7 2700K).

Intel Ivy Bridge Die
  Ivy Bridge CPU structure.


However, the Core i7 3770K also has a built-in graphics processor—the Intel HD Graphics 4000. This new version of Intel's onboard solution finally brings DirectX 11 support and has 16 processing units compared with 12 in the Intel HD Graphics 3000 used in the Core i7 2700K. You can use up to three monitors simultaneously with this CPU so long as the motherboard has a sufficient number of video outs.

Power Use

With its 22 nm design and new transistors, the Core i7 3770K is very energy efficient. In fact, it uses 23% less power than the Core i7 2700K with an intensive workload! In our test computer, which is loaded with an additional graphics card, we measured 157 watts of power used compared with 205 watts for its predecessor or 265 watts for the AMD FX-8150. Power use at idle hasn't changed much, however. In fact, it's actually slightly higher—up from 77 watts to 81 watts. That said, it's still a long way ahead of AMD's FX-8150, which guzzles 103 watts.

Power use even stays low when the built-in graphics processor is in use (Intel HDG 4000), with 43 watts at idle and 116 watts with a heavy workload (again, this is the total power used by our test PC).

Performance: Applications

Thanks to various tweaks, the Core i7 3770K outperforms the Core i7 2700K by 14% on processing power. With an average index in our rating system of 251, it does 30% better than the AMD FX-8150—even if it's not in the same league price-wise—and is just 2% down on the Core i7 3820 from Intel's Sandy Bridge-E range. In fact, the Core i7 3820 suddenly seems a whole lot less interesting, since it uses more power, sells at a similar price and requires more costly motherboards (X79 chipset).

Encodage
Click on the graph to see all our test results
and compare CPUs in the Face-Off


Performance: Games

It's no surprise to see that the i7 3770K does a better job than its predecessor in games either. It's therefore one of the best options out there for gaming right now, even if Sandy Bridge chips and/or those lower down the range will be just as good. In any case, this CPU certainly won't hold any high-end graphics cards back!

Intel HD Graphics 4000 : 56% Faster Than The 3000 Edition!

As we saw above, this CPU has a built-in graphics processor. The Intel HD Graphics 4000 supports DirectX 11, has been tweaked internally to enhance performances and its 16 processing units have been treated to a Turbo function. Their clock rate therefore varies between 650 and 1150 MHz, depending on workload.

The difference is huge compared with the previous-gen Intel HD Graphics 3000 and 2000. The HDG 4000 proved 56% faster than the HDG 3000 and 84% faster than the HDG 2000. This seemingly huge jump forwards should be put into perspective, however, as it actually only brings Intel's graphics system on par with the Radeon HD 6550D, built into the AMD A8-3850 APU, for example.

To play recent games in acceptable conditions with this graphics system alone, you'll have to stick to HD Ready (1280 x 720 pixels) resolution and turn the level of graphics detail down quite a lot.

View Performance Index Table

5/5 Intel Core i7 3770K DigitalVersus 2012-05-04 11:34:00

Pros

  • Performances in applications and games
  • Hyper-Threading
  • Turbo mode
  • Low power use
  • Much faster onboard graphics

Cons

  • Graphics processing is faster but still isn't good enough to replace a stand-alone graphics card—even an entry-level card!

Conclusion

Intel has confirmed its status as leader in the market for desktop computer CPUs with a new generation of processors that are faster and less power-hungry than their predecessors. Although the gain in performance isn't enormous, it's certainly still beneficial. However, with no real competitors at this performance level, the price could stay quite high for quite some time.

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