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Coffee Lake: the most exciting Intel CPU launch in years?

After years of iterative upgrades, things are starting to become interesting again in the CPU space on PC. We’ve already seen Ryzen 7’s disruptive influence on Intel’s enthusiast line and how Ryzen 5 strikes at Chipzilla’s Core i5 gaming heartland. Things are changing and Intel is set to respond with the imminent launch of its new Coffee Lake line of processors. So what should we expect? Well, how does a full six-core processor for i5 money sound? Or how about today’s i5 performance at i3 prices? That’s what a series of convincing leaks over the last few weeks and months have promised – and more.

It’s a shake-up to Intel’s mainstream CPU line that we’ve not seen since the arrival of its Sandy Bridge processors way back in 2011 with its almost legendary Core i5 2500K and i7 2600K, chips that still form the basis of many gaming PCs today. The company set the template for years of products to follow back then: its newest architectural innovations come to the mainstream market first, with three distinct pieces of silicon – a quad-core processor that services the i5 and i7 lines, offering four and eight threads respectively (an i5 is literally a cut-down i7) along with a dual-core, quad-thread i3, which in turn gets pared back for lower-end Pentiums and the vast bulk of its laptop and ultrabook CPUs.

The leaks for Coffee Leak are fascinating. First of all, the dual-core silicon – although certainly in production – doesn’t seem to make it to the i3 line this time. Instead, Intel’s more budget-orientated processors use the quad-core die instead. The i3 8400 locks all cores to 3.6GHz, disables hyper-threading and turbo clocks and should prove just as capable as today’s locked i5 quad (that is, perfectly serviceable for 60fps on the majority of titles). For those looking to overclock, an i3 8350K is set to launch with a 4.0GHz clock, an unlocked multiplier and more L3 cache. Based on the current Kaby Lake, which uses the same production process, overclocks to 4.8GHz with adequate cooling should be possible.