PC Gamer
At a Glance

(+) Speed Boats: Good performance; overclocks well; Z170 platform offers new features.

(-) Tug Boats: Not much faster than Haswell; still quad-core; no heatsink included; needs new motherboard and RAM.

Making waves on Skylake

Skylake. The name invokes images of a serene outdoor setting, with clear water surrounded by forests, and blue skies overhead—a peaceful place where all your hopes and dreams come true. You can go swimming, fishing, water skiing, or any other number of activities. In other words, it s summertime and we re cooped up in front of our PCs wishing we were outside in the sun. But we digress.

Skylake is also the name of Intel s sixth-generation Core series of processors, with the promise of higher performance and improved efficiency. For the past six months, there has been a repeated mantra among computer enthusiasts looking to upgrade: Wait for Skylake. The wait is now over, but does the calm surface of the water hide mysteries within its deep, or is there a tempest brewing in the sky? That brings us to the question for the day: if CPUs were boats, which one would you buy?

In an unprecedented move, Intel has launched two desktop processor updates in as many months. June gave us the Broadwell for Desktop update, aka fifth-generation Intel Core Processors, and now here we are with the sixth-generation Intel Core Processors. This wasn t the original plan. Broadwell came late to the party, and in the process it became a mobile-focused update, launching in late 2014 primarily on hybrid devices with the Y-series parts, and then in early 2015 with the U-series Ultrabook parts. Along with the quad-core desktop launch of Broadwell in June, Intel also released normal higher-power notebook parts, including quad-core offerings. The original goal (several years ago) was that all of these parts would launch in 2014, but the 14nm process involved some hurdles, so things got pushed back.

Returning to Skylake, while Broadwell was delayed, Intel has pushed forward with their release plans for Skylake. In the process, things got a bit interesting. With Broadwell-DT, Intel chose to equip all of the new desktop parts with Crystalwell, the 128MB eDRAM that acts as an L4 cache of sorts. Broadwell-DT also sports Intel s Iris Pro Graphics, with over twice as many graphics units as desktop Haswell (48 compared to 20). That means for Intel s Processor Graphics, the i7-5775C was able to set new performance records. Meanwhile, Skylake returns to the status quo of having Intel s second-fastest graphics configuration, which in this came means 24 EUs again (we ll likely see 48 EU and possibly 72 EU versions later). What this means for end users is that there are certain scenarios where the i7-5775C will be faster than the i7-6700K (mostly games and graphics tests while using integrated graphics).

It s not just processor graphics where things are interesting, though; clock speeds also give us plenty to think about. When Intel launched Haswell with the i7-4770K, it had a base clock of 3.5GHz and maximum Turbo Boost clock of 3.9GHz. Compared to that, the clock speeds of i7-5775C are a bit lower: 3.3GHz base and 3.7GHz turbo. But between Haswell and Broadwell, Intel had Devil s Canyon, essentially a performance-tuned version of Haswell for enthusiasts. The i7-4790K bumped the base clock to 4GHz and the turbo clock to 4.4GHz. The Skylake i7-6700K ends up just short of that mark, with a 4GHz base and 4.2GHz turbo. What that means is at stock clocks, i7-4790K may still outperform i7-6700K in some tests.

The Core i5-6600K is less of a wild card, as it has a 3.5GHz base and 3.9GHz turbo—just like the i5-4690K, and slightly ahead of the i5-4670K. And as with the predecessors, the Core i5 part lacks Hyper-Threading, providing four full CPU cores but no extra virtual cores. It s also priced over $100 less than then i7-6700K, so if you re looking for a chip that can get you most of the Core i7 performance at a lower price, the Core i5 is what you ll want.

And then there s TDP, Thermal Design Power, or the amount of heat the chip cooling is expected to dissipate. Haswell was 84W, but Devil s Canyon bumped that up to 88W. Broadwell-DT dropped all the way to 65W, thanks no doubt to the tame clock speeds. But Skylake reverses that trend and has a 91W TDP, the highest since the 95W Sandy Bridge launch over four years ago. (Ivy Bridge, if you re wondering, was 77W TDP.) The last three years of mainstream processors from Intel have mostly brought about minor changes in performance, newer and potentially faster Processor Graphics, and often better efficiency, particularly in lighter workloads. The TDP ratings aren t the whole story, but it is interesting to see the slow but steady increase over the past three generations.

Of course, the mainstream Intel platforms aren t the only game in town. Intel also has their enthusiast LGA2011 platform, now in its third iteration. X79 was the initial chipset for Sandy Bridge-E, with quad-channel DDR3 support, and Ivy Bridge-E used the same platform. Haswell-E brought the X99 chipset and LGA2011-3, with quad-channel DDR4 memory support. Besides being quad-channel, the LGA2011 platforms have also offered more PCIe lanes—40 to be exact, though SNB-E used PCIe 2.0 and the latest i7-5820K is limited to 28 lanes.

Needless to say, the entire Intel desktop processor world can be confusing, and Skylake only serves to add to the confusion. Here s the overview of the latest generations of parts. We ve grouped Skylake and Broadwell together, with Haswell and Haswell-E in a second table, but note that Haswell and Broadwell share a platform (LGA1150) while Skylake and Haswell-E are on different sockets.

Intel Skylake and Broadwell Specifications
Model i7-6700K i5-6600K i7-5775C i5-5675C
Socket LGA1151 LGA1151 LGA1150 LGA1150
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/4 4/8 4/4
Base Frequency (GHz) 4 3.5 3.3 3.1
Max Turbo Boost (GHz) 4.2 3.9 3.7 3.6
Processor Graphics HD Graphics 530 HD Graphics 530 Iris Pro Graphics 6200 Iris Pro Graphics 6200
Graphics Units 24 24 48 48
Graphics Max Frequency (MHz) 1,150 1,250 1,150 1,100
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 6MB 4MB
eDRAM/L4 Cache N/A N/A 128MB 128MB
TDP 91W 91W 65W 65W
PCIe 3.0 Lanes 16 16 16 16
PCH Bandwidth (Gb/s) 32Gb/s 32Gb/s 16Gb/s 16Gb/s
1ku Pricing $350 $243 $366 $276
Intel Haswell-E and Haswell (Devil s Canyon) Specifications
Model i7-5960X i7-5930K i7-5820K i7-4790K i5-4690K
Socket LGA2011-3 LGA2011-3 LGA2011-3 LGA1150 LGA1150
Cores/Threads 8/16 6/12 6/12 4/8 4/4
Base Frequency (GHz) 3 3.5 3.3 4 3.5
Max Turbo Boost (GHz) 3.5 3.7 3.6 4.8 3.9
Processor Graphics N/A N/A N/A HD Graphics 4600 HD Graphics 4600
Graphics Units N/A N/A N/A 20 20
Graphics Max Frequency (MHz) N/A N/A N/A 1,250 1,200
L3 Cache 20MB 15MB 15MB 8MB 6MB
eDRAM/L4 Cache N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
TDP 140W 140W 140W 84W 84W
PCIe 3.0 Lanes 40 40 28 16 16
PCH Bandwidth (Gb/s) 16Gb/s 16Gb/s 16Gb/s 16Gb/s 16Gb/s
1ku Pricing $999 $583 $389 $339 $242


Time to Buy a Boat

Much like buying a watercraft, determining which of the processors is best largely comes down to personal preference. What are you doing with your PC, how much are you willing to spend, and are you interested in power-saving features? If you re just floating around on a lake and enjoying the scenery, there s no need for a giant yacht or a fast speedboat. Likewise, if you re not doing some serious number crunching or gaming, just about any modern CPU is going to be fast enough —that s why laptops have been making inroads on desktops, and many businesses forgo traditional desktops entirely these days. But if you want the fastest system possible and you don t care much about portability or size, desktops still reign supreme; however, deciding which desktop CPU is best can still be tricky.

At the high end, X99 and Haswell-E are currently the most powerful consumer platform. Sure, the clock speeds are pretty tame by default, but Haswell-E can overclock to 4.5GHz with a good CLC, and 4.2GHz is readily attainable. For pure number crunching (e.g., for video encoding), there s no beating the extra cores you ll get from Haswell-E, and even the six-core models will generally outperform the mainstream CPUs. The catch is that Haswell-E is more power hungry, often using 50W 100W more power than the mainstream platforms. And Haswell-E will cost more for the hardware, as the CPU, motherboard, and quad sticks of RAM all add up. Still, there s no beating the performance.

The other platforms are far more comparable, and despite minor differences in TDP, as well as some more significant differences in features (RAM, DMI interface, etc.), performance ends up being a lot closer than you might expect. Toss in overclocking and there s even less to write home about. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Skylake isn t even the CPU; it s the chipset or PCH (Platform Controller Hub). For the past several generations of CPUs, Intel has used a DMI 2.0 interface that provides the same bandwidth as a PCI Express 2.0 x4 connection: 20Gb/s in each direction, or 16Gb/s effective bandwidth (20GT/s with 8b/10b encoding). Considering the PCH now powers multiple USB 3.0 ports, SATA 6Gbps ports, and now M.2 PCIe and SATA Express, that 16Gb/s ends up being a big bottleneck. Enter DMI 3.0.

As you might guess, DMI 3.0 upgrades the link to PCIe 3.0 x4 bandwidth, basically doubling the throughput compared to DMI 2.0 (36GT/s with 128b/130b encoding gives an effective bandwidth of 32Gb/s). And with that, Intel has dramatically increased the features of the Z170 chipset compared to Z97. Z97 supported up to eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, six SATA ports, six USB 3.0 ports, and 14 USB 2.0 ports. Z170 increases the USB 3.0 ports to 10 now, and continues to offer 14 USB 2.0 ports and six SATA ports, but it has one major advantage: it supports up to 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes. Keep in mind that all 20 lanes are still routed to the CPU over the equivalent of an x4 link, but as long as everything isn t active at once, there won t be much congestion. The short summary is that Z170 boards are in the works with multiple M.2 PCIe ports, not to mention we should see Z170 boards with support for four-way SLI/CrossFire using x8 connections on all four cards.

Normally, we would also have some discussion of the Skylake architecture, but Intel is holding off on revealing any details until IDF later this month, so all we know right now are the core specifications, and we ll see in a moment how they translate into real-world performance. But if you were hoping for a major revolution in processor performance with Skylake, prepare to be disappointed. Intel s own slides state that the new i7-6700K is only up to 10 percent faster than i7-4790K, 20 percent faster than i7-4770K, and 30 percent faster than i7-3770K. And that s only if you re running stock speeds on all the processors; again, throw in overclocking and the margins shrink even further, though the newer chips do tend to be a bit more power friendly.

One noteworthy change with Skylake is that in addition to using a new socket, Skylake has support for DDR3L or DDR4 memory. In theory, that means you could use memory from an existing system with Skylake, but that s assuming two things: first is that you have DDR3L memory; second is that you can find a Skylake motherboard with DDR3 slots. What we re seeing so far is that Skylake is aiming at enthusiasts, and most motherboard makers are going with DDR4 support for the time being. We might see some budget-oriented motherboards in the future that opt for DDR3 support, but considering DDR3 and DDR4 memory prices aren t all that different (ignoring the expensive extreme parts), even budget boards might opt for DDR4 support. For now, with no budget Skylake processors announced (the Core i3, Pentium, and Celeron parts will come later in Q3 2015), it s all about DDR4. Here are our test platforms:

Maximum PC 2015 CPU Test Beds
Platform LGA1151 LGA1150
CPU Intel Core i7-6700K (4 4.2GHz) Intel Core i5-6600K (3.5 3.9GHz) Intel Core i7-4790K (4 4.4GHz) Intel Core i7-5775C (3.3 3.7GHz)
Mobo ASUS Z170-A Gigabyte GA-Z97X-SOC Force (HSW) ASUS Z97-Deluxe (BDW)
GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan X Intel HD Graphics 530 Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan XIntel HD Graphics 4600 (HSW) Intel Iris Pro Graphics 6200 (BDW)
SSD Corsair 480GB Neutron XT Kingston HyperX Predator M.2 480GB
PSU be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850W be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850W
Memory G.Skill Ripjaws V 2x8GB DDR4-3000 G.Skill Ripjaws 2x8GB DDR3-2133
Cooler be quiet! Dark Rock 3 be quiet! Dark Rock 3
Case be quiet! Silent Base 800 be quiet! Silent Base 800
Drivers Nvidia 353.62 Intel Nvidia 353.62 Intel
Welcome to the Turbulent Sea of Performance
Processor and System Performance
  Haswell i7-4790K Broadwell Asus 5775C Skylake i5-6600K Skylake i7-6700K
CB15 1CPU 173 155 161 174
CB15 SMP 833 767 582 866
x264 5.0 1st (fps) 88.66 81.12 64.36 80.91
x264 5.0 2nd (fps) 18.06 16.16 14.53 18.12
x265 (fps) 16.86 14.78 12.03 15.27
POV Ray 3.7 (PPS) 1706.93 1551.58 1465.22 1485.31
ProShow Producer 5 (sec) 1296 1497 1618 1473
Premiere Pro CS6 (sec) 1088 1139 1405 1064
Stich.Efx (sec) 770 850 902 768
7-zip Compress (KB/s) 20,548 20,059 16,285 21,063
7-zip Decompress (KB/s) 271,152 240,160 186,810 230,265
PCMark 8 Home 3508 4359 3890 3965
PCMark 8 Creative 4863 5966 4983 5052
PCMark 8 Work 4561 4871 4788 4947

Anyone expecting Skylake to boldly go where no processor has gone before is going to be a bit perturbed by these results. The i7-4790K manages to claim victories or at least tie i7-6700K in half of our benchmarks. There are some clear victories for Skylake, but there are also some pretty major missteps. PCMark 8 appears to benefit the most, with Skylake boasting nearly a 10 percent average advantage over Haswell, but there s a problem: Broadwell-DT is actually the overall winner of the PCMark 8 tests (which do emphasize graphics performance a bit, so that makes sense). The first pass of x264 HD, on the other hand, isn t a great showing for Skylake, and likewise ProShow Producer 5 and the 7-zip Decompress test don t appear to like the new architecture that much.

Of course, there s a lot at play here. We re testing a brand-new platform, and we haven t had a chance to fully investigate all aspects of performance. Some of our existing benchmarks are getting old, and updated versions may show better scaling. We re also running DDR4-3000 with CL15 timings, and Skylake might do better with lower-latency memory as opposed to higher-bandwidth DDR4. These are areas we plan to investigate in the coming weeks, but for now, the results seem to repeat the old refrain: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Let s move on to graphics testing. We ll start with our integrated graphics tests, with all games running at 1080p medium settings. (Note that a driver bug prevented us from testing GTAV performance on Skylake, so it currently scores a 0, but we ve notified Intel and we ll update the tables once we have a working driver.)

Processor Graphics Performance at 1080p Medium
  Haswell i7-4790K Broadwell Asus 5775C Skylake i5-6600K Skylake i7-6700K
Batman Origins 20 46 26 26
GTAV 25.6 37.9 0 0
Hitman Absolution 18.6 31.2 22.5 23
Metro Last Light 17 30.3 19.3 20.1
Shadow of Mordor 12.6 19.6 14.9 15.5
Tomb Raider 23.5 49.5 28.5 28.6
Unigine Heaven 4.0 13.5 23.8 14.1 15.1
Witcher 3 7.3 11.5 7.3 7.7
3DMark Fire Strike 892 1742 1084 1091
3DMark Sky DIver 3860 6542 4441 4525
3DMark Cloud Gate 8235 12595 8305 9571
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited 69576 119527 84077 84523

Naturally, Iris Pro 6200 with Broadwell-DT sweeps the processor graphics testing—it s not even close. Skipping over that, we can see that Skylake is a decent upgrade to Haswell for processor graphics, but that s only important if you re not using a discrete GPU. In terms of performance, Skylake s Core i7 part shows on average a 20 percent increase over Haswell. It s enough to handle 1366x768 medium-quality gaming, but 1080p medium-quality proves to be a bit too much—only Iris Pro can really hope to cope with that resolution, and even it struggles at times. A better plan of action is to toss in a real GPU to go along with your $350 processor, which is what we did. We used Titan X to put as much pressure on the CPU as possible, running our games at the same 1080p Ultra settings we use in our GPU reviews:

Graphics Performance with GTX Titan X at 1080p Ultra
  Haswell i7-4790K Broadwell Asus 5775C Skylake i5-6600K Skylake i7-6700K
Batman Origins 180 182 176 179
GTAV 61.4 64.3 60.5 63.1
Hitman Absolution 92.5 91.5 89.6 91.1
Metro Last Light 106.9 110.6 100.7 110.4
Shadow of Mordor 113.8 119 116.3 120
Tomb Raider 129.8 137.2 131.2 133.1
Unigine Heaven 4.0 97.6 100.1 94.9 96.6
Witcher 3 55.2 55.9 54.2 54.7
3DMark Fire Strike Ultra 3944 3956 3770 3891

Even at stock clocks, average gaming performance with a single Titan X ends up favoring what is otherwise the lowest-clocks CPU: Broadwell-DT. But we need to put that lead into perspective; the gap between the fastest and slowest CPUs with the Titan X is less than five percent, and if we drop the i5-6600K from the list, only 2.6 percent separates Broadwell-DT from Haswell, with Skylake trailing Broadwell by 1.5 percent. Will anyone ever notice the difference when actually playing games? Absolutely not! So, if gaming is your main interest, anything from an i7-2600K to the i7-6700K should still be more than sufficient, at least for single-GPU gaming.

Looking for a Speedboat?

So far, Skylake hasn t really shown us anything to get really excited about. We don t know if there are some hidden gems in the architecture waiting to be unlocked, but for existing programs it s shaping up to be yet another minor speed bump. But overclocking might give us something more exciting. Maybe.

With Haswell, we were generally able to hit 4.4 4.5GHz with good liquid cooling. Interestingly, Ivy Bridge typically had slightly higher overclocking potential (4.5 4.6GHz, maybe even 4.7GHz), and Sandy Bridge before that was often capable of hitting 4.7 4.8GHz. The combined architectural improvements might add up to a 20 percent difference between Skylake and Sandy Bridge, and stock clocks could give Skylake a 30 percent lead, but at least Haswell had to give back five percent because of lower maximum clock speeds with overclocking. So where does Skylake land?

If you heard the rumor that Skylake is more overclocking-friendly than Haswell, that appear to be true. We have the i5-6600K and i7-6700K, and using a good air cooler (be quiet! Dark Rock 3) we were able to reach 4.6GHz with the i5 and 4.7GHz with the i7 part; a better liquid-cooling solution might gain you another 100 200MHz (and it s also worth pointing out that Skylake boxed processors will not include a CPU cooler). If you re using Intel s processor graphics, we were able to boost the GPU clock by 400MHz as well, though sadly, that didn t translate into 33 percent higher frame rates—not even close. Skylake and Z170 also bring back support for BCLK overclocking, potentially allowing for better fine-tuning of your overclock, though in practice this is mostly for the hardcore overclocking enthusiasts that want to wring every last MHz from their system.

With our current overclocking results, here s what things look like for gaming and general performance. We ve included our LGA2011-3 GPU test bed in the mix for good measure. (Note that our Haswell chip doesn t generally do much more than the 4790K stock clocks, which is why it doesn t have an OC result.)

Overclocked CPU Performance Comparison
i7-4790K Stock i7-5775C 4.2GHz i5-6600K 4.6GHz i7-6700K 4.7GHz i7-5930K 4.2GHz
CB15 1CPU 173 177 190 197 163
CB15 SMP 833 887 728 1008 1235
x264 5.0 1st (fps) 88.66 95.24 80.26 109.57 129.67
x264 5.0 2nd (fps) 18.06 18.84 18.84 22.96 27.04
x265 (fps) 16.86 17.12 15.66 17.89 23.39
POV Ray 3.7 (PPS) 1706.93 1819.12 1851.93 1719.26 2577.54
ProShow Producer 5 (sec) 1296 1233 1317 1250 1203
Premiere Pro CS6 (sec) 1088 963 1108 912 760
Stich.Efx (sec) 770 733 725 672 731
7-zip Compress (KB/s) 20,548 23,219 18,434 26,509 32,078
7-zip Decompress (KB/s) 271,152 281,718 217,310 303,882 415,594
PCMark 8 Home 3508 4803 4167 4202 4917
PCMark 8 Creative 4863 6339 5383 5403 8097
PCMark 8 Work 4561 5397 5320 5355 5010
Batman Origins 180 183 181 181 182
GTAV 61.4 66.1 64 64.7 66.2
Hitman Absolution 92.5 94.4 94.7 95.1 93.7
Metro Last Light 106.9 111.3 106.7 112 109.3
Shadow of Mordor 113.8 119.4 116.7 118.3 114.8
Tomb Raider 129.8 135.4 132.5 133.5 136.3
Unigine Heaven 97.6 100.2 95.7 97.6 99.9
Witcher 3 55.2 55.7 55.9 56.8 58.5
3DMark Fire Strike Ultra 3944 4066 3906 3939 4001

Unfortunately, even with all CPUs running overclocked, we re still left with a situation where no single processor emerges victorious in every test. Multi-threaded tests like video encoding and 3D rendering clearly favor the additional cores of Haswell-E, and PCMark 8 mostly agrees with that—the Work subtest being the exception, with Broadwell coming out on top. Meanwhile, gaming continues to be a close race for the most part. The i7-5930K ends up basically tied with Broadwell for overclocked gaming performance, at least with a single GPU, but the i7 Skylake is tied as well (0.3 percent behind), and even the i5-6600K is close enough that you d never notice (1.5 percent behind). With a better-overclocking Haswell chip, i7-4790K/i7-4770K should gain another percentage point or two, resulting in what is effectively a five-way tie for gaming performance. Drat. At least the overclocked i7-6700K manages a decent lead over the other quad-core parts for most non-gaming tasks.

The good news is that overclocking is alive and well with Skylake. The i5-6600K improved performance on average by 20 percent thanks to overclocking, and the i7-6700K experiences a similar boost in performance of 17 percent. Games are still GPU limited, even with the mighty Titan X, however: the i5-6600K gained three percent over stock while i7-6700K only nets a two percent increase. Integrated graphics performance (not shown) fared a bit better, improving by seven percent on i5-6600K and six percent on i7-6700K—not enough to actually make most games playable at anything more than low to moderate quality.

Come Sail Away with Me

Those who like a calm and peaceful existence in life with few disruptions and as little change as possible are sure to welcome the presence of Skylake. It s not a bad part by any stretch of the imagination, but performance isn t enough to rock the boat, either. If you re planning on building a new $1,000 $1,500 desktop PC, Skylake will be a fine choice, but if you bought such a PC in the past several years, there s no huge reason to upgrade. The story in that sense is very much like Broadwell-DT: interesting to read about, and pleasant news for people that are happy with their current PC and are hoping to use it for a few more years.

If you re feeling a bit concerned about this trend in computing performance and need to vent, go take it out on the laptops, tablets, and smartphones of the world. Many people have discovered that tablets and smartphones are fast enough, and what s more they re highly portable. The number of people who don t have a decent smartphone in the United States, especially in the 40-and-under age group, continues to shrink. Couple that with the Internet as a source of entertainment, and we have the makings of a great, big plateau rising up out of our Skylake.

Then there s that whole Moore s Law business, which is becoming increasingly less of a law and more like a dream of a bygone era. As with all exponential growth situations, it eventually had to slow down, and we re seeing that in a very big way. It s crazy to think about the 386 many of us knew in our youth; in thirty years, processor performance went up about 5000X (give or take). But in the past five years, focusing on the mainstream Intel platforms, performance hasn t even doubled. Ouch. Adding more cores isn t a panacea either. Sure, six-core and eight-core chips can outperform quad-core offerings in quite a few benchmarks, but there are also many cases where performance stops scaling beyond four cores. Double ouch. While processors continue to get smaller, cooling the processors is becoming more difficult, so that newer chips in many cases simply add new features rather than boosting overall performance.

From our vantage point, it looks as though Skylake and the Z170 platform end up being far more about features than performance or efficiency. Many of the Z170 motherboards will feature USB3.1 support with type-C connectors, USB 2.0 ports are hardly necessary now that we can have 10 USB 3.0 ports, and with 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes available, we can start thinking about things like multiple M.2 NVMe SSDs. These are all good things, and if you re in the market for a new desktop, the only real question is whether you should build a Skylake-based system, or should you go with Haswell-E?

Much like choosing what sort of vessel you want to take out on the water, there s no best solution that applies to everyone. If you want a speedboat with enough power to pull multiple skiers, Haswell-E remains the better choice: 40 PCIe lanes mean you can run two GPUs (or three or four GPUs) and still have spare lanes for networking, audio, M.2, and USB ports. It might make too much noise to be a good fishing vessel, but that s okay. Meanwhile, Skylake is for smaller groups that don t need to haul ten people with several more riding the wake. It can handle gaming nearly as well as Haswell-E, and it can go places where a bigger vessel would run aground. It s also newer and has features you won t find on the brute force X99 platform… at least not until Skylake-E shows up in about a year.

PC Gamer

If you re building a brand new PC next week, next month or for the foreseeable future, Skylake is the platform you should be building on—but maybe not for the reasons you think. Intel is launching the i7-6700K ($350) and the i5-6600K ($243) today to much anticipation, but the new 14nm CPUs aren t dramatically outshining or outperforming their predecessors. In fact, stacked up against a Haswell i7-4790K (the refresh Intel called Devil s Canyon), the i7-6700K turned in gaming benchmark framerates only a few frames faster (and sometimes slower) than the older CPU. At best, we saw a 5 percent bump in gaming performance.

So why should you move to Skylake when you build a new gaming PC? It s not a huge flashy upgrade, but it brings with it a new socket and a new chipset, Z170. And Z170 is what matters. The chipset adds some crucial additional bandwidth to support more PCIe lanes, more USB 3 ports, and modern solid state storage that s outstripping the capabilities of SATA. It also supports faster DDR4 RAM, which is now far more affordable than it was in 2014 (16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX has dropped from $300 to $160 in less than a year).

Skylake s going to be a good step forward for PC hardware, even if it s not a giant leap for gaming.

Without taking a deep dive into Skylake s architecture, let s go over how some of those advances in technology will affect your next rig. Then we ll tackle a difficult question: how old should your rig be to justify an upgrade to Skylake?

Skylake and the Z170 chipset

If you want to really dig into the technology of Skylake, check out the in-depth review from our colleagues over at Maximum PC, including some detailed direct performance comparisons. Thanks to Asus for providing a ROG Maximus VIII Hero motherboard for Skylake testing; it's a sleek and stylish motherboard with a great software set, USB 3.1 and x4 M.2 on-board.

Here s a quick hit-list of significant features for Skylake and its new chipset:

16 PCIe lanes on the CPU and another 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes on the chipset. The latter is a big increase from the 8 PCIe 2.0 lanes on the last several chipsets.

A new DMI 3.0 (Direct Media Interface) link between CPU and chipset, with double the effective bandwidth (32 gigabit/s) of DMI 2.0. This increases the throughput and effectiveness of those extra chipset PCIe lanes.

Intel claims that very fast NVMe SSDs, which operate over PCIe, will achieve full performance over the chipset lanes (thanks to the bump up to PCIe 3.0), which means they won t have to use the valuable CPU lanes that you want dedicated to your graphics card.

Our Skylake build. Isn't she a beauty?

Like the Devil s Canyon i7-4790K and i5-4690K before them, these new Skylake 6700K and 6600K CPUs are built for overclocking. Their default clocks are already high at 4.0GHz and 3.5GHz, and able to overclock to a stable 4.7/4.6GHz, respectively, on a hefy air cooler.

Support for DDR4 RAM. RAM speed has only a small performance impact on gaming framerates, but DDR3 is on the way out, and DDR4 prices are dropping fast. It ll be the norm in the near future.

More powerful RAM overclocking options. Most of us don't do any serious RAM overclocking, but the new processor is more flexible when it comes to tweaking ratios. Plus, speeds up to 4133. Yowza.

While not built into the chipset, many Z170 motherboards are launching with USB 3.1 support, and many have USB 3.1 Type-C connectors. That s great for future-proofing.

Many Z170 boards are also building in M.2 ports with PCIe lanes as opposed to SATA express, which is great news for the future of high speed storage. We want to be able to take advantage of SSDs like the Samsung SM951.

Integrated graphics performance is slightly better than Haswell, but not nearly as strong as Broadwell. For gamers, that s mostly irrelevant, as we ll always use a dedicated graphics card. But DX12 makes it possible for devs to leverage both GPUs, which could be a few frames of free performance in games.

Put all this stuff together, and you ll see quite a few features that facilitate faster storage and memory and transferring data from one part of your PC to another. It may not be quite as sexy as a huge jump in CPU efficiency, but it s all important. Sandy Bridge felt like the baseline for the past four years of processor development, and Skylake seems like it ll fill the same shoes—it s transitioned to DDR4 RAM, which will be the mainstream memory for several years, and built compatibility with the next few years of SSD advancements.

So, should you upgrade?

Like Nintendo games, Intel processors may age, but they rarely grow cheaper. When Intel releases a new line of processors, the older ones are phased out of the market and are no longer available for purchase new. Unless you re deal hunting on eBay, you re likely not going to pick up a year-old Intel CPU for cheap. That means you can either pick up a Haswell CPU for a limited time right now—at virtually the same price as Skylake—or move to the new platform. Unless you can get an absolute steal on a Z97 motherboard and DDR3 RAM, it simply makes sense to move to Skylake. If the PC you re upgrading from is more than a year old, you re going to need a new motherboard with a new socket, anyway.

Is it worth upgrading from Haswell/Devil s Canyon? No. You re looking at virtually no CPU performance increase on an investment of $500+ between processor, motherboard and RAM.

Is it worth upgrading from Ivy Bridge? Not really, at least not for gaming. Skylake gaming performance is only marginally better than Devil s Canyon on average, and the bump from Ivy Bridge to Haswell delivered the standard 5-10 percent increase in overall performance. Remember that games are more often bottlenecked by the GPU, not the CPU. Gaming performance between the Haswell 4770K (2013) and Ivy Bridge 3770K (2012) is virtually identical across many games. M.2 SSD support is a point in favor of Skylake, but hardly worth the upgrade by itself at this point.

Is it worth upgrading from Sandy Bridge? Based purely on gaming framerates, again, no. You re still only going to see a 5-10 percent increase in framerates with Skylake, even going back four years to the 2011 Sandy Bridge processors. But now we re getting into territory where there are some other advantages.

Sandy Bridge was limited to DDR3-1333 (before overclocking), while Skylake supports much faster DDR4 RAM. M.2 SSD support is another point in Skylake s favor. Sandy Bridge is also limited to PCIe 2.0, which has roughly half the throughput (500MB/s) of PCIe 3.0 (about 985 MB/s). PCIe 2.0 is still plenty fast for any single-GPU setup. For a dual-GPU setup with a cutting edge card, PCIe 3.0 s extra bandwidth may offer slightly better performance.

Is it worth upgrading from Nehalem? Hell yeah. That 2008 chip is ancient at this point: you ll be running at far faster and more efficient base clocks, be able to overclock far more, and run far faster RAM. Circa-2008 boards also may be lacking USB 3.0 ports and SATA 6Gb/s, which modern SSDs are now fully saturating. Boy oh boy, are you ready for an upgrade.

Wrapping up

If your PC is younger than four years old, upgrading to Skylake isn t going to have much of an impact on your gaming experience. Don t be too eager to upgrade—for the cost of a new processor, motherboard, and RAM, you can buy a graphics card that ll last years (and still have money left over).

That said, if you re looking to build a gaming rig for the first time, or your first new PC in 4+ years, Skylake offers great performance and the biggest chipset upgrade in some time. It s an easy choice. For gaming, we d recommend the i5-4600K, which costs $107 less than the i7 and can overclock up to 4.6 GHz. That kind of speed, combined with the new chipset, will last you a long time.

PC Gamer

It s processor Christmas! Today Intel released the two leading desktop processors of its new 14nm Skylake architecture, the i7-6500K (clocked at 4.0 GHz) and the i5-6600K (clocked at 3.5 GHz). Both are quad-core CPUs that, as the K denotes, are unlocked and ready to be overclocked. Intel s aiming to appeal to gamers and early adopters by releasing the unlocked chips first, beginning August 5th, with the rest of the processor family following in Q3 of this year.

Skylake represents the tock in Intel s tick-tock upgrade cycle, and its move to 14nm production means improved power efficiency and transistor density. Production-wise, it s not a huge change from Broadwell, Intel s first 14nm CPU that s quietly reaching digital shelves right about now. But Skylake s got some new features that make it a more significant release for gamers: a new chipset with DDR4 support, more PCIe lanes, and faster clockspeeds.

If you re expecting Skylake to be a dramatic increase in performance over the past few processor iterations—Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, and Haswell—you may be disappointed, because Skylake seems to be turning in Intel s typical 5-10 percent performance bump year-over-year. But Skylake s new Z170 chipset brings with it some much-needed increases in available bandwidth for storage devices, multiple graphics cards, etc. It s time to move on to blazing fast PCIe-based M.2 SSDs, and faster RAM.

The i7-6700K will run $350, while the i5-6600K will cost $243. Both should be available now, or very soon.

Want to know more about the chips themselves and how they perform? Head on over here to find our analysis.

PC Gamer

Hearthstone: The Grand Tournament's big new feature has just been announced at Gamescom: jousting. Yes, you read that right.

The system introduces a new set of cards with the joust ability. Joust draws a random card from each player's deck. The player that draws the highest value card is rewarded with the joust boost.

Said boost varies. One example gave a card taunt and divine shield, another restored seven health to the hero card. Basically, they're useful, but risky, as you aren't guaranteed to win the draw.

Blizzard hopes this new element will encourage joust-happy players to pack their decks with a broader range of strong cards. And to be fair, when your jousters include the likes of a murloc riding a frog and a walrus on the back of a turtle, it'd be hard not to include at least one of the pointy-stick-wielders in your deck.

Blizzard also announced the addition of rewards for players based on the rank they achieve in the prior month. Highest Rank Bonus, to give it its official name, awards you with up to three gold cards and an amount of dust based on the rank you achieve.

Check out our look at Hearthstone: The Grand Tournament's cards so far for a better look at what to expect from the expansion.

PC Gamer

Fable Legends is coming to Windows 10, despite being announced as an Xbox One exclusive. I sat down with David Eckelberry, game director on Fable Legends, to chat about the game and its transition to PC. He assured me the PC version was not at all an afterthought: "If you've got a kickass graphics card, put it up to 4k, have fun—why not?" he said, "We're not trying to make a ghetto PC port out of Fable Legends, we're definitely trying to make a quality experience."

The logic behind this thinking is simple, according to Eckelberry: "There are more Windows 10s out there than there are Xbox Ones, so we have to have realistic expectations about making the Windows experience great."

As for the Windows 10 element, it brings with it the addition of DirectX 12. What does that add, though? "It's not that there's anything in a truly gameplay sense that we can do with DirectX 12," Eckelberry told me, "It's about putting more polygons per square inch.

"We can do things that may seem silly, like every blade of grass having its own shadow. It doesn't change the nature of the game but it does make it gorgeous to look at and make you feel like you're really in the space."

With DX12 power, of course, comes DX12 responsibility—and Eckelberry maintained his team at Lionhead isn't getting complacent just because it has access to a more powerful, easier-to-tinker-with backend.

"You would think that," he said, "But I'll be honest—as soon as you give us 25%, or whatever the exact percentage is, we want to eat it. We want to put more creatures in, or make them look better, or the heroes, whatever the technology allows.

"We push the limits, we don't just say 'this is easy to do now', we say 'oh we have this much more processing power now, let's make the cloth more realistic, let's make more shadow passes, let's make better bounce light...' Stuff like that just makes the world feel more real."

Fable Legends releases towards the end of the year, though you can sign up for the beta right now.

PC Gamer

EA really wants us to believe that Knights of the Fallen Empire, the new expansion for The Old Republic, is going to be as good as Knights of the Old Republic was back in the day: it's got a similar name, they brought someone who worked on the original to the Gamescom stage to talk about it, and they keep saying it's a "return to Bioware's storytelling roots".

The 30 seconds of footage showed during the press briefing doesn't reveal much but it does look comfortingly Bioware, deep-voiced antagonist and moral decisions and all. Whether you continue with your existing character or create one at Level 60 to jump straight into the expansion, you play as The Outlander, a veteran of the Great Galactic War. Naturally, you get to decide whether you play the hero or embrace the dark side.

Of course, Knights of the Fallen Empire does differ from KOTOR in some ways. It's episodic, so when it comes out on October 27 we only get the first nine chapters. And as long as you already subscribe to The Old Republic you'll get those nine chapters for free.

PC Gamer

Yarny is an adorable little red man who can make bridges out of his own guts. He trails guts everywhere he goes, and will die if he doesn't constantly pick up new guts from the environment. If he runs out of guts, that is the end for Yarny. In fact, by pressing right, you're constantly killing the poor little man. Stop killing Yarny you monsters.

In this video our saccharin friend uses buoyancy and bridges to overcome life's struggles, represented here by a few basic physics puzzles. Not shown: the moment in the live run during the EA Gamescom conference when Yarny drowned in front of a live audience.

I love the highly detailed miniature environments. It's a charming style that's been put to great use before in games like Little Big Planet and Pikmin. Unravel is due out early next year. Have a tissue box ready.

PC Gamer

The Sims 4 has had a fair few "packs" of venues, objects, and activities, but only one expansion pack: Get to Work. At Gamescom, EA announced a second expansion pack called "Get Together", one that focuses on social activities like parties, shopping, and—of course—WooHoo.

There are hints of a new place for Sims to explore, which can't come soon enough given how tiny The Sims 4 feels compared to its predecessor, but the focus is on new activities. We see Sims swimming in a river, playing Foosball, trying on clothes for their friends... or using those changing rooms for a quickie.

Synchronised dance routines and DJing hopefully represent new skills, if not whole new career paths, but we'll have to wait and see.

Get Together is due for release in November of this year. I seriously hope they feel like they have to stick with this naming convention for the rest of The Sims 4's lifespan. Get Pets? For weather: Get Wet? Get in the Sea?

PC Gamer

We've seen in-game footage of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and we've even had lots of hands-on time with the game, but that doesn't mean we know much about the story Kojima is trying to tell. This trailer, revealed at Gamescom, gives glimpses into the different character and their motivations, and those expecting typical Kojima ridiculousness won't be disappointed. There's also a brief shot of Quiet, and a clips of some freakish minibosses: Creepy Floating Gas Mask Dude and On Fire Man.

Confused? Check out Andy Kelly's beginner's guide to Metal Gear Solid V for more info on Big Boss and Skull Face, and where we can expect Phantom Pain to kick things off when it comes out on September 1 this year.

PC Gamer

Battlefront's Fighter Squadron mode thrusts you into lavish team dogfights soundtracked with radio chatter and an orchestral score designed to surgically target the nostalgia centre of the brain. It looks like the objective-based 10 vs 10 fights will have their equivalent of the ground game's hero characters. The Millennium Falcon and Slave One turn up to spiral heroically through some laser fire, and there's even a bit designed to mimic the Death Star trench run. Fighter Squadron is playable on the show floor, so we'll have some hands-on impressions as soon as our Bothans have secured access.


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