3 Things You Need to Know About Intel Corp.'s New Gaming Chips

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Late on Sept. 24, chip giant Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) announced a new family of chips code-named Coffee Lake, targeted at the desktop personal-computer market. This volley of chips, which seem primarily aimed at the gaming and enthusiast portion of the desktop PC market, will become available for purchase on Oct. 5, Intel says.

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Here are three things you should probably know about these new chips.

More cores per dollar

The key selling point of these new Coffee Lake processors compared with the previous generation Kaby Lake chips is that, even though they have more cores than their predecessors, pricing from the previous generation hasn't budged. 

The three chips that'll probably be the most interesting to the gaming and enthusiast community are the Core i7-8700K, Core i5-8600K, and the Core i3-8350K. They're unlocked, which means the speeds are user-adjustable.

The Core i7-8700K has six-core and 12 hardware threads and is rated at a base frequency of 3.7GHz and a maximum single-core turbo of 4.7GHz. Intel says the recommended customer pricing for this chip is $359 -- just $20 more than what Intel wanted for the four-core and eight-thread Core i7-7700K.

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Moving down the stack, Intel's asking $257 for the Core i5-8600K. This, like the 8700K, is a six-core processor, but Intel's hyperthreading technology that allows one core to act as two is disabled in this part. The chip also has some cache memory disabled, with 9 MB active, compared with the 12 MB active on the 8700K, and runs at a lower frequency than the 8700K out of the box -- base frequency is 3.6GHz and maximum single-core turbo is 4.3GHz.

Its predecessor, the 7600K, offered four cores and four threads for $242. So again, pricing goes a smidgen up, but in exchange, Intel's offering far more cores.

And finally, at the bottom of the unlocked Coffee Lake processor stack is the Core i3-8350K. This chip has four cores and four threads, and Intel wants $168 for it. This chip succeeds the Core i3-7350K, which had two physical cores, each with hyperthreading enabled for a total of four logical cores.

Pricing for this chip remains unchanged from the last generation.

It's built using Intel's 14nm++ technology

At Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Day earlier this year, the company disclosed that it planned to introduce a third-generation of its 14nm manufacturing technology, branded 14nm++, that delivers a roughly 10% performance improvement over its second-generation 14nm+ technology.

These Coffee Lake chips are the first announced products to make use of Intel's 14nm++ technology.

Intel doesn't appear to have pushed peak single-core frequency up much with the new chips, as the 8700K runs at a maximum single-core turbo of 4.7GHz, up 0.2GHz from the 4.5GHz maximum single-core turbo frequency of the 7700K. But the new manufacturing technology is probably a key enabler of Intel's ability to fit additional cores into these chips while keeping power consumption within acceptable levels.

These chips won't work in older motherboards

Alongside these new chips, Intel announced a new platform controller hub chip known as Z370. Truth be told, Z370 is identical to the prior-generation Z270 chips in terms of features and capabilities.

However, while the Z370 chipset should be identical in features to the Z270 chipset, Intel says the Z370-based motherboards that the Coffee Lake chips require to function will have several enhancements to support the increased peak power draw of these new chips, particularly when overclocked.

As a result, anybody buying one of these new Coffee Lake chips will need to buy a motherboard with a 300-series chipset to pair with it. Right now, the only 300-series chipset Intel is releasing is Z370, which is aimed at PC enthusiasts, but early next year Intel is expected to launch a full stack of 300-series chipsets targeting cheaper boards and more mainstream use cases.

The bad news for Intel is that some people who would've been happy to plop one of these Coffee Lake chips into their pre-existing Z170 or Z270 motherboards might just hold off on upgrading altogether, losing Intel a lucrative chip sale.

The good news for Intel is that when a customer buys a Coffee Lake-based processor, it will be accompanied by the sale of a new motherboard. A motherboard purchase results in a chipset sale for Intel, as well as the possible sale of Ethernet controller, Wi-Fi chips, and even Thunderbolt controllers.

In addition, Intel relies on its motherboard partners to develop compelling, feature-rich motherboards to sell alongside its processors. By mandating the sale of a new motherboard with each Coffee Lake chip sold, Intel's motherboard partners benefit, likely to make them more willing to continue to invest heavily in Intel's future platforms.

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Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.