Intel Core i7-4770K review

Intel’s top Haswell CPU fails to move the desktop PC game on

Spare a thought for the new Intel Core i7-4770K. It’s the fastest version of the desktop part of Intel’s latest CPU architecture, known as Haswell.

With that comes expectations. This isn’t just a minor tweak or a die shrink. As Intel itself proudly claims, this is the fourth generation of its Core architecture. Unleash the fireworks.

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Except, there aren’t any. That’s because the Haswell architecture is about two things, one of which is irrelevant to the Intel Core i7-4770K and the other it doesn’t even get.

The first is mobility. Haswell is definitely an impressive step forward for Intel as a mobile architecture. But as a high-end desktop chip?

The i7-4770K's retail packaging
The i7-4770K’s retail packaging

Then there’s graphics. Intel has seriously ramped up the graphics gumption with Haswell. For reasons we can’t quite fathom, it hasn’t officially revealed the number of functional graphics units in the fastest iteration of Haswell graphics, known as Iris.

Haswell Quad Core

But we’re pretty sure there are 40 of them and that’s over double the 16 units found in the fastest chips from the preceding generation of Intel processors, known as Ivy Bridge. Indeed, Intel reckons Iris is good enough to take on some of the more modest discrete graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD.

But we can’t comment on that here as the Intel Core i7-4770K doesn’t get Iris. Instead, it’s been specced up with the Intel HD Graphics 4600. In performance terms, it’s a 20 unit graphics core and an incremental step forward over its predecessor. And that means it’s not up to real gaming.

In that context, the fact that it crashed out of and wouldn’t run our Shogun: Total War 2 benchmark isn’t too much of a worry. You wouldn’t want to play it on the Intel HD Graphics 4600 anyway.

But that software glitch doesn’t bode well for Iris graphics, which is exactly the same architecture. It just has more units. Intel’s graphics drivers don’t have the greatest of reputations, so an impeccable performance in terms of just running games (rather than the frame rates) is what everyone needs to see.


Cinebench 11.5
Intel Core i7-4770K: 8.05pts
Intel Core i5-4670K: 6.11pts
Intel Core i7-3770K: 7.55pts

x264 HD 4.0 video encode
Intel Core i7-4770K: 45.5fps
Intel Core i5-4670K: 36.9fps
Intel Core i7-3770K: 41.4fps

Shogun: Total War 2
Intel Core i7-4770K: 37.1fps
Intel Core i5-4670K: 37fps
Intel Core i7-3770K: 35.6fps

Maximum Overclock
Intel Core i7-4770K: 4.7GHz
Intel Core i5-4670K: 4.5GHz
Intel Core i7-3770K: 4.7GHz

Integrated graphics performance (Batman Arkham City)
Intel Core i7-4770K: 48fps
Intel Core i7-3770K: 42fps

As for the Intel Core i7-4770K’s CPU performance, we refer you to the old Intel Core i7-3770K. Because it’s not dramatically different. You could argue that Intel has refined its Core architecture to such a point that it’s unrealistic to expect big steps forward.

And we wouldn’t argue with the on a core-for-core basis. Intel’s Core, er, cores are fantastic. But we’ve been stuck on just four of them for Intel’s mainstream socket for years, now. On that subject, it’s worth noting that the 4770K and its brethren require yet another new socket, so you can’t just drop it into existing motherboards.

A new Z87 motherboard
Our new Z87 motherboard

Anyway, Intel has the option of either adding a few cores or upping the clockspeeds. It’s done neither and the result is a CPU that’s marginally faster in benchmark tests but doesn’t deliver any additional performance you can actually feel.

It’s no better at overclocking, either, going by our early tests. A maximum clockspeed on water cooling of 4.7GHz is a dead heat with the old 3770K. That’s not something that the new boot strap overclocking option is going to help with.

The Haswell wafer
The Haswell wafer


The overall gist, then, it that rarely has a CPU mooted as a brand new architecture done so little to change the game for desktop computing. It’s still a great CPU and the only option at this price point. It’s just barely any better than the processor it replaces.

Are we disappointed by Haswell? Yup, but we knew it was coming. We’d seen the architectural briefs that revealed modest changes to the CPU cores while Intel had confirmed it would be four cores. And the clock speeds were never likely to be much higher. The reality is that it’s going to take some proper competition from AMD to wake Intel from its slumber.

Intel’s new Haswell chips are all about mobile computing prowess. And it shows. This desktop variant is only a very small step forward.



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