Launched in August 2015, the 6th Generation Intel Core series serves as the “tock” in manufacturer Intel’s Tick-Tock manufacturing strategy, where they first release a smaller version of an existing microarchitecture, dubbed the “tick,” followed later by the “tock” – which is a new microarchitecture with substantial changes and improvements. The Skylake is notable for being released mere months after Intel’s Broadwell, which was already successful in its own right, and with Skylake using the same 14nm microarchitecture, it’s a “tock” that seems largely unnecessary at first glance.
The Target Market for Skylake
One thing to keep in mind about Intel’s past few generations of processors is that they have already beaten the competitor in all aspects save for the pricing category and in the SoC (system on a chip) market, which has been cornered by AMD based on the viability of APUs that deliver performance that beats Intel’s on-chip GPUs as well as some entry-level videocards.
Skylake marks a change in Intel’s treatment of the enthusiast market, particularly overclockers. As opposed to launching locked processors before releasing unlocked “-K” iterations, the first entry in the 6th generation of i7 processors is the unlocked Core i7-6700K, clearly signifying that Intel had overclockers in mind this time around.
If the K prefix isn’t obvious enough that this Skylake i7 is meant to be pushed to its limits, the retail packaging is noticeably thinner since the processor is shipped without an Intel stock cooler, requiring users to purchase a third party cooler. It may seem like a strange choice at first, but it makes sense when you consider the target market. Overclockers rarely have a use for the stock coolers Intel provides, as it’s not adequate when pushing the processor to its limits. The good thing is that the hole mounting for the new socket LGA1151 is similar to the previous generation’s, so existing heatsinks will be usable.
Massive Performance Improvements
Intel has released internal comparisons between the new Skylake i7 and several high end i7s from the Haswell, Broadwell, and Ivy Bridge microarchitectures and the performance improvements are significant enough to warrant an upgrade. According to the comparisons, the top end Skylake i7 is roughly 10 percent faster than the i7-470K, 20 percent faster than the i7-4770K, and around 30 percent faster than an i7-3770K. The older CPUs are still viable and can handle anything that’s out on the market, but the improvements are significant enough that Skylake can be a worthwhile upgrade. It becomes a must for people who are just getting their first PCs or those upgrading from a low-end model.
Not a Simple Upgrade
Unfortunately, the massive improvements provided by the 6th Generation Intel Core i7 comes with a catch. A 6th Gen Intel Core i7 is not the simplest of upgrades, even if you count the fact that you can reuse your old Core I cooler. In fact, the cooler is the simplest part.
For starters, you may need a new motherboard. The new LGA 1151 socket is incompatible with the LGA 1150 motherboards used by Haswell and Broadwell. Why did Intel require a change in motherboard? It’s because of another part that may need replacing: the RAM. Skylake supports DDR4 and requires a very different power delivery as opposed to its predecessors.
If you’re one of the lucky ones who upgraded to the high end Haswell-E platform in 2014, you may already have DDR4 memory on hand. If not, you’ll have to buy new ones. Skylake supports DDR3, but chances are it’s not the one you have right now. The DDR3 dimms that Skylake uses are called DDR3L, and they differ from the old ones because they are a lower voltage variant. These types of memory are rarely used that many motherboard vendors don’t even support them for their desktop boards.
Is the Upgrade Worth It?
There is a reason why Intel is targeting enthusiasts and gamers for the 6th generation of the Intel Core i7 processor: both of those market segments are known for focusing on performance and features above all else, and that’s what the Skylake processors offer. It’s basically the usual recommendation of finding out what your needs are and just how much you are willing to spend to get it. Skylake costs a premium, but you will be getting your money’s worth and then some.
In a way, Intel is currently a victim of their past success. The previous generations of their high end processors are such great performers that Skylake isn’t really a cost-efficient or even practical upgrade, regardless of the improvements. However, if you don’t have a high end PC yet or just want the best performance and efficiency that money can buy, it would be foolish not to go for the Skylake.