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A thought on Intel Kaby Lake 2017-01-14 01:40:32

One of the weird things I do to pass time is study the entire range of x86 CPUs available for purchase. Often when I hear people talking about processors I only ever hear about the the Intel Core i5 or i7 with the occasional budget build using the Core i3. There was of course the unlocked Pentium G3258 while that was current, and that was interesting to me for a reason that I don't think I've ever heard anyone talk about.

Specifically what interests me most about Intel's low end (Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 although only Haswell and Skylake there) is that it has traditionally had ECC memory support, which is normally only associated with the Xeon processors. My best guess as to why is that the SKUs are low enough volume for server use that it doesn't make sense to separate them, but I could be completely off there. This fact turned out to be convenient for my brother who upgraded to a Celeron G1850 (Haswell) for a little while until I was able to help him acquire a Xeon E3 1285Lv4 (sometimes you just need a CPU you can't just buy on Newegg). The latter being a very interesting SKU since it has a lower TDP than the normal 1285 and benchmarks the same if not slightly better for some reason. (My guess here is that the normal 1285 would benchmark faster in cases where both the Iris GPU and the CPU cores are utilized at the same time.) It has a slightly higher stock clock than the Broadwell i7 and according to Intel Ark has a faster memory controller although probably due to the obscurity no motherboard I can find supports the faster memory clock and ASRock Rack apparently had no interest in talking to me about it. Of course overclocking could close this gap, but the i7 doesn't have ECC. For those that may be wondering, the Celeron offered a better experience than the unfortunately water damaged (but still working thanks to ECC) dual Opteron 285 workstation that he had before. Don't have hard numbers on that transition, but games were noticeably smoother on the Celeron, and the Xeon was a vast improvement over that.

But this post wasn't about Broadwell, with Kaby Lake we see an unlocked i3 being released. At first I was pretty excited about this since based on Skylake this would have had ECC support and overclocking (like the Pentium G3258 apparently does). Alas though it appears that Intel has decided that ECC on the low end should be no more. At least if Ark is to be believed. Quite disappointing, but of course it doesn't matter much since I don't think any ECC supporting board allowed overclocking (since it would have required using the server C series chipsets).

What we also see this generation is that the Pentium is now shipping with hyperthreading enabled. This would seem at first to really blur the line between the Pentium and i3 seeing as for whatever reason Intel drops the cache down to 3MB on the i3-7100. Many people will probably forget to mention, or at least not notice, that the i3 does have one feature over the Pentium/Celeron lines and that is AVX instruction support. This won't make a whole lot of difference in the near term since I think the only place users are likely to encounter AVX at the moment is with compression, but I suppose in the future it could become a problem as I'm hearing some people are having trouble today with their Phenom IIs not having SSSE3 instructions. I'm guessing those buying a Pentium or Celeron don't plan on hanging onto the machine as long though.

Not that I have any plans to buy a Kaby Lake system, just felt like writing about some things I found amusing. Personally I'm hoping that AMD's Ryzen lives up to their claims and more specifically that Naples (Q2) is everything that we think it is. Definitely think I'm ready to move on from quad core CPUs.


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