Intel Core i7-4790K (Devil’s Canyon) CPU Review featuring Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5
Last month Intel launched their Z97 chipset, essentially an evolution of Z87, which in many cases brought new features such as SATA Express and M.2 compatibility to the mainstream desktop market. There was of course no new CPU at that time with the existing socket 1150 processors working without issue in the new boards. Since then though Intel launched (along with some lower spec models) the Core i7-4790K, a model which sits at the top of their mainstream platform. Today we see how it compares to various other models when installed on Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 and paired with Powercolors new dual core 290X Devil 13.
From the top Intel’s new i7-4790K looks like any other recent processor in its class family but as we flip over and view the socket 1150 contacts we see that the centre components (capacitors) have received a refreshed layout for smoother power delivery. We also get a new thermal interface material (“Next Gen Polymer”) between the CPU package and the metal heatspreader on the top of the CPU as another notable change.
In terms of specifications this CPU runs at 4GHz with turbo functionality which increases the speed to 4.4GHz when required. We have four cores running with hyperthreading for 8 threads and this is a 22nm CPU with a TDP of 88w. Cache levels are 4x32KB of L1 Data/Instruction, 4x256KB of L2 and 8MB of L3. Then as is now standard 64bit support is present and we also have an integrated GPU, in this case the HD Graphics 4600 from Intel, running at 350MHz to 1.25GHz and supporting HDMI, DisplayPort and 4K.
Whats the next step up?
The i7-4790K pictured above is as we noted earlier the top CPU in Intel’s mainstream desktop class. For those looking for even more from their CPU Intel still offer the i7-4960X which uses the older X79 platform. Today we will include results from that combination to establish its performance and potential benefits, even though it lacks features such as M.2 and SATA express. So what is the 4960X?
The Core i7-4960X is Intel’s highest end CPU. It offers 6 cores with hyper threading for 12 thread operation and has nearly double the L3 cache of the 4790K at 15MB. In terms of raw power use we bump up to 130w and while the peak GHz of this processor is lower than the 4790K at 3.6-4.0GHz it does have those extra cores which will enhance performance in some scenarios. We should also note that the 4960X doesn’t have the inbuilt GPU either.
Gigabyte Z97X Gaming 5
The board we are basing our 4790K testing on today is Gigabytes Z97X-Gaming 5 which is part of their Gaming and Ultra Durable range. The box gives us some key info on the product and then inside we find documentation, a software disc, SATA cables, I/O shield and a SLI bridge.
The key observations when looking around the black PCB are that this board uses socket 1150, with support for all recent processors on that socket. This socket has 15µ gold plated pins (standard is 5µ) and Gigabyte Dual BIOS makes an appearance on this board allowing us to recover from any issues such as overclocking too far. As an interesting dual related note, Gigabyte also separate the left and right audio channel signals onto their own layer of PCB to eliminate channel crosstalk. Mixed with the 10000 hour certified solid state capacitors (DuraBlack, manufactured by Nippon Chemi-con/Nichicon) we also get dual CPU fan headers ensuring support for enthusiast coolers.
Looking down on the bottom left corner of the board we find our PCIe slots which run through 1x, 16x, 1x, 1x, 8x and 4x with an older PCI slot between those last two. The 16x slot is PCIe 3.0 spec to maximize the performance from recent graphics cards and as with their last generation boards, Gigabyte add enhanced audio features to this model. The enhanced audio features start with the Realtek ALC1150 7.1 audio processor and its gold plated shielding (with X-Fi software suite) then continues with AMP-UP Audio (rear audio port amplifier). LED trace lighting is again present and Gigabyte opt for Nichicon audio capacitors.
Looking round to the drive connectors Gigabyte include 6 SATA 6GB/s ports on this product and add to that a SATA Express port for next gen storage requirements (10GB/s).
Moving up the PCB we find the first of our power connectors (24pin) which combines with the 8pin connector in the top left corner. A USB 3.0 front panel is also present here and then at the other side of the memory slots (4x slots, Dual Channel, 32GB) we find the M.2 slot. This supports 42, 60 and 80mm length SSDs.
On the back panel we find PS/2, VGA, DVI, HDMI(4K) and 4x USB 3.0. A further 4x USB 2.0 are also present as are 3.5mm audio ports which along with the HDMI are all gold plated. We also have an optical audio connector and the final port is a Killer E2200 LAN with access to a tuning suite in Windows.
Gigabyte continue to use an evolution of their UEFI BIOS on this board and it offers all of the functionality we need to configure our board and maximise its performance. The key options are shown to us in the centre of the screen with summary information surrounding. Additionally Gigabyte also offer a classic mode for those who prefer the old style BIOS and added recently is a Smart/Quick setup option for those who just want the basics.
On the software front we get the latest edition of App Centre. App Centre allows us to use Gigabytes software tools to tweak, maintain and monitor our board and even some little additions like auto-lock of our system. Game Controller adds sniper mode and keyboard/mouse response time tuning along with macro functions and Smart Switch brings back the classic Start menu experience to Windows 8/8.1.
Let’s start the conclusion to this review with the CPU being tested today. Devil’s Canyon has had a reasonably interesting development process with Intel noting that when they set out to revise Haswell they brought this model to market in record time. Not quite the time to meet the Z97 launch but pretty close. The revisions to the CPU have allowed them to boost performance without having a huge impact on power use and the fact it can be dropped into all new Z97 boards or (with a BIOS update) older Z87 models is a bonus.
We know there has been a lot of talk about overclocking potential on these CPUs with very varied results across the web. In our case the CPU hit 4.9GHz with complete stability at 1.4v which isn’t too far off the 4770K model we have tested. Would we have loved to see all Devil’s Canyon CPUs hit in excess of 5.0GHz, yes… but its going to be the luck of the draw. In terms of “stock” performance the 4790K sits exactly where we would expect, above the 4770K and when multi-threading is considered, beneath the 4960X. That CPU is still very valid in today’s market for productivity tasks which usually take advantage of the extra cores/threads. We do of course loose support for new storage platforms with X79, the main benefit of the 4770K/Z97.
Speaking of the Z97, Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 is a solid addition to their family of boards. It offers all of the key features from the Z97 platform (PCIe, SATA3, USB3, SATA Express and M.2) along with decent audio/network features and does so without costing a huge amount. Its black and red styling is a nice bonus for those looking to build in a case with window and it is always good to see the use of the same software suite and BIOS on this model as the more expensive boards.
In summary, for those looking at a high MHz system with all the latest features the Z97X Gaming 5 and i7-4790K make for a nice mix. Multi-threaded performance still belongs to the X79/i7-4960X but even then, Devil’s Canyon isn’t too far behind.