One of the most popular processors of the last decade has been the Intel Core i7-2600K. The design was revolutionary, as it offered a significant jump in single core performance, efficiency, and the top line processor was very overclockable. With the next few generations of processors from Intel being less exciting, or not giving users reasons to upgrade, and the phrase 'I'll stay with my 2600K' became ubiquitous on forums, and is even used today. For this review, we dusted off our box of old CPUs and put it in for a run through our 2019 benchmarks, both at stock and overclocked, to see if it is still a mainstream champion.

The Core i7 Family Photo

If you want to see all of our Core i7 benchmarks for each one of these CPUs, head over to


Why The 2600K Defined a Generation

Sit in a chair, lie back, and dream of 2010. It's a year when you looked at that old Core 2 Duo rig, or Athlon II system, and it was time for an upgrade. You had seen that Nehalem, and that the Core i7-920 was a handy overclocker and kicking some butt. It was a pleasant time, until Intel went and gave the industry a truly disruptive product whose nostalgia still rings with us today. 

The Core i7-2600K: The Fastest Sandy Bridge CPU (until 2700K)

That product was Sandy Bridge. AnandTech scored the exclusive on the review, and the results were almost impossible to believe, for many reasons. In our results at the time, it was by far and above a leap ahead of anything else we had seen, especially given the thermal monstrosities that Pentium 4 had produced several years previous. Built on Intel’s 32nm process, the redesign of the core was a turning point in performance on x86, one which has not been felt since. It would be another 8 years for AMD to have its ‘Sandy Bridge’ (or perhaps more appropriately, a 'Conroe') moment with Ryzen. Intel managed to stand on the shoulders of its previous best product and score a Grand Slam.

In that core design, Intel shook things up considerably. One key proponent was the micro-op cache, which means that recently decoded instructions that are needed again are taken already decoded, rather than wasting power being decoded again. For Intel with Sandy Bridge, and more recently with AMD on Ryzen, the inclusion of the micro-op cache has done wonders for single threaded performance. Intel also launched into improving its simultaneous multi-threading, which Intel has branded HyperThreading for generations, slowly improving the core by making more of it dynamically allocated for threads, rather than static and potentially losing performance.

The quad-core design of the highest processor of the family on launch day, the Core i7-2600K, became a staple through Intel’s next five generations of the architecture, all the way through Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake. Since Sandy Bridge, while Intel has moved to smaller process nodes and taken advantage of lower power, Intel has been unable to recreate that singular jump in raw instruction throughput, with incremental 1-7% increases year on year, using that power budget to increase operational buffers, execution ports, and instruction support.

With Intel unable to recreate the uplift of Sandy Bridge, and with the core microarchitecture defining a key moment in x86 performance, users who purchased a Core i7-2600K (I had two) stayed on it for a long time. So much so in fact that a lot of people expecting another big jump became increasingly frustrated – why invest in a Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K quad-core processor at 4.7 GHz turbo when the Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K quad core processor is still overclocked to 5.0 GHz?

(Intel’s answer was typically for power consumption, and new features like PCIe 3.0 GPUs and storage. But that didn’t sway some users.)

This is why the Core i7-2600K defined a generation. It had staying power, much to Intel’s initial delight then subsequent frustration when users wouldn’t upgrade. We are now in 2019, and appreciate that when Intel moved beyond four cores on the mainstream, if users could stomach the cost of DDR4, either upgraded to a new Intel system, or went down the AMD route. But how does the Core i7-2600K hold up to 2019 workloads and games; or perhaps even better, how does the overclocked Core i7-2600K fare?

Compare and Contrast: Sandy Bridge vs. Kaby Lake vs. Coffee Lake

Truth be told, the Core i7-2600K was not the highest grade Sandy Bridge mainstream desktop processor. Months after the 2600K launched, Intel pushed a slightly higher clocked 2700K into the market. It performed almost the same, and overclocked to a similar amount, but cost a bit more. By this time, users who had made the jump were on the 2600K, and it stuck with us.

The Core i7-2600K was a 32nm quad-core processor with HyperThreading, offering a 3.4 GHz base frequency and a 3.8 GHz turbo frequency, with a listed 95W TDP. Back then, Intel’s TDP was more representative: in our recent test for this article, we measured an 88W peak power consumption when not overclocked. The processor also came with Intel HD 3000 integrated graphics, and supported DDR3-1333 memory as standard. Intel launched the chip with a tray price of $317.

For this article, I used the second i7-2600K I purchased back when they were new. It was tested at both its out of the box frequency, and an overclocked frequency of 4.7 GHz on all cores. This is a middling conservative overclock – the best chips managed 5.0 GHz or 5.1 GHz in a daily system. In fact, I distinctly remember my first Core i7-2600K getting 5.1 GHz all-core and 5.3 GHz all-core during an overclocking event in the middle of the peak district one winter with a room temperature around 2C, where I was using a strong liquid cooler and 720mm of radiators. Unfortunately I crippled that chip over time, and now it won’t even boot at stock frequency and voltage. So we have to use my second chip, which wasn’t so great, but still a good representation of an overclocked processor. For these results, we also used overclocked memory, at DDR3-2400 C11.

It’s worth noting that since the launch of the Core i7-2600K, we have moved on from Windows 7 to Windows 10. The Core i7-2600K doesn’t even support AVX2 instructions, and wasn’t built for Windows 10, so it will be interesting to see where this plays out.

The Core i7-7700K: Intel's last Core i7 Quad Core with HyperThreading

The fastest and latest (final?) quad-core processor with HyperThreading that Intel released was the Core i7-7700K, which falls under the Kaby Lake family. This processor was built on Intel’s improved 14nm process, runs at a 4.2 GHz base frequency, and a 4.5 GHz turbo frequency. The 91W rated TDP, at stock, translated to 95W power consumption in our testing. It comes with Intel’s Gen9 HD 630 Graphics, and supports DDR4-2400 memory as standard. Intel launched the chip with a tray price of $339.

The Intel Core i7-7700K (91W) Review: The New Out-of-the-box Performance Champion

At the same time as the 7700K, Intel also launched its first overclockable dual core with hyperthreading, the Core i3-7350K. During that review, we overclocked the Core i3 and compared it directly to the out-of-the-box Core i7-2600K, trying to answer the question if Intel had managed to make a dual-core reach a similar performance to its old flagship processor. While the i3 had the upper hand in single threaded performance and memory performance, the two fewer cores ultimately made most tasks heavy work for the Core i3.

The Core i7-9700K: Intel's Latest Top Core i7 (now with 8 cores)

Our final processor for testing is the Core i7-9700K. This is not the flagship of the current Coffee Lake generation (which is the i9-9900K), but has eight cores without hyperthreading. Going for the 9900K with double the cores and threads is just a little overkill, especially when it still has a tray price of $488. By contrast, the Core i7-9700K is ‘only’ sold in bulk at $374, with a 3.6 GHz base frequency and a 4.9 GHz turbo frequency. The 95W TDP falls foul of Intel’s definition of TDP, and in a consumer motherboard will actually consume ~125W at full load. Memory support is DDR4-2666 as standard.

Upgrading an Overclocked Intel Core i7-2600K
Comparison CPUs
at 4.7 GHz
Released Jan 2011 Jan 2011 Jan 2017 Oct 2018
Price (1ku) $317 $317 $339 $374
Process 32nm 32nm 14nm 14++
uArch Sandy Bridge Sandy Bridge Kaby Lake Coffee Refresh
Cores 4 plus HT 4 plus HT 4 plus HT 8, no HT
Base Freq 3.4 GHz 4.7 GHz 4.2 GHz 3.6 GHz
Turbo Freq 3.8 GHz - 4.5 GHz 4.9 GHz
GPU Gen 6 6 9 9.5
GPU EUs 12 12 24 24
GPU Freq 1350 1350 1150 1200
DDR Support DDR3-1333 DDR3-2400 DDR4-2400 DDR4-2666
PCIe 2.0 x16 2.0 x16 3.0 x16 3.0 x16
AVX Yes Yes Yes Yes
AVX2 No No Yes Yes
Thermal Solder Solder Grease Solder
TDP 95 W N/A 91 W 95 W

The Core i7-2600K is stuck on DDR3 memory, has PCIe 2.0 rather than PCIe 3.0 support, and although not tested here, isn’t built for NVMe storage. It will be interesting to see just how close the overclocked results are to the Core i7-7700K in our tests, and how much of a direct uplift is seen moving to something like the Core i7-9700K.

Pages In This Review

  1. Tackling the Core i7-2600K in 2019
  2. Sandy Bridge: Inside the Core Microarchitecture
  3. Sandy Bridge: Outside the Core
  4. Test Bed and Setup
  5. 2018 and 2019 Benchmark Suite: Spectre and Meltdown Hardened
  6. CPU Performance: System Tests
  7. CPU Performance: Rendering Tests
  8. CPU Performance: Office Tests
  9. CPU Performance: Encoding Tests
  10. CPU Performance: Web and Legacy Tests
  11. Gaming: World of Tanks enCore
  12. Gaming: Final Fantasy XV
  13. Gaming: Civilization 6
  14. Gaming: Ashes Classic
  15. Gaming: Strange Brigade
  16. Gaming: Grand Theft Auto V
  17. Gaming: Far Cry 5
  18. Gaming: Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  19. Gaming: F1 2018
  20. Power Consumption
  21. Analyzing the Results
  22. Conclusions and Final Words
Sandy Bridge: Inside the Core Microarchitecture
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  • monglerbongler - Friday, June 14, 2019 - link

    You don't need to buy a new computer every year and with an intelligently made upfront investment you can potentially keep your desktop, with minimal or zero hardware upgrades, for a *very* long time

    /news at 11

    If there is any argument that supports this its Intel's consumer/prosumer HEDT platforms.

    The X99 was compelling over X58. The x299 is not even remotely compelling. I still have my old X99/ i7-5930k (6 core 40 lane PCIe3). its still fantastic, but thats at least partially because I bit the bullet and invested in a good motherboard and GPU at the time. All modern games still play fantastically and it can handle absolutely anything I throw at it.

    More a statement of "future proofing" than inherent performance.
  • Sancus - Saturday, June 15, 2019 - link

    It's always disappointing to see heavily GPU bottlenecked benchmarks in articles like these, without a clear warning that they are totally irrelevant to the question at hand.

    It also feeds into the false narrative that what resolution you play at matters for CPU benchmarks. What matters a lot more is what GAME you're playing, and these tests never benchmark the actually CPU bound multiplayer games that people are playing, because benchmarking those is Hard.
  • BlueB - Friday, June 21, 2019 - link

    So if you're a gamer, there is STILL no reason for you to upgrade.
  • Hogan773 - Friday, July 12, 2019 - link

    I have a 2600K system with ASRock mobo

    Now that there is so much hype about the Ryzen 3, is that my best option if I wanted to upgrade? I guess I would need a new mobo and memory in addition to the CPU. Otherwise I can use the same SSD etc.
  • tshoobs - Wednesday, July 17, 2019 - link

    Still running my 3770 at stock clocks - "not a worry in the world, cold beer in my hand".

    Added an SSD and upgraded to a 1070 from the original GPU, . Best machine I've ever had.
  • gamefoo21 - Saturday, August 10, 2019 - link

    I was running my X1950XT AIW at wonder level overclocks with a Pentium M overclocked, and crushing Athlon 64 users.

    It would have been really interesting to see that 7700K with DDR3. I run my 7700K @ 5Ghz with DDR3-2100 CL10 on a GA-Z170-HD3. Sadly the power delivery system on my board is at it's limits. :-(

    But still a massive upgrade from a FX-8320e and MSI 970 mobo that I had before.
  • gamefoo21 - Saturday, August 10, 2019 - link

    I forgot to add that it's 32GB(8GB x 4) G.Skill CL9 1866 1.5V that runs at 2100 CL10 at 1.5V but I have to give up 1T command rate.

    The GPU that I carried over is the Fury X. Bios modded of course so it's undervolted, underclocked and the HBM timings tightened. Whips the stock config.

    The GPU is next up for upgrading, but I'm holding out for Navi with hardware RT and hopefully HBM. Once you get a taste of the low latency it's hard to go back.

    OpenCL memory bandwidth for my Fury X punches over 320GB/s with single digit latency. The iGPU in my 7700K, is around 12-14GB/s and the latency is... -_-
  • BuffyCombs - Thursday, February 13, 2020 - link

    There are several things about this article I dont like

    1. In the Game Tests, i actually dont care if one CPU is 50 Percent better when one shows 10 FPS and the other 15. Also I don’t care if it is 200 or 300 fps. So I would change to scale into a simple metric and that is: is it fun to play or not.

    2. Development is not mentioned: The Core Wars has just started and the monopoly of intel is over. Why should we invest in new processors when competition has just begun. I predict price per performance will fall faster in the next years than it did in the previous 10 years. So buying now is buying into an overpriced and fast developing marked.

    3. There is no Discussion if one should buy a used 2600k system today. I bought one a few weeks ago. It was 170 USD, has 16 GB of Ram and a gtx760. It plays all the games I throw at it and does the encoding of some videos I take in classes every week. Also I modified its cooler so that it runs very very silent. Using this system is a dream! Of course one could invest several times as much for a new system that is twice as fast in benchmarks but for now id rather save a few hundred bucks and invest when the competition becomes stagnant again or when some software I use really demands for it because of new instructions.
  • scrubman - Tuesday, March 23, 2021 - link

    Great write-up! Love my 2600k still to this day and solid at 4.6GHz on air the whole time! I do see an upgrade this year though. She's been a beast!! Never thought the 300A Celeron OC to 450 would get beat! haha
  • SirBlot - Monday, July 25, 2022 - link

    I get 60fps SotTR cpu game and render with rtx 3060ti with ray tracing on medium and everything else ultra. 2600k @4.2

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