Intel announced its brand new Broadwell-E processor at Computex this year, but immediately after the 10-core CPU was unveiled eyebrows started to slowly raise. Why, for instance, was the new Extreme Edition CPU slower in raw power and a lower base frequency? Why was it hundreds of dollars more than the new GPUs announced by NVIDIA?
Who exactly did Intel think was going to buy this thing?
The initial answer: people with a hell of a lot of money. According to a StaticICE search, the 10-core Broadwell-E CPUs will set you back at least $2579. It's no wonder many retailers aren't stocking the chip: most people are already tapped out with new GPUs and VR headsets to buy, and if you factor in the prospect of a new motherboard it becomes an even more difficult argument.
Intel's argument, however, is that the 10 cores of the Broadwell-E (although there are cheaper 6 and 8-core variants) is suited to streamers or content creators that would be running multiple high-intensity applications at once. Think about playing a game and streaming and encoding all at the same time. Or playing a game in VR while you broadcast the in-headset and third-person feed to Twitch.
"I don't know if you've seen some of the gamers, I've seen them operate in two kind of modes. One as: they'll buy two PCs, one to do streaming, one to do gaming," Frank Soqui, head of the Enthusiast Desktop unit within Intel's Client Computing Group, said. "Or they'll buy a single chassis with two mini ITX's in it, one dedicated to streaming, one dedicated to the game itself. If you count up the cores in there, they're basically building up a 10-core system. And they're doing this today."
The thing is: it's still cheaper to build two gaming systems than it is to build a high-end gaming rig based around Intel's 10-core Broadwell-E CPU.
Let's take a look at what a Broadwell-E CPU system would cost today. The cheapest i7-6950X CPU is $2579, while socket 2011-3 compatible motherboards can be picked up for around $300. I've gone with an ASRock X99-EXTREME3, for argument's sake.
You can get 16GB of DDR4-2400Mhz RAM for under $100. I've picked the Corsair Vengeance LPX line because it's closest to $100 and it makes this a simpler exercise, although you can save a few bucks if you want to really crimp.
As for the graphics card, I've gone with the EVGA Founders Edition of the GTX 1080. It's one of the cheaper models, although not by much, at $1179. The rest of the system is built along similar lines: it's being used for high-end gaming, and is built as such. I'm not counting the cost of peripherals or monitors here, because presumably if you're about to drop thousands upon thousands on a gaming system, you already have a keyboard, mouse and a monitor lying around.
I've also used PC Part Picker to compile the below, mostly because it spits out handy tables for you all to see. So let's look at what we're dealing with here.
Type Item Price CPU Intel Core i7-6950X 3.0GHz 10-Core Processor $2579.00 @ Mwave Australia CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler Motherboard ASRock X99 Extreme3 ATX LGA2011-3 Motherboard $305.00 @ Umart Memory Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2400 Memory $99.00 @ CPL Online Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5" Solid State Drive $122.00 @ IJK Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 1TB 2.5" Solid State Drive $419.00 @ CPL Online Storage Western Digital BLACK SERIES 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $229.00 @ CPL Online Storage Western Digital BLACK SERIES 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $229.00 @ CPL Online Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB Founders Edition Video Card $1199.00 @ Scorptec Case NZXT Phantom 530 (Black) ATX Full Tower Case $189.00 @ CPL Online Power Supply Corsair 850W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $249.00 @ CPL Online Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts Total $5619.00
You could obviously put some parts in and get the whole system running up for somewhat less, but there's good reasoning behind some of the decisions. Firstly, if you're building a high-end gaming rig that's going to be used for recording, streaming, playing and encoding all in one, you're going to need your programs on different hard drives.
The WD Caviar Black's are designed to be running in RAID 0; you're a bit screwed if one of the drives fails, but you'll get plenty of speed which is important if you're looking to record footage at a high resolution and frame rate.
If you were adding the cost of another Windows licence and peripherals, the price could easily touch $6000. You'd also probably want some extra case fans as well for a touch of extra cooling.
Now let's look at the alternative that Intel suggests: a standard gaming rig — something based off an Intel CPU that most people can afford. I've tried to keep the smaller core parts — SSDs, RAM, etc — the same, but do remember that the price can change fractionally.
Type Item Price CPU Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz Quad-Core Processor $494.00 @ CPL Online CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212X 82.9 CFM CPU Cooler $49.00 @ CPL Online Motherboard MSI Z97-Gaming 3 ATX LGA1150 Motherboard $209.00 @ CPL Online Memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2400 Memory $98.00 @ IJK Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 250GB 2.5" Solid State Drive $122.00 @ IJK Storage Samsung 850 EVO-Series 1TB 2.5" Solid State Drive $419.00 @ CPL Online Video Card EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB Founders Edition Video Card $1199.00 @ Scorptec Case NZXT Phantom 530 (White) ATX Full Tower Case $189.00 @ CPL Online Power Supply Corsair 850W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $249.00 @ CPL Online Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts Total $3028.00
This is the PC you'd be playing on, and it seems fairly standard for a top-of-the-line rig. I've left the peripherals, monitor and Windows licence out, for parity with the previous build.
Now let's look at what a second PC for the streaming or recording would be like. You wouldn't need as powerful a GPU, but you'd want more storage space for all the video files.
Type Item Price CPU Intel Core i5-6500 3.2GHz Quad-Core Processor $275.00 @ Centre Com CPU Cooler Cooler Master Hyper 212X 82.9 CFM CPU Cooler $49.00 @ CPL Online Motherboard Gigabyte GA-H110M-A Micro ATX LGA1151 Motherboard Memory \*Corsair 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR4-2133 Memory $45.00 @ PLE Computers Storage Samsung 850 Pro Series 128GB 2.5" Solid State Drive $115.00 @ CPL Online Storage Western Digital BLACK SERIES 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $295.00 @ CPL Online Storage Western Digital BLACK SERIES 4TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $295.00 @ CPL Online Video Card Asus GeForce GTX 970 4GB STRIX Video Card $465.00 @ Centre Com Case Fractal Design Core 1500 MicroATX Mini Tower Case Power Supply Thermaltake Toughpower 550W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply $119.00 @ CPL Online Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts Total $1658.00
I've gone with NVIDIA in both systems for platform parity, although the prospect of AMD's RX 480 could make the streaming PC and mid-range gaming PCs vastly more affordable. You get better quality streaming at lower bitrates with x264 than AMD or NVIDIA's hardware encoders. It's more complicated than simply hitting a button on, say, Shadowplay, but if you're going to be creating content on a regular basis you're going to become familiar with the software you're using one way or another.
Nevertheless, you can see the dilemma Intel has here. They're pitching their 10-core Broadwell-E CPU as something that could replace the need for two systems. Having one system is certainly far more practical from a space and power perspective, but it certainly isn't when it comes to cost.
Expert system builders can undoubtedly push things further and save even more money on both systems, but the problem is always going to come down to the same thing: $2579 for a CPU is far, far, far too much for gaming.
Soqui is entirely correct when he says that gamers, streamers and content creators today are effectively using 10 or more cores by building multiple systems for their needs. And in time, 10-core CPUs will filter down into the mainstream market and software will evolve to the point where it more effectively uses all of a CPU's power.
But right now, it doesn't. And right now, the Broadwell-E line just costs too bloody much. Even the older Haswell-E CPUs are more expensive than the top-of-the-line Skylake i7-6700K — and it wouldn't be any better for gaming, either.
It's a difficult argue to prosecute. Intel even confirmed to ZDNet that they didn't have Linux drivers for the latest Turbo Boost mode, further limiting the market who might want one of these processors.
I'm sure there's someone out there who has a use case for the Broadwell-E and its 10 cores, or even the cheaper (but still relatively costly) 6 and 8-core variants. But it sure isn't gamers, streamers or content creators. And with the Australian dollar at its current levels, it doesn't look like that crowd will be buying Intel's argument any time soon.
The author travelled to Computex 2016 as a guest of Intel.