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Intel Core i5 11400F: the Digital Foundry verdict

The best value gaming CPU on the market.

So with all the tests complete, what have we learned? In short, the (£150/$175) Core i5 11400F is kind of amazing.

It often outperforms the (£190/$215) 10600K, a CPU that retailed for around $100 more when it was released last year, and it sometimes beats the (£399/$459) 10900K (!) in games that are more reliant on single-core speed than high core count designs. Most of the time, the 11400F is within the same ballpark as the (£220/$259) 11600K, and once you get to 1440p or 4K gaming then you may as well go for the cheaper 11400F as there's pretty much no difference in many titles.

The 11600K and (£549/$589) 11900K still do perform better across the board, especially in content creation, but for computers that are only going to be used for gaming there's a really solid argument to be made for the 11400F - and one that you couldn't really make with past-generation designs at this price point.

AMD's ($300/£260) Ryzen 5 5600X remains a challenging opponent for the 11400F, winning in most games and tying in others, but the fact that the 11400F is even in the conversation at nearly half the price is a massive win for Intel's engineering team. A Ryzen 5000 CPU remains our overall recommendation for high-end gaming, alongside the 11900K, but again, for a $175 part this is great performance.

When it comes to content creation, Ryzen 5000 is comprehensively better than the 11400F and indeed the rest of the 11th-gen family. Still, the 11400F didn't embarrass itself, coming quite close to the 11600K in our Cinebench R20 and Handbrake encode tests when power targets were lifted. If you wanted to peg it against a Ryzen processor, it scores most similarly to a Ryzen 5 3600X, AMD's last-gen mid-range part. Another fun comparison is the Core i7 9700K, a ~$375 CPU from three years ago. The 11400F is marginally faster despite having two fewer physical cores - not bad at all.

The 11400F doesn't seem to draw that much power either - we measured a maximum of 242W for our entire system during an HEVC encode, one of the heaviest all-core workloads you can perform thanks to its reliance on AVX instructions, with 210W being a more common figure and 150W total system power attainable with the 65W limit enforced in the BIOS. We also saw very similar results with 65W and 255W power targets, with a ~10 percent difference in content creation tasks and only margin-of-error differences in games, suggesting you don't need a massive cooler to get good performance here. In fact, we ran a few tests with the free box cooler and again saw more or less identical frame-rates, albeit with more noise than the AiO setup. This was on an open-air test bench so you might want to upgrade to something like a Hyper 212 Evo for a more standard case installation, but even so you're not looking at a massive outlay.

Instead, you may want to spend a little more on fast RAM. We noticed big improvements moving from 2933MHz RAM to 3600MHz, so consider that a good target to aim for. If you pair the 11400F with a B560 motherboard, you'll be able to do "memory overclocking" to get the full rated speed of a 3600MHz kit, something that wasn't possible on B460 boards, so that's something to keep in mind too. AMD's ecosystem remains slightly cheaper to get into, but Intel has made big strides here that we appreciate.

Cooler MasterFrame 700 - test bench case impressions

masterframe_700_1380

We should probably share some thoughts on the MasterFrame 700 we used as a test bed for our 11400F testing. This case makes for an impressive showpiece, thanks to its movable wings, metal construction and glass front panel, but the same attributes make it an awkward choice for benchmarking. The back side of the CPU socket area of motherboard is only partially accessible, making it incredibly frustrating to change CPUs as you can't use your hand to brace the backplate while you're trying to screw in your AiO. The standoffs here are also the traditional screw type, rather than the "pop-off" type found on test benches like the Open Benchtable, so you've got to completely unscrew the motherboard in order to lift it up and hold the backplate in place while you're screwing in your cooler - a manoeuvre that requires three hands to accomplish. Once your CPU is installed, things improve somewhat - having a power button and front I/O is handy, and the metal frame above the PCIe slots makes installed GPUs feel secure. The power supply is also held well above the table, making it harder to squash cables when you move the bench, and I love the inclusion of a small magnetic 'pocket' to hold screws. Ultimately though, the sheer size and general awkwardness of the case makes it hard to recommend for professional use, unless you're going to make use of its primary showcase mode to create b-roll.

So: the 11400F is proof that Intel's most competitive CPUs are now its cheaper offerings. The 11400F by and large provides better gaming performance than Ryzen 3000 and most Intel 10th-generation chips, while costing far less than the similarly performant Core i5 11600K and 11900K. AMD's Ryzen 5000 chips and the Core i9 10900K remain the best choices for mixed use - content creation plus gaming - but there are no doubt millions of people for which gaming is the primary focus. For these people, the 11400F represents unparalleled value.

Intel Core i5 11400F analysis

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About the author

Will Judd

Will Judd

Senior Staff Writer, Digital Foundry  |  wsjudd

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2. Will also tweets the latest tech deals at @DealsFoundry.

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