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Intel Skylake: Core i5 6500 review

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Whether you’re looking to purchase a Core i5 or a Core i7 for your next gaming build, the established wisdom says that you’ve got to get a K chip – the totally unlocked version of the processor you can overclock to its limits. Typically there’s a premium to pay, but when you’re getting anything up to 30 per cent in additional performance, the extra investment is more than worth it. However, with the recent release of overclocking BIOS updates for a range of motherboards, any of Intel’s recently released Skylake processors can be overclocked – which brings us to the Core i5 6500.

In terms of Intel’s product line-up, it’s the one tier up from the base Core i5 6400, running at 3.2GHz compared to the 2.7GHz of the cheaper chip. It costs around £150/$200 so there’s obviously a price advantage over the top-end overclockable Core i5 6600K, but perhaps more importantly, stocks of this processor are plentiful. For reasons that aren’t 100 per cent clear, Intel’s Skylake K processors have either been hard to find, or priced considerably higher than their Haswell predecessors.

The news that any Skylake CPU is now overclockable (if you have a Z170 motherboard with the required BIOS update) is obviously a game-changer, but in our initial tests, we noted something strange. Synthetic benchmarks showed that overclocking our Core i5 6500 to 4.51GHz produced faster results than a 6600K running at an almost identical 4.5GHz. However, gaming benchmarks produced more variance. On top of that, as we noted in our Core i3 6100 review, slotting in faster DDR4 memory could produce better in-game performance, most noticeable in terms of a boost to lowest recorded frame-rates. Would the same hold true for the Core i5 6500? And what would happen if we combined faster RAM with the overclock?

And that’s why we’re reviewing the Core i5 6500 today, several months on from its release. Overclocking redefines the product, but there’s more than one way to overclock a gaming PC – it’s not just about raw CPU clocks, faster RAM can make a difference in CPU-bound gaming scenarios, even if you don’t overclock the CPU at all.