The rumor mill is in full production surrounding Intel’s latest processing platform, which, if you’re reading the tea leaves, includes the X299 chipset, which will support Skylake-X (and possibly Kaby Lake-X) and the Core-i9 nomenclature. Where there’s smoke, there’s often fire, and given that we’ll all be heading to Computex next week, it’s probably a safe bet that we’ll feel some of that heat in Taipei.
There isn’t much that goes unleaked these days, which makes it fun sport for the armchair quarterbacks (including us) when we approach big new launches. This year’s been full of them, starting with Intel’s Kaby Lake, AMD’s Ryzen, AMD’s Vega, Nvidia Volta, Intel/Micron 3D Xpoint, and those are just the big, bold new architectural changes. (Well, we suppose that’s arguable if we're including Kaby Lake).
What makes those rumors even more enticing is that AMD, now back in the conversation, announced its answer to Skylake-X last week during its Financial Analyst Day—the tantalizingly named ThreadRipper. Beyond just the product, AMD made it clear that it intends to compete in the high-performance sector of every segment in which it battles, from the high-end desktop to the data center. As if to drive the point home, the first Vega GPU product (Radeon Frontier Edition) happens to be the high-end, professional part.
Let’s discuss the possibilities, and make our speculations, starting with the source of the rumored leak, which was posted in the forums of Anandtech (which is owned by Tom's Hardware's parent company, Purch Media). Note that we scratched at this last month when Noctua accidentally posted some details about its new cooler, revealing that the new Skylake-X platform will use an LGA2066 socket. We already know that the next-generation Purley platform uses the massive LGA3647 socket, so the platform's LGA2066 would mean a departure from Intel's norm of using the same socket for its HEDT and E5 Xeon platforms.
|Core i9-7920X||Core i9-7900X||Core i9-7820X||Core i9-7800X||Core i7-7740K||Core i7-7640K|
|Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Kaby Lake-X||Kaby Lake-X|
|L3 Cache||16.5 MB||13.75 MB||11 MB||8.25 MB||8 MB||6 MB|
|Base Clock (GHz)||?||3.3||3.6||3.5||4.3||4.0|
|Turbo 2.0 (GHz)||?||4.3||4.3||4.0||4.5||4.2|
|Turbo 3.0 (GHz)||?||4.5||4.5||x||x||x|
|Memory Support||Quad-Channel DDR4-2666||Quad-Channel DDR4-2666||Quad-Channel DDR4-2666||Quad-Channel DDR4-2666||Dual-Channel DDR4-2666||Dual-Channel DDR4-2666|
The AnandTech forum post also indicated that the Core i9 Skylake-X and i7 Kaby Lake-X lineups would use the LGA2066 socket, which, connecting the dots, at least lends some credence to the leaked specifications. The 140W Skylake-X products would mark the debut of the i9 series, but the leaks suggest Intel is rebranding the existing HEDT i7 lineup, which comes with the expected incremental upgrades. The 112W Kaby Lake-X products still adhere to the established i7 branding, according to the leak.
The i9-7920X purportedly brings 12C/24T to bear, which is a nice step up from the 10C/20T Broadwell-E i7-6950X, whereas the i9-7900X would weigh in with 10C/20T. Surprisingly, the hefty core count pales in comparison to AMD's forthcoming 16C/32T ThreadRipper. The high-end 14nm Skylake-X models sport 44 PCIe lanes, according to the leak, which is a nice improvement over Broadwell-E's top-end 40 lanes. The i9-7820X and -7800X would wield 8C/16T and 6C/12T, respectively, and would feature 28 PCIe lanes. Interestingly, all of the Skylake-X models support AVX-512, if these leaks hold true.
Intel also reportedly bumped Skylake-X's L2 cache up to 1MB, a 4X increase over the previous-generation i7-6950X. Intel has a reputation for excellent cache performance, and increasing L2 cache capacity would provide an extra performance bump in addition to the higher clock speeds. We've measured comparatively high cache latency with AMD's Ryzen processor. AMD still contends that current cache testing tools aren't measuring latency correctly, but even the measurements that AMD provided lag behind Intel. Coupling Intel's inherent cache latency advantage with an additional dollop of capacity should yield excellent performance characteristics. However, it's noteworthy that, according to the leak, Intel shrunk L3 capacity compared to Broadwell-E.
The 14nm+ Kaby Lake-X i7 series remains somewhat hamstrung with 16 PCIe lanes, according to the leaked data, and it isn't clear if the series also features a larger L2 cache. The i7-7740K reportedly provides 4C/8T, and the i7-7640K eschews Hyperthreading for its four cores. These chips purportedly have a 112W TDP, which is lower than Skylake-X's 140W.
Show Me The Money
Intel charges $1,700 for the 10C/20T i7-6950X, and it's likely we'll see that price point reappear, although it may come with 12C/24T this time around. However, AMD looms large with its penchant for disruptive pricing. We know very few official details about ThreadRipper aside from the 16C/32T count, but it's a fair bet that it will be substantially cheaper than Intel's flagships. Intel hasn't flinched in the face of Ryzen, though, and it hasn't lowered prices on mid-range products. ThreadRipper could change that calculus on the high-end, though. You can bet AMD's ThreadRipper pricing will come in substantially lower than Intel's 12C/24T parts.
The new i9 and i7 chips appear to be geared specifically for the gamer/enthusiast/productivity market, given these specifications and the normal cadence for Intel's high end platform releases. Intel constantly touts its dominance in the margin-rich enthusiast segment as an advantage, but it has been historically tone deaf when it comes to pricing. We'll see if Intel is listening when it releases pricing information, but there are a few reasons the company may hold the line. If Intel lowballs Skylake-X, it could undercut the existing Broadwell-E lineup and provide a cheaper alternative to the really high-margin Xeon family. Intel always has a clever way of segmenting its products, so any price reduction could come with some type of restriction designed to prevent plundering the Xeon lineup.
If this rumor is true, Intel has slated the high-end Core i9-7920X for an August release, and the remaining models purportedly come to market in June. We're sure to get more firm details as Computex unfolds, and pricing for the new AMD and Intel HEDT lineups will probably be among the biggest pieces of news this year. That says a lot, because it's already been an exciting few months.
(Editor's note: Tom's Hardware is routinely briefed under embargo, and signs non-disclosure agreements, reviewed by legal counsel. We honor those embargoes, including the existence of them.)