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Intel Core i9-10980XE Review: Intel Loses its Grip on HEDT

Enough with the refreshes, already.

(Image: © Intel)

Our Verdict

Intel's Core i9-10980XE marks a step forward over the previous-gen -9980XE, but overall pricing is still too high relative to AMD's competing chips.

For

  • Incremental performance improvements
  • Lower power consumption
  • Overclockability
  • Backward compatibility

Against

  • Price
  • Dead-end platform
  • PCIe 3.0

Intel's launch of the 10th-generation Cascade Lake-X processors marks yet another iteration of its 14nm process, serving as a refresh of its Skylake-X refresh processors. The Core i9-10980XE slots in as the flagship with a steep gen-on-gen price cut that reduces pricing from $1,999 to a 'mere' $979 for 18 cores and 36 threads. 

Intel's price cuts come as a byproduct of AMD's third-gen Ryzen and Threadripper processors, with the former bringing HEDT-class levels of performance to mainstream 400- and 500-series motherboards, while the latter lineup is so powerful that Intel, for the first time in recent history, doesn't even have a response. 

AMD is moving forward at breakneck speed with the 7nm process and Zen 2 architecture, but Intel remains mired on the 14nm process. Due to the limitations of the 14nm manufacturing process, Intel simply doesn't have room to add more cores, let alone deal with the increased heat, within the same package. Instead, Cascade Lake-X offers a few incremental bumps in frequency, exposes four more PCIe 3.0 lanes, and comes infused a few more hardware mitigations to deal with Intel's expanding list of security vulnerabilities. 

That means Intel's price cuts serve as the most impressive feature in its new lineup, allowing the company to seek shelter from AMD's Threadripper in what is now the low end of the HEDT market. 

But even though it isn't a direct competitor, Intel can't hide from the 16-core 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X. The -10980XE is thoroughly unimpressive from a new technology standpoint, but Intel's incessant iterations of the 14nm process have yielded higher overclocking potential, lower power consumption, and incremental improvements in memory support that deliver decent bumps in performance. However, AMD's Ryzen 9 3950X still takes the shine off the -10980XE for users that don't need quad-channel memory. AMD has also left its second-gen Threadripper processors on the market as the 'value' HEDT alternative, but they aren't nearly as competitive as third-gen Ryzen

Intel Cascade Lake-X Core i9-10980XE Pricing and Specifications

Cores / ThreadsBase / Boost (GHz)L3 Cache (MB)PCIeDRAMTDPMSRP/RCPPrice Per Core
Threadripper 3990X64 / 128?256??280W??
Intel W-3175X 28 / 563.1 / 4.838.548 Gen 3Six-Channel DDR4-2666255W$2999$107.10
Threadripper 3970X32 / 643.7 / 4.5*12888 Gen 4 (72 Usable)Quad DDR4-3200280W$1999$62.47
Xeon W-327528 / 562.5 / 4.638.564 Gen3Six-Channel DDR4-2933205W$4,449$158.89
Threadripper 2990WX32 / 643.0 / 4.26464 (4 to PCH) Gen 3Quad DDR4-2933250W~$1,700$53
Threadripper 3960X24 / 483.8 / 4.5*12888 Gen 4 (72 Usable)Quad DDR4-3200280W$1,399$58.29
Xeon W-326524 / 482.7 / 4.63364 Gen 3Six-Channel DDR4-2933205W$3,349$139.54
Threadripper 2970WX24 / 483.0 / 4.26464 (4 to PCH) Gen 3Quad DDR4-2933250W~$925~$38.51
Core i9-10980XE18 / 363.0 / 4.824.7548 Gen 3 Quad DDR4-2933165W$979$54.39
Core i9-9980XE18 / 363.0 / 4.524.7544 Gen 3Quad DDR4-2666165W$1,999$111
Ryzen 9 3950X16 / 323.5 / 4.76464Dual DDR4-3200105W$749$46.81
Core i9-10940X14 / 283.3 / 4.819.2548 Gen 3Quad DDR4-2933165W$784$56
Core i9-10920X12 / 243.5 / 4.819.2548 Gen 3Quad DDR4-2933165W$689$57
Core i9-10900X12 / 243.7 / 4.719.2548 Gen 3Quad DDR4-2933165W$590$59

The 9th-gen processors have an average price-per-core of $103, but Intel reduced to ~$57 per core for 10th-gen Cascade Lake-X that is based on the same Skylake microarchitecture. The Core i9-10980XE slots in with 18 cores at 3.0GHz and a TDP of 165W. It also has a slightly improved Turbo Boost 2.0 frequency of 4.6GHz and 4.8GHz with Turbo Boost 3.0. 

The 10-core Core i9-10900XE sits at the bottom with slightly improved base and boost frequencies and will cost $590, which is only $30 more than the expected pricing of the Core i9-9900KS for the mainstream desktop. Intel says that it made this drastic price cut on the low end to make it easier for customers to step up to the more capable platform with its expanded feature set.

Intel doesn't have a 16-core model to deal with AMD's much-anticipated Ryzen 9 3950X. That might mean Intel has something in store for a later date, as we doubt the company will leave the 3950X uncontested.

We expect Intel to address the higher core count Threadripper with a refreshed Xeon W lineup, but as we can see from the $4,485 W-3275 and $3,349 W-3265, these chips come with eye-watering pricing that simply isn't sane in a post-Threadripper 3000 world. We expect Intel will slash the pricing on these chips, too, but they drop into server-derived sockets, so platform pricing will continue to be a problem for Intel. They also aren't overclockable – yet. 

Intel also has its Xeon W-3175X, the lone overclockable processor on the LGA 3647 platform, for $3,000. This 28-core 56-thread processor drops into exotic motherboards that carry heart-stopping price tags, so it really isn't a direct competitor to Threadripper 3000, either.

Base Freq.Turbo Boost 2.0All-CoreTB Max 3.0 (Two Fastest Cores)TB Max 3.0 (Two Next-Fastest Cores)
i9-10980XE3.04.63.84.84.7
i9-9980XE3.04.43.84.5N/A

Intel bumped up clock speeds across the entire range and added a new boosting feature that targets up to four cores with its Turbo Boost 3.0 technology, an expansion of the feature that allows it to hit two more cores with lightly-threaded applications. However, the frequency for the second two fastest cores drops 100 MHz from the listed Turbo Boost Max 3.0 frequency.

Intel increased memory support to DDR4-2933 and a maximum capacity to 256GB. Intel also brought support for DL Boost, Intel’s new AI-focused instructions that double or triple the performance of FP16 or INT8 AVX-512 vector code, to the HEDT space.

The Cascade Lake-X chips come with 48 PCIe lanes, an increase of four extra lanes compared to the previous-gen models. Intel exposed four additional lanes from the HCC die to the socket, and while these chips are compatible with existing X299 boards, you'll lose those extra four lanes unless you upgrade to one of the new X-series motherboards that also debuted with the new chips. These motherboards are a decent step forward with enhanced secondary features, but Intel still remains on PCIe 3.0, a disadvantage compared to AMD's support for the PCIe 4.0 interface that offers twice the I/O bandwidth. 

For HEDT, AMD also still holds the lead in sheer PCIe lane counts at 60. It also holds the overall core count title with 32 for its Threadripper 2970WX that AMD says competes as a 'value HEDT' processor for this price range, while the Ryzen 9 3950X has a disadvantage with 24 PCIe lanes and a dual-channel memory controller. However, the 3950X provides an amazing amount of performance given its faster PCIe interface and is incredibly efficient given its available memory throughput.  

A Whole Lotta Turbo

Active Cores GHz1-23-45-1213-1617-18
i9-10980XE IA/SSE4.84.7 4.33.93.8
i9-9980XE IA/SSE4.54.24.13.93.8
i9-10980XE AVX24.03.83.73.43.3
i9-9980XE AVX23.93.73.63.43.3

Active Cores GHz1-23-45-89-1213-1617-18
i9-10980XE AVX-5123.83.63.53.22.92.8
i9-9980XE AVX-5123.73.53.43.22.92.8

However, Intel also increased multi-core turbo ratios, too. Here we can see Intel's three-tiered Turbo system, with differently frequencies for SSE, AVX2, and AVX-512 instructions. The -10980XE features heightened boost speeds for standard SSE and AVX2 across up to 12 cores, while AVX-512 gets a boost for up to eight cores. 

Intel managed to bump up these multi-core turbo ratios, which equate to more performance in real-world workloads, while delivering impressive power reductions that we'll cover on the next page. 

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