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

Enough with the refreshes, already.

(Image: © Intel)

Intel's tactic of slowly bumping up clock speeds and adding more features across its product stack, like Hyper-Threading, has proven to be a good-enough strategy to fend off AMD's increasing pressure with the first-gen Zen chips, but the arrival of Zen 2 and the 7nm process blow that approach out of the water. It's quite shocking to see Intel thoroughly unprepared to attack AMD's high end Threadripper parts, and we're not convinced that bringing the high core count Xeon W parts down to the standard HEDT segment would help.

Intel says it will have 10nm parts for the desktop soon, but we don't know where those products will land yet, and they certainly won't attack the HEDT market for at least another year, meaning the company has ceded the high end to AMD.

So what's left? Competing on price by dropping Cascade Lake-X pricing roughly 50% across the entire stack, thus dealing with AMD's lesser-equipped processors. That does improve Intel's value proposition, but AMD still looms large.

The refined 14nm process equates to faster clocks speeds, and thus performance, at lower overall power consumption. The Core i9-10980XE also has much higher overclocking headroom than its predecessor, but Intel's textbook incrementalism is no longer enough to fend off AMD in the 7nm Zen 2 era. 

The Core i9-10980XE has two primary competitors: the Ryzen 9 3950X and the Threadripper 2970WX that AMD has left on the market to address this price bracket. Due to the 2970WX's bipolar performance trends, with excellent performance in some threaded workload but flaccid performance in others, it's hard to recommend that chip as a general-purpose alternative. There are a slim cross-section of workloads where the 2970WX makes sense, but you'll suffer too many trade-offs in consistent performance across all workloads. 

The Ryzen 9 3950X looms large as the unlikely competitor for the -10980XE. The chip lacks a quad-channel memory controller and doesn't come with as many PCIe lanes, but its PCIe 4.0 lanes deliver twice the throughput of Intel's PCIe 3.0-equipped -10980XE. Given the Ryzen 9 3950X's impressive performance in many mainstream tasks, including threaded workloads, and its lower overall chip and platform pricing, it is a viable alternative to Intel's Core i9-10980XE. 

Intel often has to lean on its overclocking advantage to wrest the lead from the 3950X, but the 3950X isn't too shabby after overclocking, either. Intel's advantage after tuning comes at a $230 premium and requires more robust cooling and power delivery, so you should factor that into your purchasing decision. 

We generally don't recommend HEDT parts for gamers, you'll get faster performance from the mainstream Core i9-9900K and 3950X, but streamers do benefit from the extra cores and threads, particularly for editing tasks. Intel's new $979 price point is much more palatable for this class of user, but most of the benefit over the 3950X would only come after spending those extra dollars on accompanying components. Most would be better served by the Ryzen 9 3950X. 

If you don't need extra I/O or quad-channel memory, the 3950X is also a better value for most productivity workloads. That does leave a preciously slim slice of the market where Intel has an advantage in this price bracket (users that need quad-channel memory or more PCIe lanes). Overclocking performance is a factor if you're willing to spend the cash. You can drop the -10980XE into an existing X299 board if you're willing to sacrifice a few PCIe lanes, but be aware that this is the end of the line for the X299 platform. 

Meanwhile, AMD's Threadripper 3000 platform will likely be compatible with future generations, and we suspect the company will soon release a Threadripper part to compete directly with the -10980XE.

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  • Ful4n1t0c0sme
    Games benchmarks on a non gamer CPU. There is no sense. Please do compiling benchmarks and other stuff that make sense.

    And please stop using Windows to do that.
    Reply
  • Pat Flynn
    Ful4n1t0c0sme said:
    Games benchmarks on a non gamer CPU. There is no sense. Please do compiling benchmarks and other stuff that make sense.

    And please stop using Windows to do that.

    While I agree that some Linux/Unix benchmarks should be present, the inclusion of gaming benchmarks helps not only pro-sumers, but game developers as well. It'll let them know how the CPU handles certain game engines, and whether or not they should waste tons of money on upgrading their dev teams systems.
    Re: I used to build systems for Bioware...
    Reply
  • PaulAlcorn
    Ful4n1t0c0sme said:
    Games benchmarks on a non gamer CPU. There is no sense. Please do compiling benchmarks and other stuff that make sense.

    And please stop using Windows to do that.

    Intel markets these chips at gamers, so we check the goods.

    9 game benchmarks
    28 workstation-focused benchmarks
    40 consumer-class application tests
    boost testing
    power/thermal testing, including efficiency metrics
    overclocking testing/data. I'm happy with that mix.
    Reply
  • IceQueen0607
    Disclaimer: I badly want to dump Intel and go AMD. But are the conditions right?

    The AMD 3950X has 16 PCIe lanes, right? So for those of us who have multiple adapters such as RAID cards, USB or SATA port adapters, 10G NICs, etc, HEDT is the only way to go.

    Someone once told me "No one in the world needs more than 16PCIe lanes, that's why mainstream CPUs have never gone over 16 lanes". If that were true the HEDT CPUs would not exist.

    So we can say the 3950X destroys the Intel HEDT lineup, but only if you don't have anything other than ONE graphics card. As soon as you add other devices, you're blown.

    The 3970X is $3199 where I am. That will drop by $100 by 2021.

    The power consumption of 280w will cost me an extra $217 per year per PC. There are 3 HEDT PCs, so an extra $651 per year.

    AMD: 1 PC @ 280w for 12 hours per day for 365 days at 43c per kilowatt hour = $527.74
    Intel: 1 PC @ 165w for 12 hours per day for 365 days at 43c per kilowatt hour = $310.76

    My 7900X is overclocked to 4.5GHZ all cores. Can I do that with any AMD HEDT CPU?

    In summer the ambient temp here is 38 - 40 degrees Celsius. With a 280mm cooler and 11 case fans my system runs 10 degrees over ambient on idle, so 50c is not uncommon during the afternoons on idle. Put the system under load it easily sits at 80c and is very loud.

    With a 280w CPU, how can I cool that? The article says that "Intel still can't deal with heat". Errr... Isn't 280w going to produce more heat than 165w. And isn't 165w much easier to cool? Am I missing something?

    I'm going to have to replace motherboard and RAM too. That's another $2000 - $3000. With Intel my current memory will work and a new motherboard will set me back $900.

    Like I said, I really want to go AMD, but I think the heat, energy and changeover costs are going to be prohibitive. PCIe4 is a big draw for AMD as it means I don't have to replace again when Intel finally gets with the program, but the other factors I fear are just too overwhelming to make AMD viable at this stage.

    Darn it Intel is way cheaper when looked at from this perspective.
    Reply
  • redgarl
    Ful4n1t0c0sme said:
    Games benchmarks on a non gamer CPU. There is no sense. Please do compiling benchmarks and other stuff that make sense.

    And please stop using Windows to do that.

    It's over pal... done, there is not even a single way to look at it the bright way, the 3950x is making the whole Intel HEDT offering a joke.

    I would have give this chip a 2 stars, but we know toms and their double standards. The only time they cannot do it is when the data is just plain dead impossible to contest... like Anandtech described, it is a bloodbath.

    I don't believe Intel will get back from this anytime soon.
    Reply
  • PaulAlcorn
    IceQueen0607 said:
    <snip>

    The AMD 3950X has 16 PCIe lanes, right? So for those of us who have multiple adapters such as RAID cards, USB or SATA port adapters, 10G NICs, etc, HEDT is the only way to go.

    <snip>
    The article says that "Intel still can't deal with heat".
    <snip>

    I agree with the first point here, which is why we point out that Intel has an advantage there for users that need the I/O.

    On the second point, can you point me to where it says that in the article? I must've missed it. Taken in context, it says that Intel can't deal with the heat of adding more 14nm cores in the same physical package, which is accurate if it wants to maintain a decent clock rate.
    Reply
  • ezst036
    I'm surprised nobody caught this from the second paragraph of the article.

    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 once, doesn't even have a response.
    For twice? This is a recall of the olden days of the first-gen slot-A Athlon processors. Now I'm not well-versed in TomsHardware articles circa 1999, but this was not hard to find at all:

    Coppermine's architecture is still based on the architecture of Pentium Pro. This architecture won't be good enough to catch up with Athlon. It will be very hard for Intel to get Coppermine to clock frequencies of 700 and above and the P6-architecture may not benefit too much from even higher core clocks anymore. Athlon however is already faster than a Pentium III at the same clock speed, which will hardly change with Coppermine, and Athlon is designed to go way higher than 600 MHz. This design screams for higher clock speeds! AMD is probably for the first time in the very situation that Intel used to enjoy for such a long time. AMD might already be able to supply Athlons at even higher clock rates right now (650 MHz is currently the fastest Athlon), but there is no reason to do so.
    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-processor,121-16.html
    Intel didn't have a response back then either.
    Reply
  • bigpinkdragon286
    IceQueen0607 said:
    Disclaimer: I badly want to dump Intel and go AMD. But are the conditions right?

    The AMD 3950X has 16 PCIe lanes, right? So for those of us who have multiple adapters such as RAID cards, USB or SATA port adapters, 10G NICs, etc, HEDT is the only way to go.

    Someone once told me "No one in the world needs more than 16PCIe lanes, that's why mainstream CPUs have never gone over 16 lanes". If that were true the HEDT CPUs would not exist.

    So we can say the 3950X destroys the Intel HEDT lineup, but only if you don't have anything other than ONE graphics card. As soon as you add other devices, you're blown.

    The 3970X is $3199 where I am. That will drop by $100 by 2021.

    The power consumption of 280w will cost me an extra $217 per year per PC. There are 3 HEDT PCs, so an extra $651 per year.

    AMD: 1 PC @ 280w for 12 hours per day for 365 days at 43c per kilowatt hour = $527.74
    Intel: 1 PC @ 165w for 12 hours per day for 365 days at 43c per kilowatt hour = $310.76

    My 7900X is overclocked to 4.5GHZ all cores. Can I do that with any AMD HEDT CPU?

    In summer the ambient temp here is 38 - 40 degrees Celsius. With a 280mm cooler and 11 case fans my system runs 10 degrees over ambient on idle, so 50c is not uncommon during the afternoons on idle. Put the system under load it easily sits at 80c and is very loud.

    With a 280w CPU, how can I cool that? The article says that "Intel still can't deal with heat". Errr... Isn't 280w going to produce more heat than 165w. And isn't 165w much easier to cool? Am I missing something?

    I'm going to have to replace motherboard and RAM too. That's another $2000 - $3000. With Intel my current memory will work and a new motherboard will set me back $900.

    Like I said, I really want to go AMD, but I think the heat, energy and changeover costs are going to be prohibitive. PCIe4 is a big draw for AMD as it means I don't have to replace again when Intel finally gets with the program, but the other factors I fear are just too overwhelming to make AMD viable at this stage.

    Darn it Intel is way cheaper when looked at from this perspective.
    TDP is the wrong way to directly compare an Intel CPU with an AMD CPU. Neither vendor measures TDP in the same fashion so you should not compare them directly. On the most recent platforms, per watt consumed, you get more work done on the new AMD platform, plus most users don't have their chips running at max power 24/7, so why would you calculate your power usage against TDP even if it were comparable across brands?

    Also, your need to have all of your cores clocked to a particular, arbitrarily chosen speed is a less than ideal metric to use if speed is not directly correlated to completed work, which after all is essentially what we want from a CPU.

    If you really need to get so much work done that your CPU runs at it's highest power usage perpetually, the higher cost of the power consumption is hardly going to be your biggest concern.

    How about idle and average power consumption, or completed work per watt, or even overall completed work in a given time-frame, which make a better case about AMD's current level of competitiveness.
    Reply
  • Crashman
    ezst036 said:
    I'm surprised nobody caught this from the second paragraph of the article.

    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 once, doesn't even have a response.
    For twice? This is a recall of the olden days of the first-gen slot-A Athlon processors. Now I'm not well-versed in TomsHardware articles circa 1999, but this was not hard to find at all:

    Coppermine's architecture is still based on the architecture of Pentium Pro. This architecture won't be good enough to catch up with Athlon. It will be very hard for Intel to get Coppermine to clock frequencies of 700 and above and the P6-architecture may not benefit too much from even higher core clocks anymore. Athlon however is already faster than a Pentium III at the same clock speed, which will hardly change with Coppermine, and Athlon is designed to go way higher than 600 MHz. This design screams for higher clock speeds! AMD is probably for the first time in the very situation that Intel used to enjoy for such a long time. AMD might already be able to supply Athlons at even higher clock rates right now (650 MHz is currently the fastest Athlon), but there is no reason to do so.
    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-processor,121-16.html
    Intel didn't have a response back then either.
    Fun times. The Tualatin was based on Coppermine and went to 1.4 GHz, outclassing Williamette at 1.8GHz by a wide margin. Northwood came out and beat it, but at the same time Intel was developing Pentium M based on...guess what? Tualatin.

    And then Core came out of Pentium M, etc etc etc and it wasn't long before AMD couldn't keep up.

    Ten years we waited for AMD to settle the score, and it's our time to enjoy their time in the sun.
    Reply
  • IceQueen0607
    PaulAlcorn said:
    I agree with the first point here, which is why we point out that Intel has an advantage there for users that need the I/O.

    On the second point, can you point me to where it says that in the article? I must've missed it. Taken in context, it says that Intel can't deal with the heat of adding more 14nm cores in the same physical package, which is accurate if it wants to maintain a decent clock rate.

    yes, sorry, my interpretation was not worded accurately.

    Intel simply doesn't have room to add more cores, let alone deal with the increased heat, within the same package.
    My point was that Intel is still going to be easier to cool producing only 165w vs AMD's 280w.

    How do you calculate the watts, or heat for an overclocked CPU? I'm assuming the Intel is still more over-clockable than the AMD, so given the 10980XE's base clock of 3.00ghz, I wonder if I could still overclock it over 4.00ghz. How much heat would it produce then compared to the AMD?

    Not that I can afford to spend $6000 to upgrade to the 3970X or $5000 to upgrade to the 3960X... And the 3950X is out because of PCIe lane limitations.

    It looks like I'm stuck with Intel, unless I save my coins to go AMD. Makes me sick to the pit of my stomach :)
    Reply