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Intel Core i9-9980XE CPU Review: Still Too Expensive

Our Verdict

Intel's Core i9-9980XE offers flagship-class performance to a wide range of workloads thanks to 18 cores and aggressive Turbo Boost frequencies. You'll pay dearly for the privilege of owning one, though. Expect to budget extra for a high-end motherboard, a capable water cooling loop, and an enthusiast-oriented power supply if you plan on overclocking.

For

  • Balanced performance in single- and multi-threaded workloads
  • Improved Turbo Boost frequencies

Against

  • Too expensive compared to the competition
  • High power consumption
  • Thermal output requires capable cooling solution

The Skylake-X Refresh

The battle for high-end desktop supremacy escalated last year when AMD released its first-gen 16-core Threadripper processors, challenging Intel's dominance in that space for the first time in recent history. Intel was forced to hastily launch its Skylake-X family with as many as 18 cores per CPU socket in order to remain king of the hill. AMD struck back earlier in 2018 with second-gen Threadripper processors, including the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX. Although a sophisticated topology imposes performance compromises in certain applications, the new Threadrippers dominate heavily threaded tasks.

Not one to back down from a fight, Intel is responding with a refreshed Skylake-X series that tops out with the 18C/36T Core i9-9980XE. There's also an overclockable 28-core Xeon W-3175X waiting in the wings. But that chip's pedigree is decidedly more professional in nature.

That means Intel is dependent on yet another 14nm refresh to fend off AMD's advances. And this time, it won't be reclaiming the core count crown. As such, Core i9-9980XE features the same underlying Skylake-X architecture as previous-gen models. At least this time the company uses a solder-based thermal interface material (STIM) to improve thermal transfer between its die and heat spreader, yielding higher Turbo Boost clock rates. Overclocking might benefit as well. But even at stock clock speeds, expect to invest in a premium motherboardhigh-capacity power supply, and beefy cooler to get the most out of Core i9-9980XE.

The competition between AMD and Intel isn't just about core counts or benchmark performance, though. Threadripper CPUs are still cheaper per core, and Intel refuses to budge on its lofty prices. As a result, Core i9-9980XE remains difficult to recommend in the face of AMD's newest Threadripper CPUs.

Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor

The Core X-series processors are designed for creators and performance aficionados who want workstation-class performance, the freedom to overclock, and other enthusiast-oriented features. They drop into existing X299 platforms, though you'll want to flash the latest firmware in order to properly support Core i9-9980XE.

Similar to previous-gen models, the X-series chips support DDR4-2666 memory. Intel simply disables ECC to prevent its Xeon customers from adopting the cheaper (and inherently less robust) enthusiast-specific platform.

Intel Core i9-9980XE Specifications
SocketLGA 2066
Cores / Threads18 / 36
TDP165W
Base Frequency3.0 GHz
Turbo Frequency (2.0 / 3.0)4.4 / 4.5 GHz
L3 Cache24.75MB
Integrated GraphicsNo
Graphics Base/Turbo (MHz)N/A
Memory SupportDDR4-2666
Memory ControllerQuad-Channel
Unlocked MultiplierYes
PCIe Lanes44

As mentioned, the Core i9-9980XE sports 18 physical cores with Hyper-Threading technology, allowing it to operate on 36 threads at the same time. A $1,979 price tag means that the new Core i9 competes with AMD's 32C/64T Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, even though its core count is more similar to the AMD Threadripper 2950X.

Core i9-9980XE comes with 24.75MB of L3 cache, just like its predecessor. New to this generation, though, is solder-based thermal interface material between Intel's 14nm++ die and heat spreader. The company used the same approach on its Coffee Lake processors to free up headroom for more cores. This time around, the extra headroom goes to enabling higher Turbo Boost frequencies.

Active Cores1 -23 - 45 - 1213 - 1617 - 18
Core i9-9980XE Turbo Boost4.54.24.13.93.8
Core i9-7980XE Turbo Boost4.44.03.93.53.4

Intel made a slight improvement to its dual-core Turbo Boost 3.0 frequency, bumping it up a mere 100 MHz to 4.5 GHz when the feature can target two "favored" cores with a lightly-threaded workload. Windows 10 now supports this feature natively. Intel also offers a 4.4 GHz Turbo Boost 2.0 bin. The real improvements are apparent in Intel's multi-core Turbo Boost clock rates, which increase between 200 to 400 MHz depending on the number of active cores. Expect modest gains, then, in lightly-threaded tasks like games and productivity apps, along with larger speed-ups in content creation and rendering workloads.

Also similar to Intel's previous high-end desktop CPUs, Core i9-9980XE utilizes a mesh architecture rather than the ring bus. According to company representatives, the mesh design is more scalable for connecting cores, caches, and I/O. For more detail, check out Intel Introduces New Mesh Architecture For Xeon And Skylake-X Processors.

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Intel's Xeon processors are based on one of three dies: XCC (up to 28 cores), HCC (up to 18 cores), or LCC (up to 10 cores). Recently, the company was using its HCC die for Core X-series CPUs with more than 10 cores and the LCC die for models with 10 or fewer cores. That allowed Intel to maintain healthy margins (smaller dies are cheaper to manufacture) while minimizing unnecessary power consumption and heat. Now, though, it looks like Intel uses the HCC die for all of its Core X-series models. The newest chips jump to 165W from the previous generation's 140W rating. They also have more cache. As an example, the LCC die offers up to 13.75MB of L3 cache, and yet the Core i9-9820X and Core i9-9800X have 16.5MB on-chip.

Cores /ThreadsBase / Boost (GHz)L3 Cache (MB)PCIe 3.0DRAMTDPMSRP/RCPPrice Per Core
TR 2990WX32 / 643.0 / 4.26464 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933250W$1799$56
TR 2970WX24 / 483.0 / 4.26464 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933250W$1299$54
Core i9-9980XE18 / 363.0 / 4.524.7544Quad DDR4-2666165W$1979$110
Core i9-7980XE18 / 362.6 / 4.424.7544Quad DDR4-2666165W$1999$111
TR 2950X16 / 323.5 / 4.43264 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933180W$899$56
Core i9-9960X16 / 323.1 / 4.52244Quad DDR4-2666165W$1684$105
Core i9-7960X16 / 322.8 / 4.42244Quad DDR4-2666165W$1699$106
Core i9-9940X14 / 283.3 / 4.519.2544Quad DDR4-2666165W$1387$99
TR 2920X12 / 243.5 / 4.33264 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933180W$649$54
Core i9-9920X12 / 243.5 / 4.519.2544Quad DDR4-2666165W$1189$99
Core i9-7920X12 /242.9 / 4.416.5044Quad DDR4-2666140W$1199$100
Core i9-9900X10 / 203.5 / 4.519.2544Quad DDR4-2666165W$989$98.9
Core i9-7900X10 / 203.3 / 4.313.7544Quad DDR4-2666140W$999$99
Core i9-9820X10 / 203.3 / 4.216.544Quad DDR4-2666165W$889$88.9
Core i9-9800X8 / 163.8 / 4.516.544Quad DDR4-2666165W$589$73.65
Core i9-9900K8 / 163.6 / 5.01616Dual DDR4-266695W$500$62.5

In a surprising first, Intel leaves 44 lanes of PCIe 3.0 active on all of its Core X-series models. Previously, it trimmed connectivity as it worked its way down the stack. Clearly, this is a reaction to AMD's Ryzen Threadripper CPUs, which include 60 lanes of PCIe, regardless of the model you choose.

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  • lperreault21
    so double the price per core with less than half the cores as the AMD equivalent, all within spitting distance in terms of performance, for a significantly more money, and no upgrade path on the socket (most likely) and a 4/5 ... wtf toms
    Reply
  • rantoc
    How about just no for that price...
    Reply
  • BulkZerker
    I'll pay about $950...
    Reply
  • mikebabigian
    Does it fix all the Spectre problems? If not, then no way.
    Reply
  • rs.anantmishra
    AMD's Ryzen Threadripper chips land quite a ways down our charts. With that said, we did test in AMD's recommended Game Mode.

    Does this turn off many of the TR's cores? If yes, then these benchmarks are no good right?
    Reply
  • rs.anantmishra
    Also, why the hell this dude has included gaming benchmarks? This guy himself says that these are not gaming CPU's and then goes ahead and makes 3 of the 5 benchmark pages about gaming!!!!

    That's just super weird man! Are you sure what you're talking about???
    Reply
  • rs.anantmishra
    This is just a terrible review. lol
    Reply
  • velocityg4
    I'm curious as to why Adobe Premiere was not included in the Adobe tests? Premiere is one of the few Adobe programs which benefits from heavy multi-core performance. Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects are still mostly focused on one to a few cores.
    Reply
  • pct8750
    Hi, Paul!
    Did Intel officially announce Skylake-X Refresh be manufactured on 14++ node?
    9980XE Stepping is the same as 7980XE.
    Stepping is 4, there is no change.
    Reply
  • Kaz_2_
    Biased whole tome article dedicate to intel. This should be rated 2/5 like linus tech has said
    Reply