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

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
Socket
LGA 2066
Cores / Threads
18 / 36
TDP
165W
Base Frequency
3.0 GHz
Turbo Frequency (2.0 / 3.0)
4.4 / 4.5 GHz
L3 Cache
24.75MB
Integrated Graphics
No
Graphics Base/Turbo (MHz)
N/A
Memory Support
DDR4-2666
Memory Controller
Quad-Channel
Unlocked Multiplier
Yes
PCIe Lanes
44

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 Cores
1 -2
3 - 4
5 - 12
13 - 16
17 - 18
Core i9-9980XE Turbo Boost
4.5
4.2
4.1
3.9
3.8
Core i9-7980XE Turbo Boost
4.4
4.0
3.9
3.5
3.4

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.

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 /
Threads
Base /
Boost (GHz)
L3 Cache
(MB)
PCIe 3.0
DRAM
TDP
MSRP/RCP
Price
Per Core
TR 2990WX
32 / 64
3.0 / 4.2
64
64 (4 to PCH)
Quad DDR4-2933
250W
$1799$56
TR 2970WX
24 / 48
3.0 / 4.2
64
64 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933250W
$1299
$54
Core i9-9980XE
18 / 36
3.0 / 4.5
24.75
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$1979
$110
Core i9-7980XE
18 / 36
2.6 / 4.4
24.75
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$1999
$111
TR 2950X
16 / 32
3.5 / 4.4
32
64 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933180W
$899
$56
Core i9-9960X
16 / 32
3.1 / 4.5
22
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$1684
$105
Core i9-7960X
16 / 32
2.8 / 4.4
22
44
Quad DDR4-2666
165W
$1699
$106
Core i9-9940X
14 / 28
3.3 / 4.5
19.25
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$1387
$99
TR 2920X
12 / 24
3.5 / 4.3
32
64 (4 to PCH)Quad DDR4-2933180W
$649
$54
Core i9-9920X
12 / 24
3.5 / 4.5
19.25
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$1189
$99
Core i9-7920X
12 /24
2.9 / 4.4
16.50
44
Quad DDR4-2666
140W
$1199
$100
Core i9-9900X
10 / 20
3.5 / 4.5
19.25
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$989
$98.9
Core i9-7900X
10 / 20
3.3 / 4.3
13.75
44
Quad DDR4-2666
140W
$999
$99
Core i9-9820X
10 / 20
3.3 / 4.2
16.5
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$889
$88.9
Core i9-9800X
8 / 16
3.8 / 4.5
16.5
44
Quad DDR4-2666165W
$589
$73.65
Core i9-9900K
8 / 16
3.6 / 5.0
16
16
Dual DDR4-2666
95W
$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.

MORE: Best CPUs

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

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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
  • rantoc
    How about just no for that price...
  • BulkZerker
    I'll pay about $950...
  • mikebabigian
    Does it fix all the Spectre problems? If not, then no way.
  • 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?
  • 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???
  • rs.anantmishra
    This is just a terrible review. lol
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kaz_2_
    Biased whole tome article dedicate to intel. This should be rated 2/5 like linus tech has said
  • Kaz_2_
    Biased whole tome article dedicate to intel. This should be rated 2/5 like linus tech has said
  • Kridian
    I will pay approximately... 1 U.S. dollar for this.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    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?


    Accepted, and recommended, practice when benching Threadripper chips. There would be a lot more to complain about if we didn't flip them into game mode.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    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.


    Intel confirmed that it is in fact 14nm++.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    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???


    As did all other reviewers. Because this chip is aimed at gamers, too.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    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.


    We use the integrated PCMark 8 test that runs the suite. however, it does not include Premiere.
  • rs.anantmishra
    @Paul - Accepted, and recommended, practice when benching Threadripper chips. There would be a lot more to complain about if we didn't flip them into game mode.

    Wow your answer is so specific and it totally answers the questions I asked you. pffffft.. Sheer Incompetence.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    @Paul - Accepted, and recommended, practice when benching Threadripper chips. There would be a lot more to complain about if we didn't flip them into game mode.

    Wow your answer is so specific and it totally answers the questions I asked you. pffffft.. Sheer Incompetence.

    The AMD processors wouldn't perform as well if we toggled off game mode and tested the AMD processors. Hence, AMD created the game mode to boost performance in latency-sensitive applications, such as games.
  • operativez
    Notice how every single review of the i9-9980XE is only being benched @ 1080p when it comes to games? Isn't this suspicious? Is it because Threadripper can beat this CPU @ 1440p and 4K when it comes to gaming?
  • Mike Coberly
    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...

    ^^^Exactly what he/she said.