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

Conclusion

Despite its place at the top of Intel's high-end desktop portfolio, Core i9-9980XE is faced with tougher competition than its predecessor. Aside from a tweaked 14nm manufacturing process and solder-based thermal interface material, there's little else to differentiate this Core i9 flagship from the one that came before. As a result, Intel has a hard time scrapping with AMD's fastest Ryzen Threadripper models.

Don't get us wrong: the Core i9-9980XE is an agile chip. Intel made definite improvements to its Turbo Boost frequencies, which facilitate higher frame rates in games, along with better benchmark results across our application suite. The generational gains are fairly mild, though:

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All told, the Core i9-9980XE only provided a 3.3 percent speed-up compared to the -7980XE in the games we test. AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper chips aren’t as fast in those same titles, but the 2950X, specifically, will attract plenty of attention at its price point because it's such an all-around performer. As you shift to QHD resolution and 4K resolutions, it's more than capable of complementing fast graphics cards.

Core i9-9980XE was also impressive in our application benchmarks. It just didn't win in a definitive manner. And a lot of threaded metrics still go AMD's way thanks to the SMT-enabled 32-core behemoth in its arsenal. Both companies force you to make certain compromises due to architectural decisions that enable the big core counts we're seeing. So, at the end of the day, we have to weigh good against the bad.

AMD leaves ECC memory support enabled, if that's important to you. Intel disables it in an effort to protect the Xeon family. Intel leaves all of its PCIe connectivity turned on across the refreshed Skylake-X chips, but AMD already does the same thing. Solder-based thermal interface material was a good choice on Intel's part this time around. However, we consider it less of a luxury and more of a necessity. Meanwhile, Ryzen Threadripper 2950X costs half as much as the Core i9-9980XE and serves up competitive performance in a great many workloads. We think that makes it the obvious value choice for high-end desktop enthusiasts who play games, stream video, create content, and crunch code.

If you're not ready to sink thousands of dollars into a HEDT CPU, compatible motherboard, premium power supply, and water-cooling loop, consider a Core i9-9900K instead. It'd give you a taste of the high-end desktop life using a mainstream platform. The Core i9-9900K isn’t going to win any value awards, but it's an attractive option for well-heeled enthusiasts looking for the fastest gaming platform out there.

While we aren’t particularly excited about the Core i9-9980XE's iterative improvements, more aggressive Turbo Boost bins, larger caches, and full access to the PCI Express controller make downstream models more interesting than their previous-gen equivalents. The Core i9-9980XE itself is a powerful piece of hardware for heavy computing. There's a lot to like if you really do need high-end accommodations. We're simply turned off by Intel's unwillingness to budge on pricing versus the competition.

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Paul Alcorn

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.