The most interesting thing about the Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition may just be its price. This is both a good and bad thing. For starters, this is the most affordable Intel's high-end desktop (HEDT) processors have been in years. The Core i9-10980XE is Intel's new 18-core flagship, and it costs just US$979. You're probably thinking that that's still pretty expensive, and it is, but it's also important to remember that the Core i9-9980XE debuted just last year at US$1,979.
That's a massive price drop in just a single year, and it was no doubt prompted by the strong performance of AMD's Ryzen 3000 series processors. AMD's new chips serve up excellent multi-threaded performance and have also made significant leaps in games. They are also very attractively priced – the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X costs US$499, while the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X costs US$749.
There was no way Intel could compete with that if it continued to price its HEDT processors in the thousand-dollar range. In response, it's slashed the prices on its Cascade Lake-X processors, which is great news for consumers.
But a new processor also needs more than just an attractive price to do well. The most interesting thing about the Core i9-10980XE is its price, and that's because there just isn't much else to get excited about. Intel isn't introducing a new HEDT chipset this year – the Core i9-10980XE will work on X299 motherboards – and Cascade Lake-X is still based on the 14nm process node.
Furthermore, outside of slightly more aggressive clockspeeds, the Core i9-10980XE doesn't seem to offer any significant upgrades compared to the Core i9-9980XE. Here's an overview of how their specifications compare:
|Base/Turbo Boost 2.0 clock||Turbo Boost Max 3.0 clock||Cores/Threads||TDP||Intel Smart Cache||Memory support|
|Intel Core i9-10980XE||3.0GHz/4.6GHz||4.8GHz||18/36||165W||24.75MB||Quad-channel DDR4-2933|
|Intel Core i9-9980XE||3.0GHz/4.4GHz||4.5GHz||18/36||165W||24.75MB||Quad-channel DDR4-2666|
The processor now also offers 48 PCIe 3.0 lanes, up from 44 from before.
In addition, Turbo Boost 2.0 frequency has gone up slightly from 4.4GHz, while the Turbo Boost Max 3.0 clock has been bumped up to 4.8GHz. The latter should come in useful in single-threaded workloads, as it identifies the processor's fastest core and directs workloads to that core, allowing it to boost higher than usual.
Intel is also highlighting the all-core Turbo speed on Cascade Lake-X. The Core i9-10980XE can boost to 3.8GHz on all 18-cores, and the chipmaker is no doubt singling this specification out because of the trouble AMD has had in getting its chips to boost to their rated specifications. To be clear, the latter problem isn't actually as bad as it sounds, and the Ryzen 3000 chips were initially reported to be falling short of their boost clocks by around 25MHz to 75MHz. This was certainly not ideal, but it wasn't exactly catastrophic either. AMD has also since rolled out BIOS fixes to let the chips boost higher.
To be fair, there are certain 10th Gen features in tow as well, including Wi-Fi 6, Thunderbolt 3, and support for Intel's Deep Learning (DL Boost) instructions for AI. The latter is a subset of AVX-512 and is intended to accelerate CPU performance in AI applications, so it's not exactly something the average consumer would really care about. But then again, this isn't exactly a chip for the so-called average consumer, and AI researchers or developers could see a nice boost in programs that can take advantage of DLBoost.
But as you'll see on the next page, the Core i9-10980XE gets a small performance boost in games, although multi-threaded benchmarks don't budge by much. Read on for a closer look at the performance numbers and whether it's worth an upgrade.