In­tel’s $1,999 Core i9, with Cof­fee Lake to fol­low—is this enough to match AMD?


More core wars; bit­coin fork; pass­word rules wrong; Tesla 3.

EVEN IF YOU HAVE no in­ten­tion of us­ing an AMD Ryzen or Threadripper, their very ex­is­tence is good news. It has made In­tel re­spond with faster and bet­ter; com­pe­ti­tion is back. In­tel’s lat­est re­sponse is high­end Core i9s, avail­able by the time you read this. We now have the skinny on the fastest four.

At the top of the tree is the lovely 18-core i9-7980XE, run­ning at a base clock of 2.6GHz, with a Turbo mode of up to 4.4GHz. As with all the new i9s, we get quad-chan­nel DDR4 and 44 PCIe lanes. Be­low this, we have a 16-core i9-7960X run­ning at 2.8GHz, the 14-core i9-7940X at 3.1GHz, and the 12-core i9-7920X clock­ing in at 2.9GHz.

Sounds great, but you can see what’s com­ing, can’t you? Th­ese are ex­pen­sive pup­pies. The i9-7980XE is a wilt­ing $1,999—over $250 more than the prici­est i7. The 16-core part is $1,699, the 14-core is $1,399, and the 12-core stops just short of four fig­ures at $999.

In­evitably, th­ese are go­ing to be thrown against AMD’s Threadripper, and it’ll be tight. Threadripper has the higher base clock speeds, but In­tel’s Boost tops that. On sin­gle-thread ap­pli­ca­tions, In­tel will hold brag­ging rights, so gamers who are after ev­ery iota of per­for­mance will want one, but it comes at a cost, quite lit­er­ally. It’s a solid re­ply, but it’s no knock­out counter-punch.

Mean­while, we have In­tel’s eighth gen­er­a­tion Core CPU in the pipe­line, co­de­name Cof­fee Lake, which is al­ready in pro­duc­tion. Th­ese are main­stream six­core chips, and are still built on a 14nm process—we’re still wait­ing on those 10nm chips we were promised. This is the fourth gen­er­a­tion Core to use a 14nm process; it looks as though shrink­ing things is get­ting tricky and/or ex­pen­sive.

If leaked slides from In­tel are to be be­lieved (of­ten, but not al­ways), we’ll have Cof­fee Lake ver­sions of the i7 and i5 first, all six-core: the i7-8700 and 8700K run­ning at 3.2GHz and 3.7GHz re­spec­tively, and i5-8400 and 8600K run­ning at 2.8GHz and 3.6GHz. Quad-core i3 ver­sions won’t be far be­hind: the 3.6GHz i3-8100 and the 4GHz i3-8350. Two-core vari­ants will com­plete the set. Even­tu­ally, Cof­fee Lake will come in 35W mo­bile and low-en­ergy ver­sions, a 65W main­stream it­er­a­tion, and a 95W “en­thu­si­ast” ver­sion. In­tel’s teaser claims they will be “blaz­ing fast.” More prac­ti­cally, the com­pany is aim­ing at a 30 per­cent im­prove­ment over Kaby Lake, which would be most wel­come if we see it.

The not-so-cheery news is that Cof­fee Lake will need new moth­er­boards, a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the LGA 1151 socket. The new boards are based around a Z370 chipset, and get 16 PCIe lanes for graph­ics, and an­other 24 lanes for high- speed stor­age, in­clud­ing In­tel’s Op­tane tech, of course.

Mean­while, AMD’s mam­moth Threadripper has ar­rived, in all its 4,096-pin glory, along with the first gen­er­a­tion of moth­er­boards. Along­side the three Thread­rip­pers we know of, there’s a fourth, the 1920 non-X ver­sion. A 12-core plain vanilla ver­sion of the 1920X, not all of us are go­ing to over­clock.

Has In­tel re­gained the high ground? Not quite, and it’s be­ing pushed right across the mar­kets, from the lowli­est Core i3 to the top-of-the-tree i9. You can ar­gue the mer­its, fea­tures, and per­for­mances of each chip, but there’s no ar­gu­ing that AMD does it cheaper. In­tel has to re­spond by ei­ther of­fer­ing sim­i­larly good value, or by be­ing faster, and it isn’t re­ally man­ag­ing ei­ther right now.

Gamers after ev­ery iota of per­for­mance will want one, but it comes at a cost.

In­tel’s 18- core Core i9, for when you ab­so­lutely must

have ev­ery ounce of power, and have

2,000 bucks.

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