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