Intel i9-9980XE CPU
14nm pushed to the limit.
The core wars are in full swing. AMD may be in front thanks to its recently released 24- and 32-core Threadripper models, but multi core power isn’t the be all and end all. Intel’s 9th generation Skylake-X refresh promises a good blend of multi-threaded grunt combined with aggressive turbo modes and strong clock for clock performance. We’ve got the flagship 18 core i9 -9980XE on hand, which on paper is a very powerful processor indeed.
With 10nm processors nowhere in sight, Intel has no choice but to continue to refine its 14nm process technology. The 9980XE appears to be right on the limit of what we can expect from 14nm and the current architecture. To Intel’s credit, the 9980XE is a decent step forward over the 7980XE. Its base clock is increased to 3.0GHz vs. the 2.6 GHz of the 7980XE, while all core turbo boost goes up to 3.8GHz from 3.4GHz. Peak turbo boost is now 4.5GHz for a two core load. A soldered heat spreader makes a welcome return, leading to improved heat dissipation. The 9980XE is drop in compatible with existing X299 boards after a BIOS update. Memory support remains unchanged with its quad-channel memory controller officially supporting DDR4-2666. TDP is 165W though actual power consumption can go well beyond that, especially if you’re overclocking.
WELL ROUNDED PERFORMANCE
What matters with an expensive and powerful processor is how it performs, and the i99980XE does very well. It can’t match the 2970WX let alone the 2990WX at highly threaded workloads, but then we wouldn’t expect it to with such a large core count disadvantage. It’s clearly no slouch though. The lightly threaded benchmarks and those that struggle with scaling are interesting. The Cinescore benchmark is interesting as it stops scaling at 16 cores, but the clock speed and IPC advantage sees the 9980XE pulling well ahead of the similar core count 2950X. We also see this advantage in our gaming tests which prefer clock speed over very high core counts.
Overall, performance is quite surprising. AMD’s Threadripper reigns supreme when presented with workloads that are appropriately coded to take advantage of their parallel prowess, but the 9980XE is more well-rounded and suitable to a broader range of tasks. It shows the i9-7980XE a clean pair of heels thanks to much more aggressive per core turbo modes. Temperatures were also surprisingly in check with a 75c peak. If you intend to overclock to any meaningful extent, you’ll need a top class AIO or custom water cooling as we saw peaks in the 90s with a quick and dirty 4.2GHz all core OC. You’ll also need a very capable PSU capable of pushing a lot of current through the EPS connector(s).
“Intel’s 9th generation Skylake-X refresh promises a good blend of multi-threaded grunt combined with aggressive turbo modes and strong clock for clock performance.”
“If you’re into gaming then the Strix X299-XE is worth a look, but you really need to be doing something else to justify the additional cost over the mainstream platform.”
CAREFULLY CONSIDER YOUR X299 MOTHERBOARD CHOICE
When Skylake-X was released, there were concerns over the capabilities of the VRM and cooling solutions used on many of the first wave X299 models. For the most part this was overblown, especially if you were using the lower core count CPUs. The problem was that pushing 16 or 18 core CPUs hard puts a LOT of stress on the motherboard VRM. This was exacerbated by the tendency of motherboard manufacturers to apply non-standard turbo boost modes. For our testing, we used an Asus ROG Strix X299-XE motherboard which comes with a larger heatsink, making it better equipped to handle the demands of fully loaded extreme core count CPUs.
The Strix X299-XE is what we’d call a middle of the range X299 motherboard. Even though it comes with a $500 price tag, in X299 terms, that’s far from top end pricing. You get a nice well rounded package with a good set of enthusiast features and a well done RGB implementation. You won’t find some bells and whistles like 10GbE or U.2 ports but then those things are less important on a gaming oriented board like the Strix. If you’re into gaming then the Strix X299-XE is worth a look, but you really need to be doing something else to justify the additional cost over the mainstream platform. If you’re one of those gamers who can make use of the X299 and CPUs with all that multithreaded grunt, then by all means check out the Strix X299-XE.
A TRUE FLAGSHIP WITH A PRICE TO MATCH
Pricing is the 9980XE’s biggest problem. The multicore performance of the cheaper AMD 2970WX is better, while the 2950X goes close to matching the 9980XE at around half the price. If Intel did lower price, it would risk cannibalizing sales from its lucrative enterprise market, so unfortunately a hefty price drop is unlikely. As it stands though, the i9-9980XE is a capable flagship processor across a wide range of tasks that’s only let down by its eye-watering price..
CPU TBA $2700+ | WWW.INTEL.COM.AU Intel Core i9-9980XE, 14nm, Socket LGA2066 18 cores/36 threads, 3.0GHz base clock, 4.5GHz max boost clock, supports up to 128GB DDR4-2666 (quad channel), 24.75MB SmartCache, 44 PCIe lanes, 165W TDP