Intel Core i9-10980XE Review: Winning the middle

Intel’s new 18-core Core i9-10980XE isn’t reaching for the stars. It’s reaching for the middle. Squeezed by AMD’s consumer 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X on one end, and the 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 3970X on the other, it can’t win on raw performance. But with Intel’s aggressive pricing at $1,000, it actually competes well on bang for buck, a tempting deal for the content creators who are the prime market for this chip. 

core i9 10980xe cascade lake x Gordon Mah Ung

Why the Core i9-10980XE is almost a deal

The Core i9-10980XE takes Intel pricing in a new direction—down. While the two previous 18-core CPUs were released at $1,999, Intel will be shipping this new generation at $1,000.

For Intel, which has been loath to chase AMD on price wars, this fat discount could potentially change the fortunes for the new CPU. In the craziest turn of events, Intel is actually less per core than AMD’s upcoming Threadripper 3000-series of CPUs (see chart below).

Who’da thunk we could put “Intel” and “deal” in the same sentence. but here we are. 

bucks per core nov IDG

Believe it or not: Intel is actually charging less per core than AMD’s new Threadripper CPUs.

Why Core i9-10980XE isn’t exactly a 10th-gen chip

Before we get to performance, we’re going to try to explain where the Core i9-10980XE falls among Intel’s chip generations, because… it’s confusing.

Obviously, the new Intel Core i9-10980XE is a 10th-gen part because of the ‘10’ in its name right? Well, not exactly. It bears no relation to the 10th-gen Ice Lake CPUs based on the new 10nm process. Nor is it related to the 10th-gen Comet Lake U CPUs, which are basically upgraded versions of the 8th-gen Whiskey Lake U.

The Core i9-10980XE actually doesn’t look all that different from Intel’s previous two 18-core chips, the Core i9-7780XE and the Core i9-9980XE. If you look at all three 18-core Core i9 chips on Intel’s ARK, they’re all 14nm chips, with marginal clock speed improvements every generation. 

18s Intel

Intel’s last three 18-core Core i9’s compared

Core i9-10980XE presents one major change over its predecessors. Intel uses its newer Cascade Lake X cores, introduced in its Xeon line earlier this year. Cascade Lake increases validated memory to DDR4/2933 and officially supports up to 256GB of RAM. 

The chip also supports Intel’s DL Boost instructions, which accelerate deep learning and inference performance. The CPU should technically work with Intel’s Optane Persistent Memory DIMMs, too (although there are no announced plans to support it yet). And In a move certain to give some AMD fans jealous rage, Core i9-10980XE will fit into existing X299-based motherboards.

Some of performance promises of Cascade Lake X are still a little hard to quantify, though. You’ll see as we delve into the benchmarks, coming up next.

How we tested

A good price isn’t a deal unless good performance comes with it. Can the new Core i9 keep up with its Ryzen rivals? 

For this showdown, we installed…

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