Core i9-10980XE Performance Review – Intel Has Left The Chat

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So here we are with another CPU review – from Intel this time – and it is the Cascade Lake X-based Intel Core i9-10980XE. If you’ve read our earlier review on the ThreadRipper 3000 series you probably know how much AMD’s high-end 3rd Gen chips are dominating Intel’s offerings. Both of these launches happened on the same day, and there is an interesting story behind this. It looks like someone from Intel leaked the launch date for the Cascade Lake X processors to AMD, because it was supposed to launch at 9:00 AM and what ended up happening is AMD decided to launch ThreadRipper on the same day at the same time. However, Intel knew that and so they decided to launch it to 9 hours earlier. That is what this industry has come down to in 2019.

New Specs, Same As The Old

Now when you compare the Core i9-10980XE to 3rd Gen ThreadRipper – which is the 3960X and 3970X – there’s just no comparison because those processors absolutely destroy the Core i9-10980XE. And by the way, this is the box that Intel sent us, and we had to label it just because we need to find a way to differentiate it since all these engineering sample LGA2066 CPUs look the same.

This article is going to be fairly short because there’s nothing really new about Cascade Lake X since it’s still based off the ancient Skylake X architecture. I mean the processors are still using the old X299 motherboards, so at this point it doesn’t really have anything new and that is bad. What you need to know is that all the core counts are identical to previous generation and the one before that. However, the number of PCI-E lanes has gone up by four and prices have been reduced by about 50%. That sounds good in theory, but by the end of this article you will realize that the price cuts still aren’t enough though.

Another thing that’s happening is a super small increase in clock speeds from the previous i9-9000 series, which was possible because Intel refined their 14nm+++ times infinity manufacturing process. With regard to those clock speeds, because of the way Intel’s Turbo algorithms work, overall performance can’t be determined by just the base and boost speeds. There are a lot of frequency points in between those which are controlled by power, temperature, and more. That means the i9-10980XE may struggle to outperform the i9-9980XE in some situations.

Price

Now about that pricing, it still really doesn’t look competitive if you’re buying a new system plus the $980 USD i9-10980XE sits in a weird space between AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 3950X and the $1,400 entry-level price of the ThreadRipper 3960X. And we already known how it underperforms against those two CPUs. One thing that’s important to consider is how the incremental progress could end up benefiting someone who might have purchased a i9-7900 series CPU back in 2017. For instance, if you bought a 10-core i9-7900X for $999 USD near launch, an 18-core i9-10980XE that starts at 3.0GHz base and Turbo Boosts all the way up to 4.8Ghz might just be a very worthwhile drop-in upgrade for a similar $980 USD. Basically, that’s the only good thing that Cascade Lake X has to offer.

Now I’m going to go on a little bit of a rant here because I am absolutely frustrated with Intel’s sampling strategy. Every single time they launch new processors they end up sampling their highest-end processor and not their lower tiers ones. The perfect example of that is our i9-10980XE, it’s the only processor we have from the Cascade Lake X lineup. We really wish that we were able to give you a fresh perspective on what these processors could offer at their respective price points, but again they are all pretty poor value in my opinion. Nevertheless, it’s just something that we hope Intel could improve later down the line.

Benchmarks

With that out of the way, let’s get into the benchmarks. First up, nothing has changed from our test systems and the overall setup from our last article, other than the addition of the TRX40 platform and 3rd Gen ThreadRipper. I’ve also updated some items like power consumption since we found some issues with HWiNFO64 stability test load. As we go through these benchmarks, I want you to keep this in mind, the i9-10980XE is almost $250 more than AMD’s 3950X, but $400 less than the ThreadRipper 3960X. That should give you some idea about where it stands from a value standpoint. Right away we can see that the difference between the i9-9980XE and the i9-10980XE is minimal at best.

Moving on from Cinebench onto more real-world testing, and it’s obvious that the 3950X is just untouchable from a price-to-performance perspective. The 3960X on the other hand demolishes everything when all its cores are fully loaded, but it isn’t a great value if you’re running MetaShape or Reality Capture. Depending on the situation those programs don’t utilize all that chip’s available threads. Honestly, if these results show anything, it’s how the 3950X is a crazy good buy, if you can find one.

Now switching to a compiler and things start to go real sideways for the i9-10980XE, it might edge out the 3950X but there’s no way it’s worth $250 more. The i9-10980XE also loses in Handbrake transcoding and even Premiere Pro. The only convincing win here is our Adobe transcode test, which seems to really favor Intel CPU architecture right now. I have to wonder if that’s just a matter of a lack of optimizations on Adobe’s part. We are then quickly back to reality in DaVince Resolve where the i9-10980XE does edge out the ThreadRipper 3960X, but it also gets beat by the cheaper 3950X. In Autodesk Maya Intel’s latest chip gets slapped around like nobody’s business.

Moving on to gaming, and I’ll just let these run through since the i9-10980XE basically performs exactly the same as our i9-9980XE. There are different times when each won, but those were well within the margin of error. More importantly, the 3950X actually wins in a bunch of cases. Yup, that’s right, Intel can’t even claim to have superior gaming performance anymore. It’s really amazing to see how far AMD has come.

Power Consumption

Now while this might look like any other chart, it explains a lot. It looks like the updated power consumption test proves that our i9-9980XE actually quite power hungry. That actually makes me wonder if a more efficient sample would have led to it matching the i9-10980XE’s performance in some cases. It goes to show you these CPUs are literally clones of one another.

Conclusion

All right, so I think I’m going to start this conclusion with something that should be obvious by now, the i9-10980XE’s main challenge is its price point, especially in a competitive market. Intel was able to shave 50% off of the i9-10980XE’s price point and add a little bit of performance to it, but it’s just not enough. The Ryzen 9 3950X costs hundreds less and eats Cascade Lake X for breakfast. AMD is just so dominant right now. I think the biggest problem with Cascade Lake X is its platform, because Intel’s high-end desktop market used to target gamers that used dual GPUs and needed two full-speed PCI-E x16 slots or people who needed all of those processing threads. But now things are different, both NVIDIA and AMD are moving away from dual GPU support, so a good chunk of Intel’s customers are better off buying AMD’s X570 or Intel’s Z390. To me X299 doesn’t even feel like a high-end platform anymore, it comes with a lot of compromises. You’re not getting things like PCI-E Gen4, 10GbE ethernet, USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, or Wi-Fi 6. It’s just a dead end motherboard platform. If you’re building a new system right now you should definitely stay away from extra X299, and more importantly Cascade Lake X.

However, if you look at Cascade Lake X from another perspective, this could be an interesting drop-in upgrade solution as previously mentioned. I think that’s a pretty big deal for businesses or professionals who just don’t want to spend a lot of time dealing with that entire platform switch. However, if you are thinking about building a brand new system right now, you should totally avoid Cascade Lake X because they are just far better options in the market from AMD.

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