Intel i9-9980XE Performance Review
Intel has been on something resembling a war footing as of late as they scramble to find a way to counteract AMD’s Ryzen and Threadripper surge. While it was more than evident that Team Blue was caught flat-footed by all things Zen, they’re obviously now racing out both new and refreshed processors. The first salvo was last month’s 9th Gen Coffee Lake CPUs and now we’re about to move on to the HEDT market with a refresh of Skylake-X.
Unfortunately, Intel’s once-darling 14nm manufacturing process is now their worst enemy since moving beyond it has proven to be a titanic undertaking. There’s no better example of this than the 9th generation high end desktop parts which Intel has simply described as “products formerly known as Skylake”. Basically, that means Intel’s “new” flagship CPUs are simply utilizing the three year old Skylake architecture rather than Coffee Lake or even Kaby Lake for that matter.
While the underlying microarchitecture of these “9th Gen” CPUs may is a senior citizen by today’s standards, this old dog is still learning new tricks. Endless 14nm enhancements have lead to improved clock speeds without overtly impacting TDP values. There’s also been a significant shift in some of the mid and lower priced SKUs so they’re more competitive with Threadripper alternatives.
Soldered TIM has also been utilized to lower overall temperatures and potentially improve overclocking. However, despite the fact motherboard manufacturers are releasing “new” X299 boards, there’s really nothing different with the platform itself. This is simply an excuse to refresh their respective lineups.
Sitting right at the top of Intel’s HEDT lineup will be the 18 core, 36 thread i9-9980XE which is basically a clone of the i9-7980XE but with a significantly higher Base Clock and slightly better Turbo frequencies. Through testing I noticed that it was able to hit consistently better frequencies than its predecessor regardless of how many cores were engaged. As you’ll see in the benchmarks, that led to a pretty impressive performance bump in some situations.
That same narrative of better speeds alongside identical specifications (and prices for that matter) continues with the i9-9960X and i9-9940X but stops when our chart hits the i9-9920X. Personally I think this CPU is one of the most interesting of this generation since it boasts a base clock that’s a whopping 600MHz higher than the outgoing 7920X and Intel has equipped it with more L3 Smart Cache. This combination could make it a potent competitor against the Threadripper 2950X despite a cost that’s a good $300 higher than AMD’s alternative. The 9920X will require more power than the 7000-series CPU it replaces but that’s a small price to pay.
Moving further down into the lineup and things continue to get interesting. The 9900X gets a 200MHz boost in its Base Clock rates but that move from 13.75 to 19.25MB of Smart Cache will likely benefit performance more than any frequency modification could have. Remember, in many ways the 7900X was Skylake-X’s darling since it combined a somewhat reasonable price with great frequencies and 20 concurrent threads. I still use one in my primary gaming and editing PC.
The next stop on our whirlwind tour is the oddball of Intel’s new lineup: the i9-9820X. Like the 9900X it has 20 threads but it also operates at significantly lower clock speeds and it has nearly 3MB less L3 cache. And yet it costs just $100 less. Its obvious Intel wants this CPU to run up against AMD’s 2950X but I have to wonder why they didn’t just lower the 9900X’s price by $100 for a more convincing alternative. Sure it has 44 CPU-based PCIe lanes but that’s par for the course these days.
Intel has chosen the i7-9800X as the i7-7820X’s true replacement and with it comes the expected price increase to $600 (versus the 7800X’s $400) and 44 PCIe lanes. Honestly, it seems these two 9800X-series processors are positioned in such a way to make room for the i9-9900K rather than being reactive to anything within the competitive landscape.
So that’s the quick and dirty look at Intel’s refreshed lineup and in all reality, if the original Skylake-X processors didn’t appeal to you, there’s likely nothing here to change your opinion. But let’s go through the motions of benchmarking the i9-9980XE to see if there are any surprises in store.
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