Last month I reviewed a host of new CPUs including AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X, Threadripper 3970X and 3960X – all of which were excellent and vast improvements on their predecessors. I also reviewed Intel’s Core i9-10980XE – it’s latest flagship 18-core high-end desktop processor and unfortunately for the Intel, mine was one of the kinder reviews out there.
Intel’s Core i9-10980XE
You don’t have to look far to read some very negative press – rants that echoed around the Internet much to the delight of AMD fans. However, in the feverish coverage, a lot of reviewers failed to mention or discuss Intel’s massive price cuts, made to its Cascade Lake-X processors to combat AMD’s 16-c0re Ryzen 9 3950X. These allowed the company to salvage a small niche for itself in the high-end desktop market. Sure, it lost the lead in a big way; the Threadripper 3960X, for example, is a better CPU in nearly every way. But AMD’s new Threadrippers are a huge amount more expensive too.
Gone are the days of Threadripper offering better value at a much lower price point than Intel’s high-end processors (yes 2nd Gen products such as the Threadripper 2950X are still available, but they’re often noticeably slower in games and some other tests). It’s now taking the lead in desktop performance. However, this has also opened up a gap in the market that Intel has, with limited resources at its disposal, filled with some success. The Core i9-10980XE, while still more expensive than the Ryzen 9 3950X, offers significantly more grunt in a number of tests, especially if you overclock it. They include some game titles too. There’s also the matter of PCI-E lanes. While AMD’s X570 platform offers more bandwidth per device with PCI-E 4.0 support, the platform only has a limited number of PCI-E lanes to dish out.
AMD’s Threadripper 3970X
Intel’s X299 platform and indeed AMD’s TRX40 platform offer far more PCI-E lanes, allowing customers to use numerous PCI-E devices. This won’t appeal to your average gamer or casual PC user, but for content creators, it can be essential. Motherboard prices are similar too, at least between X570 and X299. My point here, really, is that the Core i9-10980XE isn’t really competing directly with the Ryzen 9 3950X. Intel’s massive price cuts mean that it simply sits above it slightly in terms of cost and performance and for some it will be the best option, especially if you can’t afford AMD’s new Threadripper CPUs.
This does not, however, mean I completely disagree with all of Intel’s bad press. The fact it had to cut prices massively to remain competitive is rather sad. For me, though, it’s the lack of innovation that is most warranted, even if, arguably, Cascade Lake-X is actually a viable option for certain budgets.
The problem here is that for three generations of high-end desktop CPUs – three 18-core CPUs in a row, we’ve seen little to no innovation. Let’s take a step back in time to 2014 when Intel released its Haswell-E processors. At the top of the stack was the Core i7-5960X – an 8-core CPU that offered a huge amount of power and was a massive step up from its predecessor. Next came the Core i7-6950X in 2016. It increased the core count to 10 and also saw a shrinking of the manufacturing process from 22nm to 14nm.
AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X
2017 saw the introduction of Skylake-X, which represented one of the biggest generational shifts we’ve seen on Intel’s high-end desktop platform. We moved from 10 cores to a massive 18 and while the manufacturing process stayed at 14nm, the Skylake-X architecture was a major revision. As many will know, it’s AMD that instigated this move; 2017 was also the year AMD launched Threadripper.
AMD’s antics aside, in just three generations we saw Intel’s cores counts increase from 8 to 18, a major architectural tweak in Skylake-X and the manufacturing process shrinking from 22nm to 14nm. The key points there, just to re-iterate, are manufacturing process shrinks, major architectural redesigns and core count increased. How many of these have we seen in the last three generations? Zero. Core counts have stagnated, Intel is now on its fourth 14nm architecture and there have been no significant architecture improvements since Skylake-X.
This is why the likes of Linus Tech Tips slated Intel. Of course, the Internet took over and people started slating Cascade Lake-X in general, when actually, thanks to some huge and arguably demeaning price cuts, it has carved out a niche between AMDs 3rd Gen Ryzen and Threadripper products. We want to see innovation from Intel, though. That’s why many reviewers took Cascake Lake-X as the opportunity to let their feelings be known, which is fair enough, and in terms of innovation I completely agree. The desktop processor market is now at a tipping point with AMD poised to make yet more gains in 2020, and this time, they will likely be enough to out-do Intel at every turn, leaving it nowhere to go except cut prices on more of its product stack. Lower prices are good, of course, but faster, more efficient and more powerful processors are better.