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Intel’s i9-10980XE Arrives with a Whimper, Not a Bang
Intel has launched it’s latest top-end i9 CPU. A processor that straddles the line between the high-end enthusiast segment and the low end of the professional computing market. It’s the type of CPU that makes many users look at the prices of Xeons and think, “Do I really need that CPU?” The i9-10980XE is the latest processor from Intel meant to induce those feelings, but things might no longer be as easy for Intel at the top end.

Getting to Know the 10980XE

This CPU is preceded by the i9-9980XE. A CPU with which it shares an 18-core, 36-thread spec. It’s also still compatible with the X299 chipset, so most current i9-9980XE users only have to consider the cost of the CPU itself when upgrading. Although you’ll have to confirm things with your specific motherboard model.

This is still 14nm CPU, with 10nm process chips years overdue at this point. What’s worse, AMD is using a 7nm process, at least in part, on its latest CPUs. The good news is that Intel has been forced to slash prices on these high-end processors to compete. The i9-10980XE retails at almost half of the 9980XE’s launch price.

This Cascade Lake-X CPU offers more PCIe lanes and less power consumption than before. However, it’s not really much faster than the chip it replaces and even fared worse in some of the early benches we’ve seen than the 9980XE for some reason. These chips do seem to be binned better, leading to good overclocking results.

The AI Edge

One area where this CPU does have a clear victory is when it comes to machine learning, with the added Intel Deep Learning Boost acceleration. The benchmarks we’ve seen show that this chip is faster than anything else in this price range, for now.

The Threadripper Alternative

If you already own the previous i9 flagship, there’s no real reason to upgrade to this, unless the extra performance or AI-specific features are worth so much to you that the expense is justified.

By itself, the 1980XE is a brute of a chip, offering extreme amounts of performance, but we can’t just look at it in isolation. The elephant in the room is of course the AMD 3970X Threadripper, which launched more or less at the same time as this CPU. AMD have been knocking it out of the park recently, with the per-core performance gap Intel has been coasting on for years all but eliminated. The 3970X costs twice as much as the 10980XE. The price that chip would have launched at no doubt, if it wasn’t for AMD. Do you get twice as much performance for spending double? Surprisingly, assuming you have a workload that can use all 64 threads, the answer can be yes. However, you need a new sTRX4 motherboard as well, whereas the Intel chip drops into existing X299 motherboards, which are also cheaper.

So the choice is really based on your workload, but it is staggering that the positions of the two chip makers could reverse so quickly, with AMD now the expensive performance king.