Core i9-9980XE Conclusion: A Generational Upgrade

Users (and investors) always want to see a year-on-year increase in performance in the products being offered. For those on the leading edge, where every little counts, dropping $2k on a new processor is nothing if it can be used to its fullest. For those on a longer upgrade cycle, a constant 10% annual improvement means that over 3 years they can expect a 33% increase in performance. As of late, there are several ways to increase performance: increase core count, increase frequency/power, increase efficiency, or increase IPC. That list is rated from easy to difficult: adding cores is usually trivial (until memory access becomes a bottleneck), while increasing efficiency and instructions per clock (IPC) is difficult but the best generational upgrade for everyone concerned.

For Intel’s latest Core i9-9980XE, its flagship high-end desktop processor, we have a mix of improved frequency and improved efficiency. Using an updated process has helped increase the core clocks compared to the previous generation, a 15% increase in the base clock, but we are also using around 5-6% more power at full load. In real-world terms, the Core i9-9980XE seems to give anywhere from a 0-10% performance increase in our benchmarks.

However, if we follow Intel’s previous cadence, this processor launch should have seen a substantial change in design. Normally Intel follows a new microarchitecture and socket with a process node update on the same socket with similar features but much improved efficiency. We didn’t get that. We got a refresh.

An Iteration When Intel Needs Evolution

When Intel announced that its latest set of high-end desktop processors was little more than a refresh, there was a subtle but mostly inaudible groan from the tech press at the event. We don’t particularly like generations using higher clocked refreshes with our graphics, so we certainly are not going to enjoy it with our processors. These new parts are yet another product line based on Intel’s 14nm Skylake family, and we’re wondering where Intel’s innovation has gone.

These new parts involve using larger silicon across the board, which enables more cache and PCIe lanes at the low end, and the updates to the manufacturing process afford some extra frequency. The new parts use soldered thermal interface material, which is what Intel used to use, and what enthusiasts have been continually requesting. None of this is innovation on the scale that Intel’s customer base is used to.

It all boils down to ‘more of the same, but slightly better’.

While Intel is having another crack at Skylake, its competition is trying to innovate, not only by trying new designs that may or may not work, but they are already showcasing the next generation several months in advance with both process node and microarchitectural changes. As much as Intel prides itself on its technological prowess, and has done well this decade, there’s something stuck in the pipe. At a time when Intel needs evolution, it is stuck doing refresh iterations.

Does It Matter?

The latest line out of Intel is that demand for its latest generation enterprise processors is booming. They physically cannot make enough, and other product lines (publicly, the lower power ones) are having to suffer when Intel can use those wafers to sell higher margin parts. The situation is dire enough that Intel is moving fab space to create more 14nm products in a hope to match demand should it continue. Intel has explicitly stated that while demand is high, it wants to focus on its high performance Xeon and Core product lines.

You can read our news item on Intel's investment announcement here.

While demand is high, the desire to innovate hits this odd miasma of ‘should we focus on squeezing every cent out of this high demand’ compared to ‘preparing for tomorrow’. With all the demand on the enterprise side, it means that the rapid update cycles required from the consumer side might not be to their liking – while consumers who buy one chip want 10-15% performance gains every year, the enterprise customers who need chips in high volumes are just happy to be able to purchase them. There’s no need for Intel to dip its toes into a new process node or design that offers +15% performance but reduces yield by more, and takes up the fab space.

Intel Promised Me

In one meeting with Intel’s engineers a couple of years back, just after the launch of Skylake, I was told that two years of 10% IPC growth is not an issue. These individuals know the details of Intel’s new platform designs, and I have no reason to doubt them. Back then, it was clear that Intel had the next one or two generations of Core microarchitecture updates mapped out, however the delays to 10nm seem to put a pin into those +10% IPC designs. Combine Intel’s 10nm woes with the demand on 14nm Skylake-SP parts, and it makes for one confusing mess. Intel is making plenty of money, and they seem to have designs in their back pocket ready to go, but while it is making super high margins, I worry we won’t see them. All the while, Intel’s competitors are trying to do something new to break the incumbents hold on the market.

Back to the Core i9-9980XE

Discussions on Intel’s roadmap and demand aside, our analysis of the Core i9-9980XE shows that it provides a reasonable uplift over the Core i9-7980XE for around the same price, albeit for a few more watts in power. For users looking at peak Intel multi-core performance on a consumer platform, it’s a reasonable generation-on-generation uplift, and it makes sense for those on a longer update cycle.

A side note on gaming – for users looking to push those high-frame rate monitors, the i9-9980XE gave a 2-4% uplift over our games at our 720p settings. Individual results varied from a 0-1% gain, such as in Ashes or Final Fantasy, up to a 5-7% gain in World of Tanks, Far Cry 5, and Strange Brigade. Beyond 1080p, we didn’t see much change.

When comparing against the AMD competition, it all depends on the workload. Intel has the better processor in most aspects of general workflow, such as lightly threaded workloads on the web, memory limited tests, compression, video transcoding, or AVX512 accelerated code, but AMD wins on dedicated processing, such as rendering with Blender, Corona, POV-Ray, and Cinema4D. Compiling is an interesting one, because in for both Intel and AMD, the more mid-range core count parts with higher turbo frequencies seem to do better.

Power Consumption


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  • Lolimaster - Thursday, November 15, 2018 - link

    Till intel changes the way it builds high core count cpu's they can't compete with AMD and it will be even worse next year when AMD made an already cheaper way to produce high core count cpu's even cheaper, to sick levels. Reply
  • Gasaraki88 - Thursday, November 15, 2018 - link

    I'm actually more interested in the i7-9800X vs. the i9-9900K. I want to see how the overclocking is compared to the i9-9900K before I just in to X299. Reply
  • TheJian - Friday, November 16, 2018 - link

    I stopped reading when I saw 8k with a 1080. Most tests are just pointless, as it would be more interesting with a 1080ti at least or better 2080ti. That would give the chips more room to run when they can to separate the men from the boys so to speak.

    Vid tests with handbrake stupid too. Does anyone look at the vid after those tests? It would look like crap. Try SLOWER as a setting and lets find out how the chips fare, and bitrates of ~4500-5000 for 1080p. Something I'd actually watch on a 60in+ tv without going blind.

    Release groups for AMZN for example release 5000 bitrate L4.1, 5-9 ref frames, SLOWER. etc. Nfo files reveal stuff like this:
    cabac=1 / ref=9 / deblock=1:-3:-3 / analyse=0x3:0x133 / me=umh / subme=11 / psy=1 / psy_rd=1.00:0.00 / mixed_ref=1 / me_range=32 / chroma_me=1 / trellis=2 / 8x8dct=1 / cqm=0 / deadzone=21,11 / fast_pskip=0 / chroma_qp_offset=-2 / threads=6 / lookahead_threads=1 / sliced_threads=0 / nr=0 / decimate=0 / interlaced=0 / bluray_compat=0 / constrained_intra=0 / bframes=8 / b_pyramid=2 / b_adapt=2 / b_bias=0 / direct=3 / weightb=1 / open_gop=0 / weightp=2 / keyint=250 / keyint_min=23 / scenecut=40 / intra_refresh=0 / rc=crf / mbtree=0 / crf=17.0 / qcomp=0.60 / qpmin=0 / qpmax=69 / qpstep=4 / ip_ratio=1.40 / pb_ratio=1.30 / aq=3:0.85

    More than I'd do, but the point is, SLOWER will give you far better quality (something I could actually stomach watching), without all the black blocks in dark scenes etc. Current 720p releases from nf or amzn have went to crap (700mb files for h264? ROFL). We are talking untouched direct from NF or AMZN. Meaning that is the quality you are watching as a subscriber that is, which is just one of the reasons we cancelled NF (agenda TV was the largest reason to dump them).

    If you're going to test at crap settings nobody would watch, might as well kick in quicksync with quality maxed and get better results as MOST people would do if quality wasn't an issue anyway.
    option1=value1:option2=value2:tu=1:ref=9:trellis=3 and L4.1 with encoder preset set to QUALITY.
    That's a pretty good string for decent quality with QSV. Seems to me you're choosing to turn off AVX/Quicksync so AMD looks better or something. Why would any USER turn off stuff that speeds things up unless quality (guys like me) is an issue? Same with turning off gpu in blender etc. What is the point of a test that NOBODY would do in real life? Who turns off AVX512 in handbrake if you bought a chip to get it? LOL. That tech is a feature you BUY intel for. IF you turn off all the good stuff, the chip becomes a ripoff. But users don't do that :) Same for NV, if you have the ability to use RTX stuff, why would you NOT when a game supports it? To make AMD cards look better? Pffft. To wait for AMD to catch up? Pffft.

    I say this as an AMD stock holder :) Most useless review I've seen in a while. Not wasting my time reading much of it. Moving on to better reviews that actually test how we PLAY/WATCH/WORK in the real world. 8K...ROFLMAO. Ryan has been claiming 1440p was norm since 660ti. Then it was 4k not long after for the last 5yrs when nobody was using that, now it's 8k tests with a GTX 1080...ROFLMAO. No wonder I come here once a month or less pretty much and when I do, I'm usually turned off by the tests. Constantly changing what people do (REAL TESTS) to turning stuff off, down, (vid cards at ref speeds instead of OC OOTB settings etc), etc etc...Let's see if we can set up this test in a way nobody would do at home to strike down advantages of anyone competing with AMD. Blah. I'd rather see where both sides REALLY win in ways we USE these products. Turn everything on if it's in the chip, gpu, test, etc and spend MORE time testing resolutions etc we actually USE in practice. 8k...hahaha. Whatever. 13fps?

    "Ashes has dropdown options for MSAA, Light Quality, Object Quality, Shading Samples, Shadow Quality, Textures, and separate options for the terrain."
    Yeah, I'm out. Dropdown quality is against my religion and useless to me. I'm sure the other tests have issues I'd hate also, no time to waste on junk review tests. Too many other places that don't do this crap. I bought a 1070ti to run MAX settings at 1200p (dell 24in) in everything or throw it to my lower res 22in. If I can't do that, I'll wait for my next card to play game X. Not knocking AMD here, just Anandtech. I'll likely buy a 7nm AMD cpu when they hit, and they have a shot at a 7nm gpu for me too. You guys and tomshardware (heh, you joined) have really went downhill with irrational testing setups. If you're going to do 4k at ultra, why not do them all there? I digress...
  • spikespiegal - Saturday, November 24, 2018 - link

    Just curious, but how many of you AMD fanbois have ever been in a data center or been responsible for adjusting performance on a couple dozen VMware hosts running mixed applications? Oh wait...none. In the mythical world according to AMDs BS dept a Hypervisor / Operating system takes the number of tasks running and divides them by the number of cores running, and you clowns believe it. In the *real world* where we have to deal with really expensive hosts that don't have LED fans in them and run applications adults use we know that's not the truth. Hypervisors and Operating systems schedulers all favor cores that process mixed threads faster, and if you want to argue that please consult with a VMware or Hyper-V engineer the next time you see them in your drive thru. Oh wait...I am a VMware engineer.
    An i3 8530 costs $200 and literally beats any AMD chip made running stock in dual threaded applications. Seriously....look up the single threaded performance. More cores don't make an application more multithreaded and they don't make contribute to a better desktop experience. I have servers with 30-40% of my CPU resources not being used, and just assigning more cores won't make applications faster. It just ties up my scheduler doing nothing and wastes performance. The only way to get better application efficiency is vertical, and that's higher core performance, and that's nothing I'm seeing AMD bringing to the table.
  • Michael011 - Wednesday, December 12, 2018 - link

    The pricing shows just how greedy Intel has become. It is better to spend your money on a top end AMD Threadripper and motherboard. Reply

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