Intel Core i9-9990XE Conclusion

Intel never really announced the Core i9-9990XE into the market. We broke the story this year at CES in January after confirming from several sources in that initial auction said that it was taking place – a 14-core 5.0 GHz CPU and an unknown quantity would be available for select system integrators and OEM partners to bid on. There is no warranty from Intel, so these integrators were taking a risk, and could ultimately bid too high for a chip that might not sell.

In the end, that initial auction fell to (at least) three companies, of which two ended up with the CPUs. We very quickly found out that CaseKing snapped up most of them, and the company eventually ended up putting them for direct sale (with 1 year warranty) on their connected websites for €2999 (now €2849) as well as offering several of their high profile water cooled extreme overclocked systems with the chip inside. We also saw Puget Systems with at least one, and another companies was ICC, an Intel partner that focuses on a number of markets including the financial market. It was ICC who built a 1U system for this chip and sampled the system for us to review.

The system was provided with custom proprietary liquid cooling, which we’re not able to show you. The thing is a beast, however, and can appropriately cool up to 400W of CPU in a 1.75-inch form factor. It’s also loud, registering 78 decibels whether the system is at idle or running a full workload. Given that it is a 1U server, this would suggest that a datacenter is the best place for it. I have no doubt that it could be transferred into a tower, although much like the 28-core Xeon W-3175X we tested in January, it requires a substantial cooling setup to be tamed.

In performance, the tweaked system from ICC was built for low latency financial trading. It was only paired with 32 GB of DDR4, but running at DDR4-3600 with tuned subtimings. We added in our standard testing SSD and GPU, although due to the complexity of the system build we weren’t able to run games on this thing. But for raw ST performance, the Core i9-9990XE puts all the other high-end desktop chips to shame – as it should do. Everything from Intel on a Core chip gets obliterated, and against the Xeon W-3175X which has 28-cores, the Xeon does go ahead just on the multithreaded stuff but this Core i9-9990XE kills it when frequency is the limiting factor. This shows up in our compile test, where the right balance of cores and frequency are needed - the Core i9-9990XE set a new world record in our benchmark. There are some caveats - the mesh frequency does seem to be a little bit of a hold back in some tests, or frequency going in and out of turbo modes can cause additional delays in tests.

Against AMD counterparts, that 5.0 GHz frequency carves through anything like butter. Where AMD has to play is on its 32-core Threadripper CPUs, and even then it’s a tradeoff – 14 cores at 5.0 GHz against 32 cores at ~3.4 GHz means that the 2990WX has a lead only it’s a raw compute problem, but put in any memory limited scenario, or add in AVX2/AVX512, and the Core i9-9990XE is going to win.

We obviously haven’t talked price. The W-3175X is a similar $3000 to the i9-9990XE, but has ECC support and six memory channels, but doesn’t have that single thread frequency. The 2990WX is a NUMA design that works well in focused applications rather than the i9-9990XE which works well in almost every scenario, but the 2990WX is 30-40% cheaper.

Comparing the i9-9990XE
Intel   AMD
Core i9
Core i9
AnandTech Ryzen
7 3950X
TR 2
28 14 8 Cores 16 32 32
56 28 16 Threads 32 64 64
3.1 4.0 4.0 Base 3.5 3.0 2.9
  5.0 5.0 All-Core      
4.5 5.0 5.0 Turbo 4.7 4.2 3.4
255 W 255 W 127 W? TDP 105 W 250 W 225W
6 x 2666 4 x 2666 2 x 2666 DDR4 2 x 3200 4 x 2933 8 x 3200
48 44 16 PCIe 24 64 128
$2999 $auction $513 MSRP $749 $1799 $3400

Then around the corner we have Intel’s 8-core 5.0 GHz processor, the Core i9-9900KS. This is a consumer level processor, with only two memory channels and 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes, but is set to be $513 when launched in a couple of days (October 30th). Users interested in an all-core 5.0 GHz processor out of the box (i.e., not overclocked) are likely to find that the 9900KS acts as a good starter position, which might be able to be scaled with the 9990XE when things like memory bandwidth start becoming an issue.

On the topic of sustainability, no-one is going to be able to deploy the Core i9-9990XE en-mass: Intel only has a few chips that meet the specifications, and these are auctioned to system integrators. So unless a customer wants a specific number, they will have to work with an system integrator with a set budget for that auction in mind, and even then, there’s no guarantee that Intel will have that many chips available (or if someone will outbid you). There’s also no-warranty on the parts from the perspective of the system integrator, so that adds additional cost. Companies looking at one of these systems might have to consider them as one-offs for their deployment, whereas by comparison, we expect there to be more Core i9-9900KS processors in the wild for companies to buy direct from retailers.

Ultimately, the Core i9-9990XE is a curio. It’s a hell of a curio, that’s for sure. It is like one of the house robots on Robot Wars (UK) or BattleBots (US): something completely outside the rules of normal sportsmanship and is big enough to beat you to a pulp, and it’s very rare that you would even own one, not at least before it owns you.


Power Consumption, Frequencies, and Thermals


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  • Rοb - Friday, November 1, 2019 - link

    "... These companies not only pay through the nose for the hardware, but also pay experts and specialists to tune those systems for low latency. That means tweaking the memory, overclocking the processor ...".

    Financial trading is often done on the Network Card, see NextPlatform's article "Hypercalers Lead The Way To The Future With SmartNICs" or Wikipedia's "Reducing latency in the order chain".

    When the network card has received a bit of the packet it's starts reviewing which decisions it is able to make based on a partial packet, further narrowing down it's options as more data is received. If it's lucky it can send an order before the packet is completely received - if it can't it calculates if it's worth bailing out or running late with the others.

    The CPUs on HFT machines have fewer CPU cores that can be overclocked since they only need to convert orders to the FPGA. Trading is so fast they implemented 'speed bumps'.:

    "The IEX speed bump—or trading slowdown—is 350 microseconds, which the SEC ruled was within the "immediately visible" parameter.".
  • DillholeMcRib - Monday, November 4, 2019 - link

    I dunno, considering my 3900x is being cooled by a 240mm AIO and at boost barely goes over 105W and yet gets up to a toasty 78C I am pretty sure I don't want to even imagine that damn cooling rig it would take to keep Intel's 200W+ monster cool under boost. I don't have that much need or interest in such a thing, and if anyone else does I sure hope you live in a climate that lets you pull in -10C air into your case. Reply
  • WaltC - Wednesday, November 6, 2019 - link

    Be kind of fun to test this placeholder from Intel with air cooling pitted against air-cooled AMD competition. Yawn...poor Intel, it's going to be a lot of last gasping from them until they put Ryzens and TR's and EPYCs under X-ray to figure out some aspects of manufacturing a modern CPU...;) I'm sure it's all been very instructive for them. Reply
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