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


View All Comments

  • Batmeat - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    This chip is auction only. Expect to pay HUGE DOLLARS for this assuming you even have access to the auctions.
  • mrvco - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    But the chip isn't selling for all that much at auction apparently... I was expecting much more than 2849 euros if this thing really is the golden ticket for HFT. From a financial perspective, this isn't worth Intel's time or effort relative to letting top-tier partners and resellers buy up the whole supply of 9990XE's to do the binning on their own. Regardless, it's less expensive than a Super Bowl ad I suppose and probably more effective considering their target audience. Reply
  • Cygni - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    It is a niche product for a niche market... one that the article talked about at length. "Bragging rights" doesn't come into play when it is a tool for making money. Reply
  • willis936 - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    It just doesn't make sense. If single threaded performance is king then why do you need 14 cores running at 5 GHz? If multithreaded performance is king then why not go wider? The low latency case doesn't make sense. You could assemble multiple systems focused on single threaded performance for less money than this 14 core auction-only chip costs. When people say it's only for bragging rights, they are not wrong. Reply
  • edzieba - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    To GREATLY oversimplify HFT loads:

    you want as many cores as you can get, but those cores must respond as quickly as possible. You're effectively packet-watching: as soon as you see a packet you need to read it, determine if it is to be acted upon, determine how it is to be acted upon, and then respond, and you need to do it faster than everyone else. Everyone else has as close as is possible to the same network latency (e.g. stock exchanges employ huge fibre loops to ensure every endpoint has the same light-speed lag), so if you can run at 5GHz vs. 4GHz of your competitors you can respond to any given packet before they can. It's only a hair faster, but if you're jsut barely first you're still first so your transaction request is the one the stock exchange acts upon and not everyone else's.

    You want more cores because each core can run its own worker with its own algorithm (or more workers on the same algorithm to offset by packet arrival). You never want to be operating at a lower frequency than everyone else because it means NOTHING that you have 64 cores if every one of your cores is consistently too slow to beat out everyone else.

    You want all those cores on one die because you need to remain consistent in response (i.e. not have one worker working at cross-purposes against another) and inter-socket or worse inter-machine latency will kill you dead in the race to respond.
  • Processwindow - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    If high frequency is the ultimate goal and money is not an issue, why staying water.cooling.and not going straight to LN2. LN2 is cheap by wall street standards and it would allow to go higher than 6 GHz for sure. Btw in the great explanation you give regarding the need of high frequency CPU in HFT , I see nowhere optimization of the network card whatever it is and of its firmware. Reply
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    >If high frequency is the ultimate goal and money is not an issue, why staying water.cooling.and not going straight to LN2. LN2 is cheap by wall street standards...
    These kinds of machines are used by automated systems doing stock trading thousands of times per second. (It's why being a day-trader is absolutely worthless because automated software can do your task thousands of times faster and more accurately given historical trends.) LN2 isn't "expensive" but this is a machine that needs to have the highest single-threaded performance possible, with as many cores as possible, yet still run 24/7 to keep up with the market. The system can never sleep, as we're talking potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars lost per few seconds of downtime. And that's why LN2 isn't used--It evaporates and while LN2 cooled systems can overclock higher than non-LN2 systems, it's at such a bleeding edge of instability that it in-and-of-itself will cost the stock-trader money whenever it inevitably gets a cold-bug and needs to reboot or if the thermal transfer between the pot and the IHS cracked at ultra-low temperatures and the temps are starting to rise, or if there's condensation around ICs, or if the power delivery system is starting to fail because it's been ran over-spec for the last 50 days, etc.
  • Processwindow - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    What are you talking about? MRI tools in every big hospital in the world is working 24/7 with LN2 . Every semiconductor fab in the world use LN2 in manufacturing environnement. LN2 is not an exotic material.
    So you tell me you can spend 10s millions of dollar to gain a few ns in HFT but you don't want to go beyond water cooling to gain a few GHz on your CPU Something is wrong here.
  • Opencg - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    You clearly don't understand the difference between those machines and these. You just don't have a mind for it. Do not try to argue. Don't even try to think about it man. You are useless.

    The difference is that those machines were designed with LN2 cooling in mind for sustained operation. Computers were not. Having a skilled overclocker precisely control a benchmark for a (relatively) short time is nothing like having a machine designed to automatically consistently do it over long periods. Developing a computer that could do his would not only be VERY expensive but there is also a risk of it simply not working consistently enough in the end anyway and you are back to square one.
  • Processwindow - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    You are the one clearly not understanding the situation. It seems financial companies involved in HFT can spend 10s millions us$ to gain a few ns . But they wouldn't want to spend those same dollars to get 1 or 2 more GHz with special custom LN2 or whatever other ultra low temp cooling system? Something doesn't add up here. Reply

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