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

  • edzieba - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    An ASIC has a significant (many months to years) lead time between "we need X design" and functioning silicon. Trading algorithms are a constant arms race being updated to counter others' algorithm changes (who then counter your counters, etc) on the days to hours timescales. Reply
  • shtldr - Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - link

    If you've got all the money (which you should, in case you are a successful algorithmic trader), why not go ASIC? Reply
  • Dribble - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    It's not as simple as you need hundreds of threads or you need one. Compiling is an obvious example. You have a mixture of tasks - some take more threads (e.g. you have a large number of files in a makefile you can compile at once), some take less threads (you have a smaller makefile with only a few files), some take one thread (you need to link).
    A chip like this with 14 cores and very high single thread performance it turns out is ideal for this sort of task.
    Compiling is very much not a niche market.
  • eek2121 - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    Word (in the article) is that it helps with web browsing as well. So there is that. ;)

    That being said, I don't look at this CPU as being competitive to AMD offerings simply because you can't buy the thing. However it is nice to see that Intel can do something if they put their mind to it.
  • bananaforscale - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    Well, multiple cores *do* help with web browsing, doesn't mean you need 14@5 GHz. :D Reply
  • MattZN - Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - link

    You don't need all those cores running on a single platform to do HFT. In fact, that winds up being a negative because all the cores are competing for memory cycles. Instead what you want to do is mirror (not split, but do a full mirror) the packet stream to a whole bunch of platforms with fewer cores which can then maximally leverage their memory bandwidth and CPU caches. You also filter the packets inside the NIC itself, not with the CPU.

    You also don't need to have a high-frequency CPU to minimize response time. The CPU is calculating outcomes from likely moves way ahead of time, long before actually receiving any packet telling it what movement actually happened. When the packet comes in, the CPU really only needs to look up the appropriate response from a table that has already been calculated. In fact, the NIC itself could do the table lookup for certain actions and bypass the CPU entirely.

    So you want lots of cores, but they don't actually have to be ultra fast. Anyone using something like this processor to try to 'get ahead' in the HFT game is going to be in for a big surprise.

  • Spunjji - Wednesday, October 30, 2019 - link

    Thanks for the clarification. I thought that leaning on a single, many-core high-frequency CPU for this sort of task sounded a lot like optimising the wrong part of the whole process. Reply
  • peevee - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    That's the point. It does not make them much money, the volume is simply not there. It is for INTEL's bragging. Reply
  • eek2121 - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    They likely auction the chips due to the aggressive binning required. I expect if they could roll out this kind of chip easily, they would have already. Think: 10 chips for every 100,000 can do 4-5 GHz @ 14 cores, 255 watt TDP. Reply
  • lazarpandar - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    So if you have an absurd amount of money and can't scale with more cores beyond 14...

    What a stupid product.

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