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
Xeon
W-3175X
Core i9
9990XE
Core i9
9900KS
AnandTech Ryzen
7 3950X
TR 2
2990WX
EPYC
7542
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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  • DillholeMcRib - Monday, November 4, 2019 - link

    Some of you peeps seem really, REALLY bored. Do you make all these comments while at work? Reply
  • Retycint - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    This is a niche CPU for an extremely niche market. That is all. Nobody (except people in that tiny niche) is looking to buy this CPU. Reply
  • AshlayW - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    Sure it is, so go and buy an i3-9350K for (probably) 1% the price, and have the same single-threaded performance. If you want 14-cores, you're likely going to be doing multi-threaded work, you get my drift?

    This product has a small niche where you work on both types, and somehow need the 5-10% more ST perf the 9990XE has, over, say the 3950X which will boost to 4.7 on a single core at vastly (and this is a huuuge under-statement) lower power draw and price.

    Proponents of Intel claim that Single-threaded speed is so important (because, hey, that 5% is all they have these days) but don't seem to understand that Zen2 has absolutely fantastic single-threaded performance. Within 10% of Intel's best, thanks to slightly higher IPC, and the clock speeds on 1T boost get up there in the high 4 GHz area, too.
    Reply
  • vanilla_gorilla - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    >(because, hey, that 5% is all they have these days)

    And it's 5% on single threaded tasks that are instantaneous on our desktop PC. I don't have any desire to have 5% more performance there. What I want is the +30-50% performance on multithreaded tasks that have real, wall clock times that can be improved, which is what Ryzen delivers. Who cares if an Intel CPU has 5% better javascript when everything I do in my web browser is instantaneous? So instead of 15ms its 13ms? Ok? What blows my mind is when my kernel compiles or video encoding times are shaved off by MINUTES.
    Reply
  • Retycint - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    I love how people are turning this into Intel vs AMD, even when this is an extremely niche CPU for an extremely niche market.

    >Who cares if an Intel CPU has 5% better JavaScript?
    Well apparently people who buy these care. You are irrelevant to the discussion because you were never part of the target market for this anyway
    Reply
  • HollyDOL - Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - link

    In scenarios where 'winner takes it all' those 5% are more than enough. Previously I worked on algorithmic trading and there it would be worth every cent. Reply
  • ET - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    > Against AMD counterparts, that 5.0 GHz frequency carves through anything like butter.

    From the benchmarks, it lost to the 12 cores 3900X on more than one occasion. While it's true that for specific workloads the 9990XE would be much better, on average it seems to definitely not be worth the price. Also, comparisons to Zen 2 EPYC CPUs (or Threadrippers, which will soon be released) would be much more apt.
    Reply
  • chris.london - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    I was thinking the same. Even if I don’t take the power draw into account I am not impressed at all. And at 600W I would expect this to destroy the 3900X, so these results are actually quite embarrassing for Intel. I personally would rather wait for a 16 core Zen 3 AND pay for it than have this one for free. Reply
  • Retycint - Monday, October 28, 2019 - link

    Well I'll gladly take this one for free... Infinite perf-to-price ratio (x performance over $0 price) Reply
  • GreenReaper - Tuesday, October 29, 2019 - link

    You may however have to factor in a new motherboard, and new cooling as well. Reply

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