It’s a Cascade of 14nm CPUs: AnandTech’s Intel Core i9-10980XE Reviewby Dr. Ian Cutress on November 25, 2019 9:00 AM EST
More 14+++, No 10nm in Sight
For readers that haven’t followed Intel’s manufacturing story as of late, we are desperately awaiting the arrival of Intel’s 10nm process node technology to come to the desktop market in a big way. Intel has historically been at the forefront of process node developments since the start of the century, and it first started discussing its 10nm node back in 2010 (when it was called ‘11nm’), and slowly started to push through its process technology cadence. Initially promised in 2015, Intel declared that it had shipped some 10nm products in late December in 2017, although we didn’t see anything with 10nm in the market until mid-to-late 2018.
In 2019, we have had Intel’s 10nm products now pop up in portable form factors, such as high-end laptops. This is hardware that is far from ubiquitous, but at least it isn’t vaporware any more. We even tested the reference system earlier this year before they went on sale, and the results were fairly good by comparison. However, despite this, we have yet to see 10nm on the desktop. Intel has promised 10nm Ice Lake Xeons for enterprise (production ramp H2 2020), and has stated that 10nm ‘will come to the desktop’, but Intel isn't there quite yet.
To that end, we get more 14nm products. Officially Intel doesn’t like to mention whether a product is on its 14nm process, 14+, 14++, or anything beyond that – partly because it just further indicates that it isn’t 10nm, but also it wants to focus its messaging on the product regardless of the process node. One of Intel’s VPs, at a recent tour of its fabs by the European press, stated in not so many words that ‘consumers don’t care about process nodes, so you shouldn’t either’. Take from that what you will.
In the high-end desktop market, like the enterprise market, we expect a slower cadence compared to the bleeding edge used in the mainstream markets and notebook markets. Even with that in mind, today’s launch is Intel’s third line of HEDT processors on 14nm, following Skylake-X with the 7980XE family and a Skylake-X Refresh with the 9980XE family. The new family is called ‘Cascade Lake-X’, promising better support for high-end memory (up from 128 GB to 256 GB), more PCIe lanes (44 to 48), and more frequency (+100 MHz), for a lower cost ($979 for 18-cores, rather than $1929) and more hardened security updates (the first round of Spectre/Meltdown).
The issue Intel has, with not executing on its 10nm plans, is that the competition has caught up and surpassed them. By utilizing TSMC’s 7nm process, AMD has taken advantage of its chiplet strategy to drive higher core counts on a more efficient process, with smaller chips to allow for a better binning strategy and helps higher yields than big chips with the same defect rate.
So where Intel offers 18 cores with AVX-512, AMD offers 16 cores with better IPC and higher frequencies, at a lower price. Intel’s platform is HEDT, so it does come with more memory and PCIe lanes, and users wanting that on the latest AMD will have to jump up another 40% in cost, but will get 24-cores instead.
Benchmark wise, our results show that the 10980XE sits pretty much where the 9980XE did, albeit at half the price. What the 10980XE does well is that users who want a high-end desktop platform around $1000, with more memory and more PCIe lanes, can either use Intel’s latest solution, or an older AMD solution. AMD has priced its high-end desktop parts out of this market ($1399+), and is hoping that users at this price range don’t need high memory or high PCIe counts. So in an unusual turn of events, after having previously charged a sizable premium even within the HEDT lineup for extra PCIe lanes, now it's Intel who is offering the best deal for peripheral I/O.
Intel’s product fits in nicely with what the competition has to offer, but they no longer have the crown. Intel loves that halo spot, but it’s going to be a tough climb for it to get it back. We might have to wait until we see a consumer 10nm HEDT part for that, and the roadmap doesn’t look to great from where we’re standing. If Ice Lake Xeons are the priority in 2H 2020, that puts any 10nm for the $500-$1000 market in 2021.