Intel Core i9-10900X Review

Written by Antony Leather

January 23, 2020 | 14:00

Tags: #14nm #cascade-lake-x #coffee-lake #coffee-lake-refresh #skylake-x #x299 #z390

Companies: #intel

Overclocking

First we should point out that we've updated the BIOS on our MSI MEG X299 Creation motherboard to get the latest microcode updates and supposedly better overclocking performance with Cascade Lake-X CPUs too so bear this in mind. In our experience Intel's recent HEDT CPUs have been quite varied when it comes to overclocking and retail samples have occasionally overclocked much further than our engineering samples. We hope that's the case with the Core i9-10900X because getting much above 4.7GHz with an all-core overclock was tricky and given that the Core i9-10980XE managed that, it's clearly a tad disappointing even though the two CPUs are quite different under the hood. In the end, we had to lower the mesh ratio a little, rather than going with auto as we usually do, but this did allow us to hit 4.8GHz across all cores using a rather toasty 1.325V. This was at the ragged edge cooling-wise, but a few more hours tweaking may have yielded a little higher frequency or a slightly lower voltage.

Performance Analysis

Premiere Pro has been a safe haven for Intel in the past but 2nd and 3rd Gen Threadripper CPUs give Intel's top-end desktop chips a run for their money, even if the Ryzen 9 3950X was a tad disappointing in our 4K video export. The latter was again the case as the AMD CPU failed to offer more grunt than the 10-core Intel CPU, with the latter beating the Ryzen once overclocked despite its six core deficit. On the flip side, the Core i9-9900KS, Ryzen 9 3900X and Core i9-9900K were all within spitting distance and cost significantly less.

HandBrake was rather more disappointing with four CPUs with fewer cores actually bettering the Core i9-10900X at stock speed. Once overclocked it was more competitive but still not great value with the Ryzen 9 3900X being a better choice if video encoding is your thing. Intel never does particularly well in our multi-threaded PC Mark 10 image editing test so it wasn't surprising to see the Core i9-10900X mixing it up with CPUs with fewer cores and the higher boosting frequencies of Intel's mainstream CPUs help them to a lead.

Cinebench's single-threaded test was quite telling and a score of 443 at stock speed has the CPU sitting among Zen+ CPUs. Only Intel's eight-core mainstream CPUs can compete with AMD here. With an additional two cores, the Core i9-10900X offered a little extra performance in the multi-threaded test compared to the Core i9-9900KS, which boosts all cores to 5GHz don't forget, but again the Ryzen 9 3900X was far more powerful and even overclocking didn't help it here. We should point out that the Blender and POV tests we only do with CPUs with 10 cores and above so the Core i9-10900X is at a bit of a disadvantage here as it's essentially got the fewest number of cores. That said, the Ryzen 9 3900X was still much faster and it was a similar situation in POV-Ray too.


Dota 2's high frame rates revealed an advantage for Intel, even using an RTX 2070 Super and here the Core i9-10900X finally had the measure of similar AMD CPUs and even managed to top the Ryzen 9 3950X, but if you much have the highest performance, Intel's 8-core CPUs are the ones to get. It's not the case everywhere, though, as Far Cry 5 saw better 99th percentile minimums from plenty of other CPUs, although the Intel CPU did manage a decent average frame rate that was only matched by the bet-performing CPUs on test. Once overclocked, it was one of the better performers too. Finally, Civ VI's AI benchmark saw the Core i9-10900X sit level with the Ryzen 9 3950X, but ultimately you need to drop down to eight cores or much older CPUs to see  much worse performance. Power consumption wasn't a strong point for the Core i9-10900X, perhaps thanks to the new BIOS. Idle draw was similar to the 18-core, but under load it draw around 80W more at stock speed than the Ryzen 9 3900X. It's overclock did offer some decent performance but also saw that increase to a delta of over 150W. 

Conclusion

The Core i9-10900X is perhaps not the most interesting CPU in the Cascade Lake-X line-up, but we'll be looking at the rest shortly in the hope that the 12 or 14-core parts might offer slightly more sugary sweet spots. In terms of offering more PCIe lanes and quad-channel memory for the lowest price, well, the Core i9-9820X costs a lot less, the Core i9-9900X is cheaper too and the 12-core Core i9-9920X is only a little more, if you can find it in stock and all are obviously also compatible with X299 motherboards. If cost is a concern then we're loath to recommend 2nd Gen Threadripper as X399 boards are much more expensive and do increase the system cost while the Threadripper 2920X is the only one out of 2nd or indeed 3rd Gen models that's close in price with the Threadripper 2950X still retailing for over £800. 

In summary, then, there are various better options and multiple price points for specific tasks than the Core i9-10900X. It's a reasonable all-rounder if you also need the perks of Intel's HEDT platform, but otherwise there's a selection of mainstream CPUs that are cheaper and offer similar performance in most tests. Had overclocking been a bit more fruitful, say 5GHz or 5.2GHz all-core, then things may have turned out differently, but at this price, it's tricky to recommend.


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