Despite huge core count increases with Skylake-X, we were pretty amazed to see that they also offered decent overclocking headroom, but as you add more cores you're also going to find that heat becomes an issue, especially as you dial up the vcore. The Core i9-7980XE was a toasty customer, as many a CPU cooler has attested to in our LGA 2066 cooler test rig, but what impact does solder have?
Well, we didn't quite manage to better the 4.5GHz we managed with the Core i9-7980XE, as heat once again became an issue as we pushed the voltage towards 1.2V, but we did get there with a slightly lower vcore of 1.15V compared to 1.18V with the Core i9-9980XE's predecessor. Temperatures were in the low to mid 80s here too, while we struggled to keep them below 90 degrees Celsius with Intel's previous 18-core CPU.
The additional frequency at stock speed helped the Core i9-9980XE perform slightly better than its predecessor in most tests, but never by large margins. It knocked three seconds off the HandBrake encoding time, extending Intel's lead here over Threadripper. Not all tests scale well, and even HandBrake showed a measly 33 percent boost over the Core i9-7900X. The gains over that CPU justified the extra outlay a little better in Cinebench with a score of 3,699 compared to 1,983, but again, the Threadripper 2950X was just a couple of hundred points short and the Threadripper 2970WX, which looks set to cost half the price in the UK at least, was 11 percent quicker. That theme continued almost identically in POV-Ray and Blender, painting a rather sorry picture in terms of value for Intel.
Ironically, it's content creation and rendering where Intel's Core X-series flagship is actually the weakest, as it still offers an advantage against AMD in games with both Deus Ex and Far Cry 5 seeing significantly higher frame rates compared to all Threadripper CPUs, although this won't be the case in all games. Power consumption was slightly higher for the new CPU under load at stock speed due to the higher boost speeds, but the lower vcore meant it was around 40W more frugal when overclocked.
As well as topping several of our graphs despite being up against the best that AMD has to offer and offering small but tangible gains over the Core i9-7980XE, Intel still has that all-round great performance which many of AMD's CPUs still can't match, especially its WX-series, which lag even further behind in some game titles than the 12- and 16-core models and even fall short of Intel's new 18-core CPU in a small number of multi-threaded workloads either due to poor optimisation or their internal makeup. However, faster memory and AMD's dynamic memory access mode in Ryzen Master plus whatever gains we'll hopefully see with Zen 2 next year mean that this is a shrinking advantage for Intel and one it can't rely on in the long term.
The biggest issue is price. Were it to cost £1,200, it would perhaps justify its extra outlay compared the £800 Threadripper 2950X and being the same price as the Threadripper 2970WX, and its prowess outside of multi-threaded workloads would mean it's a great high-end all-rounder for those that dabble with gaming and high-end content creation. Sadly, it doesn't cost £1,200; it is around £1,000 more (!) on current pre-orders. Despite the CPU being excellent in terms of performance across the board and usually bettering the Threadripper 2950X on a core-for-core basis, sitting at or above where you'd expect it to given it's two-core advantage, value for money is entirely absent. Even the pricey Core i9-9900K has a huge amount more justification for its price tag given it keeps up with many entry-level HEDT CPUs for an awful lot less cash once you factor in platform costs. As it stands, the Threadripper 2950X is far better value for a high-end multi-purpose system while for most strands of content creation and rendering, with a few exceptions, AMD's WX-series is cheaper and faster.
February 26 2021 | 22:15