Intel Core i9 Announced: 18-core Skylake-X, Kaby Lake-X and X299
An abundance of new processors
During its press conference at Computex 2017, Intel has officially announced the upcoming release of an entire new family of HEDT (high-end desktop) processors along with a new chipset and platform to power it. Though it has only been a year since Intel launched the Core i7-6950X, a Broadwell-E processor with 10-cores and 20-threads, it feels like it has been much longer than that. At the time Intel was accused of “sitting” on the market – offering only slight performance upgrades and raising prices on the segment with a flagship CPU cost of $1700. With can only be described as scathing press circuit, coupled with a revived and aggressive competitor in AMD and its Ryzen product line, Intel and its executive teams have decided it’s time to take enthusiasts and high end prosumer markets serious, once again.
Though the company doesn’t want to admit to anything publicly, it seems obvious that Intel feels threatened by the release of the Ryzen 7 product line. The Ryzen 7 1800X was launched at $499 and offered 8 cores and 16 threads of processing, competing well in most tests against the likes of the Intel Core i7-6900X that sold for over $1000. Adding to the pressure was the announcement at AMD’s Financial Analyst Day that a new brand of processors called Threadripper would be coming this summer, offering up to 16 cores and 32 threads of processing for that same high-end consumer market. Even without pricing, clocks or availability timeframes, it was clear that AMD was going to come after this HEDT market with a brand shift of its EPYC server processors, just like Intel does with Xeon.
The New Processors
Normally I would jump into the new platform, technologies and features added to the processors, or something like that before giving you the goods on the CPU specifications, but that’s not the mood we are in. Instead, let’s start with the table of nine (9!!) new products and work backwards.
|Core i9-7980XE||Core i9-7960X||Core i9-7940X||Core i9-7920X||Core i9-7900X||Core i7-7820X||Core i7-7800X||Core i7-7740X||Core i5-7640X|
|Architecture||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Skylake-X||Kaby Lake-X||Kaby Lake-X|
|Base Clock||?||?||?||?||3.3 GHz||3.6 GHz||3.5 GHz||4.3 GHz||4.0 GHz|
|Turbo Boost 2.0||?||?||?||?||4.3 GHz||4.3 GHz||4.0 GHz||4.5 GHz||4.2 GHz|
|Turbo Boost Max 3.0||?||?||?||?||4.5 GHz||4.5 GHz||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Cache||16.5MB (?)||16.5MB (?)||16.5MB (?)||16.5MB (?)||13.75MB||11MB||8.25MB||8MB||6MB|
|DDR4-2666 Dual Channel|
|TDP||165 watts (?)||165 watts (?)||165 watts (?)||165 watts (?)||140 watts||140 watts||140 watts||112 watts||112 watts|
There is a lot to take in here. The most interesting points are that Intel plans to one-up AMD Threadripper by offering an 18-core processor but it also wants to change the perception of the X299-class platform by offering lower price, lower core count CPUs like the quad-core, non-HyperThreaded Core i5-7640X. We also see the first ever branding of Core i9.
Intel only provided detailed specifications up to the Core i9-7900X, a 10-core / 20-thread processor with a base clock of 3.3 GHz and a Turbo peak of 4.5 GHz using the new Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0. It sports 13.75MB of cache thanks to an updated cache configuration, includes 44 lanes of PCIe 3.0, an increase of 4 lanes over Broadwell-E, quad-channel DDR4 memory up to 2666 MHz and a 140 watt TDP. The new LGA2066 socket will be utilized. Pricing for this CPU is set at $999, which is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is $700 less than the starting MSRP of the 10c/20t Core i7-6950X from one year ago; obviously a big plus. However, there is quite a ways UP the stack, with the 18c/36t Core i9-7980XE coming in at a cool $1999.
The next CPU down the stack is compelling as well. The Core i7-7820X is the new 8-core / 16-thread HEDT option from Intel, with similar clock speeds to the 10-core above it, save the higher base clock. It has 11MB of L3 cache, 28-lanes of PCI Express (4 higher than Broadwell-E) but has a $599 price tag. Compared to the 8-core 6900K, that is ~$400 lower, while the new Skylake-X part iteration includes a 700 MHz clock speed advantage. That’s huge, and is a direct attack on the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X that sells for $499 today and cut Intel off at the knees this March. In fact, the base clock of the Core i7-7820X is only 100 MHz lower than the maximum Turbo Boost clock of the Core i7-6900K!
It is worth noting the performance gap between the 7820X and the 7900X. That $400 gap seems huge, and out of place when compared to the deltas in the rest of the stack that never exceed $300 (and that is at the top two slots). Intel is clearly concerned about the Ryzen 7 1800X and making sure it has options to compete at that point (and below) but feels less threatened by the upcoming Threadripper CPUs. Pricing out the 10 core+ CPUs today, without knowing what AMD is going to do for that, is a risk and could put Intel in the same position as it was in with the Ryzen 7 release.
The Core i7-7800X is another interesting part. With a price tag of only $389, it has 6 cores, 12 threads, 3.5 GHz base clock and 4.0 GHz Turbo Boost, 28 lanes of PCIe and the same quad-channel memory interface we see in the processors above it. This CPU is only going to be $50 more than the Core i7-7700K that we see as Intel “mainstream” flagship CPU, a quad-core processor that runs on the Z270 chipset. And at that price, it is $10 UNDER the MSRP of the Ryzen 7 1700X.
The bottom two processors announced today, the Core i7-7740X and the Core i5-7640X are based on a different microarchitecture than the 7 above it. Using the Kaby Lake core, these processors mark the first time we see a split-generation launch for Intel. The Core i7 part is quad-core with HyperThreading, while the Core i5 leaves HyperThreading off, giving us a 4-core / 4-thread LGA2066 CPU for $242. These processors have the same dual-channel memory controller as the Core 7000-series already on the market, and motherboards will have to disable half the DIMM slots when a KBL-X part is installed because of it. They still sport 16 lanes of PCI Express and 8MB/6MB of L3 cache, respectively. They have a higher 112 watt TDP, compared to the 91 watts of their LGA115x brethren.
These are very…interesting CPUs. They do not offer new features compared to the Core i7-7700K or Core i5-7600K, but run at barely higher clocks (100 MHz on the base on the 7740X for example). They don’t see more PCIe integration, they don’t have larger caches. They are basically the same Kaby Lake design we have come to know previously but in a new package and prepped for a new set of motherboards. Is that an advantage? It’s hard to know yet, but in general, the X299 motherboard market is going to be more expensive than the Z270 motherboard market, meaning you are going to pay more in total to own this CPU. Does the added TDP give us more thermal headroom for overclocking? Maybe the new heat spreader? I’m not sure and Intel hasn’t said yet. But what they have stated is that they wanted to offer the option to consumers that wanted the “absolute fastest gaming processor” with the best clock speeds at a reasonable price.
18-core Core i9-7980XE Die
Let’s turn some attention to those higher cost parts, start at the top. The Core i9-7980XE marks the return of the Extreme designation and becomes the highest core count processor announced to date. With 18 cores and 36 threads of compute, despite not knowing the specific clock speeds, I expect it to become the single fastest consumer processor for multi-threaded applications. Though it wasn’t spelled out in the document, we can infer it will have 16.5MB of L3 cache and a 165 watt TDP, creeping into the high end of the Xeon market. That’s really all we know for now – expect that it will run you $1999. No doubt that is ludicrously high for a consumer part, but it is tempered by two facts.
First, the Xeon equivalent of this processor is going to be more expensive. I don’t know by how much just yet, but the Xeon E5- 2697V4 is an 18-core / 36-thread processor with a tray price of $2700. That means the Core i9 part with similar performance specs will be at a significant discount by comparison. The second point is that the 10-core Broadwell-E processor launched last year at $1700. Now Intel is offering you 8-more-cores for “only” $300 more.
Offering a 16, 14, and 12-core option gives Intel a lot of options – in my view too many. If you look at this table, you’ll see every event number from 4 to 18 cores, and prices ranging from $242 to $2000. That’s quite a spread. And though the overwhelming number of users that buy into this platform will be weighted towards the bottom, the high end of the market now gets pushed UP in ASP.
One final note on the high core count processors: it seems to me that Intel threw these in with a last-minute decision, likely after confirmation of AMD’s Threadripper plans last month. Everything above the 12-core processor has specs that are MIA and I am told availability of these parts will be staggered, with the flagship 18c option coming late in the summer. Despite AMD no longer having the highest announced core count processor after today, they could still race ahead and have the highest core count available for sale if they can beat the Core i9-7980XE to channel.
There are a couple of new features as part of this processor release worth discussing, though we will dive more into them once we get hands on with the CPUs for testing.