It’s only been a year since Intel unveiled its first 10-core CPU, the i7 6950X. It came with an eye watering $1700 USD price and filled a prosumer niche for users who needed more cores, but didn’t want to invest in Intel’s Xeon enterprise ecosystem. Fast forward a year and 10 cores seems almost mid range with the announcement of the new high end X299 Platform and Core-X series of processors, squarely aimed at enthusiasts. The flagship of the range is a spectacular 18-core CPU, the i9-7980XE. It will have an equally spectacular price of $1999 USD.
The i9-7980XE with its 18 cores is going to be well out of the reach of most users, but luckily there will be an entire range of processors available with 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16-core variants. We’d expect the i7-7820X and i7-7800X to be around the sweet spot with 8 cores at $599 USD and 6 cores at $389 USD.
As we saw with X79 and X99 platforms from Intel, all of the CPUs in the range will be fully multiplier unlocked, allowing for easy overclocking. The previous Broadwell models, in all their iterations were relatively poor overclockers. Skylake and Kaby Lake use an improved 14nm manufacturing process so we’re expecting overclocking to be significantly improved. The official turbo boost speeds point to this fact too. Do you fancy a 10 or 12 core CPU at 4.5 Ghz+ on all cores? This may (should?) be possible. It will be interesting to see how the 18 core model overclocks. We expect it will take a very very good motherboard and PWM system to be able to push it hard as the power consumption will go through the roof.
Note the two CPUs at the bottom of the slide above. These are the Kaby Lake-X processors. They are Socket 2066 versions of their mainstream Socket 1151 siblings. Some will question why Intel would release processors like these on the high end platform when you could buy a low end H110 motherboard and get the same performance. We actually think this is a good move from Intel. Critics of the X99 platform and it’s Broadwell-E based processors pointed to a lack of clock speed and overclocking capability as reason not to buy into the X99 platform. In many cases, a relatively cheap i7 7700K destroys a i7 6950X at a quarter of the price. This is something that didn’t quite fit with the high end desktop narrative. This dilemma is now solved, with X299 having a full range of processors that perform better than their Z270 counterparts. Buyers of the Kaby Lake X processors also have a very good upgrade path, with the platform likely to be relevant for at least a couple of years to come. There is little incentive to buy a high end Z270 motherboard now.
Intel has yet to fully detail the specs for the high end Skylake-X parts. This would indicate some late fine tuning perhaps in response to the threat from AMD. Did the release of AMD’s Ryzen series of processors poke the bear? There’s no doubt that Ryzen was a massive step for AMD, offering higher core counts and competitive clock for clock performance. News of AMD’s 16 core Threadripper CPU and X399 platform surely contributed to Intel’s decision to accelerate the launch of their own platform, and perhaps introduce the models with the higher core counts. My 18 cores are better than your 16 cores! We’re also seeing the i9 branding for the first time, something that Intel has kept in the war chest for the best part of a decade. Whatever the reasoning for bringing out the big guns, a competitive AMD and Intel arms race can only benefit the consumer.
Intel are aiming to release the first wave of Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs in late June. We’re looking forward to preparing our review and analysis then. The higher core count models will follow later. Of course we also have AMD’s Threadripper to look forward to as well. It’s looking like a very interesting time ahead in the PC world. Let the battle commence!