Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition Review

👤by David Mitchelson Comments 📅25-11-19
Features

The Core i9-10980XE is a derivative of the Skylake-X Core i9-9980XE, and as a result shares many of its hallmarks and technological capabilities. It retains the LGA2066 of the previous generation, maintaining backwards compatibility with plethora of X299 motherboards currently on the market and making it a drop-in upgrade (after BIOS update) in a large number of systems. There are nonetheless a number of tweaks to the design that could do enough to set it apart from its predecessor even if the price per core weren’t so savagely reduced.

Core Frequencies

Intel’s Core i9-10980XE continues to make use of the monolithic core/single die design that’s in stark contrast to AMD’s multiple die per CPU approach. Such an architecture has a number of trade-offs, particularly when it comes to manufacturing cost and core latency (being higher and lower respectively), and a ring bus topology when utilised on high core count CPUs make for immensely complex designs. For our purposes however these minutiae are of less importance than the consequences to performance.

Further optimisations to the 14nm manufacturing process, now deep into its fifth year as Intel’s main consumer node, have meant that slightly higher frequencies can be squeezed from the silicon under certain conditions:

The Intel Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 Frequency, which operates for short periods on 1-2 cores, has been increased by 300MHz to 4.8GHz.

The Max Turbo Frequency, which operates for short periods on 4-6 cores, is up from 4.5GHz to 4.6GHz.

Base frequency and All Core Turbo is unchanged from a year ago.


As a consequence performance on lightly threaded workloads should improve slightly, while heavily threaded workloads will tend to be on a par with the i9-9980XE (all other factors notwithstanding).

It’s possible that the all-core CPU frequency is constrained by remaining within the expected 165W TDP envelope, and when coupled to quality water cooling would overclock like a champion. Time will tell on that score.

Memory

Although not changed on any fundamental level, Intel’s DDR4 memory controller has been marginally beefed up to offer better performance and stability. Intel’s HEDT platform continues to leverage quad-channel memory, but now supports a baseline of DDR4-2933 MHz. Maximum memory capacity has doubled to 64GB per channel and 256GB in total, which could have a huge impact in some critical scenarios.

Deep Learning Boost

The 10th Generation Core series is the first to support a new technology Intel are calling ‘Deep Learning Boost’. It introduces a new series of AVX-512 instructions that accelerate complex AI workloads, leveraging the int8 data structures championed by NVIDIA for a similar purpose on their massively parallel GPUs. The following is a quick primer on the subject:



Intel’s Icelake architecture integrates these instructions natively, whereas as best we can tell the 10th Gen Cascade Lake-X CPUs implements them at a driver level. Nonetheless Deep Learning Boost is a forward-looking technology that has yet to be fully leveraged by application developers, and assessing it is beyond the bounds of this review.

More information on Intel Deep Learning Boost can be found at https://www.intel.ai/intel-deep-learning-boost/

Hardware Vulnerability Mitigations

It’s fair to say that Intel has been disproportionately impacted by hardware vulnerabilities in recent years, lead by the Spectre and Meltdown speculative branch prediction vulnerabilities uncovered in 2018. Software and firmware mitigations have been implemented where possible, but hardware-level mitigations require time to develop and implement in silicon.

Cascade Lake-X integrates hardware fixes that cut off some of these attack vectors at the knees, rather than rely on microcode updates and software patches (the up-take and effectiveness of which are often spotty). However these mitigations don’t come for free, and may adversely impact performance compared to the Skylake-X parts on which they are based. Such is the price for increased security.


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