Intel and AMD have been locked in combat ever since Ryzen 7 debuted and put AMD back in the CPU race for the first time in six years. Both companies are prepping to release higher core count processors, but Intel is playing this game fairly conservatively, if recent rumors can be believed.
According to VideoCardz leaked presentation, Intel’s upcoming Core i9-7920X will be a 12-core / 24-thread CPU with 16.5MB of cache. That works out to the same 1.375MB of L3 that other Skylake-SP processors have. But the reported base core clock is rather low, at just 2.9GHz. That’s 400MHz lower than Intel’s 10-core Core i9-7900X, which means the Core i9-7920X trades a ~13 percent base clock drop for a 20 percent increase in core count. That’s not a huge gain, and while we don’t know the boost clock speed, we do know that Intel’s thermal paste solution isn’t working well for the Core i9-7900X. Adding more cores will just make the problem worse. Intel can thwart this marketing hit by setting a high boost clock for 1-2 cores, but under full load the chip may very well throttle, based on the behavior of the 7900X.
The estimated price of Intel’s 12-core chip is $ 1,199. AMD’s 12-core Threadripper will sell for $ 799, while the 16-core version will be $ 999. While Intel still has an edge over AMD in single-threaded performance, how these chips compare will come down to how well they can maintain their base and boost clocks under load. AMD’s 12-core CPU has a 3.5GHz base and a 4GHz boost, while its 16-core version has a 3.4GHz base and a 4GHz boost. That’s a 1.21x clock speed advantage for AMD (on paper). But we’ll have to see what clocks these chips can actually hold before we can say much about how well they’ll match up against one another.
We’re still hoping Intel will shift course on using thermal paste instead of solder on its high core-count CPUs, and that the initial issues reported with early X299 boards will be resolved by future editions of these products. It seems clear, based on the evidence we’ve seen to date, that the Core i9 family wasn’t quite ready for launch when Intel debuted it. That’s not to say that Skylake-SP is a bad design (it isn’t), but heat and thermal issues seem to be holding the chip back from hitting its full potential. That may not be a problem if you don’t overclock, but the frequency offset on the Core i9-7920X (if this rumor proves true) takes a significant chunk out of the performance increase you’d expect when moving from a 10-core to a 12-core chip.
In short: There’s an opportunity for AMD and Threadripper here, but we’ll have to wait and see if AMD can seize it.
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