Intel is having a bit of an identity crisis with its top-tier consumer processors, now known as the Core X-Series. The High-End Desktop (HEDT) platform was recently made up of only Core i7 CPUs but now includes Core i5 and the new Core i9 brand. These models have always commanded a hefty price premium and were your only option if you wanted more than four CPU cores or had a workload that demanded any serious processing grunt. As recently as last year Intel was happily charging up to Rs. 1,69,000 for a top-end 10-core CPU – that’s just the processor. If your time is valuable, this is what you had to pay to get work done quickly.
Now that AMD has come roaring back into the game with its Ryzen 7 and Threadripper CPUs, you can get that level of performance at much lower prices. After repeated disappointments, AMD now has a whole lineup of products that can not only compete, but win. Ryzen CPUs were designed deliberately to disrupt Intel’s product segmentation hierarchy in two ways: stuffing more cores into each CPU, and cutting prices. Intel has clearly taken notice of this and has changed its tune – you now get 18 cores for the cost of last year’s 10-core CPU.
At the same time, these HEDT CPUs have had a major disadvantage – they’ve launched progressively later each generation, meaning that buyers were not only paying a huge amount, but also getting an older architecture. It got to the point that last year’s flagship 10-core Broadwell-E Core i7-6950K was being sold alongside the affordable quad-core Skylake Core i7-6700K, but didn’t even outperform it consistently.
Some called Intel complacent because it had no serious competition – AMD’s best efforts barely scratched the low end of Intel’s lineup until six months ago. However, with the Core-X family, Intel has responded to both its problems in one fell swoop. The time lag has been fixed by releasing Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X at the same time, essentially skipping a whole generation, and new 12-, 14-, 16- and even 18-core models will take on AMD’s mightiest Threadripper parts.
You can read all about the new Core-X series and everything you need to know before you decide to buy one of these massive processors in our complete guide right here. The 18-core i9-7980XE isn’t shipping yet, but we the current top model, the 10-core i9-7900X, in for review already. Here’s how it stacks up against last year’s i7-6950X as well as the mainstream Core i7-7700K and AMD’s Ryzen 7.
The Intel Core i9-7900X
We’ve covered the long backstory leading up to Intel’s decision to create a new Core i9 tier in its hierarchy in our complete guide to Skylake-X, Kaby Lake-X and the X299 platform. In short, Core i9 CPUs represent the highest tier of capabilities in Intel’s consumer lineup, coming close to Xeon processors. As opposed to the rest of the Core X-series, Core i9 CPUs give you 44 lanes of PCIe bandwidth, support for Turbo Boost Max 3.0 to accelerate non-multithreaded apps on one or two cores, the VROC feature for bootable RAID SSD arrays, and advanced AVX-512 instructions. At the physical architecture level, Intel has developed a new mesh interconnect and a new cache hierarchy to shuttle data between cores so that it can increase the number of cores without taking a huge hit to latency.
Very few of these things are likely to be relevant to mainstream users, but they do make for a very capable workstation platform with forward-looking capabilities and loads of room for expansion. If you’re spending a massive amount of money on a PC like this, you’ll want it to last. The i9-7900X is the least expensive way to get these features, and ten cores should be more than enough for a lot of people.