As anticipated earlier this week when we tested AMD's HEDT Threadripper, Intel is also coming out with their own new high-end desktop series codenamed Cascade Lake-X. You already saw some preliminary data on the Core i9-10980XE, and now we're bringing you a full series review by testing the 10980XE, 10940X, 10920X and 10900X CPUs.

The 18, 14, 12 and 10-core CPUs are all refreshes from chips that were released back in late 2017 as the 7000 series, codenamed Skylake-X. A year later these were relaunched as the 9000 series, still codenamed Skylake-X. As part of the refresh, the CPUs came with a small factory overclock and featured soldered rather than thermal paste for connecting the CPU die to the heatspreader. This essentially made them worse overclockers, but slightly better for everyone else.

Cascade Lake-X is a little more than a straight refresh. We’re getting a little extra frequency, but we’re also getting a few more PCIe lanes, better memory support, and some hardware security fixes. Oh, and prices have been slashed considerably.

Both the memory frequency and capacity support has been upgraded, going from 128GB of DDR4-2666 to 256GB of DDR4-2933. Boost frequencies have been increased by 200 to 300 MHz depending on the part, though performance gains might be offset by the hardware security fixes for Spectre and Meltdown variants 2, 3, 3a, 4, and L1TF.

The biggest difference for potential buyers is the pricing change. The 18-core 9980XE has dropped from $2,000 to $1,000 now as the 10980XE. The 14-core model is down to $800 from $1,400, the 12-core model is down to $700 from $1,200 and the 10-core model is now priced at $600, down from $1,000.

No doubt, those are seriously heavy discounts. But Intel is not being generous, they’re simply fighting to remain relevant and honestly we don’t think they’re fighting hard enough, as you’re about to see.

For testing Cascade Lake-X we have the brand new MSI X299 Creator motherboard. It comes packing 10 Gigabit LAN, Wi-Fi 6, loads of M.2 ports and a whopping big 12-phase vCore VRM with 90A powerstages. A big thanks to MSI for sending this over for our testing.

Benchmarks

First up as usual we have Cinebench R20 results. The 10980XE comes in behind the Ryzen 9 3950X, the 10940X matches the 3900X, while the 10920X and 10900X were roughly on par with the Threadripper 2920X and a little ahead of the Ryzen 7 3800X.

Right now the TR 2920X can be had for $500, so that places the slower but more expensive 10900X in a bit of an awkward position.

At least for lightly threaded workloads the Cascade Lake-X range is more powerful than 2nd-gen Threadripper, though all models are comfortably beaten by the $370 Ryzen 7 3800X.

When it comes to compression performance using the 7-Zip File Manager, the Cascade Lake-X range does okay. The 10980XE might get dusted by the 3960X, but at least it was a bit faster than the previous generation 2950X.

The 2950X is now priced to compete with the 10920X, a part it just manages to edge out. Meanwhile the 3900X matched the 10900X, so AMD also offer considerably more value there.

AMD does much better when it comes to decompression performance and here the 3950X comfortably beat the 10980XE, while the 2950X and 3900X beat the rest of the Cascade Lake-X lineup.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2020 sees the 3950X just edging out the 10980XE, while the 3960X was a good bit faster. The Ryzen 9 3900X and Threadripper 2950X also beat the 10940X, while the 3800X wasn’t a great deal slower than the 10900X and 10920X.

Using the Puget Adobe Premiere benchmark we find similar results, though this time in the export test not just the 3950X, but also the 2950X, beat Intel's best. Meanwhile the 2920X was able to outpace the 10920X and 10900X.

Playback performance was quite good with the Cascade Lake-X parts, though we see a tight grouping between the 3950X and 3900X.

The Core i9-10980XE performs well in the V-Ray benchmark. Sure, it is easily beaten by the 3960X which was 32% faster, but the Threadripper CPU also costs 40% more.

If you’re more focused on value, then get the Ryzen 9 3950X is the way to go, It’s 6% slower but costs 25% less. Then we have the 10940X in no man's land, but at $800 again you’re better off with the faster 3950X. Then we see the 3900X and 2950X have both the 10920X and 10900X covered.

The Corona results are more of the game, the 3950X is very close to the 10980XE and if you want maximum performance get the 3960X or 3970X. The 3950X also beats the 10940X while costing less and the 3900X does the same to the 10920X and 10900X.

Finally we have the Blender results and this is another bad one for Intel, here the 3950X beats the 10980XE, while the 3900X matched the 10940X which renders the rest of the lineup even more pointless.

Power Consumption

AMD's more modern 7nm Zen 2 platform shows a real advantage in power consumption. The Ryzen 9 3950X was faster than the 10980XE in this test yet we see the Intel CPU push total system consumption 29% higher. Due to clock speeds and voltages required to run at those speeds, the lower core count CPUs use more power, at least the 12 and 14 core models.

Gaming Benchmarks

The Core i9-10980XE provides a solid result in Battlefield V, roughly on par with the Ryzen 9 3950X. For some reason though, the 1% low performance of the 10900X and even the 10920X kind of sucked.

Intel high-end desktop lineup performs well in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, not quite as well as 3rd-gen Threadripper, but overall still very good.

Performance in Tom Clancy's The Division 2 was good, the 10980XE dropped off the pace a little due to lower clock speeds, but 149 fps on average is hardly an issue.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint isn’t exactly a CPU demanding title but we include it to show how performance looks like in modern GPU-bound games, so good to see Cascade Lake-X didn’t run into any issues here.

Performance in F1 2019 was also solid, again the 10980XE can be seen falling off the pace a little, but it’s nothing you’d notice when playing the game.

The Cascade Lake-X range was able to extract maximum performance from the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti in Borderlands 3 at 1080p, so that’s really all they needed to do here.

The last game we’re going to look at is Fortnite and here the 10900X and 10920X perform well.

Overclocking

Using 1.22v we were able to push these Cascade Lake-X parts to 4.8 GHz to 5 GHz depending on the model and how lucky we got with the silicon lottery. These overclocks boosted performance in Cinebench R20 by around 20-25%.

The gains are very impressive, but be aware they are far from free. Expect to pay with a serious increase in power usage, which means bigger and more expensive cooling will be required.

The 10900X isn’t bad, we see a 27% increase in total system consumption which is inline with the 25% performance boost, of course those margins are a little skewed because we’re including the total system consumption, but I feel that’s more relevant for the end user.

Where things get way out of hand is with the higher core count models, the 10980XE saw total system power usage increase by 91%, hitting 602 watts, so good luck with that.

Looking at thermals, both stock and overclocked, the Cascade Lake-X processors along with the 3960X and 3970X were cooled using Corsair’s HydroX kits, along with a 360mm radiator. Stock the 3rd-gen Threadripper and Cascade Lake-X CPUs all ran between 63 and 70 degrees, so a fairly tight range there.

Then when overclocked the temps quickly got out of control with the 14 and 18 core models, basically a 360mm rad on a custom loop isn’t enough, even with fine voltage tuning. For the 10980XE, 4.5 to 4.6 GHz would be more realistic on water.

Price vs. Performance

Here’s a look at price vs. performance using Puget's Adobe Premiere export test. If you’re a content creator it seems clear, get the 3950X, and if you require more PCIe lanes get the TR 2950X. Even Intel's own 9900K does a better job here, at least in terms of value. Of course, if you’re not that interested in value and just want performance, well there’s the Threadripper 3960X.

The margins in Cinebench R20 were very similar to what was seen in V-Ray, Blender and Corona, so they’re a good representation of the kind of price to performance you can expect to see in these programs.

In terms of value and performance the Threadripper 3960X destroys any and all Cascade Lake-X processors and if you really care about value, then get the Ryzen 9 3950X. The 3900X, 2920X and 2950X also dominate these Cascade Lake-X processors.

Conclusion

After checking out both the Ryzen 9 3950X and Threadripper 3970X & 3960X, these tests went pretty much as expected. We knew performance of Intel parts was going to be similar to the previous generation Skylake-X, but unfortunately for Intel they just haven’t cut prices enough to be competitive.

If you can’t offer the fastest HEDT parts, you have to look into value, something AMD did for the first two generations of Threadripper at launch and later on as it kept discounting them.

The Ryzen 9 3950X is not only cheaper than the Core i9-10980XE, but it’s faster in the vast majority of workloads, sometimes much faster. When the 3950X was slower, the gap was not very wide. Then for those not concerned with price, the extra $400 for the TR 3960X is worth it as it’s a significantly superior product.

AMD also plans to continue selling 2nd-gen Threadripper processors as value-oriented HEDT options. On paper this may seem like an attractive alternative, but for new shoppers we’d recommend avoiding them. If you simply require 16 high-performance cores, get the 3950X which also runs on much cheaper motherboards. We’d only recommend 2nd-gen Threadripper right now if you require more PCIe lanes and can’t afford to drop $1,400 on the 3960X. Be aware the X399 platform is dead, just like Intel’s X299 platform.

Bottom line, the only way we see Cascade Lake-X becoming viable is if they reduce pricing further. The 10980XE needs to come down at least another $200, which would make it $50 more than the 3950X. The 10940X needs to drop down to $700, and the 10920X down to $600... the 10900X needs to be dropped entirely. The only advantage these offer over AMD’s mainstream AM4 processors is more PCIe lanes, though they're only gen-3 spec lanes. It's mind-boggling to think how much things have changed in such a short period of time.

Shopping Shortcuts:
  • Intel Core i9-10980XE on Amazon (soon)
  • AMD Threadripper 3970X on Amazon (soon)
  • AMD Threadripper 3960X on Amazon (soon)
  • AMD Ryzen 9 3950X on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 7 3700X on Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-9900KS on Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-9900K on Amazon
  • GeForce RTX 2080 Ti on Amazon
  • GeForce RTX 2070 Super on Amazon
  • AMD Radeon RX 5700 XT on Amazon
  • AMD Radeon RX 5700 on Amazon