Intel Core i9 7980XE / 7960X review: Intel back in the lead with 18 cores

New Skylake-X processors go up against AMD Threadripper



Not entirely unexpected, but Intel is back in the lead in most multi-threaded CPU-benchmarks. It would be difficult for them not to be: the Core i9 7980XE with 18-cores has two cores more compared with AMD's top model Threadripper 1950X. Aside from that, friend and foe agree that Intel's cores are faster than those of AMD anyway. Add to that the fact that Skylake-X, however you look at it, has a more elegant design than Threadripper; up to 18 cores in a single chip is more efficient than 16 cores split on two chips, where communication results in extra latency. With an R&D budget that is a lot bigger than that of AMD and a 99% market share in the server market Intel would have to be ashamed of themselves if they did not manage to take back the lead. 

Nevertheless the performance difference between the Intel Core i9 7980XE / 7960X and the AMD Threadripper 1950X is not that much. The Intel IPC is clearly higher, everyone can agree on that, but AMD manages to run their CPU with 16 active cores at considerably higher clock frequency than Intel. Furthermore this is not at the expense of efficiency: both in Cinebench 15 and in our Premiere Pro test the AMD Threadripper 1950X turns out to offer better efficiency (performance per watt) than Intel. 

The price is worth mentioning. When the first desktop-processors of 1000 pounds were released, we had to get used to the high prices. Now, the top model costs more than 2000 pounds. This price can only be explained by looking at it from Intel's own perspective: the company does not want the new Core i9s to cannibalize the Xeon workstation processors. For the end user it means that the best performance comes at a very high cost, which is too high in our opinion. 

Both the 7980XE and 7960X are faster than the AMD Threadripper 1950X in multi threaded workloads, but the question is whether or not the performance difference outweighs the price difference of more than 1000, respectively 700 euros. Asking a question means you have to answer it. If you are looking for a CPU with a lot of cores for content creation and want to keep an eye on the budget, purchasing a Threadripper chip is a better choice in most cases. 

The new Intel CPUs are mainly interesting for the lucky few. Those that either have so much money that spending a record amount of it on a new CPU does not matter, or the people that professionally work with very heavy workloads and can earn back the investment in time. There will be enough examples of this. If you are working with applications such as high-end video production, CAD/CAM design, 3D-rendering or scientific simulations, a workstation based on one of the new CPUs can result in significant productivity gains. Gamers on the other hand should not believe Intel: CPUs of this caliber are extreme overkill. This goes for both Skylake-X and Threadripper. 

Now that we can leave the introduction of AMD Threadripper and the entire Intel Skylake-X generation behind us, we can only be happy as hardware enthusiasts. Of course there is enough to complain about: the high prices, the rushed release of the motherboards, lacking software support; the list goes on. Nevertheless it has been quite some time since the performance difference between the current fastest processor and last year's fastest processor was this big. Compared with the Core i7 6950X, the Core i9 7980X is 79% faster in Cinebench 15, 45% faster in x264, 50% faster in x265, 70% faster in Zlid and we can go on like this for a while. The release of Intel 18-core desktop processors once again proves that competition is a good thing - something that was missing in the processor market the last couple of years. In our opinion we can already include 2017 in the history books as the year in which the processor market finally became fun and exciting again!

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