Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT vs. AMD Ryzen: Battle!

As expected earlier this week when we tested AMD's HEDT Threadripper, Intel is also launching its own new high-end desktop series, code-named Cascade Lake-X. You've already seen some preliminary data on the Core i9-10980XE, and now we're offering you a full test of the series by testing CPUs 10980XE, 10940X, 10920X and 10900X.

The 18-, 14-, 12- and 10-core CPUs are all updates to chips that were released in late 2017 as the 7000 series, code-named Skylake-X. A year later, these were reissued as the 9000 series, code-named Skylake-X. As part of the update, the CPUs were shipped with a small factory overclocking and equipped with solder instead of thermal paste to connect the CPU chip to the heat spreader. This made them essentially poor overclockers, but a little better for everyone else.

Cascade Lake-X is a little more than a refresh. We're getting an 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 reduced significantly.

Both memory frequency and capacity support have been updated from 128 GB DDR4-2666 to 256 GB DDR4-2933. The boost frequencies have been increased by 200 to 300 MHz depending on the part, although increases in performance may be offset by the hardware security fixes for the Specter and Meltdown variants 2, 3, 3a, 4 and L1TF.

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

No doubt, these are seriously high discounts. But Intel isn't generous, they're just fighting to stay relevant, and frankly, we don't think they're fighting hard enough, as you'll see shortly.

To test Cascade Lake-X we have the brand new MSI X299 Creator motherboard. It comes with 10 Gigabit LAN, Wi-Fi 6, many M.2 ports and a huge 12-phase vCore VRM with 90A power levels. A big thank you to MSI for sending us our tests.

Benchmarks

First of all, as usual, we have Cinebench R20 results. The 10980XE is behind the Ryzen 9 3950X, the 10940X corresponds to the 3900X, while the 10920X and 10900X are roughly the Threadripper 2920X and slightly ahead of the Ryzen 7 3800X.

At the moment, the TR 2920X is available for $ 500, so the slower but more expensive 10900X gets into a somewhat uncomfortable position.

At least for light thread workloads, the Cascade Lake-X series is more powerful than the 2nd generation Threadripper, although all models from the $ 370 Ryzen 7 3800X are easily beaten.

When it comes to compression performance with the 7-Zip file manager, the Cascade Lake-X series is fine. The 10980XE may have been dusted off the 3960X, but was at least slightly faster than the previous generation 2950X.

The price for the 2950X is now so high that it can keep up with the 10920X. In the meantime, the 3900X matched the 10900X, so AMD also offers significantly more value there.

AMD performs much better in decompression performance, and here the 3950X comfortably beats the 10980XE, while the 2950X and 3900X beat the rest of the Cascade Lake-X series.

In Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2020, the 3950X has just replaced the 10980XE, while the 3960X was a good deal faster. The Ryzen 9 3900X and Threadripper 2950X also beat the 10940X, while the 3800X was not much slower than the 10900X and 10920X.

We found similar results using the Puget Adobe Premiere benchmark, although this time in the export test not only the 3950X but also the 2950X outperformed the best from Intel. In the meantime, the 2920X outperformed the 10920X and 10900X.

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

The Core i9-10980XE does well in the V-Ray benchmark. Sure, it's easy to beat with the 3960X, which was 32% faster, but the Threadripper CPU also costs 40% more.

If you focus more on value, 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 you are better off with the faster 3950X. Then we see that the 3900X and 2950X cover both the 10920X and the 10900X.

The Corona results are more of a game, the 3950X comes 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 with the 10920X and 10900X.

We finally have the Blender results and this is another bad thing for Intel. Here the 3950X beats the 10980XE, while the 3900X corresponds to the 10940X, which makes the rest of the lineup even more pointless.

power consumption

AMD's more modern 7nm Zen 2 platform offers a real advantage in power consumption. The Ryzen 9 3950X was faster than the 10980XE in this test, but we can see that the Intel CPU increases overall system consumption by 29%. Because of the clock speeds and voltages required to operate at these speeds, the CPUs with the lower number of cores consume more power, at least the models with 12 and 14 cores.

Gaming benchmarks

The Core i9-10980XE delivers a solid result in Battlefield V, which roughly corresponds to the Ryzen 9 3950X. For some reason, the 1% low power of the 10900X and even the 10920X sucked.

Intel's high-end desktop lineup does well in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, not quite as good as 3rd generation thread rippers, but still very good overall.

The performance in Tom Clancy's The Division 2 was good, the 10980XE dropped somewhat due to lower clock speeds, but 149 fps on average is hardly a problem.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint isn't exactly a CPU-demanding title, but we're adding it to show what performance looks like in modern GPU-bound games. So it's good to see that Cascade Lake-X had no problems here.

The performance in F1 2019 was also solid. Again, the 10980XE can be seen to drop a little bit out of speed, but it's not something you would notice while playing.

The Cascade Lake-X series was able to extract the maximum performance of the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti in Borderlands 3 at 1080p. So that's really all they had to do here.

The last game we're going to watch is Fortnite. The models 10900X and 10920X work well here.

Overclocking

With 1.22 V, we were able to bring these Cascade Lake-X parts to 4.8 GHz to 5 GHz with the silicon lottery, depending on the model and luck. These clocks increased the performance in Cinebench R20 by about 20-25%.

The winnings are very impressive, but be aware that they are far from free. Expect a serious increase in power consumption, which means that bigger and more expensive cooling is needed.

The 10900X is not bad, we see a 27% increase in total system consumption, which is in line with the 25% increase in performance. Of course, these margins are a bit skewed because we include total system consumption, but I think that's more relevant to the end user.

For the models with a higher number of cores, the total power consumption of the 10980XE increased by 91% to 602 watts, so good luck with it.

The Cascade Lake-X processors as well as the 3960X and 3970X processors were cooled with Corsair's HydroX kits and a 360mm cooler. The 3rd generation Threadripper and Cascade Lake-X CPUs all ran between 63 and 70 degrees, so there was a fairly narrow range.

When overclocking, the temperatures of the 14 and 18 core models quickly got out of control. Basically, a 360 mm wheel in a user-defined loop is not sufficient, even with fine tension adjustment. For the 10980XE, 4.5 to 4.6 GHz would be more realistic on the water.

Price versus performance

Here's a look at price and performance using Puget's Adobe Premiere export test. If you're a content creator, you get the 3950X. If you need more PCIe lanes, you get the TR 2950X. Even Intel's 9900K does a better job here, at least in terms of value. If you are not so interested in value and just want performance, there is of course the Threadripper 3960X.

The margins in Cinebench R20 were very similar to those in V-Ray, Blender and Corona, so they represent a good representation of the price-performance ratio that you can expect in these programs.

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

Conclusion

After checking out the Ryzen 9 3950X and Threadripper 3970X & 3960X, these tests went quite as expected. We knew the performance of Intel parts would be similar to that of the previous generation of Skylake-X, but unfortunately they didn't lower prices for Intel enough to be competitive.

If you can't offer the fastest HEDT parts, you need to check the value of what AMD did for the first two generations of Threadripper at startup and later, as they have been reduced ever further.

Not only is the Ryzen 9 3950X cheaper than the Core i9-10980XE, it is faster, sometimes much faster, for most workloads. If the 3950X was slower, the distance was not very big. For those who are not concerned with the price, the additional $ 400 for the TR 3960X is well worth the effort as it is a significantly superior product.

AMD also plans to continue to sell 2nd generation Threadripper processors as value-based HEDT options. On paper this may seem like an attractive alternative, but for new buyers we recommend avoiding it. If you only need 16 high-performance cores, purchase the 3950X, which also runs on much cheaper motherboards. We currently only recommend 2nd generation Threadrippers if you need more PCIe lanes and can't afford to put $ 1,400 on the 3960X. Note that the X399 platform is just as dead as Intel's X299 platform.

The bottom line is that we only see Cascade Lake-X as profitable if they further reduce prices. The 10980XE must cost at least another $ 200, which is $ 50 more than the 3950X. The 10940X must drop to $ 700 and the 10920X to $ 600 … the 10900X must be dropped completely. The only advantage they offer over AMD's mainstream AM4 processors are more PCIe lanes, even though they're only Gen 3 lanes. It's amazing to think how much has changed in such a short time.

Purchasing links:
  • Intel Core i9-10980XE at Amazon
  • AMD Threadripper 3970X at Amazon
  • AMD Threadripper 3960X at Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 9 3950X at Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 7 3700X on Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-9900KS at Amazon
  • Intel Core i9-9900K at 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

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