AMD's Ryzen CPUs and their oodles of cores and threads have taken the market by storm of late, and the company seems poised to deliver even more computing power this summer with the Ryzen Threadripper high-end desktop chip. Of course, you can't make noise like that in the CPU market without awakening a sleeping giant.
Intel is reasserting its x86 dominance this morning with a broadside of Core X-series high-end desktop CPUs, and it's also introducing a new host platform with the X299 chipset and LGA 2066 socket. This platform can host chips ranging from four cores and four threads all the way up to a monster 18-core, 36-thread Extreme Edition chip: the Core i9-7980XE.
Before we talk about the summit of the Core X-series lineup, let's look at base camp. In what may be a first for Intel's high-end desktop chips, the Core X-series counts two different generations of microarchitectures among its members. At the base of the pyramid, the four-core, four-thread Core i5-7640X and the four-core, eight-thread Core i7-7740X transplant Intel's highest-performance consumer Kaby Lake chips onto the X299 platform with higher TDPs, higher base clocks, and dual-channel DDR4-2666 memory support.
Intel seems to think that enthusiasts will choose these Kaby Lake-X chips as a gateway to future upgrades on their X299 mobos over their LGA 1151 counterparts. That might be an interesting prospect for some enthusiasts, but aside from their higher base clocks and TDPs versus their LGA 1151 doppelgangers, Kaby Lake-X CPUs aren't the most intriguing parts Intel is introducing today.
The Core i7-7800X on up is where the action really starts to happen for this launch. Intel has tapped its Skylake Xeon production line to repurpose server silicon for X299. The Skylake-X dies (likely 18-core and 12-core base dies) that Intel is using for these parts gives the company a wealth of knobs and dials to tweak as it creates products, and tweak it has. The Skylake-X family boasts a whopping seven chips this time around, compared to the usual four Intel has historically launched with each high-end desktop refresh.
Unfortunately, Intel played its cards rather close to the chest about the highest-end Skylake-X CPUs ahead of today's Computex keynote. We do know that starting with the 10-core, 20-thread Core i9-7900X, Intel will be using the Core i9 brand to set apart its most extreme desktop processors. The 12-core, 24-thread Core i9-7920X, the 14-core, 28-thread Core i9-7940X, the 16-core, 32-thread Core i9-7960X, and the beastly 18-core, 36-thread Core i9-7980XE (for Extreme Edition) all herald a new era of computing horsepower for the high-end desktop PC— all for a pretty penny, of course. More on that in a second.
Aside from those core counts, however, we know next to nothing about Core i9 CPUs as of this writing. Base clocks, Turbo clocks, and Turbo Boost Max 3.0 speeds all remain under wraps as of Intel's Computex keynote. We do know that those many-core Core i9s will not have modest thermal envelopes. Expect a 165W TDP from the Core i9-7920X on up, and expect clock speeds to decrease as core counts climb.
Intel strongly recommends liquid cooling for these chips, and it'll be offering an Asetek-produced 120-mm all-in-one cooler for LGA 2066 CPUs called the TS13X. Folks looking to overclock Core i9 CPUs will likely need even more substantial cooling hardware to extract the full potential from their chips.
Even with this dearth of basic information, the architectural improvements in Skylake-X might give AMD's Ryzen Threadripper CPUs reason to look over their shoulders as the red team prepares those many-core parts for launch later this year. Let's delve into why now.