Intel’s Massive Core i9-7980XE 18-Core Reviewed With ASUS’ ROG STRIX X299-XE GAMING Motherboard

Introduction

Intel has always enjoyed the performance crown when it comes to processors and last year, it temporarily lost that medal of honor to AMD’s Threadripper platform. The Intel Core i9-7980XE ‘Extreme’ processor is the answer to that challenge and is the highest core count mainstream consumer processor to date. Featuring 18 cores and a price tag of $2000 (that’s MSRP by the way), this isn’t a processor for the average Joe, but it is perhaps a superb choice (once overclocked) for the amateur workstation or rendering rig.

The Intel 7980XE Review: the fastest mainstream consumer chip on the planet

While mainstream desktop buyers got their platform cycle refresh earlier this year, enthusiasts received the update in the second quarter of 2017. In 2014, Intel released X99 and it was a big leap in terms of features compared to X79.

It was the first platform to feature support for DDR4 memory, something that mainstream consumers would get a whole year later. It was also the first platform that pushed the core count on Intel processors from 6 to 10. While expensive, the competitors had no answer to Intel’s enthusiast platform which gave Intel another market to take control over.

Before we go any further, here is our complete system configuration for the review:

We are going to be pairing the Intel Core i9-7980XE with the ASUS Strix X299-XE GAMING motherboard. Both samples were provided by their respective manufacturers for review purposes. The X299-XE features an additional power connector to the CPU port, so it is a good choice for the Core-X series.

This is going to be our primary X299 test bench and will also be used for future testing. We are going to be going over not only the compute side of things, but preliminary gaming benchmarks as well. Our methodology is going to be testing the 7980XE in its out of the box settings and with no additional tinkering. Overclocked testing and affinity scaling will be part of our coverage that is going to be coming soon afterwords.

Intel expanded its high end lineup with the launch of the Core-X Series. This marks the first time that the “Core” branding has ventured out of the 4 core limit it has been sitting on for the past few years. And boy, has the limit been broken, from 4 cores (and 8 cores on the enthusiast side) Intel has increased the maximum core count to 18 cores / 36 threads. This is something that can only be attributed to AMD’s resounding success with its Zen architecture and the immense competition that it sent Intel’s way, and you know what they say, in a competition, the consumer wins at the end.

Intel unleashes the Core-X family: 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6 and 4 Core processors under the same X299 platform on the LGA 2066 socket

The brand new Core-X series includes both the Skylake-X architecture as well as the Kabylake-X architecture. All CPUs that have a core count of 6-18 cores are from the SKL-X family while the quad cores are from the KBL-X family. Since AMD has already realeased its 8-core Ryzen processors and is planning on following up with Threadripper which will increase that number to 16, not only has Intel replied tit for tat, but also managed to one-up them with their Core i9-7980XE flagship which features 18 cores. This is not going to be a cheap platform of course, but those that can afford it will be pleased to find an almost limitless scaling factor to their CPU of choice under the X299 platform.

 

The Core i9-7980XE: Intel’s Unbeatable Flagship ‘Skylake-X’ Processor with 18 Cores / 36 Threads

Priced at $1999 MSRP (you are paying $111.11 per core) and featuring the Skylake-X architecture, this beast of a processor will be the ideal go-to processor for content creators that want the maximum throughput in terms of rendering performance. This is a processor that will almost certainly be overkill for gaming (unless you are running some sort of CaaS enterprise).

Intel introduced the new Intel® Core™ X-series processor family on May 30, 2017. Intel’s most scalable, accessible and powerful desktop platform ever, it includes the new Intel® Core™ i9 processor brand and the Intel® Core™ i9 Extreme Edition processor – the first consumer desktop CPU with 18 cores and 36 threads of power. The company also introduced the Intel® X299, which adds even more I/O and overclocking capabilities. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

It has 18 cores and 36 threads and features Intel’s new Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology which can boost up to 4.5 GHz (the base clock is unknown at this point). The CPU features an L2 Cache of 18 MB (1 MB per core) as well as an L3 cache of 24.75 MB. Quad channel DDR4 up to 2666 MHz is. The processor has a TDP of just 165W and is housed on the LGA 2066 socket like the rest of the lineup.

Intel Core i9-7980XE Die Shot

 

Key Features:

Intel X299 HEDT Chipset – The Top Brass of Intel’s 2017 HEDT Family

The Intel X299 HEDT chipset is powering the enthusiast platform this year’s launch. It’s easy to tell given the time frame these enthusiast platforms last that the chipset will run for at least 2-3 years before being replaced by a new one. Intel’s X299 chipset includes support for both Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X processors but some vendors have decided to restrict Kaby Lake-X support on their high-end X299 motherboards since it doesn’t make sense to go for a $499 US+ motherboard with chips that cost below $350 US.

There are also some various restrictions and features that are not available on Kaby Lake-X when compared to Skylake-X and those are detailed below.

Intel X299 PCH Features

Intel’s new X299 chipset will be the latest PCH to support the enthusiast processors. The X299 platform will be centered around the LGA 2066 socket which will be compatible with at least two generations of processors. In specs, the X299 chipset offers up to 24 PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes. The chip also offers up to quad channel memory with speeds up to DDR4-2667 MHz (native). Kaby Lake X series processors will only support dual channel RAM and will stick to the native speeds of 2667 MHz.

This difference is due to the IMC on the Kaby Lake-X chip architecture that only allows support for dual channel memory. Intel basically swapped the Kaby Lake die from the smaller mainstream chip to the larger enthusiast chip. This means that the underlying architecture remains the same.

Aside from that, Intel X299 has full support for CPU overclocking which is a bonus. While that’s a plus, independent testing performed prior to our review revealed that the chips don’t feature chip soldering and use thermal paste as a layer that connects the die with the heatspreader. This may result in higher temperatures but we have to find that out in our own tests.

The Basin Falls PCH also offers maximum of 14 USB ports (10 USB 3.0 Max), 8 SATA 3.0, and Intel LAN (Jacksonville PHY) controllers. The chipset can also drive three M.2 drives with Intel RST tech. Additional features include Enhanced SPI, SPI, LPC, SMBus and HD audio which are integrated underneath its hood.

Intel X299 Chipset Features:

Chipset Intel X79 “Patsburg” Intel X99 “Wellsburg” Intel X299 "Basin Falls" With KBL-X Intel X299 "Basin Falls" With SKL-X
SKU Focus Segment Enthusiast Desktop Enthusiast Desktop Enthusiast Desktop Enthusiast Desktop
CPU Support Sandy Bridge-E /
Ivy Bridge-E
Haswell-E / Broadwell-E Kaby Lake-X Skylake-X
CPU Core Options 4, 6 6, 8, 10 4 6, 8, 10, 12, 14,16, 18
Max Chipset PCI-E Lanes 8 8 24 24
Max CPU PCI-E Lanes Up To 40 Up To 40 Up To 16 Up To 44
Memory Type DDR3 DDR4 DDR4 DDR4
Memory DIMMs Quad Channel (8) Quad Channel (8) Dual Channel (4) Quad Channel (8)
Overclocking Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 Support Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Support No No No Yes
Intel Optane Technology No No Yes Yes
Intel Rapid Storage Technology Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Rapid Storage Technology For PCIe Storage Drive Support No No Yes Yes
RAID 0,1,5,10 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Smart Response Technology No Yes Yes Yes
Integrated LAN Yes 1 GbE Integrated MAC Integrated MAC
Total USB Ports (Max USB 3.0) N/A 6 10 10
Total USB Ports (Max USB 2.0) 14 14 14 14
Max SATA 6 Gbps Ports 6 (2 Rated at Full 6 Gbps) 10 8 8
TDP 7.8W 6.5W 6.0W 6.0W

Intel LGA 2066 Socket – Supports All Intel Core-X Series Processors

On the socket front, Intel has finally replaced the older LGA 2011 with LGA 2066. The LGA 2011 saw several revisions as it was first featured on the X79 platform and slightly redesigned for X99 in the form of LGA 2011-v3. Enthusiasts running older HEDT Intel platforms cannot use a older processor on the new platform and would have to purchase a new one to allow compatibility.

The latest LGA 2066 socket features 2066 pins which support both Skylake-X and Kaby Lake-X CPUs but doesn’t allow compatibility with Intel Xeon processors. The Intel Xeon class processors that are part of the Skylake-SP family will be featured on the much different LGA 3647 socket which is huge compared to LGA 2066.

Cooler Compatibility With LGA 2066 Socket

Since the change in number of pins is smaller, the socket remains as the same dimensions as the LGA 2011 and LGA 2011-v3 socket. This means that users can equip their older retention brackets from LGA 2011 socket coolers on the LGA 2066 socket with ease. The process remains largely the same.

On the cooler front, while Intel hasn’t historically offered any cooling solution on their HEDT CPUs, they do provide their own boxed solutions for users that are interested at a price ranging between $85-$100 US. The said cooler is Intel’s TS13X which is a liquid cooling solution and termed as a high performance thermal solution for enthusiasts. The cooler features a 120mm radiator fitted with a 120mm fan that operates at up to 2200 RPM. It’s a nice option but there are plenty more similar or better priced solutions in the market that are compatible with LGA 2066.

Intel ‘Skylake-X’ & ‘Kabylake-X’: Core-X Series Reveal Complete Press Deck

Intel Core X Series Processor Family Specifications:

CPU Name i9-7980XE i9-7960X i9-7940X i9-7920X i9-7900X i7-7820X i7-7800X i7-7740X i5-7640X
CPU Process 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+ 14nm+
Architecture SKL-X SKL-X SKL-X SKL-X SKL-X SKL-X SKL-X KBL-X KBL-X
Cores/Threads 18/36 16/32 14/28 12/24 10/20 8/16 6/12 4/8 4/4
Base Clock 2.6 GHz 2.8 GHz 3.1 GHz 2.9 GHz 3.3 GHz 3.6 GHz 3.5 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.0 GHz
(Turbo Boost 2.0) 4.2 GHz 4.2 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.3 GHz 4.0 GHz 4.5 GHz 4.2 GHz
(Turbo Boost Max 3.0) 4.4 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.4 GHz 4.5 GHz 4.5 GHz N/A N/A N/A
L3 Cache 24.75 MB 22 MB 19.25 MB 16.5 MB 13.75 MB 11 MB 8.25 MB 6 MB 6 MB
L2 Cache 18 MB 16 MB 14 MB 12 MB 10 MB 8 MB 6 MB 4 MB 4 MB
Memory Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Quad DDR4 Dual DDR4 Dual DDR4
PCIe Lanes 44 44 44 44 44 28 28 16 16
Socket Type LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066 LGA 2066
TDP 165W 165W 165W 140W 140W 140W 140W 112W 112W
Price $1999 US $1699 US $1399 US $1189 US $999 US $599 US $389 US $349 $242

The ASUS ROG STRIX X299-XE Gaming comes in the standard folded cardboard box with all of the understated marketing material and specifications displayed on the box. There are several tiers of good news in the box however. While its not mnetioned on the box, you actually get pretty much everthing you see on it inside. This includes an RGB strip as well as a 3D printed bracket among others.

I have no qualms in saying that this is one of the most well populated motherboard box I have ever had the pleasure to open. While most motherboard boxes contain only the odd sata cable and the IO shield, the ASUS ROG X299-XE STRIX motherboard spares no expesne in filling itt to the brim with wires, posters, driver cds and manuals.

Package Contents

Accessories:
User’s manual
ASUS Q-Shield
1 x Vertical M.2 bracket set
4 x SATA 6Gb/s cable(s)
1 x M.2 Screw Package
1 x Supporting DVD
1 x SLI HB BRIDGE(2-WAY-M)
1 x Q-Connector
1 x 10-in-1 ROG cable label
1 x M.2 screw kit (long screw and mount)
1 x Thermal sensor cable pack(s)
1 x Cable ties pack(s)
ROG Fan Label
1 x Extension Cable for RGB strips (80 cm)
1 x 3D printing mount package



The ASUS ROG STRIX X299-XE motherboard is a beautiful looking motherboard with a classy RGB gash running over the IO area and an understated heat-sink design. It also contains a central RGB LED with the words ROG frozen in glass. All in all this is one o f the better looking motherboards out there. There are 8 DIMM slots on the motherbaord (as is the norm with X299) and 8 SATA slots. M2 storage is available but is rather hard to reach.


To reach the M2 slot you need to unscrew the heatsink on the bottom right corner. Alternatively you can use the secondary M2 slot on the top which only accepts the SSD in a suspended position (perpendicular to the board). This might be disconcerting for the beginner (it took us a few minutes to figure out where the M2 port was hiding) but all in all this can increase the life expectancy of your SSD (due to the heatsink being in contact with the M2 and acting as, well, a heatsink.


Probably the more interesting part of this motherboard is the audio hardware. SupremeFX powered codec that utilizes 9 japanese capacitors and an isolated PCB design ensure that you get the maximum possible Ohmage out of your integrated circuit that can power just about any headphone out there. Short of getting a dedicated amplifier, this is the absolute best in terms of audio.

 


We are going to kick off our performance testing metrics with the compute side of things. Since the 7980XE is a product that was designed primarily with the video editor/workstation PC in mind, we think it makes sense that this be the deciding factor in the CPU’s success.

With 18 cores and 36 threads, it was interesting to see how the CPU would perform considering its base clock is a measly 2.6 GHz. When hit with an all-core load, the i9-7980XE can maintain an all-core clock speed of 3.37 GHz, which is pretty decent considering the massive core count.

Without any further ado, here are the benchmarks:


Cinebench has become one of the most accepted standards of multi-core performance and it helps that the load is pretty heavily optimized to scale efficiently across a large core count. It is little surprise therefore when the Core i9-7980XE absolutely shreds to the top of the graph with a Cinebench score of 3404 points. It does fairly well in single core scoring as well, thanks to the Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology.


Up next we have the POV-Ray 3.7, another industry standard benchmark that can give us a reliable performance number for rendering applications. Just like before, the 7980XE takes top spot with a score of 7489 points.

Winrar is another example of a popular office based benchmark and we see the same pattern repeated again with the 7980XE scoring almost 40,000 points on WinRAR, which is significantly faster than the competition of mainstream SKUs.

Something rather interesting happens in Handbrake 4k however. The Core i9-7980XE appears to loose a little of its edge over the others and while it still manages to finish it first, the difference between the 1st and 2nd spot is no where nearly as defined as it was before. This has interesting implications about the encoding and decoding capability of the Core i9-7980XE.

Up next we have another rendering benchmark, and its none other than Blender 2.78. As expected, the 7980XE finishes first with a large lead.

We are now starting to diversify away from the highly optimized and multi threaded workloads and move towards something more realistic for the average enthusiast. The 7980XE loses its lead in the TimeSpy CPU benchmark and is only a few points ahead of the Core i9-7900. This is not particularly surprising because while the 7980XE has a core count advantage, it has a distinct clock speed disadvantage and we are sure that playing around with the clocks would lead to some phenomenal performance gains (but that is for later).

Our last benchmark for this side of the benchmarks is the PCMark 10 suite. This is one of the more realistic of benchmark suites out there and tests a very wide variety of use cases to see whether a heavy office user would notice any difference in performance and responsiveness. The Core i9-7980XE maintains its large lead here and clocks in at 8517 points.


For gaming performance testing, we will be using the 4K resolution and custom settings (to maximize FPS) with an average around very high – ultra. Our methodology is to maximize the frame rate with a minimum drop in quality. The graphics card in play here, as mentioned on the first page, is the EVGA GTX 1080 Ti FTW3. Without any further ado, here are the testing results:


First up we have Battlefield 1, where the 7980XE instantly establishes its lead as the leader of the pack. Frametimes were very smooth across the board (we use a secret sauce technique that we will be sharing with you guys in an upcoming feature) and well go over them in detail soon.


It is here that the 7980XE takes a step back from the rest. There can be multiple reasons behind this but the most common one is that the game isn’t optimized to be able to handle 18 cores.


We saw the 7980XE take back its leak in GTAV with quite a significant improvement.

Doom is a special title in our testing, particularly because it runs on OpenGL and we have seen some very interesting things happen on this API with early drivers giving a large performance lead to AMD parts. In this particular title as well, we see the 7980XE draw just a little bit ahead of the 7900X, but not by a lot.

Finally, we have the Rise of the Tomb Raider, which has become one of the few titles that you will find in pretty much every review. Here, once again, the 7980XE falls a big behind the pack due to lack of optimizations in the game.

There is one other game that we were going to include but as it turns out, it will not run on any 7980XE unless you disable 2 cores: Anno 2205. The blame for this however, falls to the developer and not Intel in this case.


As I am sure you have heard, the Core-X series can run pretty hot. Fortunately however, the low clocks of the 7980XE ensure that you are going to be okay with just about any decent cooler. We were personally using an NZXT Kraken X62 AIO and as it turns out, it can keep the processor pretty cool all things considered. In fact, it is not the hottest of the bunch at the stock clocks (OC is another story entirely, which we will go into in detail in a future write up).

As far as thermals go, we saw the 7980XE pull a maximum of 312 watts from the wall at stock configuration at max load. Considering the power efficiency of the PSU is roughly 89%, you are looking at a real power draw of 277.68 Watts, which considering this is an 18-core processor is pretty damn impressive. That’s a power draw of roughly 17 watts per core. Not bad at all. The average delta between Idle and Load wattage is around 210 watts.

Idle and load power draw of the Intel Core i9-7980XE with maximum load applied to all cores.

Its worth noting that the powerdraw of the Intel Core i9-7980XE can climb a lot higher very fast if you apply overclocking profiles (detailed in a later piece).

Is this processor the best  out there? Yes. Is this chip for everyone? No.

This was easily one of the most fun processors to review that we have seen so far. The sheer number of cores means we can do some very interesting tests with it (we will be rolling out a series on these unique tests soon) and get some pretty amazing results.

Needless to say, the 7980XE is the fastest chip on the planet (in the mainstream consumer space) and the cost for having the absolute best is a price tag that can probably get you a second hand car. At a cool $2000, you will be paying roughly $111 per core as opposed to, lets say, the Core i3-8100 where you pay $21.5 per core. This massive difference in price is something which is the cost of opting for the fastest processor available.

Of course, its an entirely different story if you are a streamer or video editor. The sheer number of cores will give you quite a return on investment and you will be able to get a lot more value out of it than a gamer ever can. In fact, once overclocked, the 7980XE becomes blazing fast and the only problem is taming the heat output of the chip, which can be massive. We will be detailing gaming and overclocking optimizations in later pieces but for the purposes of this review, the 7980XE offers significantly higher value to professionals and even amateurs then it does to gamers (obviously).

The 7980XE is an incredible piece of silicon, with all 18-cores existing on a single die and a mesh setup interlinking them. It is one of the greatest achievements of semiconductor technology and represents truly how much power can be packed in such a small space. That’s about it for our review but stay tuned for additional testing of the 7980XE including optimizing gaming and overclocking profiles that are coming soon.

You can buy the ASUS X299 STRIX XE for $316
You can buy the Core i9-7980XE for $2038

Ethics Warning: These are affiliate links and we will take a commission on the link if you buy.

8.8

This is the best mainstream consumer x86 processor that money can buy at the time of writing. The 7980XE is an excellent choice for enthusiasts who want to do some serious multitasking, streaming or video editing. Rendering and encoding speeds are blistering fast and while gaming performance is excellent as well - its not really designed for the gaming community in mind.

Performance9.8
Value7.5
Design & Aesthetics8.5
Features9.5

Pros

  • Fastest mainstream consumer chip
  • 18 cores (36 threads) XCC die
  • Huge overclocking potential
  • Intel Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 can boost a small number of cores higher
  • Reasonable power draw and thermals at stock settings
  • Excellent choice for video editors and professionals

Cons

  • Extremely huge price tag
  • IHS uses thermal paste instead of solder
  • Some games might not work (Anno 2205)
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