Intel Unveils Comet Lake Desktop CPUs: Up to 5.3GHz, 10C/20T, and Some Unanswered Questions
The existence and imminent launch of Comet Lake, Intel’s first 10th Generation mainstream desktop CPU family, has been an open secret for several months. But Intel has stayed quiet about the specs and capabilities of the family even as rumors mounted. Now the company is finally talking about the CPUs it will launch later in May. There are some good reasons for Intel enthusiasts to be excited, but we’ve definitely got questions heading into the launch.
Let’s hit the high points first: As anticipated, the Comet Lake S 10th Generation Core desktop CPU family hauls out all the stops in an effort to push frequencies and core counts a little higher. The new Core i9-10900K is a 10C/20T CPU with a boost clock of up to 5.3GHz. That’s a 1.06x increase in top-line clock over the 9900K combined with a 1.25x core count improvement. That’s not an unreasonable level of improvement over the Core i9-9900K given that both are 14nm CPUs.
Hitting these higher frequencies, however, has required Intel to tweak a number of dials and levers. The company is now lapping its own die to reduce the amount of insulative material in-between the transistors themselves and the TIM. At the same time, Intel has increased the amount of copper in its IHS to improve its thermal conductivity.
Die-lapping has been discussed in overclocking circles as a method of improving thermals and possibly overclocks with the 9900K, but seeing Intel officially adopt it here illustrates how difficult it is for even Intel to keep pushing CPU clocks higher. The reason for the slightly thicker IHS is to keep z-height identical to allow for cooler re-use. The higher percentage of copper in the IHS more than offsets its increased thickness.
Other new features of the 10th Gen family include the ability to set a voltage/frequency curve in utilities like XTU, the use of Hyper-Threading across all Intel Core CPUs (i3/i5/i7/i9), formal support for DDR4-2933, integrated Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) support, new 2.5G Intel ethernet controllers based on Foxville, and some software optimizations in games like Total War: Three Kingdoms and Remnant: From the Ashes.
What Intel Hasn’t Said
There are several topics Intel hasn’t clarified and didn’t answer questions about during the conference call. No new details about the Z490 chipset or the status of its PCIe 4.0 support were given, even though multiple motherboard OEMs are claiming support for that standard is baked into upcoming boards. There have been rumors of a flaw in the 2.5G Ethernet controller that haven’t been clarified.
The additional pins added to LGA1200 are reportedly for power circuitry and we know the board TDP has bumped to 125W, but that number seems fairly meaningless in light of what we know about power consumption on modern high-end Intel CPUs. Unless you specifically program them to draw no more than their rated TDPs, high-end chips like the 9900K draw far more than 95W while boosting under load. Sustained power draw is also much higher. Neither AMD nor Intel sticks to TDP as a measure of actual power consumption, but the rumors concerning the 10900K have implied it could draw as much as 250-280W.
Ignore the “Up to’s” in the base clock column in the image above. Intel has informed ExtremeTech that these frequencies are meant to be listed as static clocks. “Up to” only applies to the boost clock frequency. Overall, these new CPU configurations are an improvement over what Intel has had in-market with 9th Gen.
The Core i9-9900K is an 8C/16T with a 3.6GHz base clock and 5GHz all-core boost, with an official price of $500. The Core i7-10700K is an 8C/16T CPU with a 3.8GHz base clock and a 5.1GHz boost clock, with the same 4.7GHz all-core boost as the 9900K. Price? $375.
I’m not going to speculate on how the 10700K will compare against CPUs like the 3700X or 3900X until we have silicon in-hand, but the 10700K is much better-positioned against AMD than its predecessor was. It isn’t clear how much performance will improve from the 9900K to the 10700K, but the 10700K should offer at least 100 percent of the Core i9’s performance for 75 percent its price.
The price cuts and performance adjustments continue down the stack, to good overall effect. The bottom-end Core i3, the Core i3-10100, is a 4C/8T CPU with a 3.6GHz base clock and 4.3GHz turbo for $122. The equivalent 9th Gen CPU, the Core i3-9100, is a 4C/4T CPU at 3.6GHz/4.2GHz. The addition of HT should translate to a 1.15x – 1.2x improvement across the board.
Comet Lake and LGA1200 will definitely deliver some improvements over 9th Gen, but we want to see exactly how these chips and platforms compare before we say more. One thing we are sure of — anyone planning to play at the top of the Comet Lake stack will want a high-end CPU cooler to make certain they squeeze every last bit of performance out of the chip.