The new Comet Lake processors push the 14nm production process to the limit, with performing CPUs that remain at the top of gaming performance.
The new Comet Lake processors are the last of their kind. Intel is not yet ready to move to 10 or 7 nm with its desktop CPUs so it has decided to squeeze the production process to a maximum of 14 nm, to bring the operating frequencies even higher. The focus on gaming of these processors is clear, although offering solid performance in other areas as well, the push on frequencies is indicative of a very specific choice, especially in a sector such as the gaming sector, which has always been dependent more on the clock than on the number of cores.
Comet Lake also comes with a new chipset, the Z490, and a new socket, the LGA1200, which do not allow compatibility with the previous generation of motherboards. A new platform, therefore, with which to make the most of the two processors that we tried and compared with AMD’s rivals, the top of the range i9-10900K and the i5-10600K, dedicated instead to the middle range.
The main news
Intel has once again focused on increasing operating frequencies, without forgetting the number of cores, which rises to 10 for the i9-10900K. Arriving at such high clocks without improving the production process was complex and required some precautions both in terms of hardware and processor management. On the one hand, Intel has reduced the thickness of the Die thus increasing heat dissipation. On the other hand, instead, software optimizations allow the clock to increase, with the top of the range i9-10900K which uses three frequency management algorithms. The first is called Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 and brings the most performing Core to the maximum frequency possible. We then have Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 and Thermal Velocity Boost. With Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 the system is able to identify the two cores by the higher speed, moving the threads towards these computing units, which can manage them better than the others thanks to higher operating frequencies.
Thermal Velocity Boost is instead a new algorithm that pushes the frequencies based on the context of use and the workload, as well as the temperature and environmental factors.
With the introduction of the Z490 chipset and the LGA1200 socket, the 2933 MHz DDR4 memories, support for 2.5 Gbps wired networks and Wi-Fi 6 also arrive. The new motherboards offer renewed VRMs, more expensive but capable of better supporting the CPU energy load, while support for PCIe 4.0 is available for M.2 GPUs and SSDs but cannot be used, at least according to what stated by various motherboard manufacturers.
In fact, Comet Lake processors are only compatible with PCIe 3.0, but the hardware on the motherboard should be ready. A rather strange situation, which could indicate the arrival, in the near future, of new processors compatible with this socket and capable of managing PCIe 4.0.
Processors in comparison
We tried the new i9-10900K and i5-10600K, two solutions that target the high and mid-range of the market respectively. The first is the top of the range, equipped with 10 cores and 20 threads, with operating frequencies starting from 3.7 GHz and can go up to 5.3 GHz for a limited period of time. The TDP is 125W but it all depends on the frequencies reached, the heat sink, the algorithms that regulate the clock and the different models of motherboards, which can use different power limits, so the TPD easily exceeds 125 W to reach maximum power. i5-10600K instead offers 6 cores and 12 threads, with frequencies starting from 4.1 up to 4.8 GHz and a TDP of 125 W, also in this case variable.
To understand the performance jump compared to the previous generation, we have also included the i9-9900K in the comparison, which still remains one of the fastest processors in gaming, with 8 Core and 16 Thread and frequency from 3.6 to 5 GHz.
In the AMD house we find several models starting from the excellent Ryzen 9 3900X, with 12 Core and 24 Thread and clock from 3.8 to 4.6 GHz, passing through the Ryzen 7 3700X, with 8 Core and 16 Thread and frequencies from 3.6 to 4.4 GHz Finally, there are also the Ryzen 5 3600X, with 6 cores and 12 threads and frequencies from 3.8 to 4.4 GHz, and the former top of the Ryzen 7 2700X range, with the same number of cores and slightly lower frequencies.
So far we have not talked about costs, the reason is that Intel has only released prices for large sales volumes. For now, we know that the i9-10900K will cost $ 488 for orders of 1000 units, while for the i5-10600K the price reaches $ 262, also for 1000 units, then the individual retailers will decide the unit cost. At present, the two main competitors, the Ryzen 3900X and the 3600-3600X, respectively cost 474 and 185-230 euros online. Difficult to judge now, the sure thing is that to be effective, Intel’s offer should not differ from that of the competition on the price front, given the performance and the pros and cons in the respective models.
Test configuration and performance
Intel, to reach high frequencies without revolutions in architecture, had to focus on algorithms that regulate the clock in a variable way. This means that, especially in the case of the i9-10900K, you need to use a high-end heatsink to manage it better. If you look at the synthetic benchmarks of the various reviews released in the last few days, discrepancies can also be noticed, which are also significant in the values: we believe that the heatsink used is one of the main discriminants. This should also be kept in mind for the overall cost of a complete build, which must necessarily include a Z490 motherboard.
Prices are higher than in the past in this area, a bit like what happened with AMD’s X570s, which in the face of higher quality and more efficient components saw prices go up compared to the previous generation. You can spend less with the H470 chipset, but in this case, you lose the possibility of overclocking, granted instead in the mid-range chipsets of AMD. For the two processors under test, however, it is a must to buy the Z490 chipset, the “K” models are in fact unlocked if the overclock does not interest you better focus on the other variants and on the H470 chipset.
For our test, we used one ROG Maximus XII Hero motherboard, along with 16 GB of 3400 MHz DDR4 RAM, at one RTX 2080 Ti and a ROG PG27UQ monitor.
Let’s start with the synthetic benchmarks, where we find a widely predictable situation. With Cinebench R20 and CPUZ, the i9-10900K is ahead of the Ryzen 3900X in single-core tests, thanks to the higher operating frequencies, the same is true for the i5-10600K, which also surpasses the Ryzen 7 3700X without too many problems.
The situation is reversed when multi-core tests come into play, where the Ryzen 3900X comes out the winner, thanks to the two cores more than the i9-10900K. The core i5, on the other hand, plays it almost on par with the 3600X, with practically mirror performance.
With TimeSpy comes the gaming soul of Intel CPUs, which they score higher than their AMD counterparts, also confirmed by the benchmarks in games in a real context, where Intel solutions are always ahead. The advantage that almost everything is concentrated in Full HD resolution, going up to 1440p the gap is still visible but it thins, while in 4K the difference is so minimal that it is irrelevant.
The clock speed and the high number of cores, however, have a cost, the i9-10900K can absorb almost 300W if brought to maximum frequencies, the Ryzen 9 3900X has never exceeded 220W in our tests, an important difference in favour of AMD, which today has decidedly more optimized processors on the energy front.
It goes much better with the i5-10600K, which instead has never exceeded 180W, a sign that the optimizations made in the development of Comet Lake processors work, but they certainly cannot work miracles when the number of cores and frequencies reach the limit of this architecture.
The new Intel i9-10900K and i5-10600K are not innovative processors, but this was already clear before we even tried them. The formula used by Intel is good or bad the same view in the recent past and continues to work today, especially in specific areas. In gaming, as well as in the use of software optimized for a limited number of cores or where high frequencies give greater benefits, these CPUs offer superior performance to the competition, an overtaking, however, by pushing the accelerator on consumption, especially in the top of the range i9-10900K. Intel has done a little miracle, keeping up with AMD’s 7nm solutions with a 14nm manufacturing process is a very difficult task. AMD, however, today has a balanced and ready offer for multi-core applications and for PCIe 4.0, with processors that consume less and simpler to manage, you do not need a high-end heatsink to run a Ryzen 9 3900X at its maximum potential. Intel’s offer remains interesting, especially in the gaming field: in our opinion, however, the most correct choice to make today is not the i9, dedicated only to those who want to squeeze until the last frame in 1080p, but the i5- 10600K, more balanced in performance, consumption and price. Speaking of price, this remains the biggest unknown: if the costs will be commensurate with those of the competition, and this also includes the heat sink and motherboard, then Intel’s offer remains interesting, especially for those who use the PC mainly for to play. However, it will take a few weeks to understand it, the products have just arrived on the market and have higher than normal costs, only then can more precise conclusions be drawn.