Intels Core Xperiment i9 9990XE

Intel launched a new processor in their Core X series recently, and it is novel in many ways. It combines a fairly high core count with very high clock speeds, at the cost of power consumption and high heat output. It also is very limited in availability, being offered only to select system integrators via a private auction. We got our hands on one in the first auction, and have been putting it through several rounds of benchmarking to see if it is worth the price and hassle, as well as to determine if we will be offering it in our workstations.

Intel Core i9 9990XE

Here are the basic specifications for this new chip, the Intel Core i9 9990XE:

Model Name: Core i9 9990XE
Product Line: Core X
Socket: 2066
Process: 14nm
Core Count: 14
Thread Count: 28 (14 x 2 via Hyperthreading)
Base Clock: 4.0GHz
Max All-core / Single Core Turbo: 5.0GHz / 5.1GHz
Thermal Output: 255W
PCI-Express 3.0 Lanes: 44
Supported Memory: DDR4 2666MHz
Cache Sizes (L1 / L2 / Smart Cache): 896KB / 14MB / 19.25MB

From the raw numbers, this should be a very powerful processor – but how does it perform in some common benchmarks? Lets see:

Benchmark Core i9 9990XE Core i9 9980XE Core i9 9940X Core i9 9900K
Cinebench R15 Multi CPU 3732 points 3760 points 3118 points 2063 points
Cinebench R15 Single CPU 221 points 199 points 195 points 219 points
V-Ray 1.0.8 CPU 39 seconds 37 seconds 43 seconds 62 seconds
LINPACK 975 GFLOP/s 1067 GFLOP/s 963 GFLOP/s 443 GFLOP/s

Those Cinebench scores put this chip on par with the Core i9 9900K for single-core speed as well as the i9 9980XE for multi-threaded calculations. V-Ray is also well threaded, and again this result is very close to the 9980XE's 37 seconds. That is quite a feat, though these tests are short enough that they don't really show if the chip can sustain that level of performance for a significant length of time.

LINPACK takes longer, and looking at clock speeds during its run we did see a dip on most of the cores after several seconds. I am not yet sure if that was thermal or power throttling, or if it was due to LINPACK's use of AVX512 which often causes CPUs to run at lower clock speeds. Either way, the 9990XE's 975 GFLOP/s is still slightly faster than Intel's other 14-core chips like the Core i9 9940X.

Does the Core i9 9990XE's very good performance in synthetic benchmarks translate to real-world applications? Yes! It behaves very much like the best parts of the high clock speed i9 9900K as well as the high core count i9 9980XE, and takes home top or near-top performance in most of the tests we put it through. You can see more details on the individual software articles we published:

Premiere Pro | After Effects | Photoshop | Lightroom | Pix4D | Solidworks

Or if you don't want to dig deeper into a specific application, you can flip through the gallery of performance graphs below:

With all of that, it might seem like the new Core i9 9990XE is a logical addition to our product line – but it isn't that simple. While performance is solid, there are many other factors to consider before we start using a component in our workstations. Unfortunately, this processor has many downsides:

  • Availability – We cannot just order more of these from distributors, but have to wait for Intel's auctions to purchase more. Even then, there is no guarantee that we will win any of the bidding… so we cannot forecast availability for our customers.
  • Price – Because of the nature of an auction, we can never be certain of pricing either. The one we won ended up costing about 15% more than a Core i9 9980XE, yet in multi-threaded applications it does not perform all that much faster than the 9980XE.
  • Warranty – The Core i9 9990XE is being sold without any warranty by Intel, and while CPU failure rates are generally low even a single DOA or failure for a customer in the field would be an expensive loss. Further, if a customer has a failure and we are out of stock there is no guarantee we could ever acquire a replacement… especially once Intel stops the auctions for this chip.
  • Heat – This processor uses a lot more power than other Core X models, and this puts out a lot more heat. We've found that the Corsair Hydro H80i cooler with upgraded fans can dissipate the heat well enough for the CPU to operate properly, but long-term there could be unforeseen complications from so much heat. This is especially concerning in tandem with the lack of warranty.

Given all of those concerns, the small gains made by the Core i9 9990XE do not seem to justify the risks. We will continue to test this processor and monitor the auctions, but for now we do not believe that offering it would be in the best interests of our customers.