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Intel’s going toe-to-toe with AMD’s Threadripper, halving its 18-core CPU price

Cutting prices to less than $60/core to match AMD's Threadripper is going to make for an interesting November...

Intel Core X-series

Intel has halved the price of its Cascade Lake X CPUs, making the benefits of sticking with its existing 14nm CPU Skylake architecture for the new high-end desktop (HEDT) chips abundantly clear. And we’re not just talking about some 10% cut here or there, compared with the 9th Gen X-series processors the equivalent CPUs are essentially half the price… if not less.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Intel has taken the decision to cut the prices of its top chips – pre-empting the launch of the 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors set to launch next month. They’re going to tip up sporting the new 7nm Zen 2 architecture and more cores than you can shake a Gordon Moore at.

And if you don’t have a new architecture or more cores to boast of with your new CPU lineup, what do you do? You do what AMD has been doing for years and you pull out all the stops to compete with the pricing of your main competitor.

When it had no competition Intel’s HEDT range was prohibitively expensive, up among Xeon server-level pricing because of the CPU technology on offer. But since AMD laid down the Threadripper challenge back in 2017 the pressure has been on Intel to shift the price/core down, and finally it has succumbed to that pressure with Cascade Lake X.

There are four different Cascade Lake X processors in the 10th Gen lineup, with 10, 12, 14, and 18-core CPUs all HyperThreaded right up the PCIe lane. And the interesting thing is that for once they actually get better value, on a per-core basis, the higher up the stack you go. That’s a big change compared with the 9th Gen chips where the 18-core CPU cost a staggering $111 per core.

Cores Threads Price $ Per Core
Core i9 10900X 10 20 $590 $59
Core i9 9900X 10 20 $1,035 $104
Core i9 10920X 12 24 $689 $57
Core i9 9920X 12 24 $1,150 $96
Core i9 10940X 14 28 $784 $56
Core i9 9940X 14 28 $1,215 $86
Core i9 10980XE 18 36 $2,000 $54
Core i9 9980XE 18 36 $979 $111
Ryzen 9 3900X 12 24 $499 $42
Ryzen 2920X 12 24 $649 $54
Ryzen 2950X 16 32 $899 $56
Ryzen 2970WX 24 48 $1,799 $54

Compare that with the 2nd Gen Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX with 24 cores, retailing for just $54 per core, and the difference is huge.

Now Intel is committed to making it easier for creators and professionals to make the step up from the standard desktop range, such as the Core i9 9900K, and into the high-end CPU space. Making the price difference as small as possible is only going to help that. Of course it has had some external forces exerted on it to make the pricing reset, but at least the HEDT market pricing is normalising to a more sensible level.

For its part, AMD has confirmed that at the November launch for the Zen 2-powered Threadripper chips it will be debuting with a 24-core chip, though we have seen 32-core chips appear in benchmark databases, and expect even more core-happy options to get released later on down the line.

But we doubt that AMD is going to change its per-core pricing for the new Threadripper processors, having been responsible for driving the cost of high-performance computing down, especially given that the new chips are being built on the expensive 7nm process node.

This is where Intel has arguably been able to catch up on pricing. It’s still using essentially the same Skylake-X architecture on the same 14nm production process. That’s an incredibly mature node now, and therefore yields ought to be magnificent. After all, Intel’s had plenty of time to fine-tune the manufacturing of its 14nm silicon…

Intel Cascade Lake X

Intel’s standard desktop flagship, the Core i9 9900K seems to have also had an equivalent price-cut, as it’s now retailing for just $475, which matches the new Cascade Lake X pricing at $59/core. Though where does that leave the upcoming Core i9 9900KS, the slightly updated 5GHz 8-core model? If recent reports are anything to go by, it leaves the new chip high and dry with a rumoured $600 price tag.

If the Core i9 10900X is shipping around the same price, with two more cores, quad-channel memory support and up to 48 PCIe 3.0 lanes, on the existing X299 motherboard platform, then that’s going to be a more tempting high-performance chip than the KS.

But those are all pre-launch prices, and not necessarily based on anything but retailer speculation. Maybe.

AMD 3rd Gen Threadripper

The pricing reset is a smart move by Intel, but absolutely a necessary one. No longer is it able to stave off AMD on the back of its IPC performance lead alone, so it has needed to do something. And making the announcement before AMD gets to release the new Threadripper lineup is vital too, even if they are both set to launch in November.

The 3rd Gen Threadripper chips will need new motherboards, but offer 64 PCIe lanes from the CPUs themselves (Intel’s claiming 72 lanes, but is combining chip and chipset) and is running on the higher bandwidth PCIe 4.0 generation. AMD is also set to offer vastly higher core counts too… eventually.

But with the new ultra aggressive Cascade Lake X pricing it’s clear that Intel is taking the AMD threat, as well as its responsibility to its long-time customers seriously and is setting up a Winter of CPU competition at the very highest end of the processor market. That can only be a good thing for us consumers.