When will Intel Comet Lake CPUs launch? 10-core and Z490 confirmed | PCGamesN

When will Intel Comet Lake CPUs launch? 10-core and Z490 confirmed

How much further can Intel push 14nm, and will it be enough to take on AMD Ryzen and Zen 2?

Intel Comet Lake

While the techie world waits with bated breath for Intel to unveil its long-awaited 10nm process node in genuine, 100% shipping, shenanigan-free desktop product, the company has one more cookie-cutter generation in the bank: Intel Comet Lake. Set to arrive sometime in the next twelve months, these iterative processors are set to arrive with 10 cores squeezed into a footprint originally intended for just four.

The Skylake microarchitecture has taken many forms since it was first introduced. The biggest changes to the formula occurred following the launch of AMD Ryzen, which has been putting pressure on Intel to roll out greater core counts across its client i3, i5, and i7 lineup. And with AMD now knocking on its door with Zen 2 and the 7nm process node, the pressure is on Intel to deliver.

Intel’s response to this growing pressure is two-fold. First, it will brand 14nm Intel Comet Lake (and 10nm Ice Lake) processors with the 10th Gen badge on mobile. That’s happening right now and the first laptops are expected to drop any day. Second, desktop Comet Lake will launch either later this year or early next, proving that Skylake still has some life in it yet, or, somehow, space for two more cores.

Current rumours suggest 10nm will not be available en masse and in desktop form until sometime in 2020/21, which could cast a shadow over Intel’s efforts to defeat AMD’s rejuvenated CPU division.

But there’s still something to be said for Intel’s raw gaming performance, a crown it has managed to keep out of AMD’s grasp (and won’t stop shouting about). In that regard, it’s still all to play for.

Vital stats

Intel Comet Lake release date
With Comet Lake and Ice Lake CPUs sharing the 10th Gen branding right now, we suspect a vanguard of select K-series Comet Lake desktop chips will follow either later this year or early 2020. Intel already appears to be shipping Comet Lake qualification kits out.

Intel Comet Lake specs
While details remain sparse, there’s only so much Intel can do with Skylake on its 14nm process at this point. Intel’s EEC registrations confirm up to 10 cores will be available, and we suspect these will be imbued with a moderate clock speed bump, too.

Intel Comet Lake performance
Single core performance has only increased moderately with each generation since Skylake. Each one improving a wee bit on the last. Applications that favour multithreaded chops will see another significant bump to performance with the step up to a decacore chip, however.

Intel Comet Lake price
The Core i9 9900K currently retails at $488 (£480), making it one of the most expensive mainstream chips Intel has released in recent years. With AMD encroaching on Intel’s client sales, we’re hoping for a reprieve from Intel’s traditional pricing premium on top of that for another two processing cores.

Intel Comet Lake release date

What is the Intel Comet Lake release date?

Intel Comet Lake CPUs are suspected to launch in either the second half of 2019 or early 2020.

There still may be a long time to wait until substantial 10nm desktop chips are packaged and shipped. Until then, it’s Comet Lake or bust for Intel fans. Luckily, the most substantial piece of information regarding Comet Lake indicates we shouldn’t have to wait long. A roadmap leaked to Hong Kong-based site, XFastest (from an anonymous source and not verifiable), indicates Comet Lake S will launch ever-so-slightly before the end of 2020 alongside 400-series chipsets.

Both Comet Lake chips and 400-series motherboards (Z490, B460, and H410) have since been confirmed by Intel and Gigabyte in EEC registrations in September. The former came in the form of SDP kits – complete with 10 cores and Gen9 graphics – which would suggest Intel was close to finalising the Comet Lake CPU for retail.

This also aligns with previous speculation based on information hidden in plain site within patches to the Linux graphics driver. Intel’s changes to the code, posted early March, reference Comet Lake directly, and the tweaks are suspected to be a timely precursor to hardware shipping before the end of the year.

The patch reads: “Comet Lake is a [sic] Intel processor containing Gen9 Intel HD Graphics. This patch adds the initial set of PCI IDs. Comet Lake comes off of Coffee Lake – adding the IDs to Coffee Lake ID list. More support and features will be in the patches that follow.

But there is a considerable spanner in the works: the Intel Core i9 9900KS. This high-performance chip was promised earlier this year, and we’re yet to see it. It would be a little odd for Intel to launch a 9th Gen chip post 10th Gen launch, and so we’d expect to hear more about this processor before Comet Lake creeps in. Intel is saying October for the i9 9900KS, but where does that leave Comet Lake?

Intel Comet Lake specs

What are the Intel Comet Lake specs?

Intel Comet Lake will bring 10 cores to the mainstream desktop CPU market, as confirmed in its EEC registrations. The chip itself will be built upon the now heavily-optimised 14nm process node. With Hyperthreading enabled on the top chip, it’s likely we’ll see a 20-thread CPU rule over Intel’s enthusiast lineup.

Rumours of ten-core Intel Coffee Lake processors have been circulating since the dawn of time… or at least since last November when the first mention of these chips was spotted on a tech forum. But it wasn’t until 2019 that Intel’s own Linux drivers, submitted in March, exposed various tidbits of information regarding these processors.

Four entries within the driver were particularly pertinent to Comet Lake:

  • { CPUID_COMETLAKE_U_A0, “Cometlake-U A0 (6+2)” },
  • { CPUID_COMETLAKE_U_K0_S0, “Cometlake-U K0/S0 (6+2)/(4+2)” },
  • { CPUID_COMETLAKE_H_S_6_2_P0, “Cometlake-H/S P0 (6+2)” },
  • { CPUID_COMETLAKE_H_S_10_2_P0, “Cometlake-H/S P0 (10+2)” }

The final entry is of most interest to desktop gamers. It confirms a 10+2 Comet Lake SKU, 10 processing cores and integrated Gen9, GT2 graphics. These will almost certainly retain the same ring bus interconnect of their Coffee Lake predecessors and feature an increase in L3 cache to 20MB with the top decacore chip.

Cores Threads Base Turbo Cache TDP Price
Comet Lake* 10 20 20MB 125W
Core i9 9900K 8 16 3.6GHz 5GHz 16MB 95W $480
Core i7 9700K 8 8 3.6GHz 4.9GHz 12MB 95W $410
Core i7 8700K 6 12 3.7GHz 4.7GHz 12MB 95W $376

Also confirmed in the above entries are six-core laptop CPUs, which have since been confirmed, and word on the Comet Lake PCH. Outlined in the Linux entry as “based off of Cannon Point”, this PCH would ostensibly match the PCH currently in use with Coffee Lake processors.

However, the same slides that may tell of Comet Lake’s release window also indicate a change of socket pin configuration from LGA 1151 to LGA 1200, and 400-series motherboards are in the works across Intel’s partners.

Not only that, but these slides suggest a 125W TDP for some K-series chips, which tallies with the increase to 10-cores on the 14nm process node.

And why 14nm? Intel has been wrestling with its 10nm process node for many years, and after significant delays – and aborted launches – 10nm is finally shipping in a handful of mobile CPUs in 2019. But even that is a rather tepid affair, and volume desktop CPUs on the 10nm process are not expected until late 2020 / early 2021.

Instead, Intel is sticking to its guns: 14nm. This isn’t exactly the same process or architecture that was first introduced into the mainstream world back with Skylake. No, this has been optimised and modified into faster, more core-happy chips complete with new encoders, much needed security fixes, and feature updates.

As an aside, since the mobile CPUs available today under the 10th Gen umbrella are now confirmed with up to five digit titles, it looks like Intel intends on continuing its usual Core branding with the 10th Gen – despite it being rather unwieldy. It was thought (hoped) Intel may ditch the branding or reset it back to 3-digit names as it did with Nehalem. However, that looks to not be the case. Prepare yourselves for an Intel Core i9 10900K.

Intel Comet Lake performance

Intel Comet Lake performance

With every revision of the Skylake architecture – be that 14nm, 14nm+, 14nm++, or 14nm+++++ – Intel has managed to squeeze a little more performance out of the silicon. But while these improvements in clock speed have only been modest, the last couple of generations have also seen an increase in core count.

The move to 10 cores will make for some seriously capable multitasking silicon. With the addition of Hyperthreading, likely limited to the i9 chip once again, will result in a whopping 20 threads.

AMD or Intel: Who’s got the best CPU for gaming?

But games won’t directly make the most of all that power, not yet anyways. The graphics card remains the key component for us gamers, with the CPU an important, yet secondary, component in our quest for fps. Rather, the multi-core prowess of Comet Lake will come in handy if you’re an extreme multitasker, such as a streamer or content creator, who is going to be utilising the CPU for more than just plain ol’ gaming at any one time.

It won’t be easy for Intel, however, and Comet Lake has its work cut out for it. While the i9 9900K managed to safely trounce AMD’s Ryzen 7 2700X, albeit for a lot more cash, Comet Lake will be pit against AMD’s Ryzen 3000 processors led by the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, and, soon enough, the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X.

Intel HQ - Robert N. Boyce Building

Intel Comet Lake price

Intel is walking a pricing tightrope in the client market, not one bit helped by its current struggle to produce the chips it requires to meet its clients’ needs.

Intel is yet to deviate from its traditional pricing structure, charging upward of $480 for the eight-core i9 9900K. But that rigid structure is under fire from AMD’s Zen 2 architecture, with the Ryzen 7 3700X offering an equitable quantity of cores for $329.

That puts it in a sticky situation with Comet Lake. A 10-core chip, especially one with Hyperthreading, could necessitate a price tag of brobdingnagian proportions.

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