UK price (as reviewed): Approx £1,999 (inc. VAT)
US price (as reviewed): MSRP $1,999 (exc. tax)
It certainly must have been a bit painful for Intel when AMD released its Threadripper CPUs back in August. For over a decade it had held the roost with the best performance at all but a tiny select few price points, and even then, Intel's CPUs were massively more power-efficient and their overclocking prowess usually meant they were faster anyway.
Threadripper built upon AMD's limited success with its previous architecture, offering more cores than we'd ever seen in a desktop CPU, and with the Zen core's massively boosted IPC and efficiency, not only did it take the crown away from Intel's Core i9-7900X and Core i7-6950X as the most powerful desktop CPUs, but it was also pretty good value, especially where the 16-core Threadripper 1950X is concerned.
Today, though, it's likely Threadripper's reign at the top is coming to an end. Just as it moved the Coffee Lake launch forwards to compete with Ryzen, Intel has made the unprecedented move of massively expanding its HEDT lineup with considerably more CPUs now filling it than with any bunch that arrived for the X79 or X99 platforms.
Not only this, though, but core counts are also off the scale, with the company clearly seeing AMD as a threat and offering a boosted core count of its flagship HEDT CPU of four times that of the previous leap. In other words, we're moving from 10 cores to 18 cores - a near doubling in a single generation - while the move from the Haswell-E Core i7-5960X to the Broadwell-E Core i7-6950X was a comparatively paltry two cores from eight to 10.
The Core i9-7980XE, which launches today, is a beast in every sense of the word. There's 24.75MB L3 cache, 18MB L2 cache (1MB per core), 18 cores, 36 threads, and then, of course, there's the price tag. The CPU is slated to retail for $2,000 from today, but with the Core i9-7900X already having fallen in price in most countries (it now costs just £870 in the UK and can be found for around $50 less than its launch price in the US), it may come in a little lower than the wallet-smashing figure. However, with this CPU clearly taking the top spot, there isn't really much need for Intel to drop the price; with the Core i9-7900X, Intel is in direct competition with AMD's Threadripper, and any price cut makes that CPU that little bit more attractive compared to the Threadripper 1950X.
If you're not up to scratch on Intel's current and now filled-out HEDT CPU family, see our Skylake-X launch article with more information here.
Along with the Core i9-7980XE, there are 16-,14-, and 12-core parts launching too, which we've known about for a while, and they're certainly welcome given the $1,000 gulf between the Core i9-7900X and the 18-core CPU launching today. The flagship obviously demands a huge premium, but it's worth remembering that the Threadripper 1950X - AMD's HEDT flagship - didn't always beat the Core i9-7900X, and the latter wasn't always that far behind even when it did trail the AMD CPU. As a result, you probably don't have to step up to the Core i9-7980XE in order to beat Threadripper. It's likely the 14-core Core i9-7940X would manage it, especially when overclocked, but AMD still has price on its side.
So, today is really about two things. It's seeing Intel reclaim the desktop performance crown and also seeing just what kind of crazy performance you get from an 18-core, $2,000 CPU, which only a select few enthusiasts will be able to afford.
September 17 2021 | 10:20