The new Intel Comet Lake chips, the next-generation of desktop gaming CPUs and its 10th Gen Core, will soon be here. Though I will admit it's tough not to see the official reveal as a bit of an anti-climax. Such is the way of the tech world that despite the fact the embargo for all the official Comet Lake processor info has only just passed, we've known all about these new CPUs and their specs for a real long time now.
The headline-grabbing chip was always going to be Intel's first mainstream 10-core desktop processor, the Core i9 10900K, but it's what's happening throughout the rest of the CPU stack that's arguably more interesting. And you can probably thank AMD for that, though no-one at Intel would ever admit the prevalence of HyperThreading (HT) is anything other than something the company's done out of the goodness of its collective heart.
Whatever the motivation, having HyperThreading—the effective doubling of processing threads from a single CPU core—enabled throughout the range means that Intel has a far more compelling offering at every price point. With the previous 9th Gen chips only the Core i9 processors included HT, while the Core i7, i5, and i3 CPUs had to make do with just the core-counts the gods gave them.
Now even the lowly quad-core Core i3 chips get the HT technology, and while it can't quite match the performance of a dedicated eight-core CPU, having eight processing threads will allow the new Comet Lake budget silicon to rival a top-end Core i7 from the 7th Gen lineup. Which is lucky as with the Ryzen 3 3300X, AMD is releasing its own cheap chips with the same specs…
At a glance...
Intel Comet Lake 10th Gen release date
While Intel has finally given us the official unveiling of its new desktop processor lineup we still don't know when you'll actually be able to get your hands on the new 10th Gen silicon. Given the late April reveal we're expecting the K-series chips to actually hit the shelves sometime in May, but as yet that's all we've got.
Intel Comet Lake 10th Gen specs
The top-end Core i9 processor comes with 10 cores and 20 threads, with a peak clock speed of 5.3GHz, but that peak is dependent on time and thermals. The Core i7 lineup will all come with eight cores and 16 threads, Core i5 chips are rocking six cores and 12 threads, while the Core i3 CPUs get four cores and eight threads. Intel is also releasing six F-series chips without integrated graphics and with a lower sticker price.
Intel Comet Lake 10th Gen performance
The world's fastest gaming processor. That's what Intel is calling the Core i9 10900K, comparing it with its own i9 9900KS and AMD's Ryzen 9 3950X. Given that it's been spotted running at 5.4GHz across all ten cores it sounds like Intel might be right, though when you let it draw up to 250W maintaining that peak frequency gets a lot easier.
Intel Comet Lake 10th Gen price
The pricing for Comet Lake has largely remained the same as the previous Intel generation on a tier-for-tier basis. That means the top Comet Lake chip is the same price as the top Coffee Lake at $488, and the cheapest Core i3 is $122, but as the specs have changed you're getting a lot more for your money this generation.
The next-gen Intel processors are almost here, and with the official reveal happening at the end of April it stands to reason that the actual on sale 10th Gen release date would be sometime in May. Though there is still some speculation as to whether that might be a pre-order timescale with a June actual launch.
There has long been speculation that this generation of chips would release around April - May this year, after a relatively long time in the wilderness. The motherboard vendors were reportedly ready to roll with their new 400-series boards around the end of last year/beginning of this, but Intel was seemingly still working on getting the power requirements of its 14nm 10-core offering down.
We still don't know what the release cadence is going to be for the different processors as there are a large number of chips listed in the 10th Gen range. It seems as though the K-series CPUs will come first, but how long the Core i3 and F-series processors will be held back, we still don't know. There has also been no clear data as to what's going to happen regarding the different chipsets.
There will be the Z490 boards at the top, which will come along with the May release, but when the cheaper, less feature-rich H470, B460, and H410 boards will come is arrive is still up for debate.
The new generation of Intel desktop gaming processors isn't just about the higher core-count at the top and HyperThreading throughout the stack—though those are indeed the headline-grabbing features—there is a lot more to Comet Lake than meets the eye. Some good, some… well, we're a little more dubious about.
But yes, again we're getting more cores. They're still 14nm cores, with an undetermined number of + marks behind the Intel process node. At their heart we're still talking about the same essential core architecture Intel introduced with its 14nm Skylake, but it does at least show how effective that 14nm design was when Intel can still just about keep releasing processors based on it some five years later. And still be competitive.
That competitiveness is at the core (pun fully intended) of what Comet Lake brings to the gaming processor table. To keep up with the Lisa Sus Intel has had to keep raising its core-count game in order to remain competitive with the AMD Ryzen revolution. The fact that hitting 10 cores has been a bit of a power struggle for the top Comet Lake shows where the 14nm design is creaking against the 7nm chiplet design of the latest Zen 2 processors and their 16-core top spec.
Intel Comet Lake CPU specs
Intel has also had to drop HyperThreading into every tier of its 10th Gen processor range, making its Core i3 offerings incredibly tempting gaming chips, and giving it a chance to stand toe-to-toe with Ryzen on every front.
But Intel has also upped the standard operating frequency of its memory, dropping in support for up to DDR4-2933 RAM. Obviously you'll still be able to run overclocked kits above that point, but with memory support starting there performance should be impressive.
Turbo Boost Max 3.0 has been added into the mix too, something that previously was only available to the high-end Core X-series CPUs. It's only dropping into Comet Lake's Core i9 and i7 range, but it allows the chip to offer up its best two cores for boosting to the top frequency. There is always some variation in silicon, so the best-performing cores in one chip will be completely different to the best-performing cores of another, and Turbo Boost Max 3.0 gives you the ability to turn that to your advantage.
There are also some physical differences to the chips themselves. The actual height of the processor package isn't changing—Intel needs to keep within manufacturing specifications for coolers, after all—but it is using a thinner die. Coupled with a soldered thermal interface material (STIM) and a thicker integrated heat spreader atop it, you should see improved performance in terms of the 10th Gen temps.
What hasn't been made clear, however, is which chips will get the thin die/STIM combo. Will it just be implemented with the K-series CPUs, or just the Core i9 processors, for example?
What's notable by its absence, when we're talking about competitiveness at least, is the lack of PCIe 4.0 support from either the 10th Gen chips or their Z490 chipset compadres. AMD dropped that into its latest Ryzen releases, and will filter down into its mainstream B550 boards come June. It doesn't make any tangible to graphics card performance just yet—PCIe 3.0 has more than enough potential bandwidth for today's GPUs—but it does mean you lose access to Gen4-compatible SSDs.
You do get some extra networking chops with Comet Lake's new platform, however. The new 2.5Gb ethernet connection has reportedly had some earlier, now-fixed, reliability issues, but is still capable of delivering some seriously speedy physical connections. The new 10th Gen platform, like its mobile namesake, also brings us WiFi 6 support to aid wireless connections that could be indistinguishable from standard wired installs.
The new 10th Gen chips do swallow up a whole lot of power, however. With the last generation only the limited edition i9 9900KS topped a 95W TDP, being rated at 127W. But with Comet Lake there are six different CPUs—the K-series Core i9, i7, and i5 CPUs—that rate at 125W.
And that's just the raw TDP numbers, the actual power draw of those chips is liable to much higher. We've seen leaked performance figures showing the i9 10900K drawing some 224W to maintain its peak clock speed, and that's nigh-on confirmed by Intel's own performance numbers...
There is also a new socket to enjoy/endure. The LGA 1200 socket at the heart of the 400-series motherboards is where the new 10th Gen chips will live and, according to Gigabyte at least, where the future 11th Gen Intel processors will also find a home.
The world's fastest gaming processor. This is the tagline across much of the world; in other locales you're either looking at 'Elite Real World Performance' or 'Intel's Fastest Gaming Processor' where it's not allowed to use the 'world's fastest' claim for the Core i9 10900K. But according to Intel's own numbers—take that however you will—the 10900K performs better in the majority of its 25+ game benchmarks than either the Core i9 9900KS or the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X.
Some leaked Cinebench R15 overclocking numbers have shown the top-end Comet Lake chip actually running at a solid 5.4GHz across all ten cores. That's no joke, and will smash gaming and productivity tests too. MSI itself has confirmed that the 10900K is a beast of an overclocker too, suggesting that in its own binning tests it's seen more than a quarter of its Core i9 CPUs offering serious OC headroom.
But it needs a whole lot of juice to be able to get there. In Intel's own system configuration charts you can see that the 10900K runs with PL2 rating of 250W. That means for its short duration Turbo sessions it can draw up to 250W from the wall, which is effectively twice its rated TDP. The length of time it can do that is set to 56 seconds, and that means the 10900K is running at peak turbo frequencies (potentially 5.3GHz thanks to Turbo Boost Max 3.0) for almost a minute, and sucking down a huge amount of power while it does so.
With Intel putting a lot of store in why frequency matters—it has to as it's not going to win the core-count debate—the fact it's allowing its 10th Gen processors to draw so much power under Turbo conditions means that you should see some serious gaming performance. And it will likely mean the top Comet Lake chips will happily outperform the Ryzen competitors. Game engines are still heavily weighted towards higher frequencies on a few cores, and with Comet Lake's CPUs able to offer up each chip's best-performing individual cores, and able to hold them to boost for a hella long time, such processors should fly in modern games.
All of this has to be offered with the caveat that we're still only able to take Intel's word for it. Our review units are on the way from Oregon, so we'll be able to see just how much the 10900K is going to add onto my electricity bills when they arrive. Oh, and how they stack up against AMD's finest gaming CPUs too.
Intel is also introducing what it's calling some 'new overclocking knobs' with its latest generation of CPUs. There's greater granularity to the overclocking you can do with the new chips, and with HyperThreading up and down the stack, the unlocked 10th Gen chips now allow for per-core disabling of the feature.
Turning off HT can improve potential overclocking performance, but does mean you have to compromise on a hit to multithreading power. With this new pre-core feature, however, you don't have to dial it back across the board. Basically, it should allow overclockers to have the best of both worlds; higher clock speeds and serious multi-threaded performance.
In a move that will be incredibly familiar to anyone who's tried overclocking an Nvidia GPU in the last few years, Intel is introducing voltage/frequency curve controls to its overclocking app, the Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU). In the new version of the software you will be able to adjust how the processor voltage changes as the CPU multiplier is increased. It also looks as though there is a scan function in there which, if it works like Nvidia's V/F scanner, will tune performance to the individual silicon inside your machine, rather than to a more generalised spec.
There is also some more PCIe tuning available, though I doubt that will be enough to close the gap between the PCIe 3.0 connection in the Z490 chipset and the PCIe 4.0 spec of AMD's latest and upcoming Ryzen platforms.
Intel's pricing team seems to have taken the day off when it comes to figuring out what the tray price should be for its new Comet Lake 10th Gen CPUs. It has essentially just left the pricing where it was for the last generation of desktop processors; the top chip costs $488 and the bottom Core i3 $122.
But that doesn't take into account the fact that the specs are wildly different, which means you're getting more Intel CPU for the same price. Largely that's down to the introduction of HT across the board, but also at the top it means Intel isn't charging any more for its 10-core i9 10900K than it was for its eight-core i9 9900K.
The pricing also means there's genuine competition in the middle order, a place where AMD's Ryzen processors have held sway for a long time now. The bottom six-core, 12-thread Ryzen 3000 CPU is the 3600 at $199 with a boost clock speed of 4.2GHz. The six-core, 12-thread Core i5 9400F, however, will boost up to 4.3GHz with a price tag of just $157.
When it comes to the Core i3 range too, you're getting a $122 quad-core, eight-thread CPU which might be able to deliver a similar level of gaming performance as the $350 Core i7 7700K of the Kaby Lake 7th Gen range. At least there AMD has a $120 Ryzen 3 3300X on its way which definitely does nail the 7700K in games.
As a wise man once said, the entry-level and mid-tier gaming chips are where Intel is surprisingly strong this generation.