It's about time. After months of leaks and rumors, Intel has pulled back the curtain on its 10th generation "S-series" desktop chips, with the Core i9-10900K leading the pack. For around $500, you'll get a 10-core processor that can reach up to 5.3GHz, with a base speed of 3.7GHz. And best of all, it's an actual 10th-gen chip, unlike the confusingly-named X-series processors Intel launched last fall.
If you're not willing to spend that much on a new CPU, you've also got plenty of cheaper options. The i7-10700 looks like more of a deal, with most of the speed you’ll find on the i9 chips, and its unlocked variant might be decently overclockable. This time around, every Core CPU also features hyperthreading — even the lowly i3 models! —for better multitasking support. At this point, Intel has to throw in as many bells and whistles as it can to compete with AMD's excellent Ryzen 3000 chips -- especially the powerhouse $499 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X.
While AMD is pushing more cores and better efficiency -- its chips are built on a modern 7nm architecture while Intel is still stuck on 14nm with these "Comet Lake" processors -- Intel is leaning on higher clock speeds. We learned earlier this month that Intel's upcoming 10th-gen H-series laptop CPUs will also reach 5.3GHz, so that milestone isn’t too surprising on the desktop side.
And since Intel knows that it has an advantage with clock speed, it's aiming to highlight that wherever possible. The updated Turbo Boost Max 3.0 feature, for example, will identify the two fastest cores on your chip and have them tackle the brunt of your workload. And there's also "Thermal Velocity Boost," a way for i9 processors to eke out a bit more speed when they're under 70 celsius. That's also how Intel is reaching that lofty 5.3GHz figure on a single core, but it'll also deliver slightly higher boost speeds across all cores too.
Performance-wise, Intel claims the i9-10900K is 10 percent faster than the last-gen 9900K in PUBG and 63 percent faster than the three-year-old i7-7700K (remember, the i9 chips didn't exist back then). The new processor is also around 18 percent faster at 4K video editing than the last-gen chip, and 35 percent faster than the 7700K. So yeah, it's faster -- though as usual, it's probably not worth upgrading if you're on a 9th gen chip.
Keeping with the speed theme, Intel is giving enthusiasts even more ways to overclock. There's a redesigned Intel Extreme Tuning Utility, which gives you more control over voltage and frequency. It'll also let you turn off hyperthreading on individual cores — which might seem counter-intuitive at first, but Intel explains it’s a useful way to reduce heat, every overclocker's worst enemy.
The new processors also feature a thinner die along with a thicker copper IHS (integrated heat spreader), which should also help keep things cooler. That's a smart move, since all of Intel's new chips still have higher TDPs (thermal design profiles) than AMD's. The 10900K has a 125-watt TDP, for example, while AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X's is just 105-watts. (It’s worth noting that TDP is quite a fluid term, though, so we won’t know what that 125-watt number will translate to in real-world use until we can test a chip for ourselves.)
You can expect to see the unlocked “K” CPUs in May, but we don’t have a timeline for the other chips. Based on the specs alone, the Intel 10th-gen desktop processors seem like a solid upgrade for anyone with a 3-year old PC. Still, AMD now has the advantage when it comes to core count and architecture efficiency. Maybe next year we’ll finally see Intel’s desktop CPUs on 10nm, but by then AMD will have an even more refined process. Given just how many waves AMD has been making over the last year, Intel will really have to do something special to stand out in 2021.