Intel Core i9-10900 Review - Fail at Stock, Impressive when Unlocked 72

Intel Core i9-10900 Review - Fail at Stock, Impressive when Unlocked

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Today, we have with us the Intel Core i9-10900 10-core processor. We've reviewed nearly every other Comet Lake 10th Gen Intel Core processor, and this part eluded us because supply for the Core i9-10900 was incredibly low until last week. Our reviews of the non-K Core i5 and Core i7 series show that opting for a non-K (multiplier-locked) SKU makes sense for those who just want the core counts on offer for a particular Intel Core brand extension as they are unwilling to hunt for the relatively small single-digit percentage performance gains to be had with manual overclocking. Don't forget to check out our review of the Core i9-10900K for reference. In this Core i9-10900 review, we're looking at Intel's 10-core/20-thread processor, which is priced at $440, or a straight $60–$70 saving over the i9-10900K. There's also an in-box cooler for those who want to economize on their build and add aftermarket CPU cooling later.

The "Comet Lake" microarchitecture on which the i9-10900 is based is possibly the final implementation of the "Skylake" core design Intel has been monetizing since 2016, using the same 14 nanometer silicon fabrication process. Facing severe competition from AMD and its Ryzen family of processors, Intel has for the past three Core generations stepped up core/thread counts across the board. This is because AMD began catching up on IPC, which meant the only way Intel could compete is by increasing core counts and clock speeds. Compared to the previous generation, which offered 8-core/16-thread processors as "i9", the 10th Gen Core i9 now has 10 cores and 20 threads.

At $440, the Core i9-10900 is spaced barely $30 apart from the i7-10700K, which has two fewer cores, but an unlocked multiplier. The i9-10900 is a 10-core/20-thread Socket LGA1200 processor clocked at 2.80 GHz base, with up to 5.20 GHz maximum boost frequency. As a Core i9 part, Intel enabled not just Turbo Boost 2.0 and Turbo Boost Max 3.0 (TBM3), but also its new Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB) algorithm, which opportunistically boosts the processor up to 5.20 GHz, beyond its 5.10 GHz TBM3 frequency, depending on the effectiveness of your cooling solution.

As we'll confirm throughout our Core i9-10900 review, the CPU has a glaring Achilles heel: its TDP of just 65 W. While low TDP is never a bad thing per se for a 10-core "Skylake" 14 nm chip, this results in a PL1 (power limit 1) of just 65 W to sustain elevated clock speeds, with an increased PL2 of 224 W for tiny bursts of TVB frequency, and the integrated graphics will consume power, too, if used. Luckily, with its 10th Gen Core processor series and Z490 chipset, Intel has given motherboard designers greater freedom to override power limits, many of whom have passed these tuning abilities on to end users. In our review of the i7-10700, we observed that when unshackled from stock power limits, a significant amount of performance can be unlocked, which sometimes even exceeds the stock performance of the unlocked "K" part.

In this review, we put the Core i9-10900 through its paces to explore just how fast this chip is out of the box, how much performance can be squeezed out of it even without the unlocked multiplier, and whether you could potentially save yourself $60 by opting for this chip over the i9-10900K. We offer four data points for the Core i9-10900 in this review. The first data point (green bar) is the processor as it works out of the box, completely stock, with Intel power limits active, but 3200CL14 memory. The second data point (orange) is when this stock processor is paired with the DDR4-2666 memory clock mandated by cheaper non-Z490 motherboard. The third data point (blue) explores a "max turbo" scenario where the power limits are removed completely in the BIOS. The last data point (red) explores the fastest possible manual overclock for this chip, achieved with maximum power limits and a BCLK of 103 MHz (beyond which Intel processors are designed to fail).

Intel Core i9-10900 Market Segment Analysis
 PriceCores /
Ryzen 7 1800X$2508 / 163.6 GHz4.0 GHz16 MB95 WZen14 nmAM4
Core i7-8700K$3506 / 123.7 GHz4.7 GHz12 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-9700K$3808 / 83.6 GHz4.9 GHz12 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-10700K$3758 / 163.8 GHz5.1 GHz16 MB125 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 7 3700X$2758 / 163.6 GHz4.4 GHz32 MB65 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 3800X$3408 / 163.9 GHz4.5 GHz32 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 3800XT$4008 / 163.9 GHz4.7 GHz32 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Core i9-10900$44010 / 202.8 GHz5.2 GHz20 MB65 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 9 3900X$43012 / 243.8 GHz4.6 GHz64 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 9 3900XT$50012 / 243.8 GHz4.7 GHz64 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Core i9-9900K$5308 / 163.6 GHz5.0 GHz16 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i9-9900KS$6008 / 164.0 GHz5.0 GHz16 MB127 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i9-10900K$50010 / 203.7 GHz5.3 GHz20 MB125 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 9 3950X$72016 / 323.5 GHz4.7 GHz72 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
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