Intel switched to AMD’s Ryzen 3000 challenge with its recent announcement of new 10th generation desktop processors. Nicknamed Comet Lake-S, these processors bring a multitude of improvements and some surprising new features. Here’s what’s so great about them, and why PC builders, or those looking for pre-built desktops, should consider one for their next piece of equipment.
Intel announced the new Comet Lake desktop chips on April 30. Earlier this month, it introduced new Comet Lake mobile processors for laptops and other smaller PCs. We will not delve into the laptop side here. However, Intel has said that more than 100 laptops are expected to come out with the new 10th generation processors this year. As for the desktop processors, they should start to be deployed in May 2020.
Lots of pits
Comet Lake processors have a lot of kernels. The Core i9-10900K is the top chip, with 10 cores and 20 threads. Processor cores process system instructions and make your PC run like magic. The more cores there are, the more instructions the system can process simultaneously. The system will also work better.
The only catch is that software developers must take advantage of all these wonderful hearts. Many do not, either because they do not need a lot of power, or because their software is not optimized for mega-core machines.
However, if your workload involves heavy applications, such as editing photos or videos, or games, all of these hearts can help.
Hyper-threading (almost) to the bottom
Hyper-Threading is Intel’s name for dividing a heart into two virtual ones. When it comes to the operating system, you get two cores for the price of one. This means your machine can process instructions faster. In the past, Intel has been stingy with hyper-threading on desktop computers, limiting it to Core i7 and Core i9 processors.
For Comet Lake, however, you will find Hyper-Threading down to the Core i3 and Pentium parts. Generally, with Comet Lake-S, the Core i3 components have four cores and eight threads, the Core i5 has six and 12, the Core i7 has eight and 16 and the Core i9 have 10 and 20.
This hyper-threading is huge and means there could be surprising deals on lower-level processors for low-budget games. When Comet Lake desktop reviews are available, bargain hunters will want to read them carefully for performance and price details, as well as tradeoffs with Core i3 processors.
CPU manufacturers generally try to make CPUs backward compatible with older motherboards for a few generations, but that doesn’t last forever. At some point, demands from new processors require new motherboard CPU sockets, and therefore new motherboards. This time has come with Intel Comet Lake.
Comet Lake-S uses a new LGA1200 outlet. New motherboards will be easy to spot, as they will have specific designations, including Z490, B460, H470 and H410.
Improvements in heat transfer efficiency
The biggest problem any computer system has to solve is how to cool. When computer parts get too hot, their security mechanisms begin to increase performance. In other words, they slow down to avoid physical damage. The key, then, is that these components transfer heat as efficiently as possible so that fans or liquid coolers can expel heat before it goes too far.
The new 10th generation Intel processors are said to improve heat transfer. Intel has made some internal adjustments to it to increase the size of the integrated heat sink (IHS). The IHS is the part that transfers heat away from the CPU. The larger size should remove heat from the inside of the processor more efficiently and result in better performance.
Turn off the wires for less heat
As we discussed earlier, the benefit of Intel’s Hyper-Threading is that it allows the processor to run faster. As usual with PC hardware, the downside is that the higher performance results in the generation of more heat.
With Comet Lake, Intel can deactivate Hyper-Threading by heart. So instead of a kernel functioning as two, one will function as one. With fewer cores running, the CPU generates less heat. With less heat, working cores can operate at higher levels for longer periods of time.
It is unclear how this will all work in practice. However, it seems that disabling Hyper-Threading will require a dip in the motherboard BIOS instead of a simple switch in Windows 10.
Thermal through the roof
It’s good that Intel has done all of this work on the efficiency of heat transfer, as some of these processors are capable of getting really hot. Comet Lake higher-level processors (Core i9-10900K, Core i7-10700K and Core i5-10600K) can generate up to 125 watts of heat under heavy workload. The measurement of this is called thermal design power, or TDP.
All of this simply means that PCs need a capable cooler to keep higher level Comet Lake monsters from getting too hot.
RELATED: What is TDP for CPUs and GPUs?
Drill 5.0 GHz
Processor speeds are measured in gigahertz. In general, the higher the clock speed, the more efficient the processor. There are great caveats to this statement, but we will not enter it here.
Consumer processors have generally not gone beyond 5 GHz, but Intel has found a way. Comet Lake processors use a new technology called Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB). This will push a single core up to 5.3 GHz when the processor temperature is below 70 degrees Celsius. This single core will be able to function at a higher level for short bursts, which can help for games and other demanding applications.
The Core i9 Comet Lake desktop processors will also have a feature called Turbo Boost 3.0 Max. This finds the two best performing cores (not all as good) on a processor and pushes their speeds a little higher for certain uses, such as games. Again, the result is a faster processor under certain workloads.
PCIe overclocking, but not PCIe 4.0
Some Comet Lake motherboards will be able to overclock PCIe lanes to improve the performance of components, such as graphics cards. This capacity will vary depending on the motherboard, as it is up to the manufacturer to make this functionality a reality. This feature is mainly intended for extreme overclockers – the hot-rodders of the PC universe.
Something the new Intel processors won’t have is PCIe 4.0 capacity – they’ll stay with PCIe 3.0 instead. PCIe 4.0 helps components like graphics cards and storage drives run at twice the speed they do today. However, all components, from the graphics card to the motherboard and processor, must support PCIe 4.0.
AMD already supports PCIe 4.0 in its Ryzen 3000 processors and X570 motherboards, but Intel has chosen not to follow this path for now. This is not unreasonable, as AMD X570 cards require additional cooling to handle this new version of PCIe.
However, some high-end motherboards compatible with Comet Lake provide for upgrading and will have integrated PCIe 4.0. This allows for a bit of sustainability, but they will not work at PCIe 4.0 levels until Intel supports the new standard.
These are the main features of the Comet Lake processors to come. There will be other benefits as well, such as firmware for faster Ethernet and RAM connection and Wi-Fi 6 integration.
It will be interesting to see how this range of processors competes with AMD Ryzen 3000 processors.