Should You Buy an Intel Comet Lake-S Desktop System?

Introduction

On April 30, 2020, Intel officially announced their latest desktop CPU family. This is called the 10th Generation Intel Core Family, with a code name of Comet Lake-S. These 14nm processors will have Core i9, Core i7, Core i5, Core i3, Pentium Gold and Celeron G families, with 36 separate SKUs. These new processors are supposed to be available for sale on May 27, 2020.

These new processors will replace the previous 9th Generation Intel Core Family, that were Coffee Lake-S. Comet Lake-S will be what Intel will be offering for at least the rest of 2020. The question is, should you buy an Intel Comet Lake-S desktop system?

10th Generation Intel Core Desktop Feature List

Intel Comet Lake-S Desktop Features

Comet Lake is supposed to be the final iteration of the venerable 2015-vintage Skylake architecture. They are designed to hold the line against AMD until Intel Rocket Lake is available, probably in early 2021. This means they will initially compete against the current AMD Ryzen 3000 Zen 2 desktop processors. Later, they will have to contend with the upcoming AMD Ryzen 4000 Zen 3 desktop processors. The question is whether Comet Lake has enough improvements to make it a good choice.

Generally speaking, my initial analysis of Comet Lake-S is pretty neutral. Compared some recent Intel CPU releases, Intel has done some things right. They also have repeated some of their historical mistakes.

Positive Points

  • Higher core counts (up to 10C/20T)
  • Increased core frequencies
  • No price increase on flagship SKUs
  • Price reductions on mid-range SKUs
  • HT included on all Core i3 and above SKUs
  • Turbo Boost 3.0
  • Thermal Velocity Boost
  • Some better overclocking features
  • DDR4-2933 support
  • 2.5G Ethernet and WiFi 6 support

Negative Points

  • Requires new Socket 1200 motherboard (which will also work with Intel Rocket Lake)
  • PCIe 3.0 only
  • No increase in PCIe lanes
  • No stock CPU cooler on most SKUs
  • Still needs a high-end Z490 chipset to overclock
  • High power usage, especially at Turbo clock speeds with high core count models
  • Higher-end SKUs will need a higher-end CPU cooler to get good performance
  • Too many SKUs, too much product segmentation
Intel S490 Block Diagram
Intel Z490 Block Diagram

What’s the Verdict

Unfortunately, I think this is another uninspiring incremental CPU release from Intel. It is not as bad as the dark ages when Intel was moving from Haswell to Skylake to Kaby Lake. Back then, they were still offering 4C/8T flagship processors that typically offered roughly 5-10% better single-threaded performance with each new generation. That was a sad time.

Comet Lake-S is an improvement over those days. We should see slightly better single-threaded performance due to the higher base and turbo clock speeds (and additional turbo levels). You will need a robust cooling system to see those turbo speeds for longer periods. Bringing back hyper-threading to the Core i7 families, and extending it to the Core i5 and Core i3 families makes them a better value. Going up to 10C/20T in the Core i9 family makes it a marginally better competitor with the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and 3950X.

One big mistake was moving to the new Socket 1200 (with 49 pins). Those 49 pins are supposedly required for extra power delivery and for future PCIe 4.0 support with Intel Rocket Lake processors. The new Z490 motherboards support Comet Lake and will support Rocket Lake. With Rocket Lake, some (but not all) Z490 motherboards will have limited PCIe 4.0 support (from the CPU, but not the chipset).

Because of this, some people are planning on buying more expensive Z490 motherboards, in the hope that they will be able to upgrade to Rocket Lake and have PCIe 4.0 support. I think it is pretty likely that Intel will have a Z590 chipset to go with Rocket Lake, and that is what I would want when the time comes. It is pretty likely that some Z490 motherboard buyers will be disappointed when Rocket Lake is released.

Flagship Desktop CPU Core Counts
Flagship Desktop CPU Core Counts

Why You Should Buy a Comet Lake-S System

If gaming is your main priority, and you want the absolute highest single-threaded CPU performance possible, then you should be looking at Comet Lake-S. If this is you, you will also need to have a modern, high-end GPU, unless you are just playing older games at 1080P or lower.

Another reason is if you use some particular software that is heavily optimized for Intel processors. Some Adobe applications (such as Photoshop) fall into this category. I would do some research and look at benchmarks for your specific applications to make sure of this before deciding.

If using a Intel processor is your plan, you should make sure to do these things as you build a new Comet Lake-S system:

  • Choose a Z490 motherboard with very high quality voltage regulator modules (VRMs)
  • Use a very high quality CPU cooler to keep your CPU temperatures as low as possible
  • Pick a large, high airflow case to keep the entire system at a lower temperature
  • Select a higher-end, power efficient power supply to minimize your electrical usage
  • If you are gaming, spend enough money on your GPU so it is not the main bottleneck!

Why You Should Not Buy a Comet Lake-S System

AMD has better options for less money with their current 7nm Zen 2 processors for most scenarios. Spending less money on the processor (and getting a decent CPU cooler for free) gives you more money to spend on a better GPU if you are a gamer. If you are not a gamer, you could use that extra money on more RAM or better storage, or simply keep it in your wallet.

Soon, you will be able to choose a 4C/8T Ryzen 3 3300X for $120.00 for a budget gaming system. A 6C/12T Ryzen 5 3600 for $160.00 would be a great budget productivity system that would also be great for gaming. Moving up to an 8C/16T Ryzen 7 3700X for $270.00 gives you more flexibility for productivity or for gaming (at the same time). If you have a higher budget, you could step up to a Ryzen 9 3900X or a Ryzen 9 3950X for heavier productivity work.

When the upcoming Zen 3 Ryzen 4000 desktop processors are released later this year (before Intel Rocket Lake is available), you will be able to upgrade your existing AM4 socket system with a new Zen 3 processor. You will also have the option of looking for a great bargain on a higher-end used Zen 2 processor to upgrade your system. We don’t know many details about Zen 3 yet, but I think they will offer 10-15% better IPC and also higher clock speeds.

Final Words

Since Intel has not lifted the embargo on performance test results on Comet Lake-S processors, we don’t have any 3rd party test results yet. We don’t know how much of a performance improvement we will see or how much power usage will be required to get the best performance. The early rumors are that the performance bump will be pretty small and the required power usage will be quite high.

Until we have 3rd party benchmark results, we can’t directly compare the performance of Comet Lake-S to AMD Ryzen 2. On paper, Comet Lake-S looks like a pretty minor upgrade from a performance perspective. We will find out on May 27th!

Categories Intel, PC Hardware, SQL Server

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