Intel's Core i9-10850K is a 100MHz slower, $35 cheaper 10900K

Intel's newest 10-core Comet Lake desktop chip looks like a decent alternative to the hard-to-find Core i9-10900K

Credit: Intel

What's the value of 100MHz? Apparently $35. At least that's how much of a discount Intel will give those who buy the new Core i9-10850K "Comet Lake-S" CPU it officially unveiled today.

That makes it fairly easy to memorize the specs of the newest 10th gen chip: Take the 10-core Core i9-10900K and literally subtract 100MHz across all keys specs of the x86 cores.

For example, the Core i9-10900K has a 3.7GHz base clock, 5.1GHz single-core boost and all core boost 4.8GHz. With its Thermal Velocity Boost feature running speeds up higher when the chip is properly cooled, you get 5.3GHz on single-core boosts and 4.9GHz on all-core boosts.

And yup: The 10-core Core i9-10850K has a 3.6GHz base clock, 5GHz single-core boost, and all core boost of 4.7GHz. When running on Thermal Velocity Boost, it's 5.2GHz on single-threads and 4.8GHz on all core TVB.

Intel 10th gen Comet Lake S Intel

Intel's 10th gen Comet Lake S lineup gets a new chip that should help alleviate the strain of finding Intel's top-end parts.

So why did Intel bother stapling the Core i9-10850K onto a 10th-gen lineup that officially rolled out just over two months ago? "The i9-10850K is based on immediate feedback we’ve received from customers, including to further expand options and different price points," the company says. "This will also obviously support long term demand for i9K processors as well."

More cynical observers believe Intel's really aiming to make lemonade out of lemons by taking 10-core dies that don't quite reach the full Core i9-10900K levels and selling them as Core i9-10850K chips. Intel made a similar move when it began selling "F" versions of its CPUs with disabled graphics cores. In fact, if you eyeball the current Comet Lake S line up, there are three 10-core Core i9 models that are all so close in specs it seems silly.

Intel did say the Core i9-10850K will take its place in the lineup for the life of the series. This isn't some short-term special edition. 

intel 10th gen lower decks Intel

Intel's mainstream 10th-gen Comet Lake S lineup actually stands on firmer ground than the 9th-gen Coffee Lake CPUs thanks to the inclusion of Hyper-Threading.

The Core i9-10850K is actually a good deal (for Intel)

The thing is, if the Core i9-10850K can be found close to its expected $453, it's actually a far better value than the flagship Core i9-10900K. Losing 100MHz across all specs adds up to about a 2 percent clock speed reduction over the Core i9-10900K at a price reduction of about 7.4 percent. 

That price reduction also assumes you can even find the Core i9-10900K at its expected price of $488. We looked on and on Friday and could only find the Core i9-10900K for $780 and $870. That price spike is likely driven by supply and demand both retailers experience when a CPU is hard to get.

At the very top of the 10th-gen lineu,p the Core i9-10900K is likely pushing the limits of Intel's ancient 14nm process and it's possible Intel just can't make enough of them to sell right now. If the Core i9-10850K is indeed far easier to churn out, it'll be a welcome relief for consumers willing to live with a chip 50K (in name) less.

Intel 10-core Comet Lake S die shot Intel

Intel 10-core Comet Lake S surface area is all x86 cores

What's next for Intel?

With the latest Comet Lake S cement fully dried, Intel's next move is believed to its Rocket Lake cores, which have been making the leaked benchmark scene the last few weeks. Rocket Lake lake will be (feel free to groan) yet another Skylake-iteration built on a 14nm process based chip but as a salve on your sunburn, Rocket Lake U and Rocket Lake S is expected to feature Intel's Gen 12 graphics, a.k.a. Xe, rather than the older-than-Moses Intel UHD graphics. So while the CPU side may feel frozen in amber, the graphics cores in Rocket Lake should spice up the chip wars.

The problem for Intel is AMD is expected to roll out its Zen 3-based Ryzen chips later this year. To be fair, we shouldn't say "expected," as AMD has said that Zen 3 is on schedule and coming out this year so many times, it might as well put up a billboard on Highway 101 near Intel's Santa Clara HQ.

Intel likely isn't expected to see much real relief until the summer or later of 2021, when it's expected to finally release a 10nm+ desktop chip code-named Alder Lake. Not much is known about Alder Lake yet, but it will supplant the company's Tiger Lake chips that are expected to launch later this year in laptops. 

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Gordon Mah Ung

Gordon Mah Ung

PC World (US online)
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