Intel has long been a go-to brand for uncompromising gamers. But in recent years, it’s seen its market position look a little precarious, thanks largely to the rise of Team Red and its impressive roster of multi-core Ryzen 3000 chips. With the release of the 10th gen processors, the market is receiving another shake-up from the infamous industry leader. So, what do these new chips look like, and why should gamers care?
What’s changing with Intel 10th Gen?
The new roster of Comet Lake-S devices retains the same 14nm architecture that’s been in place for five years. While AMD has made the transition to a much thinner 7nm process, Intel continues to embrace a larger 14nm model for performance. Back in 2009, Intel actually predicted that we’d be on 5nm by now – which just goes to demonstrate how tricky things get when components get this small. We should expect a leap to come when the next generation rolls around, but for now, we’re staying at 14nm.
There are 32 new processors in the 10th generation, covering just about every conceivable application. The gaming-focused chips come with a ‘K’ attached, signifying that they’re unlocked and ready to be overclocked. The laptop-friendly ‘H’ chips are set to finally push through the 5GHz barrier, which means unprecedented performance on high-end gaming laptops.
The socket is changing from the old LGA 1151 (Land Grid Array) to the new LGA 1200. That number refers to the number of pins, and so it’ll need to match up with your motherboard. As this is the first chip in this socket, it won’t be a single replacement: you’ll need a new motherboard, and probably new RAM.
Another change is the number of cores. The top-of-the-range Core i9 is moving from eight cores up to 10, which distinguishes it more clearly from the i7. You might think of the i7 and i5 as more affordable versions of the i9 and i7 from the 9th gen. Significantly, we’ll now get hyperthreading (a technology whereby one core can effectively act as two) across the entire range. This makes the affordable i3 a far more tantalising prospect as far as gaming is concerned.
Higher Clock Speeds
Intel is also pushing something called ‘Thermal Velocity Boost’, which uses an AI to crank up the clock speed whenever the temperature allows for it. This will theoretically allow for a lightning-quick 5.3GHz right out of the box. It’ll probably make traditional overclocking that little bit less worthwhile in the process.
The actual dimensions of the chip are changing, too. The package itself will remain the same height, ensuring compatibility with third-party coolers. But the die will be that little bit thinner, which means more room for heat-spreading materials, and thus greater longevity and superior performance.
Intel isn’t shy about which market they’re targeting. With Intel 10th one tagline says Gen ‘Gaming happens with Intel’, while another states the new i9 is the ‘world’s fastest gaming processor’. Which, according to a raft of gaming benchmarks, it almost certainly is. While AMD might hold an edge in benchmarking software like PCMark and Cinebench, real-world performance is where the new Intel chips shine.
Where does CPU performance matter?
So, is an upgrade going to make a worthwhile difference to your machine’s ability to play the games you enjoy? The answer is, as always: it depends. Certain games are better suited to certain manufacturers. A great example of this might be Far Cry 5, where Intel holds a considerable advantage over AMD chips which, on paper, might appear superior.
If you’ve ever got to a certain part of a game and had the frame rate drop through the floor, or had your frame time become inconsistent, it’s potentially a weak CPU letting you down. You’ll appreciate CPU problems as an intermittent, noticeable stutter whenever the action waits for the CPU to catch up.
The most often-cited examples are crowded city scenes, like Novigrad in The Witcher 3, or RTS games where hundreds of units are firing thousands of projectiles at one another. It’s in these instances that CPU performance becomes critical.
If you’re gaming at higher resolutions, and in particular 4K, you’re less likely to be concerned with the power of your CPU, for the simple reason that your GPU is more likely to form the bottleneck when there are this many pixels being pushed. 1080p gamers, on the other hand, are more likely to be held back. Thus, when weighing up the pros and cons of an upgrade, it’s worth accounting for the native resolution of the monitor you’ll be using.
What about RAM?
Another potential bottleneck that’s often overlooked is the speed at which your CPU can retrieve data from memory. After all, there’s no point in having an insanely fast CPU if the RAM can’t keep up. Consequently, you might find a ninth-gen i9 outperforming a 10th-gen one if the attached RAM is clocked at 3600MHz rather than 3000.
Allocating a little more of your budget to faster memory might yield a bigger improvement for far less cash, depending on your build and the games you’re playing. With so many variables to tweak, it can be difficult to know in advance where the biggest performance improvements can be found. This is a good reason to leave it to a specialist PC builder who’ll select the best-matched components on your behalf. You’ll find an Intel 10th gen desktop among our selection.
Are there any disappointments?
One oversight that’s drawn criticism from enthusiasts is the lack of support for PCIe 4. Epic’s demonstration of Unreal Engine 5, which debuted earlier this month, highlighted the company’s ‘nanite’ technology, which allows for highly detailed assets to be crunched in real-time without the need for level-of-detail tricks or normal mapping. Put simply, in-game environments of the future are going to be huge, as far as file size goes. This is made possible by the PS5’s new solid-state drive, which can achieve bandwidth in excess of 5 GB/s.
It’s therefore likely that in a few years’ time, multiplatform games will be built to stream massive amounts of data, so we’ll be looking at storage-drive speeds as well as GPUs and CPUs when we put together our new amazing gaming PCs.
What gamers should look for in Intel’s 10th Gen
Intel’s decision to persist with a14nm process might have aroused the ire of those who know exactly what a nanometer process is, something gamers don’t tend to care about. What really matters is how well it performs in real-world situations. In this respect, the Intel 10th gen represents a significant improvement over the 9th, and serious competition for AMD, depending on the games being played.