After almost a year and a half of waiting, Intel Comet Lake-S has finally arrived, bringing a 10-core processor to its mainstream lineup for the first time – one with pretty amazing clock speeds.
Just on the performance front, it does everything it needs to – the Intel Core i9-10900K provides some pretty incredible single- and multi-threaded performance, even if it doesn't quite topple over AMD's current hold on the desktop CPU throne.
We're not living in such a simple world anymore, however, where performance is all that matters. Even if we're only talking about PC gaming, the exclusion of PCIe 4.0 doesn't bode well for future performance of systems with Comet Lake processors, especially where graphics cards and storage are concerned.
PCIe 4.0 is the future, sorry
When I first heard that PCIe 4.0 was coming to the AMD X570 platform back at Computex 2019, I knew that it would be an improvement over PCIe 3.0, I just didn't realize how much of an improvement it would be.
I've only had the chance to test one SSD that uses the interface, the Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 SSD that AMD provided in my testing kit when I reviewed the Ryzen 9 3900X and Ryzen 7 3700X. That SSD is currently locked up in an office building in Manhattan, but when I tested that processor, I was able to get speeds of 4,996 MB/s in the CrystalDiskMark sequential read test. To put that in perspective, the Adata XPG SX8200 Pro I use on my test bench gets 3,720MB/s in the same test – that's a 25% improvement already, from one of the fastest PCIe 3.0 SSDs to one of the first PCIe 4.0 SSDs.
The best SSDs will get faster and faster on this interface as time goes on, making PCIe 3.0 SSDs obsolete in the same way that NVMe SSDs did to SATA SSDs.
That's even before you consider the other major component on PCIe – the best graphics cards. Sure, the only graphics cards that use PCIe 4.0 right now are AMD Navi cards like the Radeon RX 5700 XT, but that's going to change. We've already heard rumors that the RTX 3000 cards are going to use PCIe 4.0, and if that's not enough, Nvidia is already using PCIe 4.0 in its server-grade Ampere products.
Gaming gaming gaming
The PS5 and Xbox Series X are just a few months away at this point, and both Sony and Microsoft won't stop talking about the SSDs in these systems and how they're going to push gaming forward. Hell, remember that Unreal Engine 5 tech demo that looked incredible? The developers behind that are saying that if PC gamers want to be able to see stuff like that they're going to have to pick up an NVMe SSD.
And, yeah, you can do that with a Comet Lake-S processor, that's absolutely true. But if the consoles are all using PCIe 4.0 SSDs, it's not going to be long before that's the baseline of performance for AAA games – that's kind of how it goes with each console launch.
Intel likes to make claims that it makes the best processors for gaming, and what it bases those claims on is that single-core performance is the most important factor. And, for the most part, it's right – at launch.
Given how even in my briefing for these 10th-generation Comet Lake-S processors, Intel compared the Intel Core i9-10900K to the Core i7-7700K because people typically upgrade every 3-5 years.
With a high-end product like the Core i9-10900K, there are going to be users that will upgrade as soon as Intel's 11th-generation desktop chip comes out, sure, but there are going to be many more that will be relying on that processor far longer than just a year or two.
Intel should have waited
Back at CES 2020, when Intel teased Xe graphics and Tiger Lake, I said that Team Blue needed to launch a desktop processor if it wanted to stay relevant. And it did that. However, nothing exists in a vacuum.
By launching a new processor that not only is expensive enough on its own, but also requires a whole new motherboard, Intel is essentially asking that consumers spend hundreds (if not more) on a system that's going to be, in some ways, inferior to a console in less than a year.
Because lightning-fast storage is shaping up to be one of the battling grounds of the upcoming generation of games – and you can be damn sure that will include the best PC games – Intel's lack of PCIe 4.0 seems incredibly short-sighted, especially for a company that puts so much value in PC gaming.
Only time will tell if PCIe 4.0 becomes as big a deal as I think it will, but it's not looking so hot for Intel. Here's to hoping that the rumors that Rocket Lake is going to follow close behind Comet Lake are true – Intel's going to need PCIe 4.0 support if it wants to be the best CPU for gaming.
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