On Aug. 7, microprocessor giant Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) finally revealed everything there is to know about its upcoming Core i9-7980XE processor for the high-end desktop market.

Intel had previously announced this chip but withheld many of the key technical details (likely because the company was still working out the precise SKU details).

The back side of an Intel Core X processor.

Image source: Intel.

The curtain has been lifted on the chip, and I'll say this: it looks impressive.

The best of both worlds

Traditionally, Intel's high-end desktop processors packed a lot of processor cores, but those cores were typically set to run at relatively low frequencies. This meant that for applications that could use a lot of cores, these chips performed well, but for applications that could only make good use of a few cores, the chips were markedly inferior to Intel's much cheaper mainstream desktop processor offerings.

With the Core X chips, Intel has been trying to offer up the best of both worlds -- lots of cores running at relatively low frequencies when the chips are confronted with workloads that can deftly utilize many cores, while running fewer cores at much higher frequencies for those tasks that only need a couple of cores.

This is tricky because for Intel to enable fewer cores to run at high frequencies in those lightly threaded scenarios, it must guarantee that each core on the chip can run at those high frequencies, since any combination of cores could be selected to run tasks in those situations.

At the end of the day, this means that Intel must cherry-pick the best-of-the-best chips to sell as Core X, but it also means that the Core-X chips become much more attractive value propositions to gamers and other customers looking to run a mix of lightly-threaded and heavily-threaded workloads.

With that background in mind, we can appreciate what Intel pulled off with the 7980XE.

Look at those turbo frequencies

In the table below, I've reproduced the turbo frequencies that Intel rates the 7980XE at out of the box: 

Active cores

Frequency (GHz)

1

4.2

2

4.2

3

4.0

4

4.0

5

3.9

6

3.9

7

3.9

8

3.9

9

3.9

10

3.9

11

3.9

12

3.9

13

3.5

14

3.5

15

3.5

16

3.5

17

3.5

18

3.4

Data source: Intel. Chart by author.

The 7980XE doesn't offer the highest frequencies among Intel's processor lineup when only a few cores are active, but it's very close. The 7980XE can run two cores at 4.2GHz and four cores at up to 4.0GHz. Intel's very best processor in terms of per-core performance, the quad-core Core i7-7740X, can run all four of its cores at 4.5GHz.

This means that, on paper, customers are sacrificing a small amount of frequency/performance in lightly-threaded workloads by choosing the 7980XE, but for tasks that use lots of cores, the 7980XE should pull dramatically ahead of the low-core count parts.

Nice job, Intel

At the end of the day, Intel seems to have done an excellent job in delivering excellent out-of-the-box performance with its Core X-series processors -- certainly a much better job than the company had done with previous-generation high-end desktop parts.

It's still a little bit disappointing that Intel's desktop processors are, at the end of the day, repurposed mobile and/or data-center chips rather than ground-up purpose-built chips for the desktop market, but Intel's product teams did as close to an optimal job with the silicon it had to work with as could reasonably be expected with the Core X-series.

Well done, Intel.

Ashraf Eassa owns shares of Intel. The Motley Fool recommends Intel. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.