Intel’s 10th Gen CPUs Comet Lake are finally here, bringing plenty of changes with them, including more cores, more threads and some tweaks under the hood. Here’s all you need to know about them before you take the plunge.
A new socket
The most important information here is that you’ll need a motherboard with Intel’s new LGA1200 socket to use Comet Lake CPUs. LGA1200 isn’t backwards compatible, and it’s also impossible to install older CPUs in it, as they use different socket guide holes.
Boards based on the new Z490 chipset can be pricey, but sub-$200 models should be more than able to deal with the likes of the Core i5-10600K, plus cheaper non-Z-series chipsets are already on the horizon. The socket-mounting holes are identical to LGA115x, though, so old coolers and water blocks will still fit long as they’re LGA115x compatible.
“The Z490 chipset doesn’t change much over its predecessor, although it does add the option for 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi 6.”
Intel has also reduced the die thickness and increased the heatspreader thickness to compensate, which it claims improves thermal transfer between the die and CPU cooler, while also maintaining cooler compatibility
Meanwhile, core counts have now pushed up to a maximum of ten. However, rather than letting cheaper models languish down the performance tables due to low thread counts, Intel has now added Hyper-Threading support to every Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 CPU, which should help them to compete with AMD’s 3rd-gen Ryzen chips.
“Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs require a new motherboard with an LGA1200 socket”
The Z490 chipset
Motherboard manufacturers, in particular Gigabyte, originally suggested a modicum of PCI-E 4 support with Z490, but it turns out this is a future feature that will be introduced with Rocket Lake – Intel’s 11th-gen CPU range. Gigabyte has gone as far as including PCI-E 4 M.2 ports on its motherboards, but they aren’t active, as Comet Lake CPUs only support PCI-E 3. The ports wouldn’t even work with a PCI-E 3 SSD in our tests.
The Z490 chipset doesn’t actually differ that much from Z390. There are no additional PCI-E lanes, and the ones you do get still only offer PCI-E 3 support. The key differences are options for 2.5 Gigabit Ethernet, as well as Wi-Fi 6 or 802.11ax support, while USB 3.2 Gen 2 is now native.
In short, there really aren’t any reasons here to justify an upgrade, other than the new socket, and even if PCI-E 4 were supported, the CPUs are by far the main reason to consider buying a Z490 motherboard.
Minimum Memory Required For Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake Processors?
If you are buying a new system or upgrading your old one, you’re already going to need a new motherboard, and the chances are you might be in for a memory upgrade too, in order to either boost capacity or speed. We recommend at least 16GB of memory for a new system these days, as we see more than 8GB regularly being used on a modern PC, meaning that a dual-channel 8GB kit could be slowing you down.
Meanwhile, the optimal memory frequency is trickier to nail down on Intel systems than on current AMD systems, especially while the coronavirus pandemic plays havoc with hardware prices. However, we’ve carried out some benchmarks (shown on the right), to ascertain if there’s any difference between previous-generation Intel CPUs and the latest Comet Lake models when it comes to memory speed.
In the recent past we’ve seen little benefit of opting for memory much faster than 3200MHz (effective) with Intel systems, and our benchmarks point at a similar conclusion for Comet Lake. There were just 300 points separating the speed of 3200MHz and 3466MHz memory in our GIMP image editing test, and a little more in percentage terms in our Handbrake video encoding test, but overall, there was a far bigger leap when going from 2666MHz to 3200MHz memory than from the latter to 3,466MHz.
That’s not surprising, given that there’s a smaller difference between 3200MHz and 3466MHz than between 2666MHz and 3200MHz. However, even if you account for that difference, the scaling in performance by going up to 3466MHz is still minimal. The faster kit did win the test, though, with consistently higher results, albeit by small amounts.
Cinebench offered a clear conclusion, which is that memory speed matters little when it comes to rendering, at least with this benchmark, as the performance gap between memory frequencies was under 30 points. Finally, in Far Cry New Dawn, there was still a small amount of scaling with the move from 3200MHz to 3466MHz memory, but it’s clear that you should avoid frequencies of 2666MHz or lower, and definitely stump up a bit more cash for a 3000MHz or 3200MHz kit.
Price is key though – in the past we’ve seen little difference between 3000MHz, 3200MHz and 3466MHz kits. At the moment, 3466MHz kits are a little more expensive compared with 3200MHz ones – for example, Corsair’s Vengeance RGB Pro 3466MHz kits will set you back an extra $30.
Our advice is to aim for 3200MHz, but if the upgrade to 3466MHz costs less than $20, then it’s worth the punt. Also, bear in mind that many 3200MHz kits will overclock to 3466MHz anyway, although as overclocking is always a lottery, you shouldn’t rely on that as a cast-iron guarantee.