Intel’s Core i9-9900K launch is right around the corner — the launch is this Friday — and we’re seeing some price movement from AMD as a result. Some maneuvering on this front is to be expected, given that AMD has had the eight-core market more-or-less to itself as far as the mainstream is concerned. Prior to the 8800K, buying an eight-core Intel platform meant opting into the Intel HEDT (High End DeskTop) market, where motherboards and CPUs both tend to carry significant price premiums. Intel’s Core i9-7820X is a $600 chip according to the company’s retail pricing guide.
The sharp-eyed folks at Tech Radar caught a 10 percent cut to the 2700X that went live today, taking the chip from $329 to $294. The move puts AMD at a sharp price advantage over Intel, whose Core i9-9900K will debut at $488. The 9900K is widely expected to outperform the 2700X overall, thanks to a combination of higher single-threaded clocks and superior single-threaded efficiency, but the significant price gap will work to AMD’s favor. Over the past 18 months we’ve seen the performance crown switch back and forth between the two companies. The Ryzen 7 1800X took the crown from the 7700K, the Core i7-8700K reclaimed it on the basis of stellar six-core scaling and high single-threaded clocks, and the Ryzen 7 2700X took it back again with improved single-thread perf and a clock speed boost of its own. Now, with the Core i9-9900K, Intel may indeed reclaim the overall performance crown. But at the same time, AMD isn’t going to let that pass without a fight.
There are two interesting facets to this conversation. On the one hand, the fact that Intel is introducing the 9900K with a channel price of $488 suggests that the channel price isn’t a particularly good way to compare the AMD and Intel CPUs. Put differently, we know AMD motherboards tend to be cheaper than Intel boards, enthusiasts know they tend to last longer, and the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is going to be nearly $200 less expensive than its Intel counterpart at launch. Intel seems unconcerned, suggesting that the prices OEMs pay for these CPUs don’t particularly reflect the retail channel price. If they did, companies like Dell, HP, and other OEMs would be eagerly exploring ways to pocket an extra $100 – $200 of profit for themselves. Of course, some of this comes down to consumer demand — if enthusiasts want Intel hardware and don’t accept AMD as a substitute, OEMs like Dell, HP, and others have to adapt and build the products enthusiasts want to buy.
But I can’t help wondering if some of the problem is due to decreased competition in the OEM market overall. The massive decline in PC sales that hit over the past seven years knocked nearly 30 percent off annual unit sales, but it didn’t hit every vendor equally. The bulk of the decline hit smaller companies that collectively made up the “Other” category in sales charts.
Whatever marketing funds and bulk discounts Intel may offer to its OEM partners are likely offered to the larger customers on a preferential basis, so it may be that the decline in smaller vendors disproportionately hit AMD. Regardless, Intel has carried a massive differential in its HEDT product family for over a year, with Core X CPUs that have only 50-60 percent as many cores as the Threadripper chips they’re priced against and are often outperformed by them as well. Despite this, Intel has not cut prices. It’ll be interesting to see if that trend holds for the 9th Generation family as it moves into the mainstream where Ryzen 7 has taken the most market share.