Intel Core i9-9900K Review 187

Intel Core i9-9900K Review

A Closer Look »

Introduction


Intel today announced their most exciting processor launch of the year, the Core i9-9900K eight-core based on its 9th generation "Coffee Lake Refresh" silicon. This is exciting because Intel has finally doubled the CPU core counts for its LGA115x mainstream desktop platform after nearly eight years of quad-core products. The company was kicked out of complacency last year by AMD's successful "Zen" architecture announcement, and scampered to create the 6-core 8th generation "Coffee Lake" processor. With AMD maintaining its upward trajectory in performance and value for a second generation, Intel is forced to respond with an increase in core counts for another generation, which we have for review today.

The Core i9-9900K comes at a time when Intel's silicon fabrication foundry advancement has slowed to a crawl and the management running it is in disarray. The company is motivated in not just keeping its customers happy with a "new and improved" product, but also its shareholders. It has become important for Intel to establish a performance leadership over AMD that is indisputable, or at least one that would take AMD long enough to respond to so Intel could get its next-generation foundry on the road, and build future-generation microarchitectures on it. The one at the heart of today's review, the Intel Core i9-9900K, is practically unchanged from the 6th generation "Skylake." Intel dragged the same core design over four generations while focusing on core-count increases and improvements to the 14 nm fabrication process to eek out efficiency.


The star attraction of the review is the new 8-core "Coffee Lake Refresh" silicon, measuring 178 mm² and built on the same 14 nm++ process as last year's "Coffee Lake" 6-core. This chip packs 8 physical cores and 16 MB of L3 cache, which is exactly double the processing muscle as the quad-core "Kaby Lake" silicon from just two years ago. Intel has tweaked its integrated memory controller to support up to 128 GB of memory by adding support for 32 GB memory modules, and deployed certain hardware-level fixes to speculative execution vulnerabilities that dominated headlines for the bulk of the year. This is important because a hardware fix theoretically has less of an impact on performance than a software fix deployed via microcode updates or the operating system.

Intel is using this 8-core die to carve out two distinct SKUs, the Core i9-9900K and Core i7-9700K. The i9-9900K hence isn't exactly a successor of the i7-8700K, but positioned in a new segment above, at around the $500-mark. The Core i9-9900K maxes out the silicon. The i7-9700K, on the other hand, has all 8 cores available, although HyperThreading isn't enabled. The L3 cache amount is also cut down to 12 MB. This part is priced around the $400-mark and succeeds the i7-8700K in both price and performance. Intel hasn't substantially changed its Core i5 lineup, which is still 6-core/6-thread with 9 MB of L3 cache.

Intel is introducing the new Z390 Express chipset with those new processors. This premium chipset is positioned above the Z370 Express and comes with higher CPU VRM requirements to ensure the highest possible overclocking headroom for the new 8-core processors. Also on tap is a newer integrated USB 3.1 controller. It also helps people identify motherboards that are guaranteed to support 9th generation Core processors out of the box. All other Intel 300-series chipsets for LGA1151 client, including H310, B360, H370, and Z370, support these processors, but require BIOS updates.

In this review, we take an Intel Core i9-9900K processor out for a spin through a plethora of productivity, scientific, content-creation, and gaming tests.

Intel Core i9-9900K Market Segment Analysis
 PriceCores /
Threads
Base
Clock
Max.
Boost
L3
Cache
TDPArchitectureProcessSocket
Core i5-8600K$2806 / 63.6 GHz4.3 GHz9 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Ryzen 5 2600$1506 / 123.4 GHz3.9 GHz16 MB65 WZen12 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 1700$1908 / 163.0 GHz3.7 GHz16 MB65 WZen14 nmAM4
Core i7-9600K$2806 / 63.7 GHz4.6 GHz9 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-6700K$3504 / 84.0 GHz4.2 GHz8 MB91 WSkylake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-7700K$4504 / 84.2 GHz4.5 GHz8 MB91 WKaby Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-8700$3006 / 123.2 GHz4.6 GHz12 MB65 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Ryzen 5 2600X$2206 / 123.6 GHz4.2 GHz16 MB95 WZen12 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 1700X$3208 / 163.4 GHz3.8 GHz16 MB95 WZen14 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 2700$2508 / 163.2 GHz4.1 GHz16 MB65 WZen12 nmAM4
Core i7-8700K$3906 / 123.7 GHz4.7 GHz12 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-9700K$4208 / 83.6 GHz4.9 GHz12 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Ryzen 7 2700X$3058 / 163.7 GHz4.3 GHz16 MB105 WZen12 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 1800X$2508 / 163.6 GHz4.0 GHz16 MB95 WZen14 nmAM4
Core i9-9900K$5308 / 163.6 GHz5.0 GHz16 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-7900X$1,38510 / 203.3 GHz4.4 GHz13.75 MB140 WSkylake14 nmLGA 2066
Threadripper 2950X$90016 / 323.5 GHz4.4 GHz32 MB180 WZen12 nmTR4
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