Intel has done the impossible. While looking down the barrel of the Ryzen 4 launch, they have managed something they haven’t been able to (or been pushed to) do in recent times: give us incredible performance at incredible pricing. And, if you’re an overclocker like me, the new 13th Gen “Raptor Lake” chips make it easy to get speeds in high 7 GHz range on multiple cores or over 8 GHz on a single core.
The top-of-the-line Core i9-13900K, which I pushed all the way to 8.2 GHz, has a mere $589 MSRP (though it’s over $600 in more places right now). Let’s not forget the not so distant Intel Extreme Edition days where the top dog of the mainstream and or recently deceased high end desktop segment was always $999-$1099. At nearly half that price with 24 Cores and 32 threads, the Core i9-13900K is a win for consumers.
While some will argue that the lesser-core count Core i5-13600K and Core i7-13700K are the true price / performance winners, I would rather lift my silver spoon, raise my pinky and enjoy the top dog 13900K (or top dinosaur). Let’s overclock this thing.
As a professional overclocker, I look forward to different challenges at each new hardware release. In this case though, overclocking Raptor lake is exactly the same as overclocking Alder Lake. Don’t cry for me yet though. More on that later.
Overclocking these chips on ambient temperatures (traditional liquid or air cooling) is ridiculous. Single threaded benchmarks like Superpi32m can loop easily over 6100 Mhz without using what I consider ridiculous voltages. Multi-threaded benches like Cinebench R23 on most of the units I've tried can run at 5.7 GHz on all performance threads while set at under 1.3 volts.
You can easily speculate where the future 13900KS, which promises up to 6 GHz at stock, will end up frequency-wise especially if Intel is skimming the best dies to save for those currently. You are still going to benefit from the Thermal Grizzly OC Frame and will of course want to buy the best thermal paste that you feel is affordable to you.
What does it take to cool the Core i9-13900K? You can use an inexpensive solution if you want, but the quality of your experience on these chips is directly proportional to the quality of your cooling.
If you have a stock LGA775 intel heatsink set on top of your motherboard, your chip will run lower frequency and dial its own voltages back to stay within its thermal limits. If you have a monster Ice Giant Elite or similar high end air cooler you will be rewarded with more performance, even if you don’t tweak a single setting.
With a high-end air cooling setup, an IceGiant ProSiphon Elite, I was able to run single threaded benchmarks at 6.1 GHz and multithreaded tests at 5.5 to 5.6 GHz, depending on the load.
Here’s a word on temperatures and “running hot.” I’ve read countless articles and seen endless YouTube thumbnails of fire emojis and face palms talking about thermals on the latest-gen processors. After speaking to some of my engineer friends on both sides, these are often clickbait. If you have built PCs for any amount of significant time, you know that, when your processor hits 95 to 100C, most temperature monitoring software turns the text red to warn you of overheating. However, its important to remember that 100C is within the normal specifications for the processor. In fact, even at stock settings, the chip tries to run at 100C under load to provide the highest performance possible — that’s part of the ABT boosting tech.
Intel’s new chips are resilient, and the company has even added the ability to increase the throttle point for the chips in the BIOS (not all motherboard makers support this yet), but like increasing voltage during overclocking, it voids the warranty (and could shorten the lifetime of your chip). In this case, lifting the limits results in a stage 1 throttle at 107C and stage 2 at 115C. For some perspective, solder doesn’t melt until it gets up to over 300C.
What am I trying to say? Intel sets the limits on your thermals and wants to RMA as few units as possible, so it has built in some tolerance even over 100C. So even though it feels like pushing the envelope to higher temps, the chip will be just fine running at 100C. Enjoy your high frequencies, Your Raptor Lake CPU will adapt itself voltage and clock wise to its conditions.
This brings us to Z690 vs Z790. Most high-end Z690 motherboards are great options for Raptor Lake, provided you have updated their BIOSes (see our story on how to avoid BIOS update issues with Z690 and 13th Gen Core) Frankly I don’t see any reason at all to upgrade. For all of my benchmarking scores I'm still using my same ASRock Z690 Aqua that I was sampled what seems like ages ago and I don't feel held back or restricted in any way. Kudos to Intel for the backwards compatibility and even the option to stick with DDR4 RAM if you’re feeling budget conscious.
Finally, let’s talk about the extreme overclocking part. Remember when I said it was essentially the same process to overclock Raptor Lake and Alder Lake? It is except one big bad difference for XOCer’s — Many of the highest-quality chips have a cold bug. Over half of them do. This makes binning (or the processes of finding the best CPUs) a heartbreaking endeavor. You find your potential best chips on ambient cooling first. Then test them one by one on LN2 as some scale better than others with lower temperatures and higher voltages.
A CPU capable of working at -192C is the first requirement. If it is -189C or even -190C, it is not enough and is rejected. You can have a wonderful unit that does 5.8 GHz using very low voltage on ambient cooling, that then has a cold bug at -185c that is deemed useless for extreme overclocking. This is a painful process and has contributed greatly to my gray hair.
After trying half a dozen or so cold bug-free CPUs, I found that the best can run at 7.5 - 7.7 GHz on multi-threaded benchmarks and at 8.2 GHz on single threaded tests! The clock rates that Raptor Lake can run on threaded benchmarks are what Alder Lake could barely suicide validate (run just long enough to register) in CPU-Z. This is truly remarkable and I’m impressed with what Intel has been able to pull out of its sleeve.
To give some perspective, the 24-core, 32-thread Core i9-13900K dominates AMD’s 3960X Thread Ripper (24-cores, 48-threads), which retailed for $2,000 at launch, with 16 less threads and without 24 “real” cores. It also is able to edge out the Ryzen 7950X 16-core, 32 thread AMD processor in productivity benchmarks like Geekbench.
While running Geekbench 3, I got the 13900K’s P-cores up to 5.6 GHz on air cooling for a multicore score of 103,766. When I switched to LN2, my P-core clock speed increased to 7.5 GHz, which gave me a multicore score of 157,211. At its best, AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 7950X hit 6.8 GHz on LN2 and it returned a multicore score of 145,577.
A good friend and all around amazing asset to the overclocking community, Elmor was able to finally take the frequency world record at 8.812MHz with the Core i9-13900K. That’s a truly amazing feat of skill. Huge congratulations to him and ASUS for putting on a great show. You can watch him break it on YouTube.