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Intel Core i3-9350KF Review: Coffee Lake's Stagnant Waters

Too little, too late?

(Image: © Shutterstock)

Our Verdict

The Core i3-9350K/F processors are most noteworthy for their high price tag and limited feature set. Enthusiasts are far better served by competing AMD alternatives.

For

  • Turbo Boost 2.0
  • Overclocking headroom
  • Gaming performance with discrete GPU
  • Lightly-threaded performance

Against

  • Requires Z-Series motherboard for overclocking
  • No included cooler
  • Gen-on-Gen price increase
  • PCIe 3.0

Intel's Core i3-9350KF marks yet another iterative update to the company's Core series, but it isn't enough. AMD has stolen the overall performance leadership crown from Intel with its Zen 2 architecture, paired with the 7nm process in its Ryzen 9 and Threadripper 3000 series, but the damage also spans down to Intel's high-volume budget offerings. In fact, Intel is often far less competitive in these mainstream segments. 

To shore up its defenses in the high-volume budget arena, Intel infused the Core i3-9350KF with its Turbo Boost 2.0 feature, marking the first time the company has offered the feature on the range of processors. But that's it. 

Intel is besieged by the strength of the Ryzen processors in price brackets that land either slightly below or above the 9350KF. AMD's competing chips offer more cores and threads and come with plenty of other advantages, like overclocking on lower-end motherboards, PCIe 4.0 on third-gen Ryzen models, and capable stock coolers that afford some overclocking headroom.

It doesn't help that Intel's ongoing 14nm production shortage, which finds low-end chips priced above their recommended levels or not available at all, have hindered the availability of the company's full-featured models that come with graphics engines. That leads us to our review of the Core i3-9350KF. This processor, as denoted by the "F" suffix, doesn't come with integrated graphics, which you sacrifice for a $25 price reduction from the full-featured model. However, we found that those savings aren't enough to offset the tremendous value of AMD's competing offerings in nearly any application. Particularly if you don't plan on bleeding-edge overclocking, frequently use threaded applications, or are on the hunt for capable integrated graphics. 

Core i3-9350KF Specifications and Pricing

Price (SEP/RCP)Cores / ThreadsBase / Boost GHzTDPIntegrated GPU (base/boost)PCIe Revision and Lanes
Core i5-9600K$2626 / 63.7 / 4.695WUHD Graphics 630: 350MHz /1.15GHz 16 PCIe 3.0
Ryzen 5 3600X$2496 / 123.8 / 4.4 95WNo16+4 PCIe 4.0
Ryzen 5 3600$1996 / 123.6 / 4.265WNo16+4 PCIe 4.0
Core i5-9400 / F$182 / $1576 / 62.9 / 4.1 65WNon-F: UHD Graphics 630: 350MHz / 1.05GHz16 PCIe 3.0
Core i3-9350K / F$184 / $1594 / 44.0 / 4.691WNon-F: UHD Graphics 630: 350MHz / 1.15GHz16 PCIe 3.0
Ryzen 5 3400G$1504 / 83.7 / 4.2 65WRadeon Vega 11: 1400MHz16 PCIe 3.0
Core i3-9100$1224 / 43.6 / 4.265WUHD Graphics 630: 350MHz / 1.1GHz16 PCIe 3.0

The Core i5-9350KF is the graphics-less version of the Core i5-9350K that is a ghost at retail. Intel offers a $25 discount for this model, which typically is the only choice at checkout due to Intel's shortages. Intel also increased the pricing by $5 over the previous-gen Core i3-8350K

The quad-core 9350K/F processors come without Hyper-Threading, meaning the four threads execute on physical cores, and the "non-F" models come with the UHD Graphics 630 engine. This engine isn't very useful for most types of gaming, a situation Intel hopes to fix with its next-gen processors, but it does come in handy for troubleshooting. Most people shopping for an unlocked processor likely don't plan on using integrated graphics and instead will opt to pair the chip with a lower-end Radeon or GeForce graphics card. 

The chips feature the Coffee Lake architecture, which is yet another Skylake derivative, and yet another highly-refined version of the 14nm process (Intel hasn't divulged the "+" revision).

Active CoresBase 1 Core 2 Cores3-4 Cores
Core i3-9350K/F4.0 GHz4.6 GHz4.5 GHz4.4 GHz
Core i3-8350K4.0 GHz4.0 GHz4.0 GHz4.0 GHz

Intel enabled Turbo Boost 2.0 on the 9350K/F to firm up its top-end Core i3 model, but it is notable that other Coffee Lake Core i3's, like the 9100, don't come with the feature. As we can see in the table above, Intel added an extra 600 MHz to the single-core frequency, and also boosted the multi-core turbo ratios. That leads to more performance in both lightly- and multi-threaded workloads compared to the previous-gen Core i3-8350K. 

The chip also comes with 8MB of L3 cache and adheres to an Intel-defined 91W TDP. This chip is overclockable, which is the big attraction over the Core i5-9400, but you'll need a pricey Z-series motherboard to unlock the feature. You're also on the hook to provide your own cooler for the 9350K/F models, while AMD's competing chips come with capable coolers.

Unlike the Coffee Lake i9, i7, and i5 models, the Core i3 chips do not feature solder TIM that improves thermal transfer from the die to the heat spreader. Instead, these chips use polymer TIM (grease), but that isn't too much of a concern given the small die size: We didn't encounter any significant thermal limitations in our overclocking efforts. Intel also restricts official memory support to DDR4-2400, while higher-tier Coffee Lake processors support DDR4-2933. You can rectify that with the chip's unlocked multipliers, though. 

Intel also faces competition from within its own product stack. Interestingly, Intel's own Core i5-9400, which is also available as a graphics-less F-series model, is a few dollars cheaper despite its two extra cores, but you lose the ability to overclock. 

The Ryzen 5 3400G, which features AMD's 12nm process paired with the first-gen Zen architecture and eleven capable Radeon RX Vega graphics cores, not to mention four host processing cores and eight threads, lands at a cheaper price point than either 9350K/F model. The Vega graphics cores, as we'll show today, are far more capable than the UHD Graphics 630 present on the Core series models, so gaming on integrated graphics is an option with the 3400G at low resolutions and quality settings. 

Pressure from up the stack lands in the form of AMD's Ryzen 9 3600. This processor is the value chip to beat in the mainstream market, but it doesn't come with an integrated graphics engine. In either case, this chip offers more cores and threads for a $15 premium over the 9350K, and a $40 premium over the 9350KF model. You should also consider that the 3600 comes with a cooler and supports overclocking on value-conscious B-Series motherboards, which results in a very competitive overall price point. 

That means AMD has competing products for builders that plan to use a discrete graphics card, and for value-conscious builders that plan to go with integrated graphics.

Core i3-9350KF Overclocking

Overclocking was a rather straightforward affair with the 3950KF: We set CPU core voltage to 1.34V and dialed in a 5.1 GHz overclock, which is a 100MHz improvement over the previous-gen 8350K. More notably, we were also able to operate the chip at these voltages without an AVX offset. That improvement is likely borne of the more mature 14nm process. For instance, we had to dial the AVX clock rate back to 4.8 GHz for the 8350K, so it's clear our 9350KF sample, which we purchased at retail, has higher-quality silicon. You're still at the whims of the silicon lottery, though, so your mileage will vary. 

We used our Corsair H115i cooler for testing and temperatures peaked at 74C during extended AVX stress tests. Cooling performance varies, especially with the lesser-quality coolers that we anticipate most enthusiasts will use for this class of processor. 

Test Setup

AMD Socket AM4 (X570)

Ryzen 5 3600X, Ryzen 5 3600, Ryzen 5 3400G

MSI MEG X570 Godlike

2x 8GB G.Skill Flare DDR4-3200

Ryzen 3000 - DDR4-3200, DDR4-3600

Second-gen Ryzen - DDR4-2933, DDR4-3466
Intel LGA 1151 (Z390)

Intel Core i5-9600K, Core i5-9400F, i3-9350KF, i3-9100, i3-8350K

MSI MEG Z390 Godlike

2x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2667 & DDR4-3600
All Systems

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti

2TB Intel DC4510 SSD

EVGA Supernova 1600 T2, 1600W

Windows 10 Pro (1903 - All Updates)
Cooling

Corsair H115i

Custom Loop, EKWB Supremacy EVO waterblock, Dual-720mm radiators

AMD Wraith Prism, Wraith Stealth Stock Coolers

MORE: Best CPUs

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

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  • g-unit1111
    Is there any point in buying a 4/4 CPU on a platform that is becoming increasingly outdated anymore? Even for an office machine, a Ryzen 3400G is a more attractive CPU at that price.
    Reply
  • Co BIY
    I would like to see some comment from the reviewers on the "snappiness" of the machines when powered by the various processors when doing various routine tasks. Do any of the benchmarks capture the "drive responsiveness" of the machine.

    I imagine that most those buying the lower end processors will be doing routine computer work like web browsing, word processing ect... I see that as the perfect use case for a very fast low core count processor. Feels fast in normal home/office use at a low cost.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    Seeing recent reviews from GN, tech deals, and Hardware Unboxed, I am convinced 4 core/4 thread gaming, is essentially dead, at this point, unless you only play old titles that don't need more than 2-4 cores. The six core Ryzen 5's still keep going, where the i3 and i5 intels run out of steam, due to insufficient resources, being limited to 4 and 6 core without hyperthreading.
    Reply
  • g-unit1111
    logainofhades said:
    Seeing recent reviews from GN, tech deals, and Hardware Unboxed, I am convinced 4 core/4 thread gaming, is essentially dead, at this point, unless you only play old titles that don't need more than 2-4 cores. The six core Ryzen 5's still keep going, where the i3 and i5 intels run out of steam, due to insufficient resources, being limited to 4 and 6 core without hyperthreading.

    Yeah especially when you can get a 2nd gen Ryzen CPU for ridiculously cheap right now. Even the 3rd gen CPUs are still a relative bargain compared to their Intel counterparts.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    logainofhades said:
    Seeing recent reviews from GN, tech deals, and Hardware Unboxed, I am convinced 4 core/4 thread gaming, is essentially dead, at this point, unless you only play old titles that don't need more than 2-4 cores. The six core Ryzen 5's still keep going, where the i3 and i5 intels run out of steam, due to insufficient resources, being limited to 4 and 6 core without hyperthreading.

    I've been under the assumption that games are being optimized for 8 threads, because of the consoles.
    I'll need to look into if 4c/8t outperforms 6/6 at gaming to see if that's true, even though 4 hyperthreaded cores are usually going to be worse than 6 physical cores at overall number crunching.
    I wonder how console-comparable pre-ryzen 8-weak-core AMD processors hold up with modern games compared to 4 fast cores.
    Reply
  • ScrewySqrl
    Giroro said:
    I've been under the assumption that games are being optimized for 8 threads, because of the consoles.
    I'll need to look into if 4c/8t outperforms 6/6 at gaming to see if that's true, even though 4 hyperthreaded cores are usually going to be worse than 6 physical cores at overall number crunching.
    I wonder how console-comparable pre-ryzen 8-weak-core AMD processors hold up with modern games compared to 4 fast cores.


    Anecdotally, I'm seeing a lot of "FX-8350 or better" in the 'recommended' listing of $50-60 games on Steam, so I'm guessing those older 8 cores are working better now that things are optimized for 8 cores.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    Giroro said:
    I've been under the assumption that games are being optimized for 8 threads, because of the consoles.
    I'll need to look into if 4c/8t outperforms 6/6 at gaming to see if that's true, even though 4 hyperthreaded cores are usually going to be worse than 6 physical cores at overall number crunching.
    I wonder how console-comparable pre-ryzen 8-weak-core AMD processors hold up with modern games compared to 4 fast cores.

    Games are starting to use more threads, because of Ryzen, really. Hence Intel finally pushing core counts higher, across all product lines. I would expect a 6c/6t to do better, than a 4c/8, but still suffer from frametime issues, a 6c/12t CPU like an intel 8700k, or a Ryzen 5 3600, would not.
    Reply
  • mdd1963
    Just how many times can the 7600K be recycled, bumped up 100 MHz, given a new name, and called 'new'....

    This processor should be $59 , and a questionable purchase even then, but, it is NEVER worth $180+....(Intel, trim it's price by 60-70% , pronto..!)
    Reply
  • mdd1963
    The review actually discusses the advantages of PCI-e 4.0? Honestly, with no GPUs yet available using it, and, I rather doubt anyone pondering this rig or an R5-1600 or less is pondering the latest NVME 4.0 drive on an X570 onslaught at 50-70% increased NVME storage cost but often an actual .1% longer 50 GB file transfer vs. the 970 EVO in real world testing.
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    mdd1963 said:
    The review actually discusses the advantages of PCI-e 4.0? Honestly, with no GPUs yet available using it, and, I rather doubt anyone pondering this rig or an R5-1600 or less is pondering the latest NVME 4.0 drive on an X570 onslaught at 50-70% increased NVME storage cost but often an actual .1% longer 50 GB file transfer vs. the 970 EVO in real world testing.

    While the are not taking advantage of the bandwidth, AMD's NAVI cards are PCI-E 4.0. X570 is not compatible with 1st gen Ryzen. Only a 3rd gen CPU, with an x570, gets you PCI-E 4.0. I do agree that PCI-E 4.0, is not really necessary, for the average user, at this time.
    Reply