Intel’s Core i5-9400 processors represent another iterative update to the Skylake architecture, yielding minor performance improvements in certain workloads. But the company's tendency to over-segment its product families, resulting in the removal of Hyper-Threading from Core i5s and a lack of overclocking, diminishes its position against a lot of AMD's Ryzen CPUs. There is now a vulnerable spot in the middle of Intel's stack that AMD will almost certainly attempt to exploit with its Ryzen 3000 series.
At least Intel has a somewhat budget-oriented offering in the form of its F-series processors, which lack integrated graphics. Although the F-series chips officially sport the same recommended prices as Intel's fully-functional models, they're a little cheaper in practice. Saving $20 on the -9400F is a big deal when it means fending off AMD’s Ryzen 5 family armed with more threads, unlocked multipliers, and beefy stock coolers.
In the chart below, we plot gaming performance with both average frame rates and a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness), and also plot performance vs. price in a range of productivity applications. It's worth noting that AMD's line-up is heavily discounted, while Intel's Core i5-9400F sells at a significantly lower price than the company's recommendation. As such, we’re departing from our standard practice of using official price lists. Instead, we’re using average pricing found online (temporary sales excluded). Volatility applies.
The Core i5-9400F’s 2.5%-higher clock rate offers an incredibly mundane advance over the previous-gen Core i5-8400 in games, with differences across our test suite amounting to roughly 1 FPS in both average frame rates and 99th percentile measurements. That certainly isn’t enough to warrant a generational upgrade.
Intel's real competition comes from the Ryzen 5 2600X. AMD’s 6C/12T processor retails for ~$5 more than the -9400F, but trails by 4.2 FPS (4.8%) on average. The 2600X’s unlocked multiplier is a big advantage though, and its bundled thermal solution is robust enough for overclocking. After tuning, the Ryzen overtakes Intel's Core i5-9400F, if only slightly.
Our application testing revealed a similar trend, with the -9400F serving up small boosts compared to the -8400, yet leaving room for AMD's Ryzen 5 2600X to shine even brighter. Not surprisingly, 12 threads help chew through rendering, compression, decompression, and encoding workloads. Strong threading performance also bodes well for simultaneous gaming/streaming performance.
You can drop the AMD processors into budget-minded B-series motherboards with memory overclocking support. Conversely, you have to buy a Z-series board from Intel to enable similar functionality. Given the pricing of Z-series motherboards, they simply don't make much sense alongside multiple-locked mainstream CPUs. Forward compatibility, on the other hand, is something worth thinking about, and AMD’s pledge to support Socket AM4 socket with its new Ryzen 3000 processors looms large. Picking up a Ryzen model today leaves an upgrade path open, while Intel will almost certainly move on to a new interface next generation.
Aside from the -9400F’s lack of integrated graphics (which the Ryzen 5 2600X doesn’t have either), Intel's newest Core i5 still offers leading gaming performance in its price range. A $20 savings is a nice addition that helps Intel stay competitive with AMD. In spite of the -9400F’s discount, though, the Ryzen 5 2600X still gives you the best blend of pricing and performance for general productivity applications. It's quite adept at gaming workloads too, making it an excellent all-rounder. Plus, AMD’s new chips are on the horizon.
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