Intel Core i5-9600K Review: A Mid-Range Gamer's CPU

Conclusion

Intel’s ninth-gen Core i5-9600K is so similar to the eighth-gen Core i5-8600K that it does little to change the family’s competitive position against AMD's Ryzen line-up. Similar to the original Coffee Lake model, Core i5-9600K gives you six physical cores without Hyper-Threading technology, plus 9MB of L3 cache in a similar 95W package. The company does throw in slightly faster base and multi-core Turbo Boost frequencies, enabled through the use of solder-based thermal interface material to help with heat.

In the chart below, we plot gaming performance using average frame rates and a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times (a good indicator of smoothness), which we then convert into a frame-per-second measurement. Bear in mind that we tested with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 at 1920 x 1080 to alleviate graphics-imposed bottlenecks. Differences between our test subjects shrink at higher resolutions.

The Core i5-9600K is the fastest gaming chip in its price range. But the performance advantage you get over an overclocked Ryzen 7 2700 or Ryzen 5 2600X might not justify spending extra money or sacrificing performance in other tasks. We know from experience that Intel's Core processors dominate when it comes to Web browsing, gaming, and office apps. But the Core i5-9600K isn't as competitive in heavily-threaded benchmarks like ones that involve rendering.

AMD's $299 Ryzen 7 2700 comes with a bundled cooler. That gives it a leg up on the ~$270 Core i5-9600K, which doesn't include a thermal solution. In both cases, you'll want something beefy sitting on top of the heat spreader for a shot at an aggressive overclock. You also get eight cores and 16 threads from the Ryzen. But it really needs tuning in order to keep up. Taking a small step down, the $225 Ryzen 5 2600X costs less than the Core i5-9600K and, again, comes with a heat sink/fan. However, you lose some performance in lightly-threaded tasks in exchange for a lower price tag.

Intel's ninth-gen Core CPUs add the benefit of solder-based thermal interface material. Aside from enabling higher multi-core Turbo Boost bins, the improved heat transfer didn't seem to do much for our tuning efforts. Maybe our sample is simply sub-par. But we think it's more plausible that Intel already squeezed most of the headroom out of this chip and its 14nm process. Fortunately, even a modest air cooler is fine for stock operation. The Core i5-9600K's relatively tame power draw is a good fit for mainstream motherboards. Just remember that you need a Z-series platform in order to overclock.

Choosing between a Core i5-9600K and Ryzen presents the same conundrum we've faced in the past: it depends on the type of software you run most frequently. If you're a gamer who doesn't really venture beyond 1920x1080, Intel's Core i5-9600K is the chip for you. But if a majority of your workloads are threaded in nature, including content creation and productivity, a powerful Ryzen gets you more performance at a competitive price.

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  • rgd1101
    First page, Ryzen 5 2600X should be 95W
  • johnphilips
    This is not for rendering, but gaming. At 4k, there are practically few to no performance losses compared to the top tier processors. ( maybe a couple of multithreaded games). If AMD really wants to grab the gaming niche, they should consider better overclocking chips ( nothing less than 5ghz nowadays) or at least same intel level, and a differencial, which could be from more pcie lanes (maybe 24, 16 for graphics, 4 for boot drive and 4 for the chipset) to a larger die area, for a more efficient cooling.
  • hannibal
    One thing I am wondering. Why these 6 core parts does not boost as high as 8 core 16 threads versions... It would seems to be easier to boost higher with less cores.
  • Math Geek
    seems more like a "refresh" than a new chip. something like the 4690k was a few years back. thrown on some better thermal compound and bump the mhz up a little bit. does look like they have squeezed all they can out of the current fab. overclocking shows that the thermal compound makes little difference once oc'ed. they gonna fall behind if they can't get the bugs worked out of their new die shrink. amd has a chance to make a move with a well placed update if they can swing some extra ipc from the ryzen chips.
  • PaulAlcorn
    Anonymous said:
    One thing I am wondering. Why these 6 core parts does not boost as high as 8 core 16 threads versions... It would seems to be easier to boost higher with less cores.


    You're right -- they could easily push the clocks higher. Product segmentation is the name of the game, though.
  • Math Geek
    if they could push it higher, shouldn't that show in overclocking? but it does not look like there is any extra headroom based on various oc testing. or am i remembering wrong?
  • Olle P
    Notice that the "stock" numbers for this CPU really represent a "best case":
    * Slight (0.8%) base clock overclock.
    * Motherboard that leaves the CPU on full boost frequency until the job is done instead of dropping the frequency to stay within official TDP limit.
    The majority of motherboards should provide lower scores.

    Some new games also favor eight threads over six, so a six thread CPU might not be the best option for gaming a few years ahead.

    Anonymous said:
    ... If AMD really wants to grab the gaming niche, they should consider better...
    That'll be the Zen2 line-up...
    If the leaks/rumors are true the next Ryzen 5 will outperform current Ryzen 7.

    Anonymous said:
    One thing I am wondering. Why these 6 core parts does not boost as high as 8 core 16 threads versions...
    Binning! (See below.)

    Anonymous said:
    seems more like a "refresh" than a new chip. ...
    It's just a way to dump off some of the flawed eight-core dies.
    One or two flawed cores and/or reduced clocking capacity makes a die suitable for the i5 rather than i7 or i9.
  • notea
    Anonymous said:
    seems more like a "refresh" than a new chip. something like the 4690k was a few years back. thrown on some better thermal compound and bump the mhz up a little bit. does look like they have squeezed all they can out of the current fab. overclocking shows that the thermal compound makes little difference once oc'ed. they gonna fall behind if they can't get the bugs worked out of their new die shrink. amd has a chance to make a move with a well placed update if they can swing some extra ipc from the ryzen chips.


    It is a refresh, read Coffee Lake
  • johnphilips
    It depends a lot on the chip...

    Anonymous said:
    if they could push it higher, shouldn't that show in overclocking? but it does not look like there is any extra headroom based on various oc testing. or am i remembering wrong?
  • inmyrav
    It'd be nice to show the benches of the i5's people will be considering replacing ... all the way from i5 2500 which is more likely an upgrade than the 8700k.
  • dennphill
    So I am looking for a basis for a new build, and noting what's new and what it costs. Thanks for this...maybe it's time to just go back to AMD again? The chart comparing the 9000 series CPUs shows the i5-9600K at $262-263, but the link to Amazon and their price is now $377.98 (correct as of 5 Dec on their site). What is with Amazon anyway? Looking at NE, it's listed at $277.95. That's a hundred bucks difference! Still don't see what I get with the 9th Gen. My old Haswell is still working well.
  • notea
    Anonymous said:
    So I am looking for a basis for a new build, and noting what's new and what it costs. Thanks for this...maybe it's time to just go back to AMD again? The chart comparing the 9000 series CPUs shows the i5-9600K at $262-263, but the link to Amazon and their price is now $377.98 (correct as of 5 Dec on their site). What is with Amazon anyway? Looking at NE, it's listed at $277.95. That's a hundred bucks difference! Still don't see what I get with the 9th Gen. My old Haswell is still working well.

    its not because of amazon that the prices are higher than MSRP, the price hike is because of lack of supply from intel, they cannot meet the demand, their 14nm fab process cant handle it, also Apple has ordered a ton of modem for their new iphones which are also on the 14nm process, some of the intel chipsets which were on 14nm are pushed back to 28nm to make room and intel has contracted TSMC to manufacture some of their chips..so maybe we might see a reduction in price soon, and with AMD is launching the 7nm Ryzen 2nd gen CPUs (Zen 2 not Zen+) soon, that will also reduce the price of intel chips, hoipefully
  • Gurg
    The 9600k is only $230 at Microcenter with a MSI MPG Z390 GAMING PLUS ATX motherboard for only $120.
  • derpfromabove
    "Worse, both competing CPUs are bundled with coolers, while Intel makes you buy your own."

    EXCUSE ME? What sort of nonsensical statement is that? I mean let's cut the BS and be real for a moment: What self-respecting PC builder would install that crap in their rig? Everyone knows that the intel stock coolers are worthless, so why is it worth complaining about when Intel decides to remove them entiely if 99% of them go into the trash anyways?
  • Gurg
    Anonymous said:
    It'd be nice to show the benches of the i5's people will be considering replacing ... all the way from i5 2500 which is more likely an upgrade than the 8700k.


    These are from my past computers which were pretty decently equipped for their time.

    Passmark CPU mark
    Q6600 3372
    q9550 4603
    2500k 9771
    2700k 11871 @4800mhz
    5820k 16019 @4200mhz
    9600k 15503 @5044 mhz

    Fire Strike Physic
    2700k 7857
    5820k 16557
    9600k 15920

    Time Spy CPU
    5820k 6700
    9600k 6707

    5820k vs 9600k is pretty much push. Upgraded because my mb bios went squirrelly after I tried to load new ones to accommodate using 2 m.2 drives.
    New system:
    Thermalake P3 case
    MSI Z390 Gaming Plus
    Corsair H115i Pro
    Intel I5 9600K
    Corsair RM1000 FM 80+G ATX PSU
    MSI GTX 1080ti GamingX
    Gskill 3600 16gb
    AOC 28" 4k monitor
    Kingston HyperX M.2 240Gb
    Samsung 970 EVO M.2 500Gb
    W10