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Intel Core i7-9700K 9th Gen CPU Review: Eight Cores And No Hyper-Threading

Great balance between price and performance

Editor's Choice

Our Verdict

For the enthusiasts among us who have some breathing room in their budgets, Core i7-9700K is a much smarter choice for gaming than the pricey Core i9-9900K. It serves up similar performance at a significantly lower price. It's no slouch in heavier applications either, thanks to eight physical cores.

For

  • Great gaming performance
  • Eight cores excel in parallelized workloads
  • Strong single-threaded performance thanks to high Turbo Boost clock rates
  • Solder TIM improves thermal transfer

Against

  • No bundled cooler means enthusiasts face additional expense
  • No Hyper-Threading Technology
  • High price tag

Intel's powerful Core i9 family recently displaced Core i7 as the company's mainstream desktop flagship. Mainstream is relative, though. The Intel Core i9-9900K sells for more than $500, requires a high-end cooler, a beefy motherboard, and really needs to be paired with lots of fast memory. It's prohibitively expensive for all but the most affluent enthusiasts.

Core i7-9700K, on the other hand, lands right where we expect to find any other high-end, unlocked, Core i7 CPU. It even boasts a number of improvements compared to the previous generation. Like Intel's Core i9-9900K, the i7-9700K includes eight physical cores. However, it doesn't benefit from Hyper-Threading. That doesn't bother us much. After all, some software performs notably better on physical cores rather than logical ones, and the two-core increase compared to the Intel Core i7-8700K largely offsets the loss of Intel's simultaneous multi-threading technology.

Given the Core i7-9700K's lofty peak frequencies, improved multi-core Turbo Boost ratios, eight-core configuration, and solder-based thermal interface material that improves heat transfer and overclocking, Intel's latest Core i7 is an all-around winner and, at publication time, tops our list of the best gaming CPUs.

Intel Core i7-9700K

Pricing is a bit of a problem, though. The Core i7-9700K sells for $385 if you can find one available at Intel's suggested retail price. Meanwhile the competing AMD Ryzen 7 2700X retails for $329. The Ryzen also comes bundled with a capable cooler, whereas Intel makes you pay for a high-end thermal solution. The Core i7-9700K is faster than Ryzen in games, no doubt. But budget-limited builders might go the Ryzen route in order to afford a faster graphics card. And AMD's CPU still holds the advantage in some threaded application workloads.

For the enthusiasts among us who have some breathing room in their budgets, Core i7-9700K is a much smarter choice for gaming than the pricey Core i9-9900K, serving up similar performance at a significantly lower price.

Intel Core i7-9700K

The $385 Core i7-9700K lands between the $500+ Core i9-9900K and the $263 Core i5-9600K in Intel's line-up. Like all new K-series processors, the -9700K is manufactured on Intel's 14nm++ process. It includes an integrated UHD 630 graphics engine, sports unlocked ratio multipliers for easy overclocking, and supports dual-channel DDR4-2666 memory. Intel also responded to increasing RAM density by doubling memory capacity support up to 128GB. The -9700K also includes in-silicon mitigations for the Meltdown and L1TF (Foreshadow) vulnerabilities.

Core i9-9900KCore i7-9700KCore i5-9600K
ArchitectureCoffee LakeCoffee LakeCoffee Lake
Socket115111511151
Cores / Threads8 / 168 / 86 / 6
Base Frequency (GHz)3.63.63.7
Boost Frequency ( Active Cores - GHz)1-2 Cores - 5.04 Cores - 4.8 8 Cores - 4.71 Core - 4.92 Core 4.8 4 Core 4.78 Core 4.61 Core - 4.62 Core - 4.54 Core 4.46 Core 4.3
L3 Cache16MB12MB9MB
Process14nm++14nm++14nm++
TDP95W95W95W
Memory SpeedDDR4-2666DDR4-2666DDR4-2666
Memory ControllerDual-ChannelDual-ChannelDual-Channel
PCIe Lanesx16x16x16
Integrated UHD Graphics GT2 (Base/Boost MHz)350 / 1200350 / 1200350 / 1150
Recommended Customer Pricing$488 - $499$374 - $385$262 - $263

Previously, Intel's Core i7 series included Hyper-Threading technology, allowing four- and six-core models to execute eight or 12 CPU threads simultaneously. Intel axes Hyper-Threading from the 95W Core i7-9700K, though. The company instead gives you an extra two cores. Assuming a 15-20% uptick from HTT under ideal conditions, we'd hypothesize that an 8C/8T -9700K should be faster than the 6C/12T -8700K in most workloads. Then again, we already have the benchmark results to back our supposition.

The Core i7-9700K includes 12MB of L3 cache, just like Intel's Core i7-8700K. But given a higher core count, that actually adds up to less cache per core than Intel's previous designs. Unfortunately, the company deliberately disabled on-die SRAM to keep Core i7-9700K from coming too close to Core i9-9900K's performance.

Base1 Core2 Cores3 Cores4 Cores5 Cores6 Cores7 Cores8 Cores
Core i9-9900K (GHz)3.65.05.04.84.84.74.74.74.7
Core i7-9700K (GHz)3.64.94.84.74.74.64.64.64.6
Core i7-8700K (GHz)3.74.74.64.44.44.34.3--
Core i7-8086K (GHz)4.05.04.64.54.44.44.3--
Core i5-9600K (GHz)3.74.64.54.44.44.34.3- -
Core i5-8600K (GHz)3.64.34.24.24.24.14.1--

Core i7-9700K's solder-based thermal interface material (STIM) improves heat transfer between Intel's die and heat spreader, facilitating headroom for two more cores without violating a 95W envelope at base clock speeds. Intel does cap its Core i7-9700K at a base frequency of 3.6 GHz, which is 100 MHz less than Core i7-8700K's base clock rate. But when you consider that the company enables higher Turbo Boost frequencies across the board, all while adding those extra cores, it's hard not to be impressed.

Just bear in mind that a 95W ceiling doesn't apply to Turbo Boost clock rates. Even in its stock configuration, Core i7-9700K begs for at least a 130W cooler. The eight-core die hides beneath the same heat spreader used on previous-gen six-core models. So, even with the STIM, thermal density presents challenges. If you plan on overclocking, open- or closed-loop liquid cooling is preferred. A beefy heat sink/fan combination won't give you much headroom (though it should be fine for stock operation, unlike Intel's Core i9-9900K).

ModelCores / ThreadsBase FrequencyBoost FrequencyMemory SupportPCIe LanesCacheTDPPrice
Core i9-9900K8 / 163.6 GHz5 GHz (1 / 2 Core)4.8 GHz (4 Core)4.7 GHz (6 / 8 Core)DDR4-26661616MB95W$488
Ryzen 7 2700X8 / 163.7 GHz4.3 GHzDDR4-296616 + 4 (NVMe)16MB105W$329
Core i7-9700K8 / 83.6 GHz4.9 GHz (1 Core)4.8 GHz (2 Core)4.7 GHz (4 Core)4.6 GHz (6 / 8 Core)DDR4-26661612MB95W$374
Core i7-8086K6 / 124.0 GHz5.0 GHzDDR4-26661612MB95W$425
Core i7-8700K6 / 123.7 GHz4.7 GHzDDR4-26661612MB95W$330
Ryzen 7 27008 / 163.2 GHz4.1 GHzDDR4-296616 + 4 (NVMe)16MB95W$229
Core i5-9600K6 / 63.7 GHz4.6 GHz (1 Core)4.5 GHz (2 Core)4.4 GHz (4 Core)4.3 GHz (6 Core)DDR4-2666169MB95W$262
Core i5-8600K6 / 63.6 GHz4.3 GHzDDR4-2966169MB95W$279
Ryzen 5 2600X6 / 123.6 GHz4.2 GHzDDR4-296616 + 4 (NVMe)16MB65W$229
Ryzen 5 26006 / 123.4 GHz3.9 GHzDDR4-296616 + 4 (NVMe)16MB65W$199

Core i7-9700K drops into existing 300-series motherboards after a BIOS update, though Intel's partners also have a slew of Z390-based motherboards available. And whereas Core i9-9900K does require a top-of-the-line PSU for optimal performance, Core i7-9700K is a bit more forgiving.


MORE: Best CPUs


MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy


MORE: AMD Ryzen 7 2700X vs Intel Core i7-9700K: Which CPU Is Better?

  • rantoc
    Considering the amonth of security flaws that have been found lately the lack of HT could become a blessing in the end!
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    I would like to see a locked at same clocks review, for these CPU's. It seems you really have to push Intel, to handily surpass AMD. It reminds me of the FX vs Sandy bridge days.
    Reply
  • sadsteve
    No more computer sleeping without SMT.
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    Well I just went from an I5-4690K to an AMD Ryzen 7 2700 after seeing the price of intel's current lineup, and knowing that Ryzen2 is coming in another 6mo or so. Personally I thought it was a no brainer, since the 7 2700 could be had for $260, mine is in an mitx build right now with a little Kracken M22 cooling it, and as I type on it it's currently plugging along at 4.2 ghz with DDR4 3600 ram in it.

    What point am I making? Well, the motherboard, cpu cooler and cpu combined were cheaper then this i7 in this review. chew on that. And remember that ryzen2 should be out sometime in the spring of 2019, and it will be completely compatible with everything I just purchased while being on par with or even faster then this last intel chip.

    Now that you've chewed on that for a bit, ask yourself "why did THG stamp an editor approval on this chip again?" We probably should, "Just buy it," I guess, and not ask so many questions.
    Reply
  • ingtar33
    21463450 said:
    I would like to see a locked at same clocks review, for these CPU's. It seems you really have to push Intel, to handily surpass AMD. It reminds me of the FX vs Sandy bridge days.

    except that's not what we're seeing. 105.5 fps vs 94.9 fps is 10.4%, a 10.4% improvement for the 8c16t intel core i9-9900k. yet the chip is running at 5.0ghz vs the 8c16t ryzen 7 2700x at 4.2 ghz, which means the intel is clocked about 19.0% faster then the AMD to get a 10.4% lead in FPS.

    These Intel cpus DO NOT have higher IPS then Ryzen. If anything, assuming there isn't some sort of scaling issue in the testing suite, this seems to indicate that intel's cpus have moderately less IPS then AMD Ryzen+ and are currently getting by with clock speed alone. Which means this is as far away from sandy bridge vs fx then we could get. Sandy bridge didn't just clock to 5ghz, but was sporting almost 40% better IPS then Piledriver FX cpus.
    Reply
  • InvalidError
    21463471 said:
    And remember that ryzen2 should be out sometime in the spring of 2019
    You are getting product and code names confused. Ryzen 2 (Zen+) has been out for over six months already and your new Ryzen 2700 is one of those. Ryzen 3 (Zen 2) is what's coming out in 2019 on 7nm.
    Reply
  • adam.oakes83
    INGTAR33, you can't just make up results and claim t
    It to be proven actuate by doing a math equation. 99.99% of the internet making claims with no source to back it up.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    21463503 said:
    except that's not what we're seeing. 105.5 fps vs 94.9 fps is 10.4%, a 10.4% improvement for the 8c16t intel core i9-9900k. yet the chip is running at 5.0ghz vs the 8c16t ryzen 7 2700x at 4.2 ghz, which means the intel is clocked about 19.0% faster then the AMD to get a 10.4% lead in FPS.

    These Intel cpus DO NOT have higher IPS then Ryzen. If anything, assuming there isn't some sort of scaling issue in the testing suite, this seems to indicate that intel's cpus have moderately less IPS then AMD Ryzen+ and are currently getting by with clock speed alone. Which means this is as far away from sandy bridge vs fx then we could get. Sandy bridge didn't just clock to 5ghz, but was sporting almost 40% better IPS then Piledriver FX cpus.

    This only works if you don't know CPU and GPU utilization.
    Looking at a lot of gaming benchmarks even the i3/pentiums/2400g etc are only 10-20% below the 9900k because gaming benchmarks are made to push the GPUs and not the CPUs so the GPUs bottleneck way before the CPUs,and even if they don't, scaling in games means that slower CPUs can just use more threads to get to the same FPS.
    Look at CPU benchmarks the deficit the ryzen CPUs have there is still there in gaming it just shows in the utilization where the ryzen cpu will have 30-40% more utilization (2700x vs 9900k) .
    Reply
  • Dantte
    PCgamers did some testing delidding a 9900K and determined that the solder TIM does NOT provide any additional cooling when compared to a 8700K because the die is much thicker (about 32% thicker) and hampers the transfer. Also the solder is too thick as well.

    They tested and proved this theory by delidding and replacing the solder with conductonaut and got a 8C decrease in temps. Then they lapped the die -.15 and -.20mm and retested which came back with even lower results.
    Reply
  • t99
    Glad I went with a 2600 for only 150$ new and just OC if needed. Basically a 2600x and the avg is within 20% of an OC'd 9900k and 10% of 8600k.

    When you account for the difference in cooling and motherboards as well you can get a 2600 + 1070ti for price of a 9700k.

    Maybe we will see larger gaps with the new intel when they test 1080p on a 2080. So glad I didnt wait and go with one of these
    Reply