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. However, AMD has intervened in the following months, releasing a new lineup of ultra-competitive Ryzen 3000 chips, with the Ryzen 5 3700X taking the helm as the best value-focused chip in this price range.
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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Core i9-9900K||Core i7-9700K||Core i5-9600K|
|Architecture||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake|
|Cores / Threads||8 / 16||8 / 8||6 / 6|
|Base Frequency (GHz)||3.6||3.6||3.7|
|Boost Frequency ( Active Cores - GHz)||1-2 Cores - 5.04 Cores - 4.8 8 Cores - 4.7||1 Core - 4.92 Core 4.8 4 Core 4.78 Core 4.6||1 Core - 4.62 Core - 4.54 Core 4.46 Core 4.3|
|Integrated UHD Graphics GT2 (Base/Boost MHz)||350 / 1200||350 / 1200||350 / 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.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Base||1 Core||2 Cores||3 Cores||4 Cores||5 Cores||6 Cores||7 Cores||8 Cores|
|Core i9-9900K (GHz)||3.6||5.0||5.0||4.8||4.8||4.7||4.7||4.7||4.7|
|Core i7-9700K (GHz)||3.6||4.9||4.8||4.7||4.7||4.6||4.6||4.6||4.6|
|Core i7-8700K (GHz)||3.7||4.7||4.6||4.4||4.4||4.3||4.3||-||-|
|Core i7-8086K (GHz)||4.0||5.0||4.6||4.5||4.4||4.4||4.3||-||-|
|Core i5-9600K (GHz)||3.7||4.6||4.5||4.4||4.4||4.3||4.3||-||-|
|Core i5-8600K (GHz)||3.6||4.3||4.2||4.2||4.2||4.1||4.1||-||-|
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).
|Model||Cores / Threads||Base Frequency||Boost Frequency||Memory Support||PCIe Lanes||Cache||TDP||Price|
|Core i9-9900K||8 / 16||3.6 GHz||5 GHz (1 / 2 Core)4.8 GHz (4 Core)4.7 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||16MB||95W||$488|
|Ryzen 7 2700X||8 / 16||3.7 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||105W||$329|
|Core i7-9700K||8 / 8||3.6 GHz||4.9 GHz (1 Core)4.8 GHz (2 Core)4.7 GHz (4 Core)4.6 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$374|
|Core i7-8086K||6 / 12||4.0 GHz||5.0 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$425|
|Core i7-8700K||6 / 12||3.7 GHz||4.7 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$330|
|Ryzen 7 2700||8 / 16||3.2 GHz||4.1 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||95W||$229|
|Core i5-9600K||6 / 6||3.7 GHz||4.6 GHz (1 Core)4.5 GHz (2 Core)4.4 GHz (4 Core)4.3 GHz (6 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||9MB||95W||$262|
|Core i5-8600K||6 / 6||3.6 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2966||16||9MB||95W||$279|
|Ryzen 5 2600X||6 / 12||3.6 GHz||4.2 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$229|
|Ryzen 5 2600||6 / 12||3.4 GHz||3.9 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$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