Intel Core i9-10900K Review: Ten Cores, 5.3 GHz, and Excessive Power Draw

Kick the tires and light the TDP fires

Intel Core i9-10900K
(Image: © Future)

Why you can trust Tom's Hardware Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

All test results marked with "PBO" reflect configurations tested with AMD's auto-overclocking Precision Boost Overdrive feature. We tested the stock Core i9-10900K with the Corsair H115i cooler for all of the following tests, but switched over to a custom watercooling loop for testing performance with a 5.1 GHz overclock. 

VRMark and 3DMark on Intel Core i9-10900K 

Synthetic gaming benchmarks often aren't generally indicative of real-world performance, but the 3DMark DX11 and DX12 tests are interesting because they measure the amount of raw computational horsepower exposed to the game engine. For now, most of today's game engines don't scale as linearly with additional compute resources, but these tests help us gauge how games could exploit processing resources as the engines become more sophisticated.

In the synthetic world of the Fire Strike benchmark, the ten-core Core i9-10900K can only match the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X if we bump up the frequency to 5.1 GHz, but we see a limited gain from overclocking. In either case, the stock 10900K easily beats the overclocked previous-gen Core i9-9900K. That's impressive given that both processors command a $488 tray price. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 9 3950X takes a healthy lead over the field of Intel stock processors.

Flipping over to Time Spy finds the Core i9-10900K taking a lead over the Ryzen 9 3900X at 'stock' settings, and the 5.1 GHz overclock takes the top of the chart. 

VRMark test values per-core performance (a mixture of frequency and IPC), and it obviously prefers physical cores and lots of L3 cache. The $979 Core i9-10980XE's 4.8 GHz overclock goes a long way, but the 10900K's higher stock clock frequencies result in a resounding win at both stock and overclocked settings. 

Civilization VI AI and Stockfish on Intel Core i9-10900K

Civilization VI's AI engine values per-core performance, seemingly placing it firmly in the 10900K's crosshairs. The stock Core i9-10900K lands in the middle of the pack at stock settings, beaten by its HEDT and non-hyperthreaded counterparts, but tuning grants Intel's latest a big win over the competing chips. 

Stockfish, an open-source chess engine, is designed to extract the utmost performance from many-core chips by scaling well up to 512 cores. The chips stack up based on core count, so the Core i9-10900K is at a disadvantage in this test compared to the 16-core 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X and 12-core 24-thread Ryzen 9 3900X. However, the Core i9-10900K notches a considerable win over its heavily overclocked predecessor, the 9900K.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation on Intel Core i9-10900K

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation loves cores and threads, but clock rates also play a role. The stock Core i9-10900K effectively ties the overclocked Ryzen 9 3950X, but the AMD processor doesn't benefit much from the auto-overclocking Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) feature in this benchmark. 

Civilization VI Graphics Test on Intel Core i9-10900K

Most gaming software is still optimized for low thread counts and high clock rates, and some game engines even prefer single-threaded cores. The Ryzen 9 3950X is plenty impressive in this test, but the 10900K is a brutal competitor with its high single-core boost frequencies. Once again, the 10900K beats all the competing stock processors before we applied our overclock, and tuning extends the lead further. 

Given that the 10900K can boost to 5.3 GHz under the right conditions, you might be surprised to see the 5.1 GHz all-core overclock take the lead once again. This could be due to erratic or less impactful boost activity, but the fixed frequency also reduces dynamic clock adjustments that can hamper performance. We've also tuned the memory and ring bus frequencies, too, which also yields advantages. 

Meanwhile, the Ryzen 9 3900X lags the 10900K by 5.3 fps, which isn't noticeable at these lowered resolutions, and it actually yields a better 99th-percentile frame rate measurement, denoting a smoother gaming experience.

Dawn of War III on Intel Core i9-10900K

The Warhammer 40,000 benchmark responds well to threading, but it's clear that clock speed and IPC also matter. In what is becoming a repetitive theme, the stock 10900K edges past the heavily-overclocked Core i9-9900K on its way to a lead over the rest of the test pool. The Ryzen 9 3900X lags by 14.6 fps in this title, which generally isn't favorable to Ryzen processors. 

Far Cry 5 on Intel Core i9-10900K

Far Cry 5 also tends to run well on Intel architectures, and once again the 10900K takes a convincing lead. 

Final Fantasy XV on Intel Core i9-10900K

We run this test with the standard quality preset to sidestep the impact of a bug that causes the game engine to render off-screen objects with the higher-resolution setting. Final Fantasy XV finds the Ryzen 9 3900X scoring its lone tie with the stock Core i9-10900K.  

Grand Theft Auto V on Intel Core i9-10900K

The Intel processors continue to lead in nearly every title, but if we strip out the overclocked configurations, you'll notice the stock 10900K separates itself from the pack by a decent margin. That does come with quite a bit of power consumption and our fans cranking away at high speed, but the 10900K is undeniably a powerful gaming chip. 

Hitman 2 on Intel Core i9-10900K

The $374 Core i7-9700K reminds us that while the halo parts are beastly performers, they come at much higher pricing and require more exotic accommodations than the decidedly more mainstream i7 series. The -9700K currently tops our list of Best Gaming CPUs, and we expect the new Core i7-10700K, which comes with twice the threads for the same recommended pricing, will be just as impressive. 

Project Cars 2 on Intel Core i9-10900K

Although Project CARS 2 is purportedly optimized for threading, clock rates obviously affect this title's frame rates. 

World of Tanks enCore on Intel Core i9-10900K

The World of Tanks benchmark caps our test suite with yet another win for the Core i9-10900K over the other stock processors.


MORE: Intel and AMD Processor Benchmark Hierarchy

MORE: All CPUs Content

Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage, and enterprise hardware.

  • jeremyj_83
    Isn't this the wrong time of year to be selling space heaters?
  • Wait for it. The intel shills are coming to this thread soon to wail us their one lone song
  • st379
    7 fps more on average than 9th gen.... very impressive:cautious:.

    At least we have rdna 2, ampere and ryzen 4000 later this year. There will be some very exciting products later this year.
  • dave.jeffers
    Even if you want the 10900k, they are saying its a paper launch. Will be interesting to see how long it takes for NE and Amazon to get stock.
  • tummybunny
    This talks about fully-patched systems. Is this considered to be a fully patched system or can we expect a host of patches for SPECTRE etc. to slow everything down when they are eventually released.

    I expected more discussion of what Intel might have done to reduce the endless list of security threats that have been uncovered in the last few years.
  • King_V
    Mandark said:
    Wait for it. The intel shills are coming to this thread soon to wail us their one lone song

    Well, I mean, it does, after all, offer the biggest lead in terms of frames/second than the top AMD processor. With a 2080Ti. Um... at 1080p. At frame rates where the human eye is incapable of perceiving the difference.

    But, think of it this way, at lower resolutions (1600x900, 1280x720), the frame rate lead would be EVEN MOAR!!
  • Isokolon
    so they're releasing a CPU that for a home user is basically useless and is still worse as a workstation than a 3900X?

    Intel really needs to up their game.
  • jeremyj_83
    "The heavily-threaded y-cruncher benchmark, which computes pi using the taxing AVX instruction set, reveals what we consider to be erroneous test results based upon our previous experience with Intel chips based on the never-ending Skylake architecture."
    In Anandtech's review we see the same behavior for the 10900k. Ian's said "y-Cruncher is another one where the Core i9 performs worse than the Core i7 in the multithreaded test, despite being better on the single threaded test. We again put this down to memory bandwidth. We need to update this test to the latest version of y-Cruncher, which has additional optimizations for Zen 2 processors, but also to increase the digit count in our MT test. "
  • dimar
    9900K will serve me well for few more years. Will be looking for upgrades once DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 hit the market.
    Hoping for some crazy stuff from AMD and Intel.
  • InvalidError
    Not exactly surprised that the 10900k isn't a value king. I am far more interested in the updated bang-per-buck on the 10600k and 10700k.