Intel Core i9-9900K 9th Gen CPU Review: Fastest Gaming Processor Ever

Conclusion

Intel's Core i9-9900K answers several requests from the enthusiast community. It sports more cores, higher clock rates, and effective Solder TIM. The delayed 10nm process could be a liability as AMD works feverishly to respond with new 7nm processors. But for now, these 14nm++ CPUs are winners.

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), which we then convert into a frame-per-second measurement. Bear in mind that we tested with a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 at 1920x1080 to alleviate graphics-imposed bottlenecks. Differences between our test subjects would shrink with higher resolutions.

Core i9-9900K takes the crown as the fastest gaming processor on the market, and it proves to be highly capable in the threaded workloads that AMD's Ryzen processors used to dominate. Pricing is still a problem for Intel, though. You pay dearly for the extra cores, while a majority of games don't fully utilize them. The Core i7-9700K, even at stock settings, is competitive with the -9900K in most titles, especially considering the $115 you save by stepping down a notch. We haven't overclocked our -9700K yet, though, so the small deltas observed between the two chips may shrink further.

Although AMD's second-gen Ryzen processors narrowed the gap with Intel's Coffee Lake-based line-up, these ninth-generation Core chips redefine the playing field. The $263 Core i5-9600K at stock settings regularly beat an overclocked $329 Ryzen 7 2700X in games, and we expect even more performance from the Core i5 once we overclock it. Ryzen 7 2700X does come with a capable cooler, but the Core i5’s lower price diminishes AMD’s value proposition for gaming.

In the end, Core i9-9900K serves up impressive performance across our benchmark suite. If you regularly run heavily-threaded applications, it's probably worth paying a premium for. But if you need real workstation-class features, you should step up to an appropriate platform.

And make no mistake, the Core i9-9900K requires expensive accommodations. You need a premium motherboard with robust power delivery, particularly if you plan on overclocking. The -9900K can drop into existing Z370 motherboards, but we’re sure that many of them will struggle with the chip’s voracious appetite for current. Also plan on investing in a high-end PSU.

The -9900K proved to be an impressive overclocker, largely due to its Solder TIM. Don't think that means you can skimp on cooling, though. High temperatures hampered our overclocking efforts, and a more capable cooler could have facilitated additional headroom. Intel even threw in new packaging to help win back the hearts and minds of enthusiasts.

Now the question is whether Intel can satisfy enthusiast demand. After all, we've already heard reports of delayed pre-order shipments. Even though the company assures us that it can accommodate demand for eight-core CPUs, this doesn't bode well for availability as the company grapples with an ongoing shortage of 14nm manufacturing capacity.

The Core i9-9900K has no direct rival on a mainstream platform, but its high price point encroaches into the realm of AMD’s upcoming $649 12-core Threadripper 2920X (which has hefty platform requirements of its own). That chip isn't available yet, so its performance remains shrouded in mystery. For something more readily available, look to the previous-gen Threadripper 1920X.

Unless you regularly use heavily-threaded applications, it’s hard to justify stepping up to Core i9-9900K from any modern four- or six-core CPU. With that said, Core i9-9900K is the fastest mainstream processor on the market. Plenty of enthusiasts opt for the best possible performance in both single- and multi-threaded workloads at any price. There, the Core i9-9900K doesn’t disappoint.

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148 comments
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  • dlim389
    "The better the cooling, the better power consumption"? What?! This doesn't make sense at all. You meant the better the cooling, the lower the temperature.
  • siman0
    "Redefine" at double the price of a 2700x it needs to do more than that. The price diffrence is more than enough to go up another GPU tier ie 1070ti to a 1080ti. Id rather have more pcie bandwidth and the ability to upgrade my cpu till 2020. The only way Id recommend a upgrade to something close is if you already have the motherboard. But even then Id say the 9700k.
  • s1mon7
    Wait, so it performs within a spitting distance of the 2700x with DOUBLE the power consumption and price? Holy smokes, I thought Intel will be able to easily take on AMD after they launch their 8-cores. I have to say that these results were very surprising to me, since I believed in this being the ace up Intel's sleeve. This is really interesting, and a big win for AMD. The 9900K goes through twice the power just to squeeze out that extra clock speed edge to outperform the 2700x by a mere 10%, at double the price, mind you.

    Intel clearly needs 10nm and a new architecture to go back into the game. As is, I struggle to think of any reason to buy the 9900k.
  • TCA_ChinChin
    Interesting chip from Intel, but if you are looking at CPUs from a performance per dollar point of view, its rather disappointing. The real disappointment is the 9700k which is more expensive than the 8700k but performs basically the same on average.
  • Adrian Ocampo
    As a gamer, why would I buy a 9700K when an 8700K trades blows with the 9900K in both gaming and productivity. It just doesn't make sense. Its like its just competing with its own product as this point. I would be better off buying an 8700K deliding it, put liquid metal and overclock to 5.0Ghz for a much lower price than a 9900K.
  • gfaiii
    Guys just as a heads up you should say second generation 1151 socket, these are NOT compatible with 200 series boards that have 1151 sockets (without modding)
  • sonichedgehog360
    Ladies and gentlemen, Intel’s FX 9000 series.

    (By the way, I totally saw this coming what with the crazy clock speeds they were pushing.)
  • Johnpombrio
    I was surprised on how well the i9-9900K did on stock clocks. I may not even bother with overclocking as it does well even without it and I may be able to use air cooling that way. Compared to my Kaby Lake i7-7700K, it definitely is a big step up. I already have the ASUS Strix Z380 mobo, 32GB Corsair Dominator Platinum memory kit and have preordered the CPU.
  • sstanic
    how is this an editor's choice is beyond me. but not beyond marketing people, is it?
  • redgarl
    For the money, you can buy a motherboard, a CPU and a 1080 GTX for the same price as the 9900k with it's motherboard.

    Also, you tested this system on a 600$ motherboard... 600$ and a prenium cooling solution.

    This system is above the 2000$ threshold compared to an AMD one barely hitting the 1000$.
  • lperreault21
    This is a terrible cpu. How much did Intel pay you to give it a 4.5/5. Yet anothrt reason to not trust Tom's with anything
  • jimmysmitty
    2809234 said:
    Wait, so it performs within a spitting distance of the 2700x with DOUBLE the power consumption and price? Holy smokes, I thought Intel will be able to easily take on AMD after they launch their 8-cores. I have to say that these results were very surprising to me, since I believed in this being the ace up Intel's sleeve. This is really interesting, and a big win for AMD. The 9900K goes through twice the power just to squeeze out that extra clock speed edge to outperform the 2700x by a mere 10%, at double the price, mind you. Intel clearly needs 10nm and a new architecture to go back into the game. As is, I struggle to think of any reason to buy the 9900k.


    Torture loop power numbers are hard to use as a real definition of power draw as most no one maxes any CPU out 100% 24x7. Add in the clock speed difference and thats makes it look worse than most people will veer experience.

    251426 said:
    For the money, you can buy a motherboard, a CPU and a 1080 GTX for the same price as the 9900k with it's motherboard. Also, you tested this system on a 600$ motherboard... 600$ and a prenium cooling solution. This system is above the 2000$ threshold compared to an AMD one barely hitting the 1000$.


    Only if you plan to only get the top end $500 dollar motherboards for the Intel system then cheap out for Ryzen boards. If you compare apples to apples there are equivalent Ryzen motherboards that are the same price and offer similar features apart from the different sockets and chipsets.

    It always amuses me when people compare systems then for one they go with a $150 dollar board thats obviously an inferior product.
  • AgentLozen
    Thanks for the review guys. I agree with your conclusion that the 9900k is in a league of its own. Do you think someone could cool a 9900k system (effectively) with a big Noctua air cooler if you're not overclocking?
  • mgallo848
    I think Intel failed trying to market this CPU to gamers. The price/performance does not justify it at all. In multi-threaded editing applications it looks much more impressive.

    For editing applications yes, for gamers no.
  • Gurg
    This is first CPU that would even remotely justify upgrade from my 5820k running OC @4.2. 77% Time Spy increase vs 52% increase in CPU plus motherboard cost from what I spent on 5820K.

    The cost numbers in this review look far worse by TH pairing this with the MSI Godlike $599 vs the ACE $289 Z390 mb.
  • levijonesm
    "The $263 Core i5-9600K at stock settings regularly beat an overclocked $378 Ryzen 7 2700X in games"

    Please correct the typo on 2700X pricing. Should be $329 MSRP, but currently can be bought for $300 or lower.
  • Brian_R170
    In theory, a i9-9900K with Hyper-Threading disabled in the BIOS should perform slightly better than the i7-9700K in the benchmarks where the 9700K took the lead due to the higher clock speeds and larger cache, right?
  • AgentLozen
    Brian_R170 said:
    In theory, a i9-9900K with Hyper-Threading disabled in the BIOS should perform slightly better than the i7-9700K in the benchmarks where the 9700K took the lead due to the higher clock speeds and larger cache, right?


    That's a good question. I'd like to see a separate article that examines the performance difference between the 9900k and the 9700k with hyper threading turned on and off. It would be a good chance to see how much power overhead hyper threading requires and it could answer what the value proposition of hyper threading really is.

    Is it even worth having hyper threading turned on while you're gaming?
  • delaro
    Not much of a performance difference over an 8700K at least not enough to warrant $499. For that matter, it makes a Ryzen 2700x @ $289 look like an even better deal considering the performance gap from this review isn't that huge. The next version of Ryzen shouldn't have an issue with matching the same performance at a much lower cost.
  • logainofhades
    Price/performance wise, I still think I would till rather have a 2700x.
  • tikal
    I wodner why prices of CPUs on the graphs were not fixed. Irt is impossible to get i5 8400 for that price, at the same time Ryzen CPU have a much lower price now.
    If I spot this right away, I have hard time believing someone it has not been done intentionally.
  • volkgren
    It's not too hot or power hungry that high-end gaming systems can't already handle. It's nowhere near what the FX-9000 series was simply because the i9 is the fastest and I'm sure more stable. All in all it's an excellent CPU at a terrible price. Intel's Core i5 is the best value once again.
  • tamalero
    149725 said:
    Torture loop power numbers are hard to use as a real definition of power draw as most no one maxes any CPU out 100% 24x7. Add in the clock speed difference and thats makes it look worse than most people will veer experience.

    No one maxes any cpu?
    If I had this system for rendering and similar tests, it sure as hell its going to tax the cpu at 100%.
    Your excuse for intel is silly.

    149725 said:
    Only if you plan to only get the top end $500 dollar motherboards for the Intel system then cheap out for Ryzen boards. If you compare apples to apples there are equivalent Ryzen motherboards that are the same price and offer similar features apart from the different sockets and chipsets. It always amuses me when people compare systems then for one they go with a $150 dollar board thats obviously an inferior product.


    Hu, you can get very good motherboards for Ryzen for less than 300 USD. Not need to "cheapen out".
    The HALO effect overprices for intel.
    Plus you need to get a HEFTY cooler for intel's chip.

    For a mod, you sure are going pretty far to defend intel.
  • littleleo
    Did I miss it? I don't recall seeing the 50% better performance that "Principled" Technologies found over the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X. I do see the Ryzen 7 2700 selling for $249.53 and the Ryzen 7 2700x selling for $305, and the Intel i9-9700K selling for $410, and the i9-9900K is $580. I don't see the value of paying $105 or $275 more vs the R7-2700x for the increase in performance shown.

    I can put that money towards a better GPU, though I'm not seeing any value in buying the Nvidia RTX hype train either. So what is going on here? Did Nvidia & Intel see the insane prices some people were paying during the crypto mining craze and think they would cash in by making these ridiculously over price pieces of silicon? News flash Intel & Nvidia we want value for our green stamps and the price to value ratio from Intel & Nvidia has not been so good with their latest releases. No one beating down the door this week looking for these or the RTXs. I'm hoping this isn't another bad launch.