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

Editor's Choice

Hardware-Based Security Fixes, Architecture & Test Setup

Much like the Cascade and Whiskey Lake processors we recently covered, Intel's Coffee Lake refresh comes with hardware-based mitigations for the Meltdown and L1TF (Foreshadow) vulnerabilities. Current Spectre and Meltdown mitigations, which Intel delivers via software and microcode patches, can reduce performance by up to 10% on newer CPUs, with older hardware suffering even larger losses. The new mitigations, baked directly into the silicon, should reduce or even eliminate the performance impact for a few vulnerabilities.

VulnerabilityCoffee Lake Refresh/Whiskey Lake MitigationCascade Lake Mitigation
Variant 1 (Spectre)Operating SystemOperating System/VMM
Variant 2 (Spectre)Microcode + Operating SystemIn-Silicon + Operating System/VMM
Variant 3 (Meltdown)In-SiliconIn-Silicon
Variant 3aMicrocode + Operating SystemFirmware
Variant 4Microcode + Operating SystemMicrocode + Operating System/VMM
L1TF (Foreshadow)In-SiliconIn-Silicon

As we're learning, it may take several processor generations before the fixes for all vulnerabilities are applied at a silicon level. Intel's ninth-gen CPUs do still need a combination of microcode and operating system patches. But at least Meltdown and L1TF Foreshadow are patched fully in hardware.

Architecture

Although we don't have much new information about Coffee Lake refresh architectural changes, David Schoor at WikiChip says the new chips use a familiar ring bus, an internal high-speed pathway connecting the cores and cache.

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This stands in contrast to the mesh architecture (deep dive here) that Intel uses on its high-end desktop models, including the eight-core Core i7-7820X. We've found that the mesh architecture has a negative impact on some desktop applications, including games, which Intel acknowledges. The mesh architecture was designed to increase scalability as it expands to higher core counts in the Xeon family.

Overclocking, Rounds One and Two

We tapped Corsair's H115i v2 to test our Core i9-9900K sample in the U.S. lab. This liquid cooler afforded enough headroom to sustain a 5.0 GHz overclock with a 1.33V Vcore and a Load Line Calibration 4 setting. It kept the chip at a steady 85°C during extended non-AVX stress tests. Folding in AVX instructions did, unfortunately, overwhelm the all-in-one. To reign in the thermal output, we set the AVX offset to -2, meaning the chip ran at 4.8 GHz during AVX-optimized workloads and 5.0 GHz in the absence of AVX instructions. We maintained a temperature of 95°C during three hours of Prime95 using those settings.

To model real-world settings attainable by enthusiasts with closed-loop liquid coolers, we applied the -2 AVX offset for our 5.0 GHz overclock in the gaming, office and productivity, and rendering tests.

We did not use an offset for the workstation graphics, compute, power consumption, and temperatures sections.

MEG Z390 Godlike

We're using MSI's MEG Z390 Godlike as our test platform for all Intel processors. This pricey board retails for $600, but has the power delivery subsystem to support aggressive overclocking.

The MSI MEG Z390 Godlike sits at the top of MSI's motherboard hierarchy. It has a decked-out 18-phase power delivery subsystem that's designed to squeeze every drop of performance out of Intel's new processors. It also comes with a few nifty accessories like an M.2 PCIe riser card and an HDMI streaming card.

Comparison Products

Test System & Configuration
HardwareGermany Intel LGA 1151 (Z390)Intel Core i9-9900K, i7-9700K, i5-9600K, i7-8700K, i5-8600K, i5-8400MSI MEG Z390 Godlike2x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2667 & DDR4-3466AMD Socket AM4 (400-Series)AMD Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 5 MSI X470 Gaming M7 AC 2x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2667, DDR4-3466Intel LGA 2066 Intel Core i7 MSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC 4x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2666All SystemsGeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition (Gaming) Nvidia Quadro P6000 (Workstation)1x 1TB Toshiba OCZ RD400 (M.2, System SSD) 4x 1TB Crucial MX300 (Storage, Images)be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11, 850W Windows 10 Pro (All Updates)U.S. Intel LGA 1151 (Z390)Intel Core i9-9900K, i7-9700K, i5-9600K, i7-8700K, i5-8600K, i5-8400MSI MEG Z390 Godlike2x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2667 & DDR4-3466Intel LGA 2066Intel Core i9-7820XMSI X299 Gaming Pro Carbon AC4x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2666, DDR4-3200AMD Socket AM4 (400-Series)AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, Ryzen 5 2600XMSI X470 Gaming M7 AC2x 8GB G.Skill FlareX DDR4-3200 @ DDR4-2933All SystemsEVGA GeForce GTX 1080 FE 1TB Samsung PM863SilverStone ST1500-TI, 1500WWindows 10 Pro (All Updates)
CoolingGermanyAMD Wraith RipperAlphacool Ice Block XPXEnermax LiqTech 240 TR4Thermal Grizzly KryonautU.S.Wraith RipperCorsair H115iEnermax Liqtech 240 TR4 II
Power Consumption MeasurementContact-free DC Measurement at PCIe Slot (Using a Riser Card) Contact-free DC Measurement at External Auxiliary Power Supply Cable Direct Voltage Measurement at Power Supply 2x Rohde & Schwarz HMO 3054, 500 MHz Digital Multi-Channel Oscilloscope with Storage Function4x Rohde & Schwarz HZO50 Current Probe (1mA - 30A, 100 kHz, DC) 4x Rohde & Schwarz HZ355 (10:1 Probes, 500 MHz) 1x Rohde & Schwarz HMC 8012 Digital Multimeter with Storage Function
Thermal Measurement1x Optris PI640 80 Hz Infrared Camera + PI Connect Real-Time Infrared Monitoring and Recording
Acoustic MeasurementNTI Audio M2211 (with Calibration File, Low Cut at 50Hz) Steinberg UR12 (with Phantom Power for Microphones)Creative X7, Smaart v.7 Custom-Made Proprietary Measurement Chamber, 3.5 x 1.8 x 2.2m (L x D x H) Perpendicular to Center of Noise Source(s), Measurement Distance of 50cm Noise Level in dB(A) (Slow), Real-time Frequency Analyzer (RTA) Graphical Frequency Spectrum of Noise


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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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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)
    Reply
  • 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.)
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • sstanic
    how is this an editor's choice is beyond me. but not beyond marketing people, is it?
    Reply
  • 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$.
    Reply