Intel Core i9-9900KF Review: Disabled Graphics and No Discount

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Intel's F-series processors represent a new tactic for the company as it struggles with an ongoing shortage of 14nm production capacity. These new models lack integrated graphics. And while we're told they are in high demand at silicon-starved OEMs, they'll soon be available at retail, too, though Intel hasn't given a firm date. Unfortunately, the only benefit these defeatured processors offer over the fully-fledged models appears to be availability. Yet, F-series processors are listed for preorder at a premium price. At least for now. Clearly, the lack of value is a big problem for Intel. 

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First, it is obvious that you should only consider this processor if you plan on pairing it with a discrete GPU. Intel's integrated graphics, while wholly unsuitable for AAA gaming, are still incredibly useful for troubleshooting when add-in cards fail.

Aside from the obviously poor value proposition of paying more money (or even the same amount of money) for fewer features, the Core i9-9900KF and Core i9-9900K are largely the same, meaning the newer model doesn't do anything to change the competitive landscape when it comes to performance comparisons. With that said, both CPUs are the fastest you can buy for gaming when you pair them with high-end graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia. They're also highly capable in the threaded workloads that AMD's Ryzen processors used to dominate. Unfortunately, you pay dearly for the extra cores, which most games don't fully utilize. For instance, the Core i7-9700K, even at stock settings, is competitive with the Core i9 models in most titles. And it saves you considerable money in the process.

In the end, the Core i9-9900KF serves up the same impressive performance as Core i9-9900K across our benchmark suite, and may facilitate slightly better overclocking potential. Splave binned a relatively large sample set of 200 Core i9-9900Ks and a smaller pool of five Core i9-9900KFs, finding that a larger percentage of KF models achieved higher frequencies. That anecdotal evidence suggests that Core i9-9900KF could be attractive to overclockers looking for more headroom as they chase records.

As with the Core i9-9900K, the Core i9-9900KF requires expensive accommodations. You need a premium platform with robust power delivery, particularly if you plan on overclocking. The chips 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 and cooling solution.

The Core i9 series has no direct rival on a mainstream platform, at least until AMD's Ryzen 3000 series comes to market. But its high price point dampens our enthusiasm. We don't think the KF series represents a good value, particularly at the currently inflated pricing. However, many enthusiasts will opt for the defeatured processors simply because the standard -9900K isn't available. Like the Core i9-9900K, the KF model does provide the best mixture of single- and multi-threaded performance on the market. Unless it shows up at a lower price point than the complete Core i9-9900K, though, there's no real reason to recommend it.


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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.