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The Intel Core i9-9900KS Special Edition Review: 5.0 GHz on All the Cores, All the Time

Intel's Core i9-9900KS arrives with impressive gaming performance.

(Image: © Intel)

Intel's Core i9-9900KS Special Edition offers the utmost in gaming performance, but the Special Edition status means it won't be available after the end of the year, so it won't have a long-term impact on Intel's positioning against AMD's Ryzen 3000 lineup. 

Overall, the Core i9-9900KS sets the new bar for gaming performance. It also serves up the highest overclocking ceiling we've seen with a chip right out of the box. At stock settings, we mostly matched the performance of a highly-overclocked Intel Core i9-9900K with far less power consumption, which is plenty impressive.

For users that aren't interested in overclocking, or reluctant to try, the Core i9-9900KS also represents an easy pathway to the fastest gaming performance possible. The -9900KS has one of the most aggressive Turbo Boost implementations we've ever seen, and it is effective. Enthusiasts looking for a drop-in replacement will also be happy with the support for existing 300-series motherboards.

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 an Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 Ti at 1920x1080 to alleviate graphics-imposed bottlenecks. Differences between our test subjects would shrink with higher resolutions.

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The stock Core i9-9900KS leads our pool of competitors by a convincing margin, but the auto-overclocked Ryzen 7 3700X is surprisingly competitive across our test suite in 99th percentile measurements. Overclocking the Core i9-9900KS extends its lead well beyond any AMD competitors, but enthusiasts that are willing to overclock might take a second look at the Core i7-9700K. That chip regularly challenged Intel's new flagship and came perilously close in 99th-percentile frame rates across the full breadth of our test suite, but costs $139 less. 

Intel has extended its lead in gaming over AMD's lineup, but we have to keep that in perspective. The Ryzen 9 3900X costs less and is more agile in heavily-threaded workloads, like productivity applications. It also comes with other advantages, like a bundled cooler and support for class-leading PCIe 4.0 connectivity. If you're not chasing the bleeding edge of gaming performance or overclockability, Ryzen 9 3900X offers a compelling blend of price and performance in both gaming and productivity applications. It also has a longer three-year warranty period, while Intel only covers the Core i9-9900KS for one year. 

Intel did slap a competitive price tag on the Core i9-9900KS, at least compared to its own lineup, which will make it appealing to extreme gaming performance enthusiasts and those searching for the ultimate in single-threaded performance. Overclockers, of both the extreme and mainstream variety, also increase their chances of getting a highly-overclockable chip right out of the box. 

Intel hasn't told us how many chips it has available, but we expect the limited window of availability (until near the end of the year) will encourage retailers to sell the chips with a premium markup. 

If you're aiming for the edge of gaming performance, this chip doesn't disappoint: The Core i9-9900KS is unquestionably the new leader in gaming performance at both stock and overclocked settings. 

Just be sure to budget in a hefty cooling solution, especially if you plan on overclocking. 

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