The Core i5 Doldrums
It used to be that Core i5 processors represented the best choice for mainstream users looking for value-oriented pricing, high performance, and modest power consumption. But now, fast Ryzen 5 CPUs often prove superior. Intel did increase the core count of its Coffee Lake-based Core i5s by 50 percent to grapple with AMD's first-gen Ryzen 5 chips. However, the latest round of Ryzen 5 models is even faster, particularly in threaded workloads.
Intel's ninth-gen Core i7 and Core i9 processors come with more cores, too. Unfortunately, the Core i5-9600K we're reviewing today does not. It includes the same six cores as its predecessor, along with a price tag that lands between Ryzen 5 2600X and Ryzen 7 2700. Worse, both competing CPUs are bundled with coolers, while Intel makes you buy your own.
The story isn't all bad for Intel. It did switch to a solder-based thermal interface material between its die and heat spreader, enabling higher multi-core Turbo Boost frequencies. But those incremental improvements are hardly earth-shattering.
Choosing between a Core i5-9600K and Ryzen presents the same conundrum we've faced in the past: it depends on the type of software you run most frequently. If you're a gamer who doesn't really venture beyond 1920x1080, Intel's Core i5-9600K is the chip for you. But if a majority of your workloads are threaded in nature, including content creation and productivity, a powerful Ryzen gets you more performance at a competitive price.
AMD has also launched its Ryzen 3000-series processors. The updated Ryzen line-up employs a smaller 7nm process that should confer power and price benefits. It'll also wield the new Zen 2 microarchitecture, which is expected to boost performance while Intel remains mired in a derivative of the seven-year-old Skylake design. These chips have now taken our Best CPUs list by storm, so be sure to head there for a list of the latest leading processors.
Intel Core i5-9600K
The ~$263 Core i5-9600K lands between the $299 Ryzen 7 2700 and $225 Ryzen 5 2600X. Inexplicably, Intel raised the -9600K's price by $5 compared to its previous-gen Core i5-8600K.
|Core i9-9900K||Core i7-9700K||Core i5-9600K|
|Architecture||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake|
|Cores / Threads||8 / 16||8 / 8||6 / 6|
|Base Frequency (GHz)||3.6||3.6||3.7|
|Boost Frequency ( Active Cores - GHz)||1-2 Cores - 5.0, 4 Cores - 4.8, 8 Cores - 4.7||1 Core - 4.9, 2 Core 4.8, 4 Core 4.7, 8 Core 4.6||1 Core - 4.6, 2 Core - 4.5, 4 Core 4.4, 6 Core 4.3|
|Integrated UHD Graphics GT2 (Base/Boost MHz)||350 / 1200||350 / 1200||350 / 1150|
|Recommended Customer Pricing||$488 - $499||$374 - $385||$262 - $263|
Intel manufactures the -9600K on its 14nm++ process. In addition to six execution cores (without Hyper-Threading technology), the chip includes an integrated UHD 630 graphics engine, sports unlocked ratio multipliers for easy overclocking, and supports two channels of DDR4-2666 memory. Like the Core i5-8600K that preceded it, the -9600K comes equipped with 9MB of L3 cache and a 95W thermal design power rating.
|Active Cores||Base||1 Core||2 Cores||3 Cores||4 Cores||5 Cores||6 Cores|
|Core i5-9600K (GHz)||3.7||4.6||4.5||4.4||4.4||4.3||4.3|
|Core i5-8600K (GHz)||3.6||4.3||4.2||4.2||4.2||4.1||4.1|
Intel does dial up the -9600K's Turbo Boost frequencies quite a bit, though. Solder-based thermal interface material improves heat transfer, facilitating higher frequencies whether you're using one core or all six. A base clock rate of 3.7 GHz already represents a 100 MHz improvement over the Core i5-8600K frequency floor, and you get as much as a 300 MHz speed-up when multiple cores are utilized.
We didn't see the need for extreme cooling with Intel's Core i5-9600K, even during our overclocking efforts. The processor held a steady 80°C under five hours of Prime95 optimized for AVX instructions, and ~64°C during a series of non-AVX tasks. Granted, we did use a beefy Corsair H115i cranking away at full speed. But you shouldn't have any trouble cooling the processor at stock settings. Overclocking is fine with a capable closed-loop liquid cooler.
|Model||Cores / Threads||Base Frequency||Boost Frequency||Memory Support||PCIe Lanes||Cache||TDP||Price|
|Core i9-9900K||8 / 16||3.6 GHz||5 GHz (1 / 2 Core)4.8 GHz (4 Core)4.7 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||16MB||95W||$488|
|Ryzen 7 2700X||8 / 16||3.7 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||105W||$329|
|Core i7-9700K||8 / 8||3.6 GHz||4.9 GHz (1 Core)4.8 GHz (2 Core)4.7 GHz (4 Core)4.6 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$374|
|Core i7-8086K||6 / 12||4.0 GHz||5.0 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$425|
|Core i7-8700K||6 / 12||3.7 GHz||4.7 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$330|
|Ryzen 7 2700||8 / 16||3.2 GHz||4.1 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||95W||$299|
|Core i5-9600K||6 / 6||3.7 GHz||4.6 GHz (1 Core)4.5 GHz (2 Core)4.4 GHz (4 Core)4.3 GHz (6 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||9MB||95W||$262|
|Core i5-8600K||6 / 6||3.6 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||9MB||95W||$279|
|Ryzen 5 2600X||6 / 12||3.6 GHz||4.2 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$225|
|Ryzen 5 2600||6 / 12||3.4 GHz||3.9 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$199|
The Core i5-9600K drops into existing 300-series motherboards after a BIOS update. Most, if not all of them, should support Core i5-9600K and its power requirements quite easily, though you might want to steer away from the lowest-cost models if you plan on overclocking.
MORE: Best CPUs
MORE: All CPUs Content