Intel i9-9900K Review - AMD Pushing Progress

by Michael "SKYMTL" Hoenig     |     October 17, 2018

With the launch of AMDís Ryzen, Threadripper and their subsequent follow-up second generation refreshes, Intel has been somewhat knocked back on their heels as of late. It isnít that AMDís newest CPUs are cleaning the house from an overall performance standpoint but what they do well is provide a killer combination of pricing and competitive benchmark numbers. In a DIY segment thatís continually looking for value, thatís a winning combination.

However, despite that newly acquired superiority complex in amongst DIYers, AMD is still struggling mightily to make inroads within the system builder market. The domination by Intel among system integrators is nearly total. However, with enough buyer interest in Ryzenís various offshoots, that position could very well be in jeopardy given enough time. Given the combination of DIY interest in AMDís wares and potential vulnerability in other key spaces, Intel needs to keep their lineup refreshed even though theyíve been struggling to move beyond 14nm. Thatís where the 9th generation Core series steps into the equation.

From a high level architectural perspective, Intelís so-called 9th generation processors arenít all that much different from 8th gen Coffee Lake S predecessors. They still utilize a 14nm++ (yet highly optimized) manufacturing process, the UHD 620 graphics core and all the other elements we have come to recognize from Intelís CPUs over the last three or so years.

There are however two relatively large changes this time around. AMD has been pushing Intel to move their mainstream Core series processors towards higher cores counts and the refined manufacturing process has facilitated yet another step forward in this respect. We are now seeing 9th generation CPUs boasting up to 8 cores and 16 concurrent threads without boosting the overall TDP. This works towards further blurring the lines between mainstream and HEDT markets. Honestly it feels like Intel has been forced into this position rather than choosing to make this change.

Another change has been the use of a solder-based thermal interface material (STIM) between the core and IHS. This is supposed to provide increased thermal conductivity between the CPU die increasing heat dissipation and allowing for more thermal headroom. It may also make the process of delidding more challenging but still provide a net positive benefit for overall temperatures.

With the move to 8 physical cores, Intel has introduced a new nomenclature for their higher end Coffee Lake processors; the i9 makes an appearance. So too does massively increase top-end prices. That i9-9900K has a ďsuggestedĒ retail price of $488 USD but if pre-orders and the 8700Kís pricing trends are any indication, itíll cost substantially more than that at most retailers. Compare this to the 16-thread Ryzen 2700Xís comparably affordable $330 price point (its on sale for $300 right now as a matter of fact) and you can see why some folks are still wondering if Intel actually realizes they arenít alone in this market any longer.

There are some major perceived advantages for the i9-9900K though, at least on paper. Intelís latest generations have a serious edge in gaming performance and this processors ability to boost up to 5GHz on two cores should further its lead in that respect. Meanwhile, Intel has added the ability for the entire cache partition to be utilized by any of the eight cores rather than being partitioned at a constant 2MB per core.

Below the halo CPU is where things start to get a bit confusing. The new CPU lineup wonít have a single 6-core, 12-thread part to directly replace the i7-8700K. Instead the i7-9700K will have Hyperthreading disabled and only come in an octo-core form. Thatís a seriously odd decision but threaded scaling on this processor should be excellent since physical cores always grant better performance than the virtual ones from HT.

The main problem with the 9700K is its price. At $374 or higher, it is still more expensive than AMDís 2700X and massively more than the $300 (currently $250 on Amazon) 2700 yet still more than the i7-8700K. Granted, it does operate at a higher frequency than the 8700K in single threaded applications but all-core speeds have been reduced. What an odd duckling this is.

Personally, I think the most competitive yet disappointing addition to this lineup might be the i5-9600K. While it doesnít provide a massive uplift versus the i5-8600K, it is priced identically (thank God!). The problem here is we are back to an infinitesimal incremental upgrade over the previous generation rather than any effort to launch an enticing replacement to the 8600K.

Latest Reviews in Reviews
October 18, 2018
With the launch of this 9th generation Core processor family, Intel have finally caught up to AMD in the mainstream processor core war....
January 19, 2011
During CES 2011, MSI held the first of what will likely be a long line of overclocking events throughout this year. †Called the Master Overclocking Arena, these events bring together some of the world...