Intel Core i9-9900K 9th Generation CPU Review

The new 9th generation Intel i9-9900K CPU is upon us! AMD has been pushing into Intel's desktop market and Intel knows it. Today Intel is pulling the curtain back on "not paid for" reviews and we are happy to be serving you one of those up here today. Is the i9-9900K better than the Ryzen 7 2700X, and is it worth the staggering price premium?

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Overclocking

We did get our i9-9900K sample direct from Intel. I know that many people have worries of cherry picked CPUs when we start talking about overclocking, and we have only had experience with one sample. After spending some time with the i9-9900K, I was not getting the clocks I was expecting, so I reached out to an industry resource that I knew would have hands on with a lot more samples than we would. This is what they had to say about 9900K overclocking.

...the best (9900K) CPUs are not doing more than 5.1~5.2 all-core on great water. Most in our labs are around the 4.9~5 with a triple radiator and high flow fan setup. A H115i might get you 4.8 all core. The higher end boards are going to help you maintain the OC longer, but with the way these CPUs are, it is going to be a shock to a lot of people expecting more. Intel has these on the ragged edge for that ... 5GHz turbo boost.

Yes, from all the rumors out of the "guys talk you hear things" camp, I had bigger expectations for what the i9-9900K would overclock to. Interestingly, our lone 9900K sample fell exactly into what was described above.

Try as we might, I could not push past an all-core overclock of 5.14GHz with a 3600MHz memory bus. This was using an actual vCore of 1.176v as identified by CPUz. I was not having luck using offset vCore so I went to a full manual setting and that worked out for me better right at the edge. I did play around some with chipset voltage and CPU Load Line Calibration levels, but I never found anything that worked better than the automatic settings on our MSI MEG Z390 ACE.

Looking at the HWiNFO64 screenshot below, you start to understand very quickly where our "issue" is. Our CPU package power is now at ~227 watts. This is 70 watts higher than our package power at fully loaded stock clocks. As you might guess, we are seeing a lot of our cores hitting the mid-90C mark in terms of temperature. Look for all the numbers in red down in the bottom left hand corner. Undoubtedly we are on the ragged edge for our cooling.

After seeing what we were dealing with while overclocking the i9-9900K, this is why I added the Threadripper 2950X into our data. When overclocked the 9900K is giving us much less content creation performance than the 2950X at stock clocks while using ~50 watts more power! This asuredly makes you understand why the ASUS ROG Dominus Extreme X299 motherboard that is built for Intel's upcoming 28 core processor needs two power supplies. 5GHz with a $2000 chiller all makes perfect sense now.

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As mentioned above from our industry contact, "5.1~5.2 all-core on great water," and we are on "great water." Our water cooling loop is from XSPC and consists of a XSPC RayStorm Pro Water Block for AMD and for Intel, RX480 V3 Radiator, and D5 Photon Reservoir/Pump Combo V2.

As we have seen with AMD's Ryzen 7 CPUs, once you start pushing towards the edge, this 9900K CPU start to use a LOT of power very quickly, and dissipating all the heat produced is not an easy, or inexpensive task.

Even once you get the rumored overclocking expectations out of your head, this still actually works out to be an "meh" overclock on all cores under Prime95 load. Our 9900K stock all-core clock is 4.7GHz and we are now at 5.14GHz. We are looking at a 440MHz bump. Not exactly monumental, and not even 10%, but we will take what we can get.

The Bottom Line

Intel has stepped up to the plate with the Core i9-9900K CPU. We all know that AMD's Ryzen 7 2700X is exactly where Intel set its sights and it is surely on target when it comes to performance in any workload you assign it to. The 9900K is a the better CPU when it comes to content creation and it is going to be the better CPU when it comes to gaming in some cases. Keep in mind that most times our gaming is GPU-limited, but with the introduction of these tremendously fast RTX GPUs, we are even seeing some 1440p gaming situations, with high IQ settings, showing CPU limitations. If you are a 1080p gamer looking for 144Hz+, highly clocked Intel CPUs have been the CPU to have and the 9900K will deliver those folks huge benefits with a bit of built-in insurance against games becoming more threaded in the future.

It is easy to suggest that if you are a streamer, that the i9-9900K would easily be able to handle your gaming and streaming needs all in one box. The 8 cores and 16 threads, along with the screaming out of the box clock rate and superior IPC of the 9900K serves up everything a game streamer could possible need.

One knock on the 9900K is going to be from the overclocking community, because Intel has simply not left much on the table in terms of clock speeds. If you overclock the 9900K you are going to run into big power needs and along with that you are going to need some excellent cooling if you are looking for edge-of-the-envelope numbers.

The other knock on the i9-9900K is going to be the price. As of typing this, the 9900K is selling for $530. Yes, the 9900K is a great performer but is it worth a $225 price premium over the $305 2700X? The 9900K does not come with a cooler so there will be cost there as well, and the 2700X comes with a cooler that can easily be sold on the aftermarket for $30 to $50. All that starts adding up very quickly when it comes to real build costs.

For gamers when it comes to looking at the 9900K it is truly going to depend on your gaming profile. If you are putting out for a new RTX 2080 Ti and run at 1440p, we would have to say the 9900K is what you want in your box to keep you from being CPU limited. Same goes for high framerate 1080p gamers as well. Certainly, most of the time, the rest of us are going to be GPU limited in gaming and never realize all the money spent on all those extra MHz and IPC.

For desktop content creators, the 9900k is the hands down winner over the 2700X. Albeit yet again, for a price. On the average, the 9900K delivered 16% better content creation performance, but represents a ~74% price increase. Does the performance delta justify the price you will have to pay?

The Intel Core i9-9900K has simply the dethroned the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X across the entire desktop performance landscape. The 9900K is the best desktop CPU that Intel has ever produced. It also happens to be tremendously expensive compared to AMD's 2700X.

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Intel Core i9-9900K CPU

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