Intel Core i9 (9900K) : A brilliant performer with great over clocking potential

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Intel Core i9-9900K review

Intel Core i9-9900K 

A brilliant performer with great over clocking potential, but most people should stick with a cheaper alternative

Intel’s Core i9-9900K is ostensibly aimed at gamers – but its appeal ought to be much wider than that.

It’s one of only two mainstream Intel chips to include a full eight physical cores (the other one being the new Core i7-9700K), and it also delivers the highest clock speeds yet, with an insane maximum single-core turbo speed of 5GHz.

This is a chip that will tear through productivity tasks just as happily as shoot-em-ups. It’s a lot easier to accommodate than Intel’s enthusiast-class X-series chips, too.

It will fit in the same LGA 1151 socket as last year’s Coffee Lake processors, with most Z370 motherboards just needing a BIOS update to support it. And it features the same integrated HD Graphics 630 GPU, which could be a big help if you’re putting together a functional desktop workstation.

So, how does it perform?

With the Core i9-9900K happily installed in my own desktop system (supported by 8GB ofDDR4 RAM) I began by running the standard benchmark suite – and the results speak for themselves.

The Core i9’s excellent image-editing score of170 showcases the benefit of those super-high clock speeds: even professional workstations with dual Xeon or Ryzen processors tend to get stuck around the 160 mark.

Nor had I any complaints about the video-editing and multitasking results.

Naturally, the Core i9-9900K can’t hope to compete here with the extravagant 16- and 32-core systems we’ve tested, but its multitasking score of 289 is up there with the best of the overclocked gaming machines we’ve seen, with a fantastic overall score of266 straight out of the box.

Just to confirm what an achievement this is, I tried installing an eighth-generation Core i7-8700K in the same system – until last month, Intel’s absolute top-end desktop chip – and repeated the benchmarks.

This time I got a score of just 133 in the image-editing test, and 197 overall. It’s good, but it’s no Core i9.

If you demand even more juice, you’re also free to ramp up the multipliers on the i9-9900K as far as you dare.

I tried setting the all-core turbo maximum to 5GHz, and watched in wonder as the Core i9-9900K’s multitasking score was lifted by nearly 30% to 359, yielding a massive overall score of311.

That’s a remarkable performance, and the fact that I was able to achieve it using a Be Quiet Dark Rock 4 air cooler is a testament to the improved thermal design of Intel’s ninth-generation Core chips.

I wouldn’t want to push this setup much higher, as temperatures were up in the area of 95°C, but we’ve seen reports of specialist coolers getting these chips to 7GHz and beyond.

  • There’s no doubt that the Core i9-9900K will also handle modern games; the question here is whether it might be overkill.

When I partnered the chip with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 and tested Metro: Last Light with all visual settings turned up to maximum, performance was unsurprisingly excellent, with an average frame rate of126fps at 1080p.

That’s only 3fps faster than last year’s Core i7-8700K however, and tests on a comparable Ryzen 7 2700X system yielded almost identical performance.

While Dirt: Showdown is now getting a little long in the tooth, this title benefited more from the power of the Core i9-9900K. At Full HD resolution with Ultra visual settings, I got 148fps, versus 115fps with the older Core i7 CPU.

In short, the Core i9-9900K will surely keep your games running smoothly for years to come. It’s an open question as to whether it’s a smart investment, though, or whether you’ll be just as well off with a cheaper CPU.

That indeed is the rub with the Core i9-9900K in general. It’s a superbly powerful CPU, and much cheaper than Intel’s Extreme range – but at £600 it’s not exactly a bargain.

AMD’s Ryzen 7 2700X CPU doesn’t quite match the Core i9’s ludicrous speeds, but it provides just as many cores for half the price. Or, Intel’s own Core i7-9700K hits similar clock speeds for £100 less, though it lacks Hyper-Threading. Still, to quibble over the price is to miss the point of this chip.

It’s a flagship piece of silicon, and a genuine step forward in desktop performance.

After hearing that Intel’s ninth generation CPUs would be using the same CPU and GPU cores as last year’s models, my expectations weren’t high, but the company has pulled something unexpectedly impressive out of the bag – a chip that power users and gamers alike will find extremely tempting indeed.

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