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Intel 9th Gen Core 9900K Processor

Intel 9th Gen Core 9900K Processor

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Intel had the desktop CPU market sewn-up for many years until AMD hit back 18 months ago with its all-new Ryzen processors that offered a competent architecture laced with more cores and threads than Intel offered at the same price points.

The arrival of Ryzen, which was strong in multi-threaded performance but so-so for light-load applications and gaming, still forced Intel to re-evaluate its own range of mainstream chips.

Intel 9th Gen Core CPU

The Need for 9th Gen Core

Up until today, the premier mainstream Intel processor was the Core i7-8700K, built using the latest Coffee Lake architecture and endowed with six cores and 12 threads running at up to 4.7GHz. Such muscle enabled it to retain its light-load and gaming crowns in the face of the Ryzen threat, but for those who really stressed their systems with professional apps, Core i7-8700K simply couldn't cut it against, say, the eight-core, 16-thread Ryzen 2700X. Enthusiasts wanting more performance from Intel were forced to shell out significant bales of cash for the X299 platform and X-suffixed processors. That changes today.

The 9th Gen Core chips are still hewn from the popular Coffee Lake architecture - this time called a refresh - but now feature more cores and threads than ever before. The headline champ, Core i9-9900K, comes armed to the mainstream party with eight cores and 16 threads, or 33 per cent more muscle than the Core i7-8700K. matching what rival AMD has been offering for a while.

The Core i7-9700K, meanwhile, is interesting insofar as it drops hyperthreading support and runs with an 8C8T topology. Meanwhile, the Core i5-9600K is largely the same as the previous-generation Core i5-8600K, save for a minor uptick in speed.

Let's delve deeper

Intel Core i9-9900K: where does it slot in?
Model Cores /
Smart Cache
IGP Memory
Core i9-7980XE 18 / 36 24.75 2.6 4.4 3.4 44 - Quad DDR4-2666 165 2066 $1,999
Core i9-7960X 16 / 32 22 2.8 4.4 3.6 44 - Quad DDR4-2666 165 2066 $1,699
Core i9-7940X 14 / 28 19.25 3.1 4.4 3.8 44 - Quad DDR4-2666 165 2066 $1,399
Core i9-7920X 12 / 24 16.5 2.9 4.4 3.8 44 - Quad DDR4-2666 140 2066 $1,199
Core i9-7900X 10 / 20 13.75 3.3 4.5 4.0 44 - Quad DDR4-2666 140 2066 $999
Core i7-7820X 8 / 16 11 3.6 4.5 4.0 28 - Quad DDR4-2666 140 2066 $599
Core i9-9900K 8 / 16 16 3.6 5.0 4.7 16 UHD 630 Dual DDR4-2666 95 1151 $488
Core i7-9700K 8 / 8 12 3.6 4.9 4.6 16 UHD 630 Dual DDR4-2666 95 1151 $374
Core i7-7800X 6 / 12 8.25 3.5 4.0 4.0 28 - Quad DDR4-2400 140 2066 $389
Core i7-8700K 6 / 12 12 3.7 4.7 4.3 16 UHD 630 Dual DDR4-2666 95 1151 $359
Core i5-9600K 6 / 6 9 3.7 4.6 4.3 16 UHD 630 Dual DDR4-2666 95 1151 $262
Core i5-8600K 6 / 6 9 3.6 4.3 3.9 16 UHD 630 Dual DDR4-2666 95 1151 $257

Perusing the specification table reveals the Core i9-9900K to be the most intriguing new addition. This is the first time Intel has used Core i9 branding for a non-HEDT part, and the justification is that presence of eight physical cores and 16 threads. Said chip can boost to 5GHz on up to two cores, or 4.7GHz across all eight, which is an impressive feat for a 95W part. This means it ought to be more than 33 per cent faster than Core i7-8700K when all the cores and threads are lit up. Nice.

Though undoubtedly faster no matter which way you look at it, Core i9-9900K is understandably expensive. Expect UK pricing to be on the wrong side of £500 for the time being, attributable to a general stock shortage and price gouging for new technology.

The Core i7-9700K's frequencies are also solid, but it is natural to wonder whether it represents a decent performance uplift over the widely-available Core i7-8700K. The former offers 8C8T and the latter 6C12T. Interesting segmentation on Intel's part.

Bring Back The Solder

Intel is using the 9th Gen refresh as an opportunity to bring back solder as the interface material between the heat spreader and processor die. Proud of the U-turn, Intel refers to the design as STIM (Solder Thermal Interface Material), and the improved heat dissipation is most likely to benefit overclockers. The Core i9-9900K, and indeed the Core i7-8700K before it, don't run particularly hot at stock speeds and are easily tamed by today's high-end coolers, though overclocking is a different kettle of fish.

Coffee Lake Refresh will ultimately be viewed as an evolutionary upgrade - the graphics component hasn't changed at all, with the three chips employing the same UHD 630 design - and the decision to remain on the 14nm process means that full hardware protection for Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities aren't included. Intel states that two of the known vulnerabilities have been fixed at a hardware level, but a remaining four will continue to be patched via software and firmware updates.

What most enthusiasts are wondering is how the first 8C16T mainstream Intel processor performs against some high-end competition, most notably from AMD.

Intel 9th Gen PiFast

In light-load tests, such as firing up a browser or running everyday tasks, the Core i9-9900K has no performance peer. The simple explanation of its speed is that it can boost to 5GHz opportunistically. Here is a case where frequency matters a whole lot more than cores.

Intel 9th Gen Blender

Stressing all the cores using the popular Blender animation software shows the 8C16T topology and Coffee Lake Refresh architecture in a good light. Core i9-9900K is almost 15 minutes quicker than the Core i7-8700K, while it beats out the rival Ryzen 7 2700X by over six minutes.

In fact, it is about the same speed as the Core i9-7900X 10-core, 20-thread processor - one that costs about twice as much! Put simply, the Core i9-9900K is the fastest mainstream processor available.

Intel 9th Gen F1 2017

What you can also see is that it is certainly no gaming slouch. Lots of cores, lots of threads, a potent architecture, and high frequencies combine to give it best-in-class performance.

Z390 - Nice But Not Necessary

Yet Intel wouldn't be Intel if it didn't release a revised motherboard chipset to accompany the shiny, new processors. Enter the Z390.

Intel Chipsets: Z390 vs. Z370 vs. X299
  Z390 Z370 X299
Launch Date Q4 2018 Q4 2017 Q2 2017
Socket LGA1151 LGA1151 LGA2066
Overclocking Support Yes Yes Yes
Memory Channels 2 2 4
Displays Supported 3 3 -
CPU PCIe Express 16 16 up to 44
Maximum PCIe Express 24 24 68
Sata 6Gbps 6 6 8
Total USB Ports 14 14 14
Maximum USB 3.1 Gen 2 Ports 6 0 0
Intel Wireless-AC Support (CNVi) Yes No No
Intel ME Firmware Version 12 11 11

Don't, however, feel the need to rush out and upgrade from Z370. Like the 9th Gen processors themselves, the recommended Z390 chipset is an evolutionary upgrade carrying two primary hardware improvements. The first is native support for up to half-a-dozen USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports and the second is streamlined support for integrated Intel WiFi through CNVi. Useful upgrades for sure, yet many Z370 boards already offer USB 3.1 Gen 2 and WiFi support via third-party add-ons.

It's worth knowing that, because these new processors are based on the Coffee Lake architecture and presented in the familiar LGA1151v2 package, they will work on most incumbent Z370 boards through a BIOS update. Intel would prefer you to buy a new processor and motherboard in one go, which makes sense if you are planning a totally new build, but those enthusiasts who have already shelled out for Z370 will probably not be inclined to switch over to Z390.

Intel has reinvigorated its mainstream desktop CPU line-up with the 9th Gen Core chips, of which the most interesting is the 8C16T Core i9-9900K. Improving upon the already-impressive Core i7-8700K in every meaningful way, it becomes the go-to solution for users not wanting to invest in the more cumbersome, costlier ultra-HEDT platforms from either Intel (X299) or AMD (X399).

Though undeniably impressive, AMD's Ryzen 7 2700X is able to offer 80-90 per cent of the Core i9-9900K's general performance for not much more than half the cost, yet those wanting the creme de la creme of the mainstream brigade need look no further than the best of the 9th Gen Core crop.

You can find out more information on the Intel desktop Core i9 processor, and purchase the high end CPU