Intel likes 5.0 GHz processors. The one area where it claims a clear advantage over AMD is in its ability to drive the frequency of its popular 14nm process. Earlier this week, we reviewed the Core i9-9990XE, which is a rare auction only CPU but with 14 cores at 5.0 GHz, built for the high-end desktop and high frequency trading market. Today we are looking at its smaller sibling, the Core i9-9900KS, built in numbers for the consumer market: eight cores at 5.0 GHz. But you’ll have to be quick, as Intel isn’t keeping this one around forever.

The Battle of the Bits

Every time a new processor comes to market, several questions get asked: how many cores, how fast, how much power? We’ve come through generations of promises of many GHz and many cores for little power, but right now we have an intense battle on our hands. The red team is taking advantage of a paradigm shift in computing with an advanced process node to offer many cores at a high power efficiency as well as at a good frequency. In the other corner is team blue, which has just equipped its arsenal by taking advantage of its most aggressive binning of 14nm yet, with the highest frequency processor for the consumer market, enabled across all eight cores and to hell with the power. Intel’s argument here is fairly simple:

Do you want good all-around, or do you want the one with the fastest raw speed?

The Intel Core i9-9900KS is borne from the battle. In essence it looks like an overclocked Core i9-9900K, however by that logic everything is an overclocked version of something else. In order for Intel to give a piece of silicon off the manufacturing like the name of a Core i9-9900KS rather than a Core i9-9900K requires additional binning and validation, to the extent where it has taken several months from announcement just for Intel to be happy that they have enough chips for demand that will meet the warranty standards.

At the time Intel launched its 9th Generation Core desktop processors, like the Core i9-9900K, I perhaps would not have expected them to launch something like the Core i9-9900KS. It’s a big step up in the binning, and I’d be surprised if Intel gets one chip per wafer that hits this designation. Intel announced the Core i9-9900KS after AMD had launched its Zen 2 Ryzen 3000 family, offering 12 cores with an all core turbo around 4.2 GHz and a +10% IPC advantage over Intel’s Skylake microarchitecture (and derivatives) for a lower price per core. In essence, Intel’s Core i9-9900K consumer flagship processor had a chip that was pretty close to it in performance with several more cores.

Intel is pushing the Core i9-9900KS as the ultimate consumer processor. With eight cores all running at 5.0 GHz, it is promising fast response and clock rates without any slowdown. Intel has many marketing arguments as to why the KS is the best processor on the market, especially when it comes to gaming: having a 5.0 GHz frequency keeps it top of the pile for gaming where frequency matters (low resolution), and many games don’t scale beyond four cores, let alone eight, and so the extra cores on the competition don’t really help here. It will be interesting to see where the 9900KS comes out in standard workload tests however, where cores can matter.

Intel’s 9th Generation Core Processors

The Intel Core i9-9900KS now sits atop of Intel’s consumer product portfolio. The processor is the same 8-core die as the 9900K, unlocked with UHD 620 integrated graphics, but has a turbo of 5.0 GHz. All cores can turbo to 5.0 GHz. The length of the turbo will be motherboard dependent, however.

Intel 9th Gen Core 8-Core Desktop CPUs
AnandTech Cores Base
Freq
All-Core Turbo Single
Core Turbo
Freq
IGP DDR4 TDP Price
(1ku)
i9-9900KS 8 / 16 4.0 GHz 5.0 GHz 5.0 GHz UHD 630 2666 127 W $513
i9-9900K 8 / 16 3.6 GHz 4.7 GHz 5.0 GHz UHD 630 2666 95 W $488
i9-9900KF 8 / 16 3.6 GHz 4.7 GHz 5.0 GHz - 2666 95 W $488
i7-9700K 8 / 8 3.6 GHz 4.6 GHz 4.9 GHz UHD 630 2666 95 W $374
i7-9700KF 8 / 8 3.6 GHz 4.6 GHz 4.9 GHz - 2666 95 W $374

The Core i9-9900KS has an tray price of $513 (when purchased in 1000 unit bulk), which means we’re likely to see an on-shelf price of $529-$549, depending on if it gets packaged in its dodecanal box that our review sample came in.

Compared to the Core i9-9900K or Core i9-9900KF, the Core i9-9900KS extends its 5.0 GHz all through from when 2 cores are active to 8 cores are active. There is still no Turbo Boost Max 3.0 here, which means that all cores are guaranteed to hit this 5.0 GHz number. The TDP is 127 W, which is the maximum power consumption of the processor at its base frequency, 4.0 GHz. Above 4.0 GHz Intel does not state what sort of power to expect. We have this testing further in the review.

Competition

At present, Intel is competing against two major angles with the Core i9-9900KS. On the one side, it already has the Core i9-9900K, which if a user gets a good enough sample, can be overclocked to emulate the 9900KS. Intel does not offer warranty on an overclocked CPU, so there is something to be taken into account – the warranty on the Core i9-9900KS is only a limited 1 year warranty, rather than the standard 3 years it offers to the majority of its other parts, which perhaps indicates the lengths it went to for binning these processors.

From AMD, the current 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X that is already in the market has become a popular processor for users going onto 7nm and PCIe 4.0. It offers more PCIe lanes from the CPU to take advantage of PCIe storage and such, and there are a wealth of motherboards on the market that can take advantage of this processor. It also has an MSRP around the same price, at $499, although is often being sold for much higher due to availability.

AMD also has the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X coming around the corner, promising slightly more performance than the 3900X, and aside from the $749 MSRP, it’s going to be an unknown on availability until it gets released in November.

The Competition
Intel i9-9900KS Intel i9-9900K Anand
Tech
AMD
2920X
AMD
3950X
AMD
3900X
AMD
3800X
8 8 Cores 12 16 12 8
16 16 Threads 24 32 24 16
4.0 3.6 Base 3.5 3.5 3.8 3.9
8 x 5.0 2 x 5.0 Turbo 4.3 4.7 4.6 4.5
2 x 2666 2 x 2666 DDR4 4 x 2933 2 x 3200 2 x 3200 2 x 3200
3.0 x16 3.0 x16 PCIe 3.0 x64 4.0 x24 4.0 x24 4.0 x24
127 W 95 W TDP 180 W 105 W 105 W 105 W
$513 $486 Price $649 $749 $499 $399

It’s worth noting here that while Intel has committed to delivering ‘10nm class’ processors on the desktop in the future, it currently has made zero mention of exactly when this is going to happen. Offering a limited edition all-core 5.0 GHz part like the Core i9-9900KS into the market is a brave thing indeed – it will have to provide something similar or better when it gets around to producing 10nm processors for this market. We saw this once before, when Intel launched Devil’s Canyon: super binned parts that ultimately ended up being faster than those that followed on an optimized process, because the binning aspect ended up being a large factor. Intel either has extreme confidence in its 10nm process for the desktop family, or doesn’t know what to expect.

This Review

In our review, we’re going to cover the usual benchmarking scenarios for a processor like this, as well as examine Intel’s relationship with turbo and how much a motherboard manufacturer can affect the performance.

Test Bed and Setup
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  • Opencg - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    People fail to consider other use cases. For competitive gaming or someone running 240hz 1080p with a high end gpu and willing to tweak settings to make their games cpu bound this is still the best cpu. Unfortunately not all testers optimize their cpu tests to be cpu bound in games. But if you look at the ones that do intel still poops on amd. Sure most gamers dont give a shit about fps above 160 or so but some do. When I ran overwatch I tweaked the config file and ran 400fps. If I was running csgo I would push the fps as high as possible as well.
    Also imo the biggest used case for amd cpus for gamers is futureproofing by having more cores. Most gamers are just gonna play their games with a few tabs open and maybe some music and discord running. Not everyone is running cpu based streaming encoding at the same time.
    Reply
  • Galid - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    Well I don't seem to notice the same thing you do for max fps in games where you need 240hz for example. At most, I can see 10 to 15 fps difference in counter strike at around 400fps. I looked around and found a lot of tests/benchmarks. There is no such thing as ''this is the best cpu and you'll notice a difference in the games that matters for competitive gaming''. I might be wrong, if so, enlighten me please. I'm about to buy a new gaming rig and like 99.98% of the population, I'm not a competitive gamer. I don'T consider streaming as competitive neither.

    But, in ubisoft's single player games, I noticed it does help to get closer to the 120hz at resolution and details that matters for these non-competitive games.
    Reply
  • Galid - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    BTW I compared ryzen 7 3700x and i9 9900k and got to the above conclusion. Reply
  • eek2121 - Friday, November 01, 2019 - link

    Look at the 95th percentiles. Ignore average fps. AMD and Intel are virtually tied in nearly every game. I cannot believe we have reached this point. Finally after a decade, AMD is back in business. Reply
  • evernessince - Friday, November 01, 2019 - link

    You do realize that running your CPU or GPU at 100% max utilization increases input lag correct? FPS isn't the only thing that matters. if the CPU cannot process new inputs in a timely matter because it's too busy with the GPU then the whole action of increasing your FPS was pointless. You should cap your FPS so that your neither your CPU nor GPU exceed 95% utilization. For the CPU this includes the core/cores that the game is running on. You loose maybe a handful of FPS by doing this but ensure consistent input lag. Reply
  • CptnPenguin - Friday, November 01, 2019 - link

    Not sure how you managed that. The engine hard cap for Overwatch is 300 FPS. Reply
  • eek2121 - Friday, November 01, 2019 - link

    Not true. AMD has the entire market pretty much cornered, though. So it doesn't matter whether you buy high end or mid range, Intel chips in general are a bad choice currently. Intel desperately needs to rethink their strategy going forward. Reply
  • bji - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    Well kudos for at least admitting that you are a blind fanboy early in your post. Reply
  • Slash3 - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    WCCFTech's comment section keeps leaking. Reply
  • Sivar - Thursday, October 31, 2019 - link

    You might want to look at the benchmarks. Intel won most of them, with less cores.
    I was seriously considering an 8- or 12-core AMD, but Intel still ended up the better option for everything I do except video transcoding, in which AMD clearly wins.
    Other considerations: No cooling fan on the Intel motherboard, better Intel quality control and testing in general, more mature product (because the 9900 is an iteration of an iteration of an iteration...etc.)
    Reply

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