Intel's Core i9-9900K: Technically The Highest Performing Gaming CPU

When Intel announced the new processor lineup, it billed the Core i9-9900K as the ‘world’s best gaming processor’. Here’s Intel’s Anand Srivatsa, showcasing the new packaging for this eight core, sixteen thread, 5.0 GHz giant:

In actual fact, the packaging is very small. Intel didn’t supply us with this upgraded retail version of the box, but we were sampled with a toasty Core i9-9900K inside. We sourced the i7-9700K and i5-9600K from Intel’s partners for this review.

With the claim of ‘world’s best ever gaming processor’, it was clear that this needed to be put to the test. Intel commissioned (paid for) a report into the processor performance by a third party in order to obtain data, which unfortunately had numerous issues, particularly with how the chips it was tested against were benchmarked, but here at AnandTech we’ll give you the right numbers.

For our gaming tests this time around, we put each game through four different resolutions and scenarios, labelled IGP (for 720p), Low (for 1080p), Medium (for 1440p to 4K), and High (for 4K and above). Here’s a brief summary of results:

  • World of Tanks: Best CPU at IGP, Low, Medium, and top class in High
  • Final Fantasy XV: Best CPU or near top in all
  • Shadow of War: Best CPU or near top in all
  • Civilization VI: Best CPU at IGP, a bit behind at 4K, top class at 8K/16K
  • Ashes Classic: Best CPU at IGP, Low, top class at Medium, mid-pack at 4K
  • Strange Brigade DX12/Vulkan: Best CPU or near top in all
  • Grand Theft Auto V: Best CPU or near top in all
  • Far Cry 5: Best CPU or near top in all
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Near top in all
  • F1 2018: Best CPU or near top in all

There’s no way around it, in almost every scenario it was either top or within variance of being the best processor in every test (except Ashes at 4K). Intel has built the world’s best gaming processor (again).

On our CPU tests, the i9-9900K hit a lot of the synthetics higher than any other mainstream processor. In some of our real world tests, such as application loading or web performance, it lost out from time to time to the i7 and i5 due to having hyper-threading, as those tests tend to prefer threads that have access to the full core resources. For memory limited tests, the high-end desktop platforms provide a better alternative.

While there’s no specific innovation in the processors driving the performance, Intel re-checked the box for STIM, last used on the mainstream in Sandy Bridge. The STIM implementation has enabled Intel to push the frequency of these parts. It was always one of the tools the company had in its back pocket, and many will speculate as to the reasons why it used that tool at this point in time.

But overall, due to the frequency push and the core push, the three new 9th Generation processors sit at the top of most of our mixed workload tests, given the high natural frequency, and set a new standard in Intel’s portfolio for being a jack of all trades. If a user has a variable workload, and wants to squeeze performance, then these new processors will should get you there.

So now, if you are the money-no-object kind of gamer, this is the processor for you. But it’s not a processor for everyone, and that comes down to cost and competition.

At $488 SEP, plus a bit more for 'on-shelf price', plus add $80-$120 for a decent cooler or $200 for a custom loop, it’s going to be out of the range for almost all builds south of $1500 where GPU matters the most. When Intel’s own i5-9600K is under half the cost with only two fewer cores, or AMD’s R7 2700X is very competitive in almost every test, while they might not be the best, they’re more cost-effective.

The outlandish flash of the cash goes on the Core i9-9900K. The smart money ends up on the 9700K, 9600K, or the 2700X. For the select few, money is no object. For the rest of us, especially when gaming at 1440p and higher settings where the GPU is the bigger bottleneck, there are plenty of processors that do just fine, and are a bit lighter on the power bill in the process.

Edit: We initially posted this review with data taken with an ASRock Z370 motherboard. After inspection, we discovered that the motherboard used intentionally over-volts 9th Generation Core processors in our power testing. While benchmarking seems unaffected, we have redone power numbers using an MSI MPG Z390 Gaming Edge AC motherboard, and updated the review accordingly.

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  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    For once, we're going to do the first comment!

    (What does everyone think of the article, and Intel's new CPU?)
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    [thoughts] Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    Okay. That's well-played... Reply
  • nathanddrews - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    My take on your data: worth it if you have something a lot faster than a GTX 1080 since it looks GPU-bound for most of the gaming benchmarks at med-high resolutions. 2080Ti users and SLI users will probably get the most out of it from a gaming perspective.

    Skylake-X with that AVX512 perf, though...
    Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    One issue we always have every generation is sourcing GPUs. Going up to a vendor and asking for 3-4 cards is typically a no go. This is why I've done a range of resolutions/settings for each game, so cover everyone who wants to see CPU limited scenarios, and others that might be more real-world oriented. Reply
  • 3dGfx - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    Ian, how can you claim 9900k is the best when you never tested the HEDT parts in gaming? Making such claims really makes anandtech look bad because it sounds like a sales pitch and you omitted that entire HEDT platform from the results. I hope you fix this oversight so skyX can be compared properly to 9900K and the upcoming skyX refresh parts! And of course, AMD HEDT parts.

    There was supposed to be a part2 to the i9-7980XE review and it never happened, so gaming benchmarks were never done, and i9-7940X and i9-7920X weren't tested either. HEDT is a gaming platform since it has no ECC support and isn't marketed as a workstation platform.

    IF intel says the 8-core part is now "the best" you ought to be testing their flagship HEDT parts which also were claimed to be the best.
    Reply
  • 3dGfx - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    p.s. It would be nice if you can also do Zbrush benchmarking for all the cpu reviews. it runs entirely on the CPU with no GPU accelerations and it comes with a benchmark test/score built into the app. Zbrush is a very common 3d app these days. Also its useful to mention in a review how many polygons or subdivision levels can be displayed in zbrush by the cpu before you see a slowdown. thanks. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    "Ian, how can you claim 9900k is the best when you never tested the HEDT parts in gaming?"

    Beg your pardon? We have the 7900X, 7820X, and a couple of Threadrippers for good measure. Past that, the farther up the ladder you go in Intel HEDT, the lower the turbo clockspeeds go, which diminishes gaming performance.
    Reply
  • 3dGfx - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    sorry, I was mainly just looking for the flagship products and they have no gaming benches at all, 2990WX, 2950X, and 7980XE, these top end "best" parts have no gaming benchmarks. I wanted to see how they compare to the 9900k or to the refreshed skylakeX which will come out. if for example someone wants to buy a chip that is good for both raytrace rendering and games (game developers, etc.) they will want to see all these benches. Reply
  • Makaveli - Friday, October 19, 2018 - link

    Why would you buy a 2990WX, 2950X, and 7980XE

    to play games on?
    Reply

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