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i5-9600K Review - A Solid Mid-Range Option

By Joseph Bradford on May 30, 2019 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

i5-9600K Review - A Solid Mid-Range Option

In today’s landscape of CPUs, most of the buzz is centered around the flagship chip in each CPU family. However, for many gamers, spending the money on an i9-9900K isn’t reasonable. For many, a midrange option is just fine, especially if that mid-range option doesn’t sacrifice much in performance or productivity. But what if you could have a mid-range chip option that competes not only with its competition, but what is considered to be the go-to option for gamers for the past year? Enter the i5-9600K, a fantastic midrange option for those looking to stay in the Intel family, but don’t want to spend the extra money on the i7-8700K or even step up to the 9700/9900K options. This is our i5-9600K review.


Specifications

  • Current Pricing: $259.99 (Amazon)
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Cores/Threads: 6/6
  • Base Clock Speed: 3.70 GHz
  • Max Turbo Frequency: 4.60GHz
  • Cache: 9 MB SmartCache
  • Bus Speed: 8 GT/s DMI3
  • TDP: 95W
  • Lithography: 14 nm
  • Max Number of PCIe Lanes: 16
  • Unlocked/Overclockable: yes
  • Intel Optane Memory Support: Yes

First things first: the i5-9600K is a fantastic little chip. As someone who for the past few years has used the top-line consumer i7 CPU, I honestly felt as though I might be taking a step back by slotting in the 9600K. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find little-to-no noticeable drop off in my daily performance compared to my i7-8700K. Thankfully, the 8700K and 9600K can both use the new Z390 socket, which meant swapping upgrading didn’t require the sometimes requisite motherboard purchase.

The i5-9600K does take a step back in thread count compared to the 8700K, going from 12 to 6 threads. Additionally, the i5 doesn’t follow the trend set by the other major 9th Gen CPUs by increasing their core count over the predecessor. The i5-9600K still has the same 6C/6T seen on the 8th Gen 8600K before it.

When you add in how competitive even the first-generation Ryzen CPUs still are even today, one might ask themselves: why the i5-9600K in the first place? Well, for the gamer looking to take advantage of a mid-range price point, the i5 provides plenty of value. But how well does the CPU perform compared to a lower priced Ryzen CPU as well as last gens go-to gaming CPU, the i7-8700K?

Our test bench

For the two Intel CPUs, the bench is identical minus the CPU itself. However, the Ryzen bench will have differing mother boards thanks to the socket differences.

Intel Test Bench

  • Motherboard: Gigabyte Aorus Pro Z390 Motherboard
  • RAM: Corsair DDR4 RAM @ 3200MHz
  • Cooler: Corsair H100i Liquid Cooler
  • Storage: Intel 760p NVMe M.2 SSD 2TB
  • PSU: Thermaltake ToughPower Grand Series RGB 750W PSU
  • GPU: MSI ARMOR 8GB OC RTX 2070

AMD Test Bench

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 1700
  • Motherboard: MSI X370 Xpower Gaming Titanium
  • Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 RGB Black Edition
  • RAM: Corsair DDR4 RAM @ 3200MHz
  • PSU: Corsair CX750M
  • Storage: Intel 760p NVMe M.2 SSD 2 TB
  • GPU: MSI Armor 8GB OC RTX 2070

Overclocking and Temps

I’ll admit, I’m always one to be a bit skittish with overclocking CPUs. I’ve friend many a CPU earlier in my life and even though I do understand how to do so, I’m always a bit leary of doing it, even in review situations. However, the Z390 board makes overclocking rather easy. And the i5-9600K has plenty of headroom. I was able to comfortably overclock the CPU to a cool 5GHz, with a stable 1.35V. And while the temps weren’t terribly high (peaking at 82C under extreme load) I didn’t feel personally comfortable keeping the overclock that high as I worked and gamed over the next few weeks thanks to how hot my home office tends to get. But, the headroom is impressive, with even Guru3d claiming to keep a stable 5.2GHz overclock on the 9600K.

On to the Benchmarks!

Benchmark Testing

Processing

Compression

Rendering

Gaming Synthetics

With the synthetics out of the way, let’s move onto our gaming benchmarks. Notice the first graph is simply 1920x1080p. This was done intentionally to remove the GPU from the equation and bottleneck the CPU. Many gamers are still playing at this resolution as well, so 1080p is still relevant to benchmark, even in today’s age of 4K gaming. Notice also we limited our test to three popular games which all use the CPU in different ways as the benchmark: Final Fantasy XIV’s a fantastic MMO test thanks to the way it handles CPU in cities; Rise of the Tomb Raider is an older game but one that is a great benchmark for system quality; and Civilization VI’s Graphics and AI benchmarks, the latter which really stresses the CPU to the fullest.

While the AI benchmark of Civ VI isn’t on the graphs, across the board it was a pretty level playing field. The i5-9600K held steady with an average turn time of 8.4s, while the Ryzen lagged slightly behind at 9.7s. The 8700K, lead the way with a turn time average of 7.7s.

Discussion and Final Thoughts

I’ve maintained throughout this review that I’ve not seen a negligible drop off in performance versus the i7-8700K, and the gaming performance speaks for itself. The i5 and the i7 both see almost identical framerates at 1080p. And while we do see lower framerates in two out of three of the tests, they aren’t lower by much - a single frame on average in these titles. 1440p performance is better on the i7-8700K, but again not by much. In my testing it’s only on average a 3-4fps difference, undiscernible by some and many would be using Vsync regardless making that difference non-existent when all the CPUs are locked to the monitor refresh rate.

The bigger story here is the comparison with the first-gen Ryzen, a CPU that costs about $100 less on Amazon, and comes with its own Wraith CPU cooler (the Intel CPU does not come with a cooler). In gaming it did lag behind the i5 in terms of frames-per-second, but the synthetics show it holding its own - and sometimes even beating the i5 outright. This could simply come down to the emphasis placed on Ryzen dominating threaded operations versus single-threaded performance. The lack of Hyper-threading on the i5-9600K could also play a role here.

In single core-performance, though, the i5 pulled ahead of the Ryzen 7, consistently beating it in all our single-core tests. Additionally, the gaming synthetic benchmarks show a higher score for the i5 over the Ryzen 7 1700, which makes sense when looking at the gaming performance.

But is the performance worth the extra money? It really depends. The second gen-Ryzen 5 2600 - which is stacked right up against the i5-9600K in terms of specs, is $100 cheaper at $149.99 per Amazon. The 2600x, which is unlocked, is more but still less than the i5, at $184. The Ryzen 7 pitted against the i5 in these tests is locked, meaning that’s all the performance we’re going to get out of it. But with the i5 reportedly able to hit a stable 5.2GHz, there is a lot of headroom to improve on the performance shown here. It’s gaming performance cannot be overstated either. It kept pace with a more expensive i7 CPU and beat the Ryzen 7 1700 in every gaming application.

Dollar for dollar, the i5-9600K provides the best mid-range gaming experience in its price range. It can also hold its own in content creation applications, though it does lag behind the competition in that regard. With support for Optane memory, as well as the advanced Z390 chipset, the question really comes down to use case. Are you mainly going to game and want a stable, overclockable CPU in the middle of the pack price range? The i5-9600K is the CPU for you, in my opinion. However, when you throw in content creation, the answer becomes hazier.

Ultimately, the i5-9600K doesn’t disappoint.  If you’re looking to make the jump to the 9th gen CPU family, as well as the Z390 chipset, the 9600K is a great starting point for anyone.

Pros

  • Solid Gaming Performance
  • Single Thread Performance is Great
  • Lots of overclocking headroom

Cons

  • No Hyper Threading
  • No stock cooler with CPU
  • Pricey compared to comparable options from AMD
Joseph Bradford / Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he''s not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don''t get him started on why Balrogs *don''t* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore