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Intel Core i9-13900K and i5-13600K Review

Christopher Coke Posted:
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Hardware Reviews 0

On October 20th, Intel released its 13th generation of Intel Core desktop processors to the world. At the time, shipping delays prevented us from having enough time with both chips to render our full thoughts. Well, our components have come in, the tests have been run, and we’re ready to render our verdict. Are the Intel Core i9-13900K and i5-13600K worth upgrading to? Find out in this review.

Specifications

If you’ve read through the first part of our review in progress, feel free to skip to the motherboard and performance results sections. 

Raptor Lake Made Real

The launch of a new processor generation is always an exciting time filled with technological advancements. Intel’s 13th generation, also known as Raptor Lake, feels a little more familiar than most. It bears a close resemblance to last generation’s Alder Lake and comes more quickly at its heels than we’re used to. Less than a year ago, I was writing a similar introduction to the i9-12900K and i5-12600K review, and if you’re familiar with Intel’s approach to that generation, the i9-13900K and i5-13600K are going to feel like refreshes rather than completely new designs. 

Like those CPUs, Raptor Lake brings back the hybrid architecture which utilizes a combination of Performance cores and Efficient cores to intelligently split up tasks. The Efficient cores, or E-cores, are designed to handle lower-intensity tasks, like background processors, so that the Performance cores, P-cores, can stay focused on higher-intensity tasks like gaming or video rendering. It’s a design that worked remarkably well last generation to improve and maintain consistently high performance. 

This does present some issues when it comes to comparing processors, however. While older designs allowed for simpler one-to-one comparisons of X cores and 2X threads per processor, Raptor (and Alder) Lake shakes that up. The Core i9-9900K, for example, was an 8-core, 16-thread CPU. It’s modern day analog, the i9-13900K is a 24 core (8P+16E) and 32 threads. The math and explaining how all of this works to a new PC builder isn’t nearly as easy, but the performance is there where it counts. 

But for all of the the architectural design it shares, the Core i9-13900K and Core i5-13600K bring some notable improvements. Both processors have received bumps in core count and frequency, with the i9 jumping from 16 to 24 cores and the i5 from 10 to 14. The i9-13900K now achieves a boost frequency of 5.8 GHz, up from the 12900K’s 5.1 GHz boost speed. The i5-13600K is a bit more modest at 5.1 GHz, up from last generation’s 4.9 GHz. 

Both processor’s have also received bumps in their stores of L2 and L3 cache. For L3 cache, the 13900K has increased 6MB and the 13600K is up 4MB, putting them at 36MB and 24MB respectively. L2 cache has been much more dramatically increased. Each processor’s L2 supply has more than doubled, coming in at 32MB and 20MB respectively. That’s an improvement of 10.5MB on the 13600K and 16MB on the 13900K.

PCI Express lanes are identical between 12th and 13th gen. If you choose to upgrade to the Z790 platform, which isn’t required, the chipset will also provide an additional eight PCIe 4.0 lanes, bringing you to a total of 28 lanes provided by the chipset (20 x 4.0, 8 x 3.0) and 20 (16 x 5.0, 4 x 4.0) provided by the CPU.  

These increases offer measurable results. Based on the specs alone, if the 12900K was close to the top of the performance charts, the 13900K should scramble even harder for the number one spot. And, spoiler alert, it absolutely does.

This added performance comes at a cost: power and heat. While both chips have received frequency increases, they’ve also had their power limits raised. The 13900K has a maximum turbo power rating of 253 watts. That’s a good step up from its biggest competitor, the 7950X, which is also fairly power hungry at 230 watts of maximum socket power (170W). The 13600K is less at 181 watts, but that’s still fairly high when you consider that this is “only” an i5 chip. The base power of each processor is 125 watts, but consider these a baseline. 

There’s a sense here that Intel is brute forcing their way to the top of the performance charts. It’s still operating on an older 10nm node and can’t yet leverage the power efficiency advancements of its upcoming Meteor Lake architecture. So we have more power and more frequency. 

It works — and for gaming, those frequency bumps pay dividends as you’ll see below — but you’ll need a powerful CPU cooler to really keep these chips in check. The 13900K regularly hit 100C in our testing, even with our 360mm Corsair H150i Elite LCD CPU cooler. Its high TDP demands a high performance liquid cooler. The 13600K gives you more wiggle room, but these are not chips to use with a single-tower air coolers. They can and will throttle, especially the 13900K, which is money wasted on performance you’ll never see. Plan accordingly.

But, with all of that in mind, Intel has a compelling proposition here. The Core i9-13900K is positioned directly against the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X. AMD’s flagship currently retails for $699+. The 13900K runs hot, but at only $589, it’s in a place where it really doesn’t need to be perfect to be an enticing buy. 

The Core i5-13600K falls between the Ryzen 7 7700X and Ryzen 5 7600X and manages to feel like an exceptional choice against either of them. It has far more cores and threads than the 7600X for only $20 more. It still has more cores than the 7700X and clock speeds that come close (within overclock territory) for $80 less. Either way, that 13600K is looking good. 

Intel is also breaking the mold by continuing support for the Z690 platform alongside the new Z790 chipset. The new chipset offers more PCIe lanes and improved memory support, but if you already have a Z690 motherboard, you can slot in one of these new CPUs without needing to upgrade your entire PC. Both platforms will also offer continued options for DDR4 and DDR5 memory, so you won’t need to immediately jump out and buy a new kit. That means more potential savings, on top of lower CPU cost.

All in all, while the architecture is familiar, Intel has done a good job of making this an interesting generation all the same.

The Motherboard: ASUS ROG Maximus Z790 Extreme

Since MMORPG.com began reviewing processors, we’ve made an effort to build our test benches on highly capable platforms. For several generations, we’ve again collaborated with ASUS Republic of Gamers to build our Intel test bench. This generation, we’ll be using the ROG Maximus Z790 Extreme. At $999, it’s an absolute flagship, which means it has all of the features you can expect from this generation, a number of unique high points we’ll talk about next, and excellent performance tuning options. And yes, it looks the part of a $999 motherboard, complete with gratuitous and gorgeous amounts of RGB lighting and even a full dot-matrix LED screen.

Starting with the basics, the board supports both 12th Gen and 13th Gen Intel Core CPUs, so can stand on its own if you already own a last-generation CPU and don’t feel the need to upgrade your processor quite yet. It supports DDR5 memory at speeds up to 7800 MT/s and up to three M.2 slots (1x PCIe 5.0, 2x PCIe 4.0). It also includes ASUS’s DIMM.2 technology, which allows you to add two more PCIe Gen 4 drives in a special DIMM slot, bringing the total to five high-speed NVMe SSDs. The integrated SSDs are hidden with a large heatsink to help maintain the board’s clean look and dissipate shed heat.

To drive these high-performance processors, the Maximus Extreme offers rich power delivery. It uses a 24+1 phase power system. There is no phase doubling here. Instead, it uses teamed power stages that allow the board to deliver higher burst and peak power. The VRMs have their own heavy-duty heat sinks, as expected, but the teamed stages also help mitigate total heat generation. 

One of the biggest reasons to go with a Maximus motherboard is the granular control they offer for overclocking. Having tested motherboards across virtually every major brand, I can say that competing brands are good, but Maximus is the best. Between the deep array of BIOS options for the especially tech savvy and the simple AI overclocking capabilities, there are options for all kinds of users

But let’s be real here: this is a high-performance motherboard and is ready for anything you’d care to throw at it, straight down to liquid nitrogen with its built-in LN2 mode. There are hardware buttons for safe boot, adjusting the BLCK frequency, slowing the processor to 8x to help it boot under extreme overclock, and an RSVD switch to help the system boot under 120C. ASUS even includes a voltage sensor that pairs with its True Volictician software to provide an oscilloscope to monitor GPU or PSU power. And believe it or not, there are even more features to really help extreme overclockers nail the top spot on the leaderboards for major benchmarks. 

For connectivity, the board offers a total of 10 USB ports on its rear side and up to 10 additional ports from its front panel headers. Around the back you’ll find one Thunderbolt 4 port, one USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 port, and eight USB 3.2 Gen 2 ports. It supports WiFi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3, as well as dual ethernet ports that support 2.5G and 10G respectively.

The board also boasts some of the best audio specs I’ve ever seen in a motherboard. This a gaming board that can literally double as a high resolution DAC/Amp setup for audio enthusiasts. It uses an ESS 9218 Quad DAC setup capable of 32-bit/384kHz with special shielding to prevent the usual electronic interference common to gaming PCs. It’s able to offer an impressive -114dB of total harmonic distortion and push up to 2 volts RMS of power, which can drive even many demanding over-ear audiophile headphones. 

I would be remiss not to discuss the looks of the motherboard before moving on because, well, at this price, looks matter. This is a motherboard designed to be in a glass paneled case and put on display. To support that, it offers a customizable ANIME Matrix LED display that can play anything from full animations to text. A large LED light strip lines the right side of the board. Below the CPU is a 2-inch full color OLED display that’s exclusive to the Extreme. 

There is so much to go over with this board that it demands its own article. For now, know that this is one of the absolute best motherboards available to do any kind of performance testing on, and we thank ASUS for partnering with us again on this review and this generation’s test bench. 

Intel Core i9-13900K and Core i5-13600K - Benchmark Results

In our original review in progress, we ran our gaming benchmarks using an MSI Z790 Gaming Carbon WiFi motherboard. Historically, our test benches have always leveraged ASUS ROG Maximus motherboards. For consistency with testing and future overclocking, we opted to utilize this platform again for this generation. Note that the tests on this platform have been re-ran.

AMD Test System #1: MSI X670 MEG Ace Motherboard, Corsair H115i RGB Platinum AIO, Corsair DDR5-6000 Vengeance RGB Memory (32GB), Nvidia RTX 3090, Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 2TB, Corsair HX-1000i Power Supply, Windows 11 (fully updated).

AMD Test System #2: Gigabyte X570 AORUS Master Motherboard, Corsair H115i RGB Platinum AIO, Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB DDR4-3600 (64GB), Nvidia RTX 3090, Gigabyte AORUS NVMe Gen4 SSD 2TB, Corsair HX-1000i Power Supply, Windows 11 (fully updated).

Intel Test System #1: ASUS ROG Z790 Maximus Extreme, Corsair iCUE Elite LCD 360mm, Corsair DDR5-6000 Vengeance RGB Memory (32GB), Nvidia RTX 3090, Samsung 970 Pro NVMe 1TB, Corsair HX-1050 1050 Watt Power Supply, Windows 11 (fully updated).

Processing 

Starting with SuperPi, this test puts each CPU’s processing capabilities to the test by asking it to render 32 million units of Pi. The lower the score, the better in this case because it is a measure of processing time in seconds. Here, we see the 13900K offer major leads over the 12900K (+16%), as well as a performance lead over the 7950X (+8%), and 7900X (+9%).

Compression

The next test looks at compression and decompression speeds. This is an opportunity for single- and multi-threaded performance to shine. Here the 13900K bests the 7950X in compression but falls substantially behind in decompression. The 13600K, on the other hand, falls in between the Ryzen 7 7700X and Ryzen 5 7600X.

Rendering and Encoding

Continuing our trek through our benchmarks, we come to Cinebench R23. This is a very popular benchmark used to assess CPU performance using multiple rendering passes on pre-defined scenes. The 13900K bests the 7950X in single-core performance here (!!) but falls behind in multi-core performance by 13%. The 13600K, on the other hand, performs very well. Its single-core results place it just shy of the 7600X but the multi-core performance falls between the 7700X and 7900X. 

Moving on to the X265 encoding benchmark, this test ranks based upon FPS. Here, the 13900K and 7950X are neck and neck with a slight edge going to the 7950X. The 13600K falls, you guessed it, between the 7600X and 7700X.

Gaming Benchmarks

Breaking this down, the 13900K averaged 4-5% faster than the 12900K across these seven games, 10% faster than the Ryzen 9 7950X, and 14% faster than last generation’s 5950X. 

The 13600K, on the other hand, averaged 6% faster than the last-gen 12600K and the Ryzen 5 7600X. It was 6% faster than the Ryzen 7 7700X and 7% faster than the 7600X. 

For pure gaming, these numbers definitely point to the 13900K being a new chart-topper. This will vary across games, of course, and the other components in your system. But if you’re looking for the best, and are able to cool it, the 13900K can definitely trade blows with AMD’s flagship and net some impressive leads on certain games. With that said, these gains a pretty small overall compared to last generation, so if you're only looking for gaming advancements alone, you may be safe waiting another generation to upgrade.

Final Thoughts 

Having now taken a look at the performance of these processors more broadly, it’s impressive what Intel has achieved. Despite being technologically behind AMD, they’ve managed to push these new chips to competitive levels that are even more compelling when you factor in their lower pricing. Yes, the 7950X won the edge in many of our tests, but given the reduced cost of the 13900K, it doesn’t feel like a bad deal at all. Likewise, I’m also impressed by the performance of the 13600K compared to last generation’s 12900K and 12600K.  For both single-core and multi-core performance, they’re absolutely worth considering.

That statement comes with a couple of big caveats, however. The power draw on these CPUs is high, which also means the temperatures are high. Even our 360mm radiator had trouble taming the 13900K, so if you’re not already running a high performance AIO, you need to consider one alongside your purchase. If you’re also running a high wattage GPU like the 4090, this could be the purchase that drives you to needing a new PSU. 

In sheer performance, these are a solid recommendation and are doing the work of keeping competition hot. They have a couple of extra considerations before pulling the trigger, but we’re impressed.

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for evaluation purposes.

8.5Great
Pros
  • Very good single and multi-core performance
  • Faster clocks means more FPS
  • Z790 is backward compatible with 12th Gen
  • Good pricing compared to AMD
Cons
  • High power draw and temperatures
  • Z790 feels pretty sparse as a new platform
  • Minor gaming improvements


GameByNight

Christopher Coke

Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight