The day has finally come: The Intel i9-9900K is here. We’ve been hands-on for about a week our Z390 system to see just what their new “world’s best gaming processor” has in store. The 9900K marks new territory for Intel, officially bringing the i9 line to the mainstream along with 8 cores and 16 threads of performance.Clocking to 5GHz out of the box and featuring a soldered heatspreader, the 9900K is rich with potential. Let’s see how it holds up!
- Current Pricing: $529.99 (Amazon)
- Socket: LGA 1151
- Base Clock Speed: 3.6GHz
- Intel Turbo Boost Speed (Single Core): 5GHz
- Cores/Threads: 8/16
- TDP: 95 Watt
- Intel Smart Cache (L3): 16MB (unified cache accessible to each core)
- PCI-e Lanes: Up to 40
- Memory Support: Dual Channel DDR4-2666
- Unlocked/Overclockable: Yes
- Intel Optane Memory Support: Yes
Let’s get this out of the way first: Intel was not blowing smoke. This is indeed the best processor you can buy for sheer gaming performance and incredibly fast across the board, as you’ll soon see in our benchmarks. You’ll pay a bit extra for the privilege of being on the cutting edge but if you want the best of the best for your gaming rig, you’ve found it.
The i9-9900K is the top of the line for Intel’s ninth generation of processors and features 8 cores and 16 threads, sitting above both the 8-core/8-thread 9700K and 6-core/6-thread 9600K. This is the first time we’ve seen an 8-core CPU in Intel’s mainstream line-up, which marks a first and dare we say “shots fired” toward AMD. Hyperthreading has also been shifted to be a feature exclusively for the 9900K this generation, though eight physical cores on the 9700K is still likely to outperform the 8700K’s 6-cores/12-threads. The 9900K also features increased cache stores at 16MB, up from the generationally consistent 12MB and 9MB on the 9700K and 9600K respectively.
At the point in time, we’ve only gone hands on with the 9900K but will be watching with anticipation to see how the rest of the line-up performs.
The other big change coming back with the ninth-gen is the return of solder-based thermal interface material, or STIM, as Intel calls it. Intel’s 7th and 8th generations had moved away from solder to a less effect interface material, resulting in higher temps and the rise of delidding in the overclocking community.
The effectiveness of STIM is already apparent in the stock 5GHz boost clock and becomes even more clear in our load testing.
Along with the i9-9900K comes the new Z390 Platform. While initial speculation posed that a Z390 motherboard would be required to run 9th-gen CPUs, this has turned out not to be the case, so long as you have a more recent Z370 motherboard and a manufacturer delivered BIOS patch. Rejoice! If you do care to upgrade, Z370 brings with it USB 3.1 Gen 2 (speeds up to 10 Gb/s) and integrated wireless-AC connectivity. As always, the inclusion of WiFi depends entirely on your motherboard.
For this review, we’ll be using the ASUS ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming Motherboard. A full review will be coming early next week, as well as of at least one other Z390 motherboard and more to follow in the weeks after that.
Test system: i9-9900K (stock), ASUS ROG Strix Z390-E Gaming Motherboard, NZXT Kraken X72 360mm CPU cooler, 32GB ADATA XPG D41 DDR4-3200 DRAM, NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti Founders Edition, 1TB Samsung 970 PRO NVME SSD, 1TB WD Black NVME SSD, 1TB WD Blue 2.5” SATA SSD, 1TB, Crucial MX500 2.5” SATA SSD, 10TB WD Gold HDD, Corsair HX-1050 1050-watt PSU, Fractal Define R6 Case (open top panel)
Overclocking and Temperatures
One of the first things we wanted to test was the 9900K’s overclocking ability. With an out of the box single-core boost to 5GHz, I was eager to see exactly what kind of headroom the processor had. Could we push 5.1GHz, 5.2GHz? Heck, with enough voltage, maybe even 5.5GHz?
Sadly, it seems that the 9900K - at least on our sample - has very limited headroom for overclocking which perhaps isn’t the most surprising with this kind of core count. The process is as simple as ever, especially using ASUS’ BIOS, which is one of the most robust in the business for overclocking options. After the usual trial and error, we were able to achieve a stable all-core clock of 5GHz at 1.31v. Compared to my personal 8700K which required 1.29V for 5GHz on its 6 cores, I was pleased with the voltage, even with the lack of headroom.
Thermally, pushing all cores to a locked 5GHz resulted in an average load temperature of 76C with our Kraken X72 360mm CPU cooler. Temperatures were also less “spikey” than I’d observed in both my 7700K and 8700K, though not completely free of this behavior. Still, these temps are more than acceptable. In normal use cases, like multi-hour gaming, temperatures peak out in the 60s, which is cool and comfortable with the X72.
Jump ahead to page two for our benchmarking results!