Intel Core i9-9900K hands on: Intel’s beastly mainstream octa-core processor

Intel Core i9-9900K review

Intel’s recent processors have been a step behind the high-core count, massive multi-threading performance of AMD Ryzen CPUs for some time now, but now Intel Core i9-9900K looks to close the gap finally.

Team Blue’s first-ever mainstream Core i9 chip comes equipped with 8-cores, 16-threads and the ability to boost up to a maximum 5.0GHz speed. All told, this looks like the most powerful processor ever made for consumers.

Pricing and availability

The Intel Core i9-9900K will sell for $488 (about £370, AU$690) and that’s quite a price bump from Intel’s previous flagship processor, the Intel Core i7-8700K, which went for $359 (£389, AU$524) at launch.

Intel’s first mainstream Core i9 chip also looks exorbitantly expensive next to the $329 (£299, AU$469) AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, which features the nearly the same specs on paper and comes with a premium RGB CPU cooler in the box.

Intel Core i9-9900K review

Features and chipset

Not only is the Intel Core i9-9900K one of two of the company’s first mainstream octa-core processors – the other being the Intel Core i7-9700K – it also features the highest 16-thread count in the Coffee Lake Refresh lineup. This should translate to hyper-threading performance that will finally outpace AMD’s rival Ryzen 2nd Generation processors.

Speaking of AMD, the Ryzen 7 2700X also features 8-cores and 16-threads with base/boost clocks of 3.7GHz and 4.3GHz, respectively. Intel’s new Core i9 chip, on the other hand, is rated to start at a 3.6GHz base frequency and boost to 5.0GHz with a single-core, or 4.7GHz with six- to eight-cores.

The most impressive thing about the Intel Core i9-9900K is that it integrates 8-cores, 16-thread and 400MHz higher clock speeds into chip with the same 95W thermal package as previous Coffee Lake CPUs.

One other little tidbit we’re extremely excited about with Intel’s new line of processors is that they all feature a soldered integrated heat spreader (IHS). This new soldered-based thermal interface material should help immensely with heat dissipation and achieving higher overclock speeds.

Unlike Coffee Lake, users won’t necessarily have to splurge on a new motherboard just to install this Core i9 chip. The Intel Core i9-9900K will be fully compatible with existing Z370 motherboards. The only thing Intel’s new Z390 platform brings is USB 3.1 Gen 2 support for 10Gbps data transfer speeds through traditional full-sized USB ports and integrated 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5 for gigabit wireless speeds.

Intel Core i9-9900K review

Performance

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to benchmark Intel’s new mainstream Core i9 CPU with our usual suite of tests. However, we can tell you the Intel Core i9-9900K paired with a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 achieved a score of 33,108 in World of Tanks Encore’s benchmark test.

We also got to game a little a PUBG at 1080p and Ultra quality settings, and experience the game at a glorious 175 frames per second.

At another demo station, we were shown how users can possibly use the processor to play PUBG and World of Tanks Encore at the same time. Now this isn’t what we would call a traditional PC. 

Instead what Intel did built a standard PC with Intel Core i9-9900K, 16GB of RAM and two Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080, and split it into two virtual PCs using On Rail. The end result was two machines featuring only 4-cores, 8-thread CPU with only one RTX 2080 and 8GB of memory each.

Despite having only roughly half of its available processing power – plus the strain of running a game over a Windows 10 running on top of an emulation layer – the PC still performed admirably. We managed to play PUBG at a consistent 80fps at 1080p and Ultra quality settings. Meanwhile, World of Tanks Encore was running at the same settings and at a steady 100fps.

Obviously, this isn’t something anyone will likely do with their own PC, but its impressive nonetheless.

Intel Core i9-9900K review

Early verdict

Intel might be late to the game with its first mainstream octa-core processor, but the Intel Core i9-9900K is an impressive debut. These are the biggest specs we’ve seen on a mainstream Intel processor while maintaining the same thermal design power (TDP) envelope as its predecessor. The reintroduction of a solder heat spreader should amount to a cooler-running chip, something we really look forward to testing.