IN­TEL CORE i9-9900K

In­tel re­claims the desk­top crown once again

Maximum PC - - FRONT PAGE -

CAST YOUR MIND back to late 2006. That’s when In­tel in­tro­duced its first desk­top quad-core CPU. Fast-for­ward nearly 11 years later to sum­mer 2017, and what had changed? In terms of core counts, not much. In­tel’s main­stream desk­top socket was still lim­ited to just four cores.

OK, you could buy so-called desk­top chips with more than four cores, but they were part of what was and re­mains to­day a se­ries of re­badged server plat­forms, com­plete with costly mul­ti­chan­nel me­mory con­trollers, and other fea­tures that up the price but do lit­tle to en­hance the desk­top com­put­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Yet here we are in late 2018, re­view­ing a main­stream eight-core CPU from In­tel, just a year af­ter it un­veiled its first six-core main­stream chips. What, ex­actly, is go­ing on?

The an­swer is Ryzen. What­ever In­tel or any­one else says, there is no way the new Core i9-9900K would ex­ist with­out the ar­rival of AMD’s fan­tas­tic new Ryzen CPU last year. Ryzen isn’t per­fect, but it has been good enough to wake In­tel from its slum­ber. The re­sult is a rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion of In­tel’s road map, and a dou­bling of its main­stream desk­top core count in lit­tle more than a year.

The new 9900K fits into a larger re­fresh of CPUs for the main­stream LGA1151 socket. This is In­tel, of course, so the pre­cise makeup of the new 9th Gen fam­ily isn’t just dif­fi­cult to get your head around; it’s ac­tu­ally frus­trat­ing. That’s chiefly be­cause with this new 9000 se­ries of CPUs, In­tel has once again re­jigged its Hyper­Thread­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion. Put sim­ply, Hyper­Thread­ing is gone, save for the top-end eight-core 9900K pro­ces­sor with 16 threads. That’s frus­trat­ing, be­cause the fea­ture re­mains present in all the chips—In­tel has sim­ply dis­abled it in order to cre­ate an ar­ti­fi­cial prod­uct hi­er­ar­chy.

All that ab­sorbed, how does this range-top­ping mem­ber of the new 9th Gen se­ries per­form? In­tel rates it at 3.6GHz base clock, and has set the max­i­mum Turbo fre­quency at 5GHz— just re­mem­ber, the lat­ter is not an all­cores fre­quency. Nev­er­the­less, it does en­sure the new 9900K de­liv­ers epic sin­gle-threaded per­for­mance. It’s on a par with the ex­ist­ing sin­gle-thread king, the Core i7-8086K, in that re­gard.

Pre­dictably, the 9900K sets a new stan­dard for main­stream chips when it comes to mul­ti­threaded per­for­mance, too. Yes, it duly tears AMD’s top Ryzen chip, the 2700X, a new one across the board. In fact, in a desk­top con­text, it’s quick enough to make the likes of In­tel’s 10-core 7900X, a server-de­rived CPU for the LGA2011 socket, look re­dun­dant.

In­evitably, the 9900K’s one ar­guable weak­ness in­volves over­clock­ing. At stock set­tings, it typ­i­cally runs at 4.7GHz across all eight cores when un­der heavy load. We man­aged to crank that up to 5GHz on all cores. That’s a six-and-abit per­cent over­clock, and not enough to re­ally im­pact your sub­jec­tive com­put­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in the real world. Given the num­ber of cores and the al­ready high clock speeds In­tel has en­abled as stan­dard for the 9900K, the lim­ited scope for over­clock­ing is not a sur­prise.

The fi­nal piece of the puz­zle is motherboard com­pat­i­bil­ity, and the news is about as good as we could hope for. The 9900K and the rest of the new 9th Gen gang are com­pat­i­ble with ex­ist­ing 300 Se­ries motherboard chipsets, al­though ac­tual mileage will vary from board to board. As ever, check with the man­u­fac­turer for de­tails re­gard­ing re­quired BIOS up­dates.

In iso­la­tion, then, the new 9900K is a fan­tas­tic chip. It’s the quick­est true desk­top CPU yet. Priced at $530, it’s even rea­son­able value by In­tel’s stan­dards. In­stead, it’s with the other mem­bers of the new 9th Gen range that our doubt re­sides. How will an eight­core, eight-thread chip like the new Core i7-9700K com­pare with the six-core, 12-thread Core i7-8700K? Now, that’s an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion. – JEREMY LAIRD

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