Overall and Final Verdict
March 2nd, 2017, that is the day that Ryzen officially launched and I think anyone including Intel can admit that day and that launch has changed the PC market. Up until then higher core counts were limited to AMD's much slower bulldozer CPUs and Intel’s workstation focused Xeon lineup and to a lesser extent a few high-end CPUs on the X99 platform. When Ryzen launched Intel had the i7-6900K and the i7-6950X. The 6900K had 8 cores and retailed for $1089 and the 6950X had 10 cores and retailed for $1732. Now today we have an 8 core CPU on the Intel mainstream lineup and it even has a 5GHz turbo clock speed. What a crazy couple of years!
So the i9-9900K doesn’t exactly come completely unexpected. There have been rumors about this CPU for nearly as long as Ryzen has been around, but finally seeing it announced and getting it on the test bench is exciting. My main concern was would this response feel thrown together. The Z370 launch with the 8700K felt a little rushed, especially with the sudden chipset change without backward compatibility. But the 9900K feels a little more like Intel has had a little time to look at where they are at and hit back at AMD. This is still a Coffee Lake based CPU and it is still built on the 14nm process but that has been updated a second time to the 14nm++ process. What does this mean for CPUs? Well for starters Intel had to bring back soldered TIM to handle the additional heat that 8 cores can offer, especially to make thermal room for the 5 GHz turbo clock speed of the 9900K. Did that work? Well yeah, but they are really pushing the limits for the amount of heat in that small of a package. It was about 10 degrees hotter than the 8086K on our Noctua NH-U12S cooler, to really take advantage of the CPU I think water cooling is the only option. That also puts true small form factor builds out of the question unless they can fit a large air cooler or water cooling. But at that point, they aren’t that small.
Then when it came to performance I was curious how the mix of 8 cores/16 threads while also having a high turbo clock would work out. What I found was that the 9900K handled both highly threaded and single core focused workloads well. This isn’t normally the case, even with Intel’s high-end Core-X CPUs. I spent a lot of time focusing on the performance between the 9900K and the 2700X because they are both AMD and Intel’s top of the line mainstream focused CPUs (I will dive into the pricing here in a minute) and the 9900K is faster in every single one of our tests. The 16 and 18 core Core-X CPUs were faster than the 9900K in highly threaded tests still, but overall the 9900K is as fast as you can get in most situations. The 9900K even outperformed the Core-X 7900X in a lot of situations with its 10 cores. This was especially true for the gaming tests where the 9900K came in 24 FPS higher in Far Cry 5 and 63 FPS in TF2. Of course some of the others the gap was much smaller like the 6 FPS in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. But I think we can confirm Intel’s claim that this is the fastest gaming CPU on the market.
Intel has even attempted to make buying the i9-9900K an experience with their new 12 sided transparent blue packaging. This is following AMD's lead with their Threadripper packaging for the past two launches. I think a lot of people will look at it as a waste of money and it is. But there is something to be said about a little glitz and glamor when you open up your expensive hardware. It’s a lot less exciting when you spend a weeks pay on something and you won’t even be able to see it later when the cooler is installed. You can at least put this up on the shelf of your office if you want to show it off and I’m very sure we will see people building SFF PCs in the packaging.
The heatsink comment brings up another one of my concerns. So the 2700X is the closest competition to the i9-9900K and AMD provides a cooler with that CPU. In fact, it is a fairly capable cooler with lighting as well. But with the 9900K you don’t get a cooler at all. I’m not saying I would like Intel to include one of those extruded aluminum coolers that are only really capable of keeping basic CPUs cool. But not having a cooler does immediately add to the cost of the CPU. Coolers and motherboard pricing are what I would consider to be hidden costs. They can swing the overall cost of your build and picking your CPU locks you in on those. Luckily the i9-9900K will work on Z370 motherboards as well so that gives you a lot of cheaper options and Z390 has boards in the $125/$130 range so you aren’t going to have hidden costs as high as X399 and X299.
Okay, I’ve put it off long enough, its time we talk about pricing. With RAM pricing still out of this world, Nvidia’s recent launches, and now the i9-9900K it feels like building a high end but mainstream based PC is going to require a second job. So the price for the i9-9900K is a little confusing right now. Intel has their RCP or MSRP listed at $488 on their launch slideshow but looking at preorders available even the night before launch has the CPU available for $529.99 on Amazon and $579.99 from Newegg. On the other hand, the Ryzen 2700X is $304.99 on both retailers. We have established that the i9-9900K is extremely fast, but is it fast enough to justify that pricing? Honestly, even at the $488 price point, I don’t think it justifies its price and the prices the retails are currently charging should be considered price gouging. Now do I think there isn’t a market for the 9900K? Not at all, there are a surprising amount of people who don’t mind spending a lot of money to get the fastest hardware out there and the i9-9900K falls into that category. The same goes for spending $1200 on an RTX 2080 Ti, even at that price they are completely sold out.
So if the 9900K is out as a performance per dollar CPU do any of the other 9th Gen CPUs have a chance? Well, I reached out to Intel even at their event asking about getting the 9700K and 9600K in to see how they perform. Right now AMD seems to have the overall performance per dollar market cornered and Intel seems to be happy to take the high end. Especially now that they have a mainstream CPU with 8 cores for gamers who want to edit videos or stream. So my final verdict is that if you are made of money and want the fastest gaming PC you can build, pick the i9-9900K up and pair it with one or two RTX 2080 Ti’s and you are going to love your PC (maybe we need a Richie Rich award for hardware that is the best but is priced too high). If you actually have to worry about how much you spend and $488-$579 is going to be half or more of your PC budget then you might want to look for i7-9700K and i5-9600K benchmarks and see how they compare with what AMD has to offer right now.
Being the fastest gaming CPU, the i9-9900K is perfect for a budget out the window LAN rig. In fact, I think it will get paired with an RTX GPU in our orange In Win D-Frame build. Because of that, the 9900K does earn our editor’s choice award. Any hardware that goes into use after the review earns that. Check back with our end of year follow-up where I revisit all of our editor’s choice award winners to see if they worked out. Maybe by then, the pricing will have worked itself out. Just a reminder, this is an awesome CPU, but only if you can afford it. If Intel does any pricing corrections going into the holiday season the 2700X vs 9900K argument could change.
Live Pricing: HERE
**If you read our coverage this morning, it has been updated to reflect all new testing. I ran into a boost clock issue that reinstalling the same BIOS fixed that had our numbers being lower than they should including power and temperature results**