When it comes to application performance, the Intel Core i9-10900K does disappoint. It gives a good show for being down two cores and two threads compared to the competition. Unfortunately, it’s still down from the competition and at the time of this writing, and will likely cost more. There is no getting around it, Intel released another 14nm CPU and that’s just not good enough in 2020. Hell, it wasn’t good enough in 2019 either. The Intel Core i9- 10900K lost most of the benchmarks against the 3900X save for a few like WinRAR, where the balance of clock speed and potential application optimizations were enough to get the job done. It’s obvious whenever the application is multithreaded Intel is at a disadvantage just as it was this time last year.
It sounds like I’m being rather hard on Intel, and I probably am. But there is no sugar coating it. Intel isn’t in a good place right now. Interestingly, Intel’s marketing makes claims of being 30% faster than a 3-year old PC and 20% or more improvements in multi-threaded applications. Weirdly, all of this was true. It’s still not enough in the face of fierce competition from AMD.
Intel marketed the 10900K and the whole 10th generation Comet Lake series as gaming processors. It claims boldly that the 10900K is the world’s fastest gaming CPU. This is where the 10900K truly shines. It does indeed deliver on that front. The increased cache and clock speed are just what it takes to extend what was a small lead over the competition last year. While Intel was still faster at the launch of the Ryzen 3000 series, it was in no way faster by a comfortable margin.
As we saw in the gaming benchmarks, its the same old story. At 1080P, Intel makes some sense. Outside of a few cases at 4K, you’re still mostly GPU bound, and thus, it’s hard to recommend Intel for anything but a gaming purist who does almost nothing else with their machine.
Unfortunately, we did not have all that much time with the Comet Lake processors prior to the embargo date. As a result, overclocking wasn’t something that we could spend a whole lot of time on. That said, overclocking one of these CPU’s is pretty much the same as it is with any Skylake variant. A little extra voltage set your turbo frequencies and sometimes load-line calibration. That’s pretty much all it takes. I found the best results using adaptive voltage, but things were very strange in that regard. I will need to investigate that more when I review the MSI MPG Z490 I used for testing.
Typically, I use adaptive voltage with an offset. Using offsets didn’t seem to matter a whole lot as the CPU seemed to draw whatever it wanted when overclocked. It behaved a lot like the Ryzen 3000 series does in that regard. Again, more investigation is needed. This may simply come down to something with the platform or that specific motherboard. I ended up setting a manual voltage of 1.25v to 1.3v. Oddly, it needed 1.3v to work properly, but in CPU-Z it showed way more voltage than that. Usually around 1.338v or so.
Again, because of the quick and dirty nature of our time with this thing, we were unable to investigate the nuances of overclocking and tuning a system with this CPU. I ran with 4x4GB modules for testing. This would be potentially problematic for AMD systems but it never was for good Z390 motherboards. Therefore, I have no reason to think that this isn’t true of the Z490 as well. So far, my experiences have been great even with four DIMMs loaded.
The real problem seems to be heat. At 5.1GHz all core, the CPU simply gets incredibly hot when pushed. I saw temperatures around 91c on a custom cooling loop when under torture testing. The power consumption is also rather high. Package power hit 205w and total system draw was upwards of 366w. While you can pull slightly more power with a 3950X, you get a lot more for it.
Competition and Value
Another issue is that the CPU’s RCP pricing is $488. Where it lands in actual retail stores or online is anyone’s guess but we’ve already seen sites gouging on these CPUs. It’s also unknown what availability will be like and we’ve been seeing Ryzen 9 3900X’s well under $499.99 for some time now. If you want to do anything other than play games, its hard to recommend the 10900K at anything beyond the $400 mark. It’s an impressive CPU for being 14nm but its still 14nm and it carries all the limitations that go with that process. Hopefully, availability isn’t one of them.
I didn’t really cover the platform, and I’m not going to here. That will be done in a separate article. However, I didn’t have any major problems with the Z490 platform. It’s fairly mature out of the gate which is a hallmark of Intel’s. That said, I did see some oddities while overclocking which I already covered. There were also Turbo Boost issues prior to the embargo lift so BIOS updates were flying all over the place to resolve that. So, it wasn’t a perfect launch.
In a way, the 10900K is extremely impressive given that its another modified Skylake. As a gaming processor, it works very well and should be worth consideration for that role in a way the 9900K never could. See, the 9900K was the fastest gaming processor, but it had no real lead over AMD. In some cases, the 10900K absolutely does. The 9900K had the problem of being on a dead-end socket. In contrast, LGA 1200 is brand new today, and indications are that it will have some legs to it by Intel standards. It may very well last the remainder of AM4’s life span. That’s something to consider.
So, would I recommend the Core i9-10900K? As a gaming processor I would, but that depends heavily on the availability and the actual retail price of these things. Ultimately, that may not be a question that can be answered right away. If you do pay the early adopter tax and you are a gamer, I am sure you’ll be pleased with your purchase. I suppose that’s the best way I can put it. It’s not bad hardware and in some ways it’s good, but honestly its only good within the niche of gaming. Outside of that, it gets stomped by AMD and for less money. Do with that what you will.