With clock speeds that range as high as 5GHz, Intel’s new 9th generation core CPUs are poised to bring slightly better gaming performance and sometimes drastically better multimedia editing performance to cutting-edge desktop PCs.
Unveiled on Monday, the new chips come in three flavors. The mainstream models that will show up in off-the-shelf gaming towers in time for holiday shopping include the six-core Core i5-9600K, as well as the eight-core Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K. That last chip, which replaces the previous-gen Core i7-8700K, is especially noteworthy because it’s the first time a mainstream consumer CPU from Intel has hit the 5GHz mark. It’s also the first time Intel has bestowed the “i9” moniker on a mainstream desktop chip.
Meanwhile, the chips that will interest multimedia editors and DIYers who like to build bleeding-edge PCs include a total of seven new X-series parts, ranging from the Core i7-9800X to the whopper 18-core, 36-thread, $1,979 Core i9-9980XE. There’s also a new Xeon chip, the Xeon W-3175X, for use in workstation PCs to support highly specialized hardware and software such as ECC memory.
Based on Intel’s internal testing, the new chips offer the sort of performance improvement you’d expect from an incremental architecture update. There’s nothing incredibly groundbreaking about the way Intel fabricates these chips, since they’re based on a similar 14-nanometer production process used in the past few CPU generations. For the ninth generation, the improvements essentially boil down to adding more cores while keeping the clock speeds and power consumption mostly the same as before.
Indeed, even though the Core i9-9900K has the same 95W power draw and even a slightly lower base clock speed compared with the Core i7-8700K (3.6GHz vs. 3.7GHz), it manages to pack in eight cores and 16 threads, compared with six cores and 12 threads in the CPU it’s replacing.
The result is a modest boost in gaming performance that hovers around 10 percent for most of the games that Intel used in its internal pre-production testing, such as World of Tanks, Hitman 2, and Warhammer II. During a brief demonstration following Intel’s announcement, I witnessed a test machine with a Core i9-9900K and an Nvidia GTX 2080 achieve a score of 33,144 on the World of Tanks Encore in-game benchmark, while a similarly configured system with a Core i7-8700K recorded a result of 30,318.
But the performance difference could be much greater for content creators who are considering upgrading to a 9th-gen X-series chip. A Core i9-9980XE helped one of Intel’s test machines transcode a 4K video file (the same one PCMag uses for its own CPU benchmarks) in 27 minutes using the Handbrake app, compared with 40 minutes for a system running the previous-gen Core i9-7980XE.
Meanwhile, another system with the same chip converted about a minute of 8K video footage into a YouTube-friendly 4K format in near real time. I also observed a real-world photogrammetry demonstration with a Core i9-9900X, which managed to stitch together roughly 1,000 photos of a gallery in Smithsonian’s American Art Museum into a virtual reality exhibition using the Reality Capture app in a bit less than one hour.
Whether or not Intel’s 9th-gen speedup matters to you depends on how recently you’ve upgraded your current PC. Given how expensive multimedia editing stations and high-end gaming rigs are, many people plan to use them for at least three years, so they’ll be comparing Intel’s latest offering with sixth- and even fifth-gen chips with older architects, lower clock speeds, and fewer cores. The difference here could be remarkable, and well worth the considerable expense.
All of the 9th-gen chips announced so far are compatible with existing chipsets and motherboards, but Intel also announced a new Z390 chipset that includes incremental improvements, such as USB 3.1 Gen 2 support and gigabit Wi-Fi.
Many of the new CPUs are now available for pre-order, and some will start shipping this month, with the rest arriving by the end of the year. Check out the charts above for full details on pricing and specs, and stay tuned for PCMag’s forthcoming full reviews of the new chips.