It took nearly two years, but Intel finally has a good answer to AMD's octa-core mainstream processor. Ryzen has shaken up the processor market, in a good way, and given Intel a much-needed kick from behind.
The 9th-generation Intel Core i9-9900K (3.6GHz, 16MB L3 cache) is an 8-core/16-thread processor that goes up directly against the Ryzen 7 2700X (3.7GHz, 16MB L3 cache). But while having more cores isn't necessarily better for gaming – quite the opposite in fact, because of the generally lower clock speeds – Intel says this is also its best gaming CPU to date.
In other words, Intel is claiming to offer the best of both worlds, serving up a chip that can satisfy both gamers and content creators. The best part is that this isn't even a prohibitively expensive enthusiast part. It's not cheap, to be sure, but it's still part of Intel's mainstream line-up, which puts it within range of a reasonably wide audience.
The problem with Intel is that it hasn't had much to show on the CPU front lately. 10nm has run into repeatedly delays – it isn't slated for mass production until late 2019 – which means that Intel has been stuck on the 14nm process for five generations of chips now.
The Core i9-9900K is based on the 14nm++ process, where the plus signs signify a more refined process that lets Intel cram more cores with similar frequencies into the same power envelope. The good news is that this approach seems to be bearing fruit and fine tuning a process can produce some nice, tangible results.
With a Turbo Boost 2.0 frequency of up to 5.0GHz for a single core, and 4.7GHz for six to eight cores, the Core i9-9900K promises delicious performance in games, which still tend to be more sensitive to clock speeds. Furthermore, it's done all this in the same 95W thermal envelope as the Coffee Lake CPUs before it.
Intel has also gone with a solder TIM this time round. Previous Coffee Lake CPUs used a less efficient layer of thermal compound to transfer heat between the CPU die and the heat spreader. In comparison, solder TIM provides increased thermal conductivity between the CPU die and the integrated heat spreader, which improves heat dissipation and allows for more thermal headroom.
Fortunately, you won't need to buy a new motherboard to install the Core i9-9900K. It will work with existing Intel Z370 motherboards, which is a nice move from a company that hasn't always been the best in ensuring backward compatibility with its older products.
The new Z390 chipset also doesn't really add much that is new, unless you really want native USB 3.1 (Gen 2), integrated Gigabit Wi-Fi, and SDXC (SDA 3.0) support.
I've included the chipset block diagram below for an overview of its features.