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Benchmarking the Intel Core i9-13900KS Special Edition processor

By Aaron Yip - 4 Mar 2023

Benchmarking the Intel Core i9-13900KS Special Edition processor

Note: This review was first published on 27 February 2023.

Intel hinted at a special edition model of its new Raptor Lake-S series processors with a blistering 6GHz boost clock when it was first introduced. The chip, which is limited in production and will be branded with the letter "KS," follows in the footsteps of similar limited-release processors from previous generations (see our 12th Gen Core i9-12900KS performance benchmark).

The 13th Gen Core i9-13900KS is structurally identical to the Core i9-13900K, with the same number of cores and the same amount of cache memory. However, the Core i9-13900KS is binned more aggressively and can reach that 6GHz max turbo frequency on one or two of its P-cores, depending on the workload and thermal conditions. It is a first for the industry to achieve 6GHz on a mainstream desktop CPU.


The Core i9-13900KS

The Core i9-13900KS, like the Core i9-13900K, has a 24-core (32-thread) die that is integrated into one package and is split evenly between performance and efficiency. In addition to its 150W Processor Base Power rating and 32MB L2 cache, the processor can deliver a maximum of 253W under its Turbo Boost setting. However, when using an enthusiast-grade motherboard and cooler, the chip's maximum power level can be "unlocked", increasing its peak power consumption.

Base frequency for the i9-13900KS is 2.4GHz for the E-cores and 3.2GHz for the P-cores, with a Turbo frequency for the P-cores of up to 5.8GHz. E-core speeds on the 13900KS can reach up to 4.3GHz. The chip can reach speeds of up to 6GHz with both turbo and Intel Thermal Velocity Boost enabled. 

Key Specifications
  Intel 13th Gen Core i9-13900K Intel 13th Gen Core i9-13900KS
Base clock 2.2GHz (E) / 3.0GHz (P) 2.4GHz (E) / 3.2GHz (P)
Boost clock 4.3GHz (E) / 5.4GHz (P) 4.3GHz (E) / 5.4GHz (P)
Core 16 (E) + 8 (P) 16 (E) + 8 (P)
Threads 24 24
L3 Cache 36MB 36MB
PCIe 5 5
Default TDP 125W 150W


Performance benchmarks

My Intel-based test platform for the new processor remains the same as the one previously used to review the Core i9-13900K. So, the configuration includes the following components:

  • ROG Maximus Z790 Extreme motherboard
  • Samsung 980 Pro 1TB SSD
  • Kingston Fury 32GB DDR5 memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4090 Founders Edition
  • Windows 11 OS

When it's possible, I'll use games like Ashes of Singularity: Escalation and Horizon Zero Dawn as CPU performance benchmarks. The list is by no means comprehensive, but there are enough unique game engines and APIs to give us a general sense of performance trends. Additionally, I've turned on ray-tracing in the games that support it.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Ashes of the Singularity - CPU
  • Horizon Zero Dawn - CPU
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider
  • Metro Exodus: Enhanced Edition
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms
  • Cyberpunk 2022

So how did the i9-13900KS fare?

Thanks in part to high-performance gaming cards like the GeForce RTX 4090 used in these benchmarks, 1080p benchmarking is a great way to assess a CPU's power because GPU can process and transfer data much more quickly at lower resolutions than it can at higher resolutions. Here, the CPU becomes the bottleneck because it is unable to keep up with the graphics card's processing rate. After all, the CPU oversees and handles complex CPU-bound processes like real-time game actions, physics, UI, and audio.

The outcomes here, in short, pretty much speak for themselves. When it comes to gaming, the i9-13900K and i9-13900KS are both absolute powerhouses. Naturally, the new i9-13900KS outperformed the old (albeit slightly only) CPU. But in a repeat of my 12900K-versus-12900KS review, the i9-13900KS overall performance isn’t all that impressive, with performance improvements in games just hovering between 4-6%. In essence, the new CPU's higher clock frequency has little impact on this.


Office, Content Creation and Rendering

For non-gaming benchmarks, I ran SYSmark 25 and PugetBench for Adobe Premiere Pro to get a taste of the i9-13900KS’ performance with real-world applications and workloads.

Again, we are seeing similar performance results for productivity and content creations. The i9-13900KS clearly, and unsurprisingly, leads the slightly older i9-13900K but not by much. If you already own the i9-13900K, there’s really no point in upgrading to the more power-hungry i9-13900KS just to save on a couple of seconds for your video renderings.


Final thoughts

The Core i9-13900KS deservedly sits at the top of Intel’s 13th Gen Core stack of processors, but at what cost? A quick search on Shopee shows the CPU going for around S$1,099 while the original i9-13900K can be bought for about S$888. That’s almost a S$200 premium to fork out for an almost negligible gain in performance – when compared to the next best i9-13900K. But if you have a blank cheque and wants to shop for the absolute best-of-the-best CPU to pair with that new GeForce RTX 4090, or is into extreme overclocking, then the i9-13900KS certainly has that appeal. Otherwise, it doesn’t.

The i9-13900KS is a classic example of lofty goals trumping practical considerations. The pursuit of an out-of-the-box clocking of 6GHz leads to a CPU that is both powerful and inefficient. Energy costs are skyrocketing, making the i9-13900KS seem antiquated for all but the most dedicated aficionados.

It's hard to find fault with a processor that consistently ranks at the top of most benchmarks, but the almost-$200 price increase over the standard Core i9-13900K is excessive. If you're concerned solely with raw MHz, then by all means, overclock that model.

As far the fastest desktop CPU available, Intel deserves praise for achieving such a landmark result first. Yet, the biggest obstacle to endorsement comes from inside its own ranks – the i9-13900K.

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