Never preorder: Why jumping on new technology before it's tested is a bad idea

AMD and Nvidia started the trend and Intel's continuing it—but there's always a catch

intel 9900k dark packaging

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One of the grossest aspects of PC gaming has wormed its way into PC components, promising nothing but pain for consumers. Preorders now exist for CPUs and graphics cards. AMD kicked off the trend with its Ryzen processors, Nvidia picked up the torch with the GeForce RTX 20-series GPUs, and now Intel’s selling its newly revealed 9th-gen K-series chips—including the flagship Core i9-9900K—long before you can lay hands on it or read independent reviews. Ick.

I have two words for you: Never preorder.

It’s crazy to drop your hard-earned cash on promises alone, and that’s doubly true for premium-priced PC components that could wind up disappointing in some way. And by “could,” I mean “always.” Just witness the few examples we have so far—and be wary of the warning signs we already see before preordering Intel’s new chips.

dsc01525 Brad Chacos

Ryzen kicked Intel’s ass, but not in gaming.

Ryzen came out swinging after eons of AMD stagnation, delivering vastly improved performance over FX chips, more cores than Intel, and perks like simultaneous multi-threading and overclocking across the board. Ryzen kicked ass—most of the time. Sure, the Ryzen 7 1700 offered vastly more cores (8) and threads (16) than older processors, making it a clear productivity champion. But it wasn’t any faster in games than an overclocked, 5-year-old Intel Core-i5 3570K with four cores alone. If you primarily game on your system and preordered 8-core Ryzen chips based on AMD’s hype and cherry-picked benchmarks alone, you spent hundreds of dollars for a sidegrade. Ugh.

Nvidia spent its entire GeForce RTX 20-series reveal hyping up the futuristic capabilities of the new breed of dedicated hardware inside its Turing GPU. Real-time ray tracing! Deep Learning Super Sampling! AI! Those may yet wind up being impressive technologies—but they’re not available in any shipping games right now.

dsc00295 Brad Chacos/IDG

RTX on

What Nvidia didn’t say at its launch event, and what became very obvious when GeForce RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti reviews rolled out, is that the $700 (but really $800-plus right now) RTX 2080 delivers virtually identical performance in traditional games as the year-old, $700-or-less GTX 1080 Ti. If you preordered the RTX 2080 based on Nvidia’s hype and cherry-picked benchmarks alone, you spent hundreds of dollars for a sidegrade, receiving the same gaming performance that was already available for less along with a helping of promises for the future.

Enter Intel’s 9th-generation Core processors. The $530 Core i9-9900K, $374 Core i7-9700K, and $262 Core i5-9600K are all available to preorder now ahead of an October 19 launch. Don’t do it. If you paid close attention to how Nvidia and AMD marketed the hardware it offered early, you could guess the aspects they would disappoint in, and it’s the same with the Intel 9th-gen CPUs.

intel core i9 packaging 4 Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Intel’s Core i9 8-core, 16-thread processor was announced at an event in New York on October 8, 2018

Let’s set aside the Core i9-9900K, other than to say Intel’s debut 8-core, 16-thread chip hits 5GHz out of the box and will no doubt outpunch AMD’s 8-core, 16-thread (but only $330) Ryzen 7 2700X. I’d still counsel waiting for benchmarks to see if it offers enough extra oomph to be worth its hefty $170 price premium over its AMD rival.

Things get more interesting with the lower-tier chips. Previously, Intel answered the Ryzen threat by bumping its mainstream CPUs from four to six cores. The 9th-gen Core i7-series ups that to eight—matching AMD’s Ryzen 7. But rather than mirroring AMD in offering multi-threading across the board, Intel’s 9th-gen Core chips instead strip out Hyper-Threading completely for everything below the flagship Core i9-9900K.

That means AMD’s more affordable Ryzen 7 processors and their 16 threads could positively wallop the Core i7-9700K, which only has eight CPU cores to lean on. It also means that the current Intel flagship, the Core i7-8700K, could beat its successor in heavily multi-threaded tasks, because with six cores and 12 threads, it offers 50 percent more CPU threads than the 9700K. Performance in some circumstances could be worse with the new chips.

Is it guaranteed? Of course not. And not everybody needs an abundance of CPU threads. But that uncertainty is why you wait for benchmarks before buying… especially because Intel raised pricing of its 9th-gen Core processors. Don’t be the chump that buys something sight-unseen and winds up with a $400 sidegrade—or potentially even a downgrade, depending on how you use your PC.

Never preorder.

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