Intel Core i9-9900KS Special Edition Review: More power, less point

Want to play Counter Strike: GO at 500 fps? Here’s your chip. For everyone else, well...

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Core i9-9900KS Special Edition Gaming Performance

It was clear for months that the Core i9-9900KS SE wasn’t going to win a multi-core battle with Ryzen 3000 chips. As we explained when we compared the Core i9 to Ryzen 9, Core i9’s expected strength was always going to be in gaming.

There’s a balance in gaming among CPU and GPU performance, display resolution and frame rate, and the game itself. The higher the resolution and the more graphically intense the game, the more the GPU matters. The lower the resolution, and the less graphically intense the game, the more the CPU will matter.

We established with our Ryzen 9 3900X review that at higher resolutions, the contest between the Ryzen 9 3900X and Core i9-9900K shrinks almost to nothing. Does being able to Turbo Boost up to 5GHz on all cores change that equation?

core i9 9900ks sotr 25x14 rtx 2080 ti IDG

Our first test is Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which we run at the highest-quality setting preset at 2560x1440 resolution. It’s a two-way tie for first between the Core i9-9900K and the Core i9-9900KS Special Edition. As we said earlier, running a graphically intensive game such as Shadows of the Tomb Raider at a resolution of 2560x1440 makes this an all-GPU load. The Ryzen 9 3900X follows pretty closely.

core i9 9900ks sotr 19x10 rtx 2080 ti IDG

What happens if we run it at the most common resolution today: Full HD or 1920x1080, which now makes the GPU less of a bottleneck? We see the gap widen between the Intel and AMD to about 11 percent, up from the 5 percent we saw at the higher resolution. For the most part, you can expect gaming performance between both the Core i9 chips at higher resolutions to be so close it won’t matter to most. That’s the conclusion we drew before, so the rest of our runs will be at 1920x1080.

core i9 9900ks deus ex 19x10 ultra rtx 2080 ti IDG

Our next game is Deus Ex: Mankind United. This game was one of the first to optimize for AMD when Ryzen was introduced, so it should offer more of a neutral view. Even at 1920x1080 resolution, both of the Core i9 CPUs are essentially tied. Both also have about a 7-percent lead over the Ryzen 9 3900X. If you were expecting that extra few hundred megahertz of the Core i9-9900KS to kick in, so were we.

core i9 9900ks far cry 5 ultra dx 12 19x10 rtx 2080 ti IDG

Fortunately for the Core i9-9900KS chip, it finally takes a more definitive lead in Far Cry 5’s benchmark. Unfortunately, it’s a small difference at roughly 5 percent over the Core i9-9900K. The showdown between the Ryzen 9 3900X and the Core i9-9900KS SE is what you care about, and just like old times, the Core i9-9900KS SE opens up a 26-percent increase over the Ryzen 9. We attribute this mostly to the clock speed advantage the Intel chips have, though game optimizations likely also helped. What is clear is the Core i9 is the winner. Period.

core i9 9900ks gears 5 19x10 rtx 2080 ti IDG

Coalition’s Gears of War 5 is brand-new and also, apparently, a decent GPU hog. We ran the game on its Ultra preset with the high-res texture pack installed. The new Core i9-9900KS SE opens up about a 7-percent performance gap over the Ryzen 9 and small 3-percent gap over its older sibling. Basically, no big whoop between the chips even at 1920x1080.

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Ashes of the Singularity was one of the poster children for multi-core gaming performance under DirectX12. Our experience in the past indicates it hits a diminishing return on CPU cores fairly early. It’s still worth running, but the results above (using the Crazy preset and CPU-focused setting) says you can’t make the wrong choice.

core i9 9900ks rainbow six siege 19x10 rtx 2080 ti IDG

Not all games push graphics to the wall. In fact, the most popular ones can be built on older engines and are designed to run on lower-cost hardware to reach as wide an audience as possible. One such game is Ubi’s Rainbow Six Siege, which we run on its Ultra setting. The Core i9-9900KS SE leads the way with about a 14-percent gap over the Ryzen 9 3900X. And yup, if you’re looking at upgrading from your Core i9-9900K, don’t, as you’ll get a mere 3-percent bump.

core i9 9900ks csgo 19x10 rtx 2080 ti IDG

The last game we’ll show is Counter-Strike: Global Operations. A tremendously popular eSports game, CS:GO performance for normal users doesn’t matter. For actual competitors who have the hand-eye coordination of an Wild West gunslinger, anything less than several hundred fps is failure. We run the game at 19x10 resolution set to high quality and use the FPS benchmark from the workshop to measure frame rates.

The winner by 21 percent over the Ryzen 9 3900X is the Core i9-9900KS SE, with no less than 480 fps overall. Mind you: When the game wasn’t dragging frame rates to 150 fps for the intense smoke particle sections, we were seeing 700 fps. So yeah, if the Ryen 9 3800X’s 394 fps isn’t enough, you have your answer.

Keep reading for thread-by-thread performance and objective bang-for-buck analysis.

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