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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Price analysis

This next graphic is our last, and is the simple metric of how much you’re paying for each CPU thread. This is somewhat limited as it doesn’t speak to the “quality” of that thread or its performance, but as a raw, 5,000- foot view of cores per buck we find it handy. And frankly, most consumers don’t look at the performance of the cores. They look at the sheer number the way they, well, look at megahertz.

The chart shows that while we appreciate Intel’s moderated price on the Core i9-9900KS SE, it doesn’t compare to the deals you can get for AMD’s Ryzen chips. Even if you subtract the “bulk” price of the high-core-count CPUs (they may be cheaper, but you have to buy a ton of them) Intel’s current pricing on the Core i9-9900KS SE can’t compete.

bucks per thread oct 2019 IDG

When the best isn’t good enough

In 2013, AMD released its FX-9590 Black Edition CPU, which heralded up to 5GHz turbo clocks at an astounding 220-watt TDP, but delivered unimpressive performance against Intel’s best and brightest. It was, essentially, a last-ditch effort to get attention for a chip that had been passed by.

Now more than six years later, there is an Alanis Morissette sense of irony with Intel’s all-Turbo Boost Core i9-9900KS, which simply cannot outrun its AMD counterpart in many tasks.

To be fair, the situation for the Core i9-9900KS isn’t as dire as it was for the FX-9590 Black Edition. That 8-core FX-9590, after all, lost most matches to Intel CPUs with only four cores. You would have had to look far and wide to find something, anything, the FX-9590 was better at.

World’s Best Gaming Processor: True

The Core i9-9900KS can, at least, hold its head high as the “world’s best gaming processor.” We have no doubt of that, and the numbers you’ve seen here prove that.

The problem is, it’s not like nerds were asking for Intel to raise the bar on gaming—where it already leads with the previous Core i9-9900K chip. In fact, that was proclaimed as the “best gaming CPU” when launched last October, and if not for the Core i9-9900KS, would still be top dog.

No, what Intel fans wanted were more cores to help push back against Ryzen—or if not, then hyper-competitive pricing.

With the Core i9-9900KS SE, we get essentially the world’s new best gaming CPU, but nothing that really changes the CPU landscape for desktop users. That small disappointment will ultimately vex the Core i9-9900KS Special Edition.

Should you buy the Core i9-9900KS?

This hardly means the Core i9-9900KS Special Edition is bad. CPUs are not one-size-fits-all. There are indeed many people who might want to buy this CPU, so we’ll help you decide.

The Core i9-9900K customer: The most obvious buyer is the consumer who’s already decided to buy a Core i9-9900K chip. If you’re already paying $490 for a Core i9-9900K chip, an extra $25 or so is worth it for essentially a binned-out, A-grade CPU.

You run Intel-loving apps: Intel has a large army of employees working on software development. That means there are a lot of apps and games optimized for Intel. You can hate it or criticize it, but if at the end of the day, it gets you more performance, the Core i9-9900KS is the right choice for you work.

The Intel upgrader: If you’re already in the Intel ecosystem and need more performance (and you thought ahead and bought a higher-quality motherboard), it just doesn’t make sense to dump it all, switch to Ryzen and take a bath on the motherboard and deal with a complete rebuild of the OS. Just pluck out that 6-core, 6-thread Core i5, drop in the 8-core, 16-thread Core i9-9900KS, and you’re back in business. The path of least resistance is well-trod for a reason.

The pro gamer: If you absolutely, positively have to have maximum fps to decrease latency and response time, then look no further than the Core i9-9900KS. It’s almost as though Intel sat down and made a CPU just for you. 

The 100-percent gamer: We don’t know if this 100-percent-gamer person really exists, because we know people use their PCs for other tasks. But if you only play games and you can’t decide between a Ryzen 9 3900X and Core i9-9900KS Special Edition (both roughly $500), we can straight up say the Core i9-9900KS Special Edition will perform better probably 99 percent of the time. And yes, we’ll also point out that, maybe a Ryzen 7 or even Ryzen 5 as well as Core i7 or even Core i5 is a better use of your funds. But if you’re dead-set on a top-tier gaming chip, look no further.

Everyone else: Everyone else not on this list, frankly, is better served by the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X, because of its additional multi-threaded performance and still fairly decent gaming performance.

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