Intel 10th Gen Review: The Core i9-10900K is indeed the world's fastest gaming CPU

Intel's 10th gen Comet Lake S CPUs don't take the crown in multi-core performance but they close the gap enough that you may want to actually consider them.

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Core i9-10900K Compression Performance

Moving on to compression and decompression performance, we first use RARLab’s WinRAR. As with prior Ryzen CPUs, the result is bad—a loss for the Ryzen 9 and a big win for the Core i9. The Ryzen architecture has long performed poorly here. In the built-in benchmark, the Core i9 is 82 percent faster.

core i9 10900k winrar nt IDG

No surprise, the Core i9 walks away with a big win here because the Ryzen part just runs poorly in WinRAR.

Switching WinRAR to single-core performance, nothing changes except the Core i9’s win grows to a 194-percent advantage. We use WinRAR because it’s worth pointing out that some software will heavily penalize Ryzen’s microarchitecture. Intel has fielded software support to companies for much longer than AMD, and it shows.

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The gap closes with the much more popular (and free) 7Zip. We set the built-in benchmark to use the number of threads available to the CPU—in this case, 24 for Ryzen 9 and 20 for Core i9. The first result is multi-core.

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The multi-core performance of the Core i9 can’t keep up with the Ryzen 9 in 7Zip.

Decompressing performance, according to the developer, leans heavily on integer performance, branch prediction, and instruction latency. Compressing performance leans more on memory latency, cache performance, and out-of-order performance. It doesn’t matter either way, as the Core i9 falls to the Ryzen 9 in both areas. The Ryzen 9 is about 21 percent faster in decompression, and a whopping 44 percent faster in compression.

Moving to single-threaded performance, we see the Core i9’s fortunes reverse, with about 7 percent faster decompression and 17 percent faster compression.

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Single-threaded 7Zip performance is a solid win for the Core i9.

Core i9-10900K Gaming Performance

Intel didn’t call the Core i9-10900K ‘the best CPU for multi-threaded performance’ because it likely knew it wasn’t going to squeeze out the Ryzen 9 3900X. On the other hans, Intel’s chips have long led in gaming performance, ever since the first Ryzen was introduced. 

Rather than have you scroll through 16 charts, we combined 16 results into one megachart, from a list of games run at varying resolutions and settings. We’ll run through it from top to bottom.

In Far Cry New Dawn we see the Core i9 vary from about 9 percent to about 14 percent over the Ryzen 9, depending on the resolution and game setting. As you jack up the resolution or the game setting, the test is increasingly GPU-bound.

Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation, long the poster child for DX12 performance, is hailed for actually using the extra CPU cores available to gamers today. For this run, we use the Crazy quality preset and select the CPU-focused benchmark, which is supposed to throw additional units into the game. The result: about a 7.5-percent advantage for the Core i9-10900K.

Chernobylite, an early-access game, features a benchmark to showcase its beautiful graphics. Set to high, where the game is not limited by GPU performance, we see that familiar 7.9-percent advantage for the Core i9 over the Ryzen 9. As we crank up the graphics from high to ultra, it becomes an increasingly GPU-bound test.

The only red (AMD) bar longer than a blue (Intel) bar is in Civilization VI Gathering Storms—but unfortunately for the Ryzen 9, this particular test measures how long it takes for the computer to make a move, and shorter time is better. The Core i9 is about 6.5 percent faster.

For Metro Exodus, we run the game at 19x10 resolution using the built-in benchmark presets for High, Extreme, and RTX. On High, when the game is less of a GPU test and more of a CPU test, the Core i9 has about a 6.7-percent advantage over the Ryzen. On Extreme, where the GPU is the bottleneck, the gap closes to about 3 percent. When the RTX preset is used, the Core i9’s advantage is about 4.3 percent, which is a surprise—we assumed performance differences would dissipate because ray tracing is so intensive.

Quake II RTX kind of proves our case, as it’s a fully path-traced version of the original classic. We assumed the RTX 2080 Ti results would basically render this test nil, and for the most part it is pretty close. The Core i9’s 2.7-percent lead is likely within the margin of error, but even this small edge says something.

Here’s a result that’s not so close, in Gears of War 5. On its medium setting, the Core i9 leads by almost 49 percent over the Ryzen 9. On the Ultra preset, the Core i9 clears by a heavy 17.2 percent. As we move up to higher resolutions, the GPU is again the bottleneck, and we see about a 6.2-percent lead for the Core i9 over Ryzen 9. We also include the game’s CPU Frame Rate report, which projects how many frames the CPU could push out if not bound by the graphics card. It shows a hefty 35-percent advantage for the Core i9.

This last result, while not as common among the games we ran, is a reminder that there are many games that simply don’t run as well on Ryzen’s microarchitecture, though it’s certainly improved over the original Ryzen launch (which was almost always at a 20-percent deficit). Intel retains an advantage in the vast majority of games—how much will depend on your graphics card and the resolution you choose to play at. 

core i9 10900k gaming performance IDG

The Core i9-10900K’s a gaming advantage over the Ryzen 9 3900X creeps higher when the game is less bound by the GPU.

Let’s highlight a couple of wins for AMD—the first one is a bit of a surprise. It’s Counter Strike: Global Offensive, using the FPS Workshop test. We suspect the Ryzen 9 3900X's large cache helps it here, but we plan to retest to make sure. And yes, both are in excess of 400 fps.

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CS:Go gives the win to the Ryzen 9 3900X.

We’ll close this out with UL’s 3DMark Time Spy Extreme CPU test. It tests physics, and generally the more cores you have, the better the performance. While the win goes to AMD, don't get too excited. While we support using more cores for gaming, few developers are even pushing 8 cores. Consider this an aspirational win.

3dmark time spy extreme physics IDG

We wish more cores would result in more performance in modern games, but it’s often not true.

What about power consumption?

The Core i9-10900K's power consumption has inspired many rumors, especially consideting its official TDP of 120 watts. Intel has long been at a disadvantage against the 7nm Ryzens on power. Once you add two cores and more clocks, it’s not going to get better.

For our testing, we unfortunately did not have access to matching power supplies. Both PCs used 1,000-watt units, but the Ryzen 9 used an 80 Plus Silver, while the Core i9 used an 80 Plus Gold, which is slightly more efficient in how it converts AC to DC. (An 80 Plus Gold must be at least 88-percent efficient at a 20 percent load, while an 80 Plus Silver must be 85-percent efficient.)

Both systems also featured motherboards bedazzled with LEDs and OLEDs—we don't know how much power they consumed. Both had the same liquid coolers and the same GPU models and internal case fans, so we monitored both using watt meters that measured the power consumed at the wall socket during various loads. This testing should be taken with a high probably of inaccuracy, though, until we can match components.

On lighter loads, you can see the purple line (Ryzen 9) consumed more power at idle and also on light loads. It doesn’t take long before the Core i9 (red line) starts guzzling, though.

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The Intel system actually used less power at idle and on light loads than the AMD system, but that advantage quickly goes away.

Here’s another view of the power both systems consumed during Cinebench R20. The Intel system (red) hits about 290 watts of power vs. the 250 watts for the AMD system. When you also consider that the Intel system takes longer to finish the run, it’s really all in Ryzen 9’s favor. Even though much has been made of the power and heat, in our opinion it probably shouldn’t be the deciding factor for most people.

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Ryzen 9 runs faster and consumes less power than Core i9-10900K. 

Core i9-10900K Conclusion

If you were expecting Intel’s 10th-gen to hammer Ryzen 3000 CPUs, you were wrong. Intel's creaky 14nm fabrication process can’t fully stand up against AMD’s (and TSMC’s) 7nm, and Intel was never going to offer more multi-core performance than AMD’s chips.

What Intel has done, however, is close the gap. The company’s previous standard bearer, the Core i9-9900K, had an ocean-sized gap in multi-core performance. With the additional 2 cores in Core i9-10900K, the gap narrows to the point that some might gladly trade it for the gaming and performance in lighter loads the Core i9 offers.

Intel's pricing restraint helps, too. At $488 list, the 10th-gen Core i9-10900K gives you two more cores for the same price as the 9th-gen Core i9-9900K. In Intel’s world, that’s a major price cut. In fact, Intel’s entire 10th-gen lineup is a major improvement, as the Core i7 and Core i5 finally get Hyper-Threading. Those two models were embarrassingly underpowered against their AMD counterparts. AMD’s CPUs are still a raging deal—but at least 10th-gen Intel isn't just a wholesale write-off.

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Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs earn a place at the table, rather than being the butt of jokes like many 9th-gen versions were.

Rather than focus on the deal AMD offers, there’s another positive trend we want to point out. The height of Intel’s hubris could be defined by 2016’s 10-core Core i7-6950X. That chip had a price of $1,723, which meant you were paying $86 per thread. By 2017, AMD’s Ryzen had emerged as a threat, and the 10-core Core i9-7900X had cut the price per thread to $49. Intel kept that price steady for 2018’s 10-core Core i9-9900X. With the 10-core Core i9-10900X, Intel slashed prices to $30 per thread, or $590.

With the $488 Core i9-10900K, the price of 10 cores from Intel hits an all-time low, which is good news for consumers no matter what side of the fence you sit on.

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Here’s every 10-core CPU Intel has released since 2016.

In the end, AMD still makes it a better choice and a better deal for most—but for those who want higher clock speeds and more performance on lighter workloads—Intel’s 10th gen Core i9-10900K and its sibling at least are worth considering. That, frankly, is a victory from the situation it has been in.

core i9 10900k 2 Gordon Mah Ung

Intel’s 10th gen CPUs may not be faster in multi-core performance, but at least they’re finally worth considering again.

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