Core i9-11900K review: Intel's 14nm farewell tour can't end soon enough

Intel's new desktop CPU microarchitecture offers a performance increase at the cost of power and heat.

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Core i9-11900K performance: Encryption and Compression

CPU-intensive tasks aren’t just about rendering performance, so we also look at encryption and compression performance. First up, we use the open-source VeraCrypt 1.24’s built-in benchmark to look at AES performance. We use a larger 1GB buffer size to stress the systems.

The surprise “winner” is the older 10th-gen Comet Lake chip, but the only thing Intel probably cares about is how the 11th-gen Rocket Lake scoots across the finish line, about 5 percent faster than the Ryzen 9 chip.

rocket lake veracrypt IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

To get a second opinion, we tap Primate Lab’s popular but sometimes controversial GeekBench test. The benchmark mixes in about a dozen or two different short loops to measure performance and then produces a final score for all, plus detailed benchmark data.

We can see GeekBench 5 supports hardware acceleration for AES and SHA-1 (both of which were developed by Intel). All three CPUs here support AES in hardware, but only the 11th-gen Rocket Lake and Ryzen 9 support SHA-1 in hardware.

The good news for 8-core Rocket Lake is it still has that 5-percent lead over the 12-core Ryzen 9, even in the multi-core results (yellow bar below). Unlike VeraCrypt, where the 10th-gen Intel chip wins, the 8-core 11th-gen chip actually opens up a 19-percent lead over its 10-core predecessor.

rocket lake geekbench 5.40 crypto IDG

Longer bars indicate higher performance. We change the color coding because we combine scores, but the CPUs are in the same position.

In single-core performance (green bar above), the 11th-gen Rocket Lake actually widens the lead over Ryzen 9 to an impressive 24 percent. Against the older 10th-gen part, it’s a stunning 188 percent faster. Ryzen 9 crushes the 10th-gen Comet Lake to the tune of 133 percent in single-threaded AES performance as well. So AES-NI and SHA-1 benefit both the AMD and Intel latest generations.

For our compression tests, we used the free and popular 7-Zip 19.00. When all cores are used, the winner in decompress (green bar below) by a very large margin is the 12-core Ryzen 9. In second place is the 10-core 10th-gen Comet Lake-S, which puts a decent 8-percent gap in decompress performance ahead of the newer 11th gen.

In the compress side (yellow bar below), 7Zip favors RAM latency, cache performance, and out-of-order performance. The performance gap narrows, but Ryzen still wins.

rocket lake 7zip nt IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance. We change the color coding because we combine scores, but the CPUs are in the same position.

Looking at all three using a single thread (see chart below), Ryzen 9 wins again. Without the core-count advantage, however, the Zen 3 chip yields about a 10-percent advantage in the integer-heavy decompress (green bar below), compared to the 63-percent win when all 12 cores are running.

It really turns into a three-way race when looking at the compression side (yellow bar below), which puts the Ryzen 9 and 11th gen chip in a statistical dead heat. The older 10th-gen Intel chip is only 6 percent slower than its newer relative.

rocket lake 7zip 1t IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance. We change the color coding because we combine scores, but the CPUs are in the same position.

Our final compression test uses RARLab’s WinRar 6.01 and its built-in test. We generally prefer the price of 7-Zip (free), but we were interested in this test because up until the Zen 3-based Ryzen came along, WinRAR was not kind to AMD chips. The tables have turned: Ryzen 9 5900X wins, and the 11th-gen Core i9-11900K loses to its 10-core ancestor by a healthy amount in multi-thread performance.

rocket lake winrar 6.01 IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

Core i9-11900K performance: Productivity

Moving into more practical tests, we used UL’s PCMark 10 to look at the performance of the CPUs on mainstream tasks such as document editing and browsing the web. PCMark Essentials looks at app start-up, web browsing, and video conferencing; Productivity looks at text editing and spreadsheets; and Content Creation examines photo, video and rendering and visualization. In this mode, the test uses mostly open-source applications such as Gimp, Firefox, Chromium, ImageMagick, LibreOffice, and POV-Ray to compute the results.

Ryzen 9 wins overall, but it trades blows with the 11th-gen Rocket Lake chip. The 11th-gen chip is overall about 5 percent faster than the older 10th-gen chip, a nod to the newer cores.

pcmark 10 IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

Core i9-11900K performance: Adobe applications

Next up, a look at applications with more weight: Adobe’s Photoshop, Premiere, and Lightroom Classic. 

Our first test uses UL’s Procyon Photo Editing benchmark, which runs Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom Classic through a series of tasks. The overall winner is Ryzen 9, but its 4.4-percent lead over the Rocket Lake chip is a little close for comfort.  Diving into the subscores, Ryzen 9 takes a decent 11-percent lead in “batch processing,” while Rocket Lake ekes out 2.6-percent advantage in the image retouch section. 

Against the older 10th-gen chip, it’s all win for Rocket Lake. It posts a 13-percent lead in overall score, a 6-percent advantage in batch processing, and a whopping 22-percent lead in image retouch performance.

Both of these wins against the older chip are significant, because most of the batch processing advantage we’ve seen for Ryzen is due to core count. That the 8-core Intel chip is faster than the 10-core Intel chip in batch processing is nothing to scoff at. Image retouch performance favors the newer cores as well. Clearly if you run Adobe Lightroom Classic and Photoshop, having those newer cores are better (than Intel’s older chips anyway.)

rocket lake procyon photo IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

Puget System’s PugetBench has made a name for itself by finding ways to test components for its customers. It’s also made its test scripts available to the public. Ryzen 9 leads the pack, but that 11th-gen Rocket Lake part is practically tied, with its overall score just 2 percent slower. The older 10th-gen chip is a solid third. While some might have hoped Rocket Lake would retake its lead here against AMD, we think it’s a decent showing for the new chip.

rocket lake pugetbench photoshop IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

PugetBench for Lightroom somewhat mirrors the results we saw with Procyon, but the test heavily focuses on RAW processing using Sony, Canon and Nikon files, as well as exporting those files. Puget Systems treats the passive score as the export—when you just walk away from your computer or look at your smartphone for 10 minutes while it grinds. The Active Score measures how fast the application switches between the library module and developer module, as well as scrolling through the images. The 11th-gen Rocket Lake chip has a small 2.9-percent advantage that translates to a slightly snappier feel compared to Ryzen 9. Batch processing heavily favors the 12-core Ryzen, with a 39-percent advantage.

rocket lake pugetbench lightroom IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

UL’s Procyon benchmark uses Adobe Premiere Pro to measure video editing performance. It’s mostly an export, with color correction and other effects applied to 4K file formats before exporting to H.264 and HEVC in different resolutions. Ryzen still wins by a sliver--just 3.2 percent--over 11th-gen Rocket Lake, which in turn enjoys a decent 8-percent lead over its 10th-gen cousin.

All three are closer than you might expect, but it also goes to show you how much Premiere Pro and file exports lean so heavily on the GPU today. Because all three tests were tested with the same GeForce RTX 2080 Ti card, the path Procyon takes is perhaps less dependent on CPU than Intel and AMD would like. Nvidia, however, is probably all smiles.

rocket lake procyon video IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

We take another look at Premiere performance using Puget System’s PugetBench. We omitted the GPU score, because they all scored the same (72). PugetBench’s path appears to lean a little more on the CPU than Procyon, as we see the Ryzen 9 with an 8.4-percent lead over the 11th-gen chip. Ryzen again flexes in the export score, where the AMD chip has an 11-percent advantage. The newer cores also make Rocket Lake just slightly faster than its 10-core predecessor. 

rocket lake pugetbench premiere IDG

Longer bars indicate better performance

Because video editing is so heavily dependent upon encoding, we also reach for the popular and free HandBrake encoder, which we use to convert the open-source 4K Tears of Steel video using the HEVC/H.265 preset for 1080p at 30 fps. For this test, we use the latest daily build of HandBrake (20121032201).

As with most encoders, more cores matter. No surprise: The Ryzen 9 coasts to another victory here, taking about 21 percent less time to complete the CPU-based encode. Of course, it helps if the cores are better cores, so even though the 10th-gen Intel chip has 10 cores to the 11th-gen Intel chip's 8, the latter actually completes its run about 13 percent sooner.

rocket lake handbrake cpu qsv IDG

Shorter bars indicate better performance

We’ll also point out the tiny stubby bar thing at the top of the chart above. That’s the time it takes HandBrake to encode the same job using the 11th-gen Rocket Lake CPU’s integrated graphics core media encoder, known as QuickSync. Yes, that’s 87 seconds to finish something the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X takes 578 seconds to finish. (The Z490 motherboard we used for testing the 10th-gen Comet Lake-S unfortunately did not have an HDMI port and did not allow us to activate the IGP on the chip to compare.)

Many might argue that with a fast GPU, few will do encodes using QuickSync. The chart below shows results on the same encoding job, but using the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition with each CPU. Moving from CPU-based encoding to GPU-based results in pretty massive performance increases. But interestingly, the CPU still matters. The 11th-gen Core i9-11900K actually finishes on top, 4.4 percent faster than Ryzen 9 and 14 percent faster than the older 10th-gen Comet Lake chip. And look: The Xe-derived cores in 11th-gen Rocket Lake offer a 42-percent advantage over the once-mighty GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE.

rocket lake handbrake nvenc IDG

Shorter bars indicate better performance

The performance numbers keep coming! AI applications are next.

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