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Intel 9th Generation Adds Little

October 23, 2018

Author: Linley Gwennap

To maintain its annual marketing cadence, Intel rolled out its first 9th Generation processors despite having no new microarchitecture or process technology to boost performance. Unsurprisingly, the result was underwhelming. Almost all the new products, which target gamers and content creators, offer minimal performance upgrades at the same or higher price than their predecessors.

The most interesting new product is the Core i9-9900K, the first eight-core processor in the S-series. The extra cores come with L3-cache slices, expanding the L3 to 16MB. Based on the Coffee Lake-S Refresh design, it’s the first Intel PC processor with hardware mitigation for certain side-channel attacks. The maximum turbo frequency is 5.0GHz, matching the top speed of the recent Core i7-8086K. We estimate the performance gain over the 8086K is 4–5% for most games, but the 9900K costs about $60 more.

The new Core i7-9700K enables eight cores but only eight threads and 12MB of cache; we estimate this 8/8 configuration will perform similarly to the older Core i7-8700K’s 6/12 configuration on most games, although the small clock-speed boost could help a bit. The Core i5-9600K is essentially identical to the Core i5-8600K, offering a 6/6 configuration and 9MB of cache but slightly higher speeds.

The new X-series products are based on the same Skylake-SP microarchitecture as the earlier products, but in the newer 14nm++ process. As such, they lack any new features or capabilities other than better thermal paste. For example, the top-end Core i9-9980XE provides the same core count and price as the older Core i9-7980XE while offering a modest base- and turbo-speed boost. A similar boost applies to the lower-core-count models. For those having 14 or fewer cores, Intel had to raise the TDP from 140W to 165W to handle the faster clock.

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