One thing for certain, this “Core War” between AMD and Intel has been good for us, the consumer. After the launch of ZEN 2 with 12 and 16 core CPUs on their mainstream platform, Intel is firing back with the Core i9-10900K. The flagship CPU is a 10-core, 20-thread CPU with a maximum boost speed of 5.3 GHz that Intel claims will deliver the best gaming experience in the desktop market. The best part of this is that the CPU pricing is steadily improving. This time around you can get 10 cores and 20 threads for the same suggested retail price of the 8-core, 16-thread 9900K released a year ago, less than $500.
Today we are pitting AMD against Intel and we’ll see who comes out a winner in our testing suite. The showdown will include the i9-10900K and the i5 10600K from Intel up against the Ryzen 3900X, and the 3700X in an effort to align core count and pricing.
Specifications and Features
Intel’s latest line of desktop processors includes several changes on paper which should make the power user and overclocker smile. The new CPU lineup brings up to 10 cores and 20 threads using higher frequencies, integrated hardware security updates, as well as using soldered TIM (STIM) which should yield better thermal conductivity. Intel has also updated the integrated wireless connectivity with Wi-Fi 6 AX201. The updated WiFi uses 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands with a maximum speed of 2.4 Gbps and also includes Bluetooth 5.1.
The Comet Lake CPU line up is very extensive, including desktop and mobile CPUs running from Core i3 to i9 as well as Pentium Gold and Celeron versions. Today we’ll be dealing with the Core i9-10900K 10-core, 20-thread and the Core i5 10600K 6-core, 12-thread CPUs specifically. Both of the CPUs have unlocked multipliers and a 125 W TDP making them ideal for enthusiasts. Just add cooling and a motherboard to support them. Intel recommends 250 W for optimal turbo power operation making cooling very important for maximum speed.
Both the 10900K and 10600K have 2 MB of L3 cache per core adding up to 20 MB for the i9 and 12 MB of L3 cache for the i5 series. Memory support remains the same for i5 and i3 CPUs at 2666 MHz but the Core i9 and i7 series now have base memory support of up to 2933 MHz with all CPUs supporting 128 GB of memory in a dual-channel configuration.
Unlike AMD, Intel is still on PCI Express 3.0 with 16 lanes from the CPU and up to 24 lanes from the PCH for up to 40 lanes in total.
Pricing for the 10900K is $488-$499 which is the same as the launch price for the 9900K. This time around you’re essentially getting two more cores for free this time around. The eight-core i7 -10700K, on the other hand, is about $100 less than it was a year ago and the 6-core i5-10600K pricing remains unchanged at $262. Looking at today’s competition, the 12-core Ryzen 3900X lists today for $432, the 8-core Ryzen 3700X retails for $294, and the 3600X comes in at $210. This is a lot lower than their MSRP on launch as these products have been in the market for some time and have recently gone on sale, seemingly as a response to this launch.
|Intel 10th Gen K Series CPUs|
|Core i9-10900K||$488||10 / 20||3.7 / 5.3||125W||20 MB||2933||UHD 630|
|Core i7-10700K||$374||8 / 16||3.8 / 5.1||125W||16 MB||2933||UHD 630|
|Core i5-10600K||$262||6 / 12||4.1 / 4.8||125W||12 MB||2666||UHD 630|
The new chips make a slight change in how Turbo works with the 10900K now able to boost a single core up to 5.3 GHz. Intel has added another Turbo Boost category called Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB). TVB is only available on the Core i9 series CPUs and adds an extra layer in the Turbo tiers that is dependent on temperature. The TVB speeds can only be reached if the core temperature of the CPU remains at or below 70°C, we’ll see how well this works with our EVGA 240 mm CLC which is middle of the road as far as cooling is concerned.
|Intel Core 9 Series Turbo Boost (Non-AVX)|
|Base||Single-Core||Single-Core TVB||All-Core||All-Core TVB|
|i9-10900K||3.7 GHz||5.1 GHz||5.3 GHz||4.8 GHz||4.9 GHz|
|i5-10600K||4.1 GHz||4.8 GHz||N/A||4.5 GHz||N/A|
The Comet Lake processors are still built on the dated, yet effective, 14++ nm process node which is the fifth iteration of Intel’s Skylake microarchitecture. The 14nm process has been around since 2014, introduced with 5th generation Broadwell-based CPUs, refined in 2016 with 7th generation Kaby Lake (14nm+), and then with 8th generation Coffee Lake S/U/H and Whiskey Lake-U CPUs debuting in 2017. It’s a bit long in the tooth, but overall it is keeping Intel in the game while they develop new chips on a smaller process.
With new CPUs comes a new line of motherboards from the board partners based on the latest Z490 chipset. The Z490 chipset-based motherboards have native USB 3.2 Gen2 (10 Gbps) ports and integrated Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201. They are all still PCIe Gen 3 based with up to 24 communication lanes depending on the CPU installed. That said, some motherboards support PCIe 4.0, though none have been confirmed as the CPUs to support these are not available yet.
As usual, a new Intel CPU requires a new motherboard which also carries with it a new socket configuration. The LGA1200 socket is made for 10th-gen Comet Lake CPUs and there is no cross-compatibility between existing z390 and the new z490 platforms. Although the socket has changed, the holes surrounding the socket for cooling have not changed. Existing coolers that work with LGA115x, will work here as well.
Meet the i9-10900K and i5-10600K
Before things get started, below are images of the 10900K and 10600K in CPU-Z at its stock settings with XMP enabled.
Here’s a slideshow of the sample packaging which differs from retail, some close-ups of the CPUs top and bottom plus a comparison of the 1151 socket 9900K and the 1200 socket 10900K pad orientation. You’ll also notice that the notches that along the CPU in the socket are at the opposite end of the CPU when compared to socket 1151 CPUs.
Test Setup and Results
Here we take a slightly different approach to CPU testing with ours based on a lot of Hwbot.org benchmarks since that is what we are known for, overclocking and benchmarking. We use real-world testing as well with Cinebench, x265, POV-Ray, and 7Zip in order to give readers a good idea of the general performance of the product tested.
|Test System Components|
|Motherboard||ASUS ROG Maximus XII Extreme|
|CPU||Intel i9 10900K and Intel i5 10600K (stock)|
|CPU Cooler||EVGA CLC 240|
|Memory||2×8 GB G.Skill Trident Z 3200 MHz CL15-15-15-35|
|SSD||Toshiba OCZ TR200 480 GB (OS + Applications)|
|Power Supply||EVGA 750 W G3|
|Video Card||Radeon RX 5700 XT|
Thanks go out to EVGA for providing the CLC 240 CPU Cooler and 750 W G3 Power Supply to cool and power the system, G.Skill for the Trident Z DRAM, and Toshiba OCZ for the 480 GB TR200 SSD storage running the OS, benchmarks, and games. With our partners helping out, we are able to build matching test systems to mitigate many differences found between using different hardware. This allows for multiple reviewers in different locations to use the same test system and compare results without additional variables.
We would also like to thank Intel/ASUS for supplying the ROG Maximus XII Extreme a Z490 chipset-based motherboard which we used for all the testing of the i9-10900K and the i5-10600K. This is one beautiful-looking motherboard in a sleek, shiny black design with some serious weight to it. It comes equipped with a 16-phase power stage design well equipped to handle the demands of the 10-core i9-10900K.
We are also including a list of z490 motherboards here from various partners breaking down what we know at this point.
|Z490 Motherboard Product Stack by Partner|
|ASRock Z490 AQUA||E-ATX||NA / $1,099.99|
|ASRock Z490 Taichi||ATX||$439.99 / $369.99|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming Velocita||ATX||NA / $259.99|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming-ITX TB3||mITX||NA / $279.99|
|ASRock Z490 Extreme 4||ATX||NA / $194.99|
|ASRock Z490 Steel Legend||ATX||$219.99 / $184.99|
|ASRock Z490 Pro4||ATX||$199.99 / $169.99|
|ASRock Z490M-ITX AC||mITX||$159.99 / $159.99|
|ASRock Z490M Pro4||mATX||$179.99 / $149.99|
|ASRock Z490 Phantom Gaming 4||ATX||NA / $149.99|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XII Extreme||E-ATX||$750.00 / $749.99|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XII Formula||ATX||$500.00 / $499.99|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XII Apex||ATX||$420.00 / $399.99|
|ASUS ROG Maximus XII Hero||ATX||$399.99 / $399.99|
|ASUS ProArt Z490-Creator 10G||ATX||$299.99 / $299.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-E Gaming||ATX||$299.99 / $299.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-F Gaming||ATX||NA / $269.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-A Gaming||ATX||$249.99 / $249.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-H Gaming||ATX||$219.99 / $219.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-G Gaming WiFi||mATX||$239.99 / $239.99|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-G Gaming||mATX||NA / NA|
|ASUS ROG Strix Z490-I Gaming||mITX||$299.99 / $299.99|
|ASUS Prime Z490-A||ATX||$229.99 / $229.99|
|ASUS Prime Z490-P||ATX||$159.99 / $159.99|
|ASUS Prime Z490M-Plus||mATX||$149.99 / $149.99|
|ASUS TUF Gaming Z490-Plus||ATX||$179.99 / NA|
|ASUS TUF Gaming Z490-Plus WiFi||ATX||$199.99 / $199.99|
|Biostar Z490GTA Evo||ATX||NA / NA|
|Biostar Z490GTA||ATX||NA / NA|
|Biostar Z490GTN||mATX||NA / NA|
|EVGA Z490 Dark||E-ATX||NA / NA|
|EVGA Z490 FTW||ATX||NA / NA|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Xtreme Waterforce||E-ATX||NA / $1299.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Xreme||E-ATX||$799.99 / $799.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Master||ATX||$389.99 / $389.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Ultra||ATX||$299.99 / $299.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Pro AX||ATX||$269.99 / $269.99|
|Gigabyte Z490-I AORUS Ultra||mITX||$269.99 / $269.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Elite AC||ATX||$219.99 / $219.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 AORUS Elite||ATX||$199.99 / $199.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 Vision D (Designaire)||ATX||$299.99 / $299.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 Vision G (Gaming SLI)||ATX||$199.99 / $199.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 Gaming X||ATX||$179.99 / NA|
|Gigabyte Z490M Gaming X||mATX||$159.99 / $159.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 UD AC||ATX||NA / $169.99|
|Gigabyte Z490 UD||ATX||$149.99 / NA|
|MSI MEG Z490 Godlike||ATX||$749.99 / $749.99|
|MSI MEG Z490 Ace||ATX||$399.99 / $399.99|
|MSI MEG Z490 Unify||ATX||$319.99 / $299.99|
|MSI MEG Z490M Unify||mITX||NA / NA|
|MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Carbon WiFi||ATX||$269.99 / $269.99|
|MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Edge WiFi||ATX||$199.99 / $199.99|
|MSI MPG Z490 Gaming Plus||ATX||$169.99 / $169.99|
|MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk||ATX||$189.99 / $189.99|
|MSI Z490-A Pro||ATX||$159.99 / $159.99|
|Supermicro C9Z490-PG||ATX||NA / NA|
|Supermicro C9Z490-PGW||ATX||NA / NA|
i9-10900K and i5-10600K Performance Testing
- AIDA64 Engineer CPU, FPU, and Memory Tests
- Cinebench R11.5 and R15
- HWBot x265 1080p Benchmark
- SuperPi 1M/32M
- WPrime 32M/1024M
All CPU tests were run at their default settings unless otherwise noted.
We have updated our gaming tests and dropped down to four games for CPU reviews. In many cases, even at 1080p, the difference between CPUs isn’t that much and the titles we use covers both CPU heavy titles like AOTSE and Far Cry 5 as well as GPU bound titles like SOTR and F1 2018. All game tests were run at 1920×1080 with all CPUs at default settings unless otherwise noted. Please see our testing procedures for details on in-game settings.
- Shadow of the Tomb Raider – DX12, “Highest” preset
- Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation – DX12, Crazy preset, GPU focused
- F1 2018 – Very High defaults, TAA, and x16 AF, Australia track, show FPS counter
- Far Cry 5 – Ultra defaults
- UL 3DMark Fire Strike (Extreme) – Default settings
AIDA64 CPU, FPU, and Memory Tests
Included below are a couple of shots of the AIDA64 cache and memory benchmark results for both the i9-10900K and i5- 10600K. As you can see, the number of cores has some impact on memory bandwidth with the Ryzen 3900X taking the lead. In the latency test, Intel is the winner hands down when compared to the AMD ZEN2-based CPUs.
|AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark|
|Ryzen 9 3900X||49035||47403||50265||72.7|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||46665||25551||44440||72.4|
In the AIDA64 CPU tests, we are able to see what the higher core count and clock speeds bring to the table. The Intel i9-10900K and the Ryzen 3900X trade blows taking two tests each. It wasn’t surprising seeing the 9900k win the PhotoWorx test as that test doesn’t rely on core count. The i5-10600K puts up a good fight against the 3700X leveraging its speed over the Ryzen’s extra cores.
|AIDA64 CPU Tests|
|Ryzen 9 3900X||124553||23909||1199||106707||3546|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||99389||20956||844.5||74598||2463|
Moving on to the AIDA64 FPU tests, both of the Ryzen CPUs took over here putting the extra four threads to good use completely negating Intel’s speed advantage. That said, for having 20% more threads, only in the SinJulia test did we see close to a 20% increase in performance.
|AIDA64 FPU Tests|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||8444||79410||41905||14485|
Real World Tests
Moving on to the real-world testing, the Ryzen CPUs made a clean sweep across these five benchmarks. All of these benchmarks are multi-threaded and play into AMD’s strong suit. This really demonstrates the advantage of having two additional cores when processing parallel workloads such as video encoding, rendering, and compression.
|Cinebench R20/R15, POVRay, x265 (HWBot), 7Zip – Raw Data|
|Ryzen 9 3900X||6952||3073||6097||81.1||108758|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||4842||2112||4317||64.44||80416|
Pi and Prime-Based Tests
Next up are the Pi and Prime number based tests. In this set of testing, the 10900K sits on top of the heap due to its faster clock speeds. All that is, except for WPrime 1024 where over the longer time frame the 3900X managed to squeak ahead likely due to SMT which is more efficient than Intel’s Hyper-Threading in many scenarios. Both the i9-10900K and i5-10600K do exceptionally well in the SuperPi benchmark, this has always been a weak spot for Ryzen and during a single-threaded benchmark, the speed of the Intel CPUs takes the crown.
|SuperPi and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data|
|CPU||SuperPi 1M||SuperPi 32M||wPrime 32M||wPrime 1024M|
|Ryzen 9 3900X||9.094||516.084||2.328||50.363|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||9.422||529.083||2.746||71.941|
For gaming, we are using Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation in DX12. The game leans pretty heavily on the CPU for all it has to do in the game, while Shadow of the Tomb Raider and F1 2018 use a fair amount of CPU, but are more typically GPU bound titles. As we can see from the graph below, there was little difference in either title at 1080p. Far Cry 3, on the other hand, really demonstrates the speed advantage of the 10900K which leads the pack by a significant margin.
Next up we have 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme, which is a DX11-based test that UL says the graphics are rendered with detail and complexity far beyond other DX11 benchmarks and games using 1920×1080 resolution. As you can see below, the overall and graphics scores were fairly close to one another but the physics results really show a spread. This test is strictly CPU dependent with thread count the largest factor. Even with the extra cores, the Ryzen 3900X was edged out by the i9-10900K’s speed advantage.
Power Consumption and Temperatures
Intel uses a set of variables called Power levels: PL1, PL2, and PL3. PL1 is the cooling limit (TDP) in this case 125 W for the i9-10900K, PL2 is sustained power delivery (Turbo), and PL3 is the power delivery limit. PL2 is the maximum sustainable power the CPU can handle until thermal issues occur. Intel has set the value of PL2 to 250 W though board manufacturers can set their own.
What this means is the CPU will run at PL2 as long as the thermal envelope still has headroom. If the load is too heavy, the CPU speed will drop its frequency to keep the power usage within the PL1 level. You’ll notice two sets of results for power and temperatures below. The first one adheres to Intel’s specifications and the second allows the motherboard to bypass these limits and run the CPU at the all-core turbo speed regardless of power usage or temperature.
Running the i9-10900K under Intel’s guidelines we see moderate power usage and temperatures but behind the scenes, the CPU is running slower. In this case, during the AIDA64 stress test, the i9-10900K ran at 4.6 GHz. Bump that up to a more stressful load, the FPU test in AIDA64, and the speed drops again, this time to 4.2 GHz. Lastly, 3.8 GHz while running Prime95 small FFTs.
When using ASUS’ Multi-core Enhancement (MCE) the CPU runs consistently at 4.9 GHz throughout all the stress tests and this causes the power usage and temperatures to skyrocket. As we can see by the Prime95 small FFT results, the i9-10900K sucks down 372 W of power (at the wall) and reaches 94°C with the 240 mm EVGA CLC we use. If you want to get the most out of this CPU, you are going to have to bring the cooling.
The i5-10600K, on the other hand, managed to stay within its power envelope and ran at 4.5 GHz which is its all-core boost speed throughout all of our stress tests. The second set of data is using the i5-10600K at an all-core overclock of 5.0 GHz as you can see it was still manageable with a maximum temperature of 91°C and pulling a massive 294 W from the wall a full 90 W more than the 3900X 12-core AMD CPU at stock.
Overclocking the i9-10900K and i5-10600K
Overclocking and stability always seem to be a contentious subject in the enthusiast forums. Many people feel that serious stability testing isn’t always necessary and tests such as Prime95 small FFTs are labeled a “heat virus” and totally unnecessary for gaming. While this type of stability may not be necessary for some people it’s my preferred test when overclocking a system that will run for years without corrupting my Windows installation. We’ll discuss this more in our 10th Gen Overclocking guide which is coming soon.
Both the i9-10900K and i5-10600K would run relatively stable and passed over 20 minutes of Prime95 small FFT with an all-core overclock of 5.0 GHz using 1.37 V. Overclocking with the 240 mm EVGA CLC cooler did limit us somewhat and temperatures were reaching the mid 90’s which is a good place to call it a day with the Tjmax for these CPUs still set to 100°C.
Wanting to push things a bit further we opted for a better cooling solution. We swapped out the EVGA cooler for an EK Predator 360 mm XLC to give us a bit more headroom with the temperature. This gained us another 100 MHz for an OC of 5.1 GHz on all cores with a voltage of 1.42 V. The revised cooling allowed us to run Prime 95 small FFTs for an hour and the temperature climbed just over the 90°C mark.
Pushing the Limits
This time we went for a maximum overclock with a semi-reasonable voltage that would allow us to run some benchmarks. At 5.3 GHz with 1.46 V we were able to complete both Cinebench R20 and R15 as well as Fire Strike Extreme. It did, however, fail to run Intel XTU benchmark and froze the system requiring a reset. As you can see it offered some significant gains over the stock operation bumping our Cinebench R20 score up to 6812 from 6274 at stock. It still wasn’t quite enough to catch the Ryzen 3900X with 6952 running at stock settings.
The 10900K is an interesting addition to the Intel product line, no doubt in response to AMD and their continuing releases with increasing core counts which now sit at 16-cores and 32-threads for the mainstream enthusiast. This “Core War” has forced Intel’s hand into expanding the mainstream line in order to compete with AMD’s similar (by thread count) offerings on their mainstream lineup now bringing 10-core processors from the more expensive HEDT line. It was only three years ago that anything over four cores from Intel required a leap to the 2011 platform.
Leveraging the most they can from the 14 nm++ microarchitecture we see much higher clock speeds, boosting to 5.3 GHz on a single core as long as the conditions are favorable. We see an increase in the all-core boost which will now run up to 4.9 GHz with TVB (thermal velocity boost), again under Intel specs, this requires certain conditions which we covered earlier. To get the most from the i9-10900K you won’t be running with Intel’s limits or you’ll be losing performance to remain within the 125 W TDP. Enabling motherboard features such as MCE from ASUS (or selecting F3 in the BIOS upon a reset/first boot – in the case of Asus boards) will open up the limits and let the CPU run at 4.9 GHz consistently but the trade-off here is the heat and power consumption.
Looking at the i9-10900K from a performance per dollar position it starts to become a tough sell. Listing for $529.99 at Newegg currently plus the need for a premium cooling solution soon puts the cost of this CPU well over $600. Comparing that to the Ryzen 9 3900X which can be found for $410.00 on Amazon and Newegg which comes with its own cooling solution yields a $200 difference. That, and the 3900X tends to outperform the 10900K in multi-threaded workloads. We do have to admit that Intel has come up with a great gaming/lightly threaded CPU here with the 5.3 GHz boost since, in general, the faster CPU typically outperforms in gaming but for most titles the differences are negligible.
Moving down the product stack to the 6c/12t 10600K we find a much better value in a gaming CPU for those who don’t need all the cores and threads of the 10900K. For those that do need a few more cores and threads but need to stay within a budget, the Ryzen 7 3700X is only a few dollars more has 8c/16t and also comes with its own cooler. Even here, AMD holds the price to performance and value segment in most cases.
In the end, the Comet Lake refresh CPUs stick it to AMD clock speed wise and single-threaded performance with some very impressive boost speeds reaching up to 5.3 GHz. Multi-threaded tests show the AMD CPUs taking a lead due to the additional cores and its slightly better SMT efficiency. Still, in most tests, these are the fastest CPUs Intel has put out to date. Whether or not the price is worth it for the gains is up to the buyer, but Intel put out solid-performing CPUs with more cores and threads than they have ever used in the mainstream platform.
Shawn Jennings – Johan45