Some Thoughts About the Intel Core i9-9900KS Processor


Intel has released the Intel Core i9-9900KS Special Edition mainstream desktop processor that was originally announced back on May 26, 2019 at the Computex trade show. This was the same day that AMD revealed the details about the 7nm AMD Ryzen 3000 series mainstream desktop processors. The preview announcement of the Core i9-9900KS was seen at the time as an attempt to upstage AMD’s announcement of Ryzen 3000 series.

Now, roughly five months later, Intel has actually released the Core i9-9900KS, which they are touting as “the world’s best gaming processor”. Is this true, and should you want one of these processors for your next gaming rig?

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Figure 1: Intel Core i9-9900KS Packaging (from


Let’s start with the main specifications for this new processor. It is a 14nm, 8C/16T “Coffee Lake” processor with a base clock speed of 4.00 GHz and a Max Turbo speed of 5.00 GHz. It has a 16 MB L3 cache, 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes, and a 127W TDP rating. It uses an LGA 1151 socket and will work in existing 300 series motherboards with a BIOS update. It includes integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630, but does not have a stock CPU cooler in the box. The recommended customer price is $513.00. The warranty is only one year instead of the normal three years that Intel usually offers on most of its other processors.

This new processor is essentially a specially binned version of the existing Intel Core i9-9900K processor (which was released in Q4 2018) that will let you run all of the eight cores at 5.00 GHz without any manual overclocking. One challenge for this new processor is that the existing Core i9-9900K can usually be overclocked to 5.00 GHz on all cores, depending on whether you were lucky in the silicon lottery (meaning you got a “good” sample), your CPU cooler, and your motherboard and BIOS settings. Individual motherboard vendors can choose to use features like Multi-Core Enhancement (MCE), and they can also decide how they want to regulate power usage and Turbo duration. These factors can have a huge effect on benchmark results and real-world performance. Keep in mind that you will want/need a high quality, fairly expensive CPU cooler for an Intel Core i9-9900KS. This might cost anywhere from $75-$200.

Gaming Performance

Intel claims this is the absolute best processor for gaming, but is this actually true? This depends on what type of gaming you plan to do, especially the screen resolution you will be playing at. It makes a big difference whether you game at 1080P (1920 x 1080) or lower; or whether you game at 2K (2560 x 1440) or 4K (3840 x 2160). If you game at 1080P or lower, then your single-threaded CPU performance is usually your bottleneck for getting high frames per second (FPS), assuming you have a good enough video card such that the video card is not the bottleneck. You can use a relatively low performance video card and still get high FPS performance when you are running at 1080P or lower resolution.

Once you go above a certain level of FPS (depending on whether you have a high refresh rate, low latency monitor and whether your monitor has G-Sync or FreeSync), getting even more FPS is not going to make any noticeable difference in your gaming experience. Once you go above 1080P gaming, the video card becomes the bottleneck, unless you have an extremely slow processor. As long as the processor meets a certain relatively low level of performance, your FPS performance in 2K and higher gaming is gated by your video card performance.

What this means is that if your main priority is the absolute highest FPS performance at 1080P or lower, then yes, the Intel Core i9-9900KS is the world’s best gaming processor. If that use case is not your main priority, there are other less expensive choices, and also other similar cost choices that will work much better for many other scenarios.

Other Processor Choices

If you are an Intel fan, you could choose an Intel Core i9-9900K (with the right motherboard and BIOS settings), and very likely get the same level of 1080P gaming performance as a 9900KS. You would probably save $50-$100 by doing this, depending on the actual street prices of both processors. You could also choose a less expensive 8C/8T Intel Core i7-9700K processor and probably save $200-$250 and still get nearly the same level of 1080P gaming performance as a 9900KS. In either case, you could spend those savings on a better video card, or keep the savings yourself. If you are thinking about building a new Intel desktop system, I would urge you to wait until November/December, since there are pretty strong rumors that Intel is going to reduce the prices of their older existing CPUs by perhaps $50 or more.

What about using an AMD processor? One excellent choice for gaming and general purpose usage is the 7nm 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, which is currently selling for $319 (including a pretty good stock Wraith Prism CPU cooler in the box) at Micro Center. The Ryzen 7 3700X is pretty competitive with these Intel processors for gaming, depending on the game and the resolution. It is going to be much better than the Intel Core i7-9700K for general purpose computing since it has 16 threads instead of only 8. You could use the money savings (vs. a Core i9-9900KS) for a better video card, more RAM, or better storage.

You could also step up to a 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (if you can find one) or wait a few weeks and get a 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X (which may also be in short supply when it is released). The 3900X is $499 and the 3950X will be $749. These processors will also be pretty competitive with the Intel processors for gaming, depending on the game and the resolution. They will be much better than any mainstream Intel processor for workstation performance because of their higher core and thread counts and PCIe 4.0 support. Speaking of that, the upcoming Ryzen 9 3950X is very likely to be better than the new $979 18C/36T Intel Core i9-10980XE Cascade Lake-X HEDT processor for many workstation workloads.

Frankly, the initial written reviews for the Intel Core i9-9900KS have been pretty brutal:

The Intel Core i9-9900KS Review: The 5 GHz Consumer Special

The Intel Core i9-9900KS Special Edition Review: 5.0 GHz on All the Cores, All the Time

Intel Core i9-9900KS Special Edition Review: More power, less point

There are also many YouTube reviews that have been even more negative about the Intel Core i9-9900KS. Here are a few:

Intel Core i9-9900KS Review, Winner of 2019’s Most Boring CPU Award
Intel is selling BINNED 9900Ks! Core i9-9900KS Unboxing
$513 5GHz Special Edition CPU – Intel 9900KS Review
Intel i9-9900KS Review: Overclocking, Power, & Gaming CPU Benchmarks
INTEL i9 9900KS Release! REVIEW & OVERCLOCK to 5.4 GHz!
Intel i9-9900KS Marketing: Rushed and Hilarious!
Well this is awkward…My golden sample 9900K BEAT the 9900KS


Does all of this mean that the Intel Core i9-9900KS is a “bad” processor? No, absolutely not. If 1080P gaming with the highest FPS performance is your main concern, then this is a great processor. As long as you have a high quality Z390 motherboard with good VRMs, a high quality CPU cooler, and a good enough graphics card, you will be very happy.

If you game at higher resolutions, or do other things besides gaming, you have other choices that are much more affordable, such as an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X processor. For the same amount or slightly more money, you can get much better general purpose and workstation performance with a higher core count AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or 3950X processor.

What are the implications for the overall mainstream desktop CPU market? Well currently, Intel is losing a lot of both market-share and mind-share with their current offerings. The Core i9-9900KS is a pretty weak response to the AMD Ryzen 3000 series outside of one particular narrow use case. Intel’s next short-term move is likely to be price reductions, which they have never really had to do in the past. Intel has milked the 2015-vintage 14nm Skylake architecture (and its Kaby Lake, Cannon Lake, and Coffee Lake derivatives) about as far as they can.

Intel will eventually have a better response, probably in the late 2020/2021 time frame. By then, AMD should have the next generation Zen 3 processors. If you enjoy computer hardware, this is a great time to watch what is happening in the industry! 

Glenn’s Technical Insights For October 23, 2019

(Glenn’s Technical Insights… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can get more visibility. It covers interesting new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be technically-oriented items that I find interesting.

AMD Threadripper 3000 Series

More information has been leaking regarding the upcoming release of the 3rd generation, Zen 2 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3000 processors. These 7nm HEDT processors are supposed to be officially announced on November 5, 2019, and two of the SKUs are rumored to be available for sale on November 19, 2019. The series will start with a 24C/48T Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and a 32T/64C Ryzen Threadripper 3970X. These will be accompanied by new TRX40 chipset motherboards that will be available at the same time.

The initial announcement and release will be followed by one or two higher-end SKUs that will be released in January 2020. These would be the 48C/96T Ryzen Threadripper 3980X and the flagship 64C/128T Threadripper 3990X.  So far, we don’t know other specifications like clock speeds, cache sizes, or how much IPC gain these processors will have compared to the previous 2nd generation Threadripper processors. They are supposed to have PCIe 4.0 support, and will likely have more PCIe lanes and higher memory capacity than their predecessors.

Needless to say, I am pretty excited about 3rd Generation Threadripper. I think it is going to extend AMD’s dominance in the HEDT market. The “entry-level” 7nm 24C/48T AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X HEDT processor should compare very favorably with the recently released “high-end” 14nm 18C/36T Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition HEDT processor. The AMD processor will definitely have better multi-threaded performance, as you would expect from having 24 vs. 18 cores.

It is also likely to have better single-threaded performance than Intel. It will also have more PCIe bandwidth (from a combination of Gen 4 support and having more total lanes). The AMD processor will probably cost about the same as the Intel processor, and it will be using a more modern, feature-rich TRX40 chipset compared to Intel’s refreshed X299 chipset. This is pretty amazing, with the entry-level AMD HEDT SKU beating the high-end Intel HEDT SKU in nearly every measure.

Building one of these very powerful desktop machines is still going to be fairly expensive, typically in the $3000-$5000 range depending on exactly what components you choose. That is a lot of money, but for people who actually make money using the full horsepower of a HEDT machine, it will be worth it. If you don’t need that much horsepower, you will also have another, less expensive choice from AMD

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Processor

Intel’s woes will continue when the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X mainstream desktop processor is released in November. This is the flagship Zen 2 desktop processor that has a base clock speed of 3.5GHz, a max boost clock speed of 4.7GHz and 64MB of L3 cache. AMD is said to be binning better quality Zen 2 processor cores for the $749.00 flagship 3950X compared to the lower-end SKUs in that product family. This means that they will reliably run at higher max boost speeds more often.


Figure 1: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

Another advantage is that Zen 2 has been out since July 7, 2019, so there has been time for AMD to improve the AMD Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture (AGESA) firmware and their chipset drivers compared to the initial release versions, which has improved performance. Remember, you want to make sure you have the latest BIOS version, latest AMD chipset drivers, and Windows 10 Version 1903 (or later) to get the best performance from a Zen 2 processor.

There have been some leaked benchmarks showing the mainstream Ryzen 9 3950X beating the HEDT Intel Core i9-10980XE processor. These leaked benchmarks are not on exactly comparable systems (with different video cards and different memory speeds), so keep that in mind.

The bottom line for me is that for most desktop workloads, you can get much better overall performance for much less money with an AMD Zen 2 system compared to an Intel system. One exception is 1080P gaming, where your video card is not a bottleneck. In this scenario, the fastest, most expensive Intel desktop processors, such as the Intel Core i9-9900K and upcoming Intel Core i9-9900KS will have higher frame rates on some, but not all games. If you are gaming at 2K or 4K, you will be better off with a more affordable AMD Ryzen 7 3700K, and then spending the money you saved on the processor on a better video card.

For general desktop usage and content creation scenarios, having more cores (such as the 12C/24T AMD Ryzen 9 3900X or the 16C/32T AMD Ryzen 9 3950X) is going to be much more useful most of the time. If you are on a budget, the 6C/12T AMD Ryzen 5 3600 or the 8C/16T AMD Ryzen 7 3700X are excellent choices.

Glenn’s Technical Insights For October 11, 2019

(Glenn’s Technical Insights… used to be part of our bi-weekly newsletter but we decided to make it a regular blog post instead so it can get more visibility. It covers interesting new hardware and software developments that are generally relevant for SQL Server). It also can just be technically related items that I find interesting.

Microsoft SQL Server Cumulative Updates

Microsoft has recently released (and then removed) SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU9. There was nothing wrong with the actual payload of SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU9, but there was a problem if you tried to uninstall it. To be fair, uninstalling a CU doesn’t happen that often, but if you want/need to do it, it should work properly. It was quickly replaced with SQL Server 2016 SP2 CU10, which is identical to CU9, except that the uninstall issue has been fixed.  Since SQL Server 2016 SP1 is no longer supported, there was no CU for that branch.

Microsoft also released SQL Server 2017 CU17 on October 8, 2019. This is Build 14.0.3238.1, with 34 public hotfixes. So far, there are no reported issues with this CU. I wrote more about this CU here. Despite some recent stumbles by Microsoft, I am still a big proponent of trying to keep your SQL Server instances as up to date as possible. That does not mean throwing a new CU into Production the day it is released, but it also does not mean avoiding patching SQL Server indefinitely either.

Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT Processors

On October 7, 2019, Intel released a new line of high end desktop (HEDT) processors for the existing X299 chipset. This is the 14nm Core i9-10900 Series that is meant for HEDT and workstation usage on the LGA2066 platform on existing X299 and new X299X motherboards. There are four SKUs in this release, ranging from 10C/20T up to 18C/36T.

These processors have slightly higher base and Turbo Boost clock speeds than the previous Skylake-X HEDT processors, with support for up to 256GB of DDR4-2933 memory. They also have several other minor improvements compared to Skylake-X. Overall, the majority of the enthusiast tech community seems to be pretty underwhelmed by this product family.

The big news with this release is a rather dramatic price reduction compared to Skylake-X, especially on the higher core count SKUs. For example, the new 18C/36T Core i9-10980XE has a launch price of $979.00 compared the previous 18C/36T Core i9-9980XE that went for about $2000.00.

New Intel Core I9 X Series Refresh SKUs LGA 2066

Figure 1: Intel Core i9-10900 Series SKUs

These price cuts seem to be a pretty obvious response to what AMD has been doing over the past year (and what they are going to release in November). AMD is due to release the 7nm 16C/32T mainstream desktop Ryzen 9 3950X for $750.00 in November, along with the 7nm 3rd Generation Threadripper processors. The 3rd Generation Threadripper processors are rumored to have between 24C/48T at launch, up to possibly 64C/128T later. There are also strong rumors of new TRX40 and TRX80 chipsets that may have additional memory channels and more PCIe 4.0 lanes compared to 2nd Generation Threadripper. We don’t know clock speeds or pricing yet.

This is another example of why viable competition between Intel and AMD is good for the market and for consumers. AMD seems to be winning a lot of battles in different market segments lately, but Intel has many talented engineers and lots of resources that they can throw into the fight. Intel will eventually have a better response than drastic price cuts, so this will be an interesting fight over the next couple of years.