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Intel i9-9900K Review - AMD Pushing Progress

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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With the launch of AMD’s Ryzen, Threadripper and their subsequent follow-up second generation refreshes, Intel has been somewhat knocked back on their heels as of late. It isn’t that AMD’s newest CPUs are cleaning the house from an overall performance standpoint but what they do well is provide a killer combination of pricing and competitive benchmark numbers. In a DIY segment that’s continually looking for value, that’s a winning combination.

However, despite that newly acquired superiority complex in amongst DIYers, AMD is still struggling mightily to make inroads within the system builder market. The domination by Intel among system integrators is nearly total. However, with enough buyer interest in Ryzen’s various offshoots, that position could very well be in jeopardy given enough time. Given the combination of DIY interest in AMD’s wares and potential vulnerability in other key spaces, Intel needs to keep their lineup refreshed even though they’ve been struggling to move beyond 14nm. That’s where the 9th generation Core series steps into the equation.


From a high level architectural perspective, Intel’s so-called 9th generation processors aren’t all that much different from 8th gen Coffee Lake S predecessors. They still utilize a 14nm++ (yet highly optimized) manufacturing process, the UHD 620 graphics core and all the other elements we have come to recognize from Intel’s CPUs over the last three or so years.

There are however two relatively large changes this time around. AMD has been pushing Intel to move their mainstream Core series processors towards higher cores counts and the refined manufacturing process has facilitated yet another step forward in this respect. We are now seeing 9th generation CPUs boasting up to 8 cores and 16 concurrent threads without boosting the overall TDP. This works towards further blurring the lines between mainstream and HEDT markets. Honestly it feels like Intel has been forced into this position rather than choosing to make this change.

Another change has been the use of a solder-based thermal interface material (STIM) between the core and IHS. This is supposed to provide increased thermal conductivity between the CPU die increasing heat dissipation and allowing for more thermal headroom. It may also make the process of delidding more challenging but still provide a net positive benefit for overall temperatures.


With the move to 8 physical cores, Intel has introduced a new nomenclature for their higher end Coffee Lake processors; the i9 makes an appearance. So too does massively increase top-end prices. That i9-9900K has a “suggested” retail price of $488 USD but if pre-orders and the 8700K’s pricing trends are any indication, it’ll cost substantially more than that at most retailers. Compare this to the 16-thread Ryzen 2700X’s comparably affordable $330 price point (its on sale for $300 right now as a matter of fact) and you can see why some folks are still wondering if Intel actually realizes they aren’t alone in this market any longer.

There are some major perceived advantages for the i9-9900K though, at least on paper. Intel’s latest generations have a serious edge in gaming performance and this processors ability to boost up to 5GHz on two cores should further its lead in that respect. Meanwhile, Intel has added the ability for the entire cache partition to be utilized by any of the eight cores rather than being partitioned at a constant 2MB per core.


Below the halo CPU is where things start to get a bit confusing. The new CPU lineup won’t have a single 6-core, 12-thread part to directly replace the i7-8700K. Instead the i7-9700K will have Hyperthreading disabled and only come in an octo-core form. That’s a seriously odd decision but threaded scaling on this processor should be excellent since physical cores always grant better performance than the virtual ones from HT.

The main problem with the 9700K is its price. At $374 or higher, it is still more expensive than AMD’s 2700X and massively more than the $300 (currently $250 on Amazon) 2700 yet still more than the i7-8700K. Granted, it does operate at a higher frequency than the 8700K in single threaded applications but all-core speeds have been reduced. What an odd duckling this is.

Personally, I think the most competitive yet disappointing addition to this lineup might be the i5-9600K. While it doesn’t provide a massive uplift versus the i5-8600K, it is priced identically (thank God!). The problem here is we are back to an infinitesimal incremental upgrade over the previous generation rather than any effort to launch an enticing replacement to the 8600K.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Understanding The Z390 Platform

Understanding The Z390 Platform


We have been hearing whispers about this new Z390 chipset since mid-2017 - even before the Z370 chipset was released - and while you might expect that much development time to lead to something special, the truth is that this latest Z-series chipset is merely a very necessary update over its elderly predecessor.

While the Z370 PCH was the flagship chipset for the 8th Generation Core processors, it certainly wasn't the most modern or fully featured in Intel's arsenal. In fact, since it was essentially a clone of the Z270, it was positively ancient when compared to the other Intel 300-series chipsets, namely the Q370, H370, B360, H310. By virtue of being released later, those 'lower-end' PCH were actually cutting-edge by comparison.

Not only did these newer chipsets finally feature native support for USB 3.1 Gen2 (except the H310), they integrated a portion of Wi-Fi connectivity into the chipset allowing for native 802.11ac Wi-Fi support, they came with Intel's latest Management Engine (ME) firmware, and had a bunch of new low-power mode capabilities. To put a cherry on the sundae, they were also fabricated with a more modern 14nm manufacturing process, instead of 22nm like the Z370 and Z270...and Z170.

With this new Z390 PCH, Intel is simply adding all of the above features to the Z-series, allowing it to finally match the capabilities of all the existing Q/H/B 300-series PCH variants, albeit with the few obvious enthusiast extras like overclocking.

Now it should be mentioned that if none of what you read above (or below) excites you, but you're still interested in one of these new 9th Generation core processors, then you might as well pickup a discounted Z370 motherboard since they fully support these new CPUs once their BIOS has been updated.


At the most fundamental level it must be understood that the new 9th Generation Core processor + Z390 PCH platform offers the same number of PCI-E 3.0 lanes as the previous platform. There are a total of 40 available PCI-E 3.0 lanes, 16 of which originate from the CPU and the remaining 24 from the chipset. Furthemore, the link between the CPU and PCH remains a DMI 3.0 interconnect, which offers bandwidth equivalent to about four PCI 3.0 lanes or roughly 4GB/s.

The processor's lanes are directed towards the two PCI-E x16 graphics card slots (to be divided in either 16x/0x or x8/8x), while the chipset's ample bandwidth is utilized for everything else: USB, SATA, LAN, PCI-E x1/x4 slots, etc. One of the benefits of having this much chipset bandwidth is that you can design a motherboard with more than one high-speed storage interfaces, even though each full-speed M.2 slot requires four PCI-E 3.0 lanes in order to support properly support the latest NVMe or Optane Memory/Optane SSD devices. However, as we have seen, motherboard manufacturers may elect to utilize PCI-E switches in order to disable a few unused SATA ports and/or the PCI-E x1/x4 slots in order to reroute the freed up bandwidth towards a second or even third high-speed M.2 slot. Like on previous mainstream platforms, there is native support for up to six SATA 6Gb/s ports, which support Raid 0/1/5/10 and Intel Rapid Storage Technology.

While the above is mostly old news, what is new is the native USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity. Whereas both the Z270 and Z370 chipsets have supported up to ten USB 3.0 ports and fourteen USB 2.0 ports - but relied on third-party controllers for higher-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 support - this new Z390 PCH natively supports up to six USB 3.1 Gen2 10Gbps ports. This catapults Intel's enthusiast chipset over AMD's best, since the X470 only natively supports two such high-speed ports.


Another manner in which Intel is one-upping its rival is by integrating wireless connectivity into the chipset. This is not a middle-of-the-road Wi-Fi implementation either, but high-end 2T2R 802.11ac Wave2 MU-MIMO Wi-Fi, which supports 160Mhz channel bandwidth and a maximum theoretical speed of 1733Mbps. There is also support for Bluetooth 5.0, which promises data transfer speeds of up to 2Mbps and a range that is four time greater than Bluetooth 4.2. Intel have been able to achieve this new level of integration by utilizing their Integrated Connectivity (CNVi) architecture, which allowed them to move a portion of the functional blocks required for Wi-Fi onto the Z390 PCH. There still needs to be a Wi-Fi module to house the antenna and PHY, but overall it will be simpler and cheaper for motherboard manufacturers to include wireless connectivity on their motherboards.

There is also an update to Intel's controversial Management Engine (ME) firmware, from version 11 to version 12. While this new update obviously brings forth some security improvements, there is also some new low-power mode capabilities. For example, while your desktop is in a deep sleep state, Intel Smart Connect - in coordination with Windows 10's Modern Standby feature - can download data/update emails without having to wake up the rest of the system. When you're ready to read your emails, the Wake-on-Voice feature will allow you to command your PC to turn on, which is at least partially made possible Intel's improved Smart Sound DSP audio processing technology.

As we mentioned above, although you need to be a giant nerd to notice or care, this new PCH is actually a fair bit smaller than the Z170/Z270/Z370 chipsets since it is manufactured on some variant of Intel's 14nm process. Those previous Z-series models were manufactured on a 22nm process, which evidently wasn't an issue since they all have the same 6W TDP as this latest Z390 offering.


Now since these new Intel 9th Generation Core processors are going to be drop-in compatible with existing Z370 motherboards (via BIOS update), the big question is obviously what motherboards manufacturers are going to do with this new chipset and its associated capabilities to differentiate from the previous motherboard models. To figure that out let's compare and contrast the new ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-E GAMING to its predecessor:


ASUS ROG STRIX Z370-E GAMING vs. STRIX Z390-E - Click on image to enlarge

While the ROG STRIX Z390-E GAMING is a clear evolution of the STRIX Z370-E, we can confidently state that it is a greater departure than the Z270-E to the Z370-E was. Part of this is due to the newfound capabilities of this modern platform, but another aspect is that ASUS have added some really intriguing aesthetic details...and we're not talking about the new all-black theme.

First let's get the superficial out of the way, the PCH heatsink and secondary M.2 slot heatspreader are now two distinct parts, whereas it was a monoblock heatsink on the previous model. Obviously the PCH heatsink looks vastly different as well, and it now features a fabric tag on it which is something we have never seen before. It even has a hidden "Join ROG" message if you flip it upwards.

The rear I/O cover has also been heavily revised. It features integrated RGB LED lighting in both the ROG logo and also in the new extremely unique holographic mirror portion of the cover. It is rather hard to capture the effect properly without having the photographer reflected in the surface, haha.

While the overall layout is largely untouched, the new Z390-E features three instead of four PCI-E x1 slots, which is probably due to the additional USB 3.1 Gen2 connectivity - more on that below - since those high-speed ports need additional bandwidth and that means something needed to get the axe.

The STRIX Z390-E features a 8+2 phase CPU VRM, with eight MOSFETs for the CPU cores and two MOSFETs for the integrated GPU. This is the same as its predecessor, which might surprise those expecting a beefier VRM to handle the eight-core i9-9900K model. However, ASUS have switched to very latest ON Semiconductor NCP302045 MOSFETs, which can not only handle a ton of current, but also feature built-in thermal protection.

Whereas some competitors have been outfitting their upper-tier Z370 and Z390 motherboards with three M.2 slots, ASUS seems content enough to continue with only two. This is not a bad choice by any means, since actually running three M.2 slots with NVMe drives means that you are required to disable a fair bit of other connectivity/expansion slots. On the Z390-E you can have both M.2 slots operating in PCI-E 3.0 x4 mode without losing any of the six native SATA 6Gb/s ports or anything else for that matter.


Click on image to enlarge

While the Z390-E gains two additional high-speed USB 3.1 Gen2 ports on its rear I/O panel - which is obviously one of the highlights of this new chipset - it does lose the Z370-E's angled internal USB 3.0 header, which is where you could usually plug in your cases front-panel USB cable to. ASUS is perhaps betting on the fact that newly released cases are increasingly going to be supporting the USB 3.1 Gen2 header (which you can see below the 24-pin ATX power connector).

Those two antenna jacks are connected to a Wi-Fi module that houses the latest Intel Wireless-AC 9560 controller, which is one of three modern Wi-Fi solutions that are natively supported by this platform. As mentioned above, it is a 2T2R 802.11ac Wi-Fi solution that supports all the latest technology like MU-MIMO and Wave2 (160Mhz channel bandwidth), and a maximum theoretical speed of 1733Mbps. It also supports Bluetooth 5.0, which has significantly greater range and transfer rates than the Bluetooth 4.X standard.


Click on image to enlarge

This new STRIX Z390-E model features a pre-installed fan bracket attached to one of the MOSFET heatsinks - which can be populated by the included 40mm Assistant Fan - whereas the previous Z370-E merely included the bracket in the accessories bundle and came without a fan. While this might seem like an ominous sign, we think that it is a wise choice since no matter how capable the CPU VRM might be, there is no harm in dissipating the heat generated by the power demands of a highly-clocked eight-core processor. Having said that, it will be very interesting to see whether this tiny little fan is quiet enough to warrant using, since such small diameter fans are notorious for being annoying whir.


Click on image to enlarge

Another new addition - one that is proprietary to ASUS - is the Node header. This is a proprietary bi-directional interface that allows ASUS motherboards to communicate with other system components. Specifically, the idea that you will be able to augment products with monitoring and control features via the motherboard's hardware and software. Apparently there is an FSP power supply with temperature monitoring & fan control on the way, as well as an In Win case with an OLED front panel, and likely quite a few other products.

While the MemOK! switch has been found on enthusiast-oriented ASUS motherboards for almost a decade, it always required users to open their case and actually flip the switch whenever they encountered memory-related POST issues. Now with MemOK! II, users can simply leave the switch on and the motherboard will systematically apply three different memory profiles and gradually increases DRAM voltage until the system is able to POST successfully.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
13,421
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Montreal
Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology


For this review, we have prepared a number of different test setups, representing many of the popular platforms at the moment. As much as possible, the test setups feature identical components, memory timings, drivers, etc. Aside from manually selecting memory frequencies and timings, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.


For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks are applied to Windows 10 and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • UAC – Disabled
  • Windows HPET – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Superfetch – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan – High Performance
  • V-Sync – Off
  • All BIOS-enabled performance enhancements - Disabled
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
System Benchmarks: AIDA64

AIDA64 Extreme Edition


AIDA64 uses a suite of benchmarks to determine general performance and has quickly become one of the de facto standards among end users for component comparisons. While it may include a great many tests, we used it for general CPU testing (CPU ZLib / CPU Hash) and floating point benchmarks (FPU VP8 / FPU SinJulia).


CPU PhotoWorxx Benchmark
This benchmark performs different common tasks used during digital photo processing. It performs a number of modification tasks on a very large RGB image:

This benchmark stresses the SIMD integer arithmetic execution units of the CPU and also the memory subsystem. CPU PhotoWorxx test uses the appropriate x87, MMX, MMX+, 3DNow!, 3DNow!+, SSE, SSE2, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4A, AVX, AVX2, and XOP instruction set extension and it is NUMA, HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware.




CPU ZLib Benchmark

This integer benchmark measures combined CPU and memory subsystem performance through the public ZLib compression library. CPU ZLib test uses only the basic x86 instructions but is nonetheless a good indicator of general system performance.



CPU AES Benchmark

This benchmark measures CPU performance using AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) data encryption. In cryptography AES is a symmetric-key encryption standard. AES is used in several compression tools today, like 7z, RAR, WinZip, and also in disk encryption solutions like BitLocker, FileVault (Mac OS X), TrueCrypt. CPU AES test uses the appropriate x86, MMX and SSE4.1 instructions, and it's hardware accelerated on Intel AES-NI instruction set extension capable processors. The test is HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware.



CPU Hash Benchmark

This benchmark measures CPU performance using the SHA1 hashing algorithm defined in the Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 180-3. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly. More importantly, it uses MMX, MMX+/SSE, SSE2, SSSE3, AVX instruction sets, allowing for increased performance on supporting processors.



FPU VP8 / SinJulia Benchmarks

AIDA’s FPU VP8 benchmark measures video compression performance using the Google VP8 (WebM) video codec Version 0.9.5 and stresses the floating point unit. The test encodes 1280x720 resolution video frames in 1-pass mode at a bitrate of 8192 kbps with best quality settings. The content of the frames are then generated by the FPU Julia fractal module. The code behind this benchmark method utilizes MMX, SSE2 or SSSE3 instruction set extensions.

Meanwhile, SinJulia measures the extended precision (also known as 80-bit) floating-point performance through the computation of a single frame of a modified "Julia" fractal. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly, and utilizes trigonometric and exponential x87 instructions.


 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Feb 26, 2007
Messages
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Montreal
System Benchmarks: Cinebench / PCMark 8 / WPrime

CineBench R15 64-bit


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R15 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.



PCMark 8


PCMark 8 is the latest iteration of Futuremark’s system benchmark franchise. It generates an overall score based upon system performance with all components being stressed in one way or another. The result is posted as a generalized score. In this case, we didn’t use the Accelerated benchmark but rather just used the standard Computational results which cut out OpenCL from the equation.





WPrime


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're squaring, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload. Below are the scores for the 1024M benchmark.

 

SKYMTL

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Single Thread Performance

Single Thread Performance


Even though most modern applications have the capability to utilize more than one CPU thread, single threaded performance is still a cornerstone of modern CPU IPC improvements. In this section, we take a number of synthetic applications and run them in single thread mode.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Productivity Benchmarks: 7-Zip / Adobe Premier Pro

7-Zip


At face value, 7-Zip is a simple compression/decompresion tool like popular applications like WinZip and WinRAR but it also has numerous additional functions that can allow encryption, decryption and other options. For this test, we use the standard built-in benchmark which focuses on raw multi-threaded throughput.



Adobe Premier Pro CC


Adobe Premier Pro CC is one of the most recognizable video editing programs on the market today as it is used by videography professionals and YouTubers alike. In this test we take elements of a 60-second 4K video file and render them out into a cohesive MP4 video via Adobe’s Media Encoder. Note that GPU acceleration is turned on.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Montreal
Productivity Benchmarks: Blender / 3ds MAX Corona

Blender


Blender is a free-to-use 3D content creation program that also features an extremely robust rendering back-end. It boasts extremely good multi core scaling and even incorporates a good amount of GPU acceleration for various higher level tasks. In this benchmark we take a custom 1440P 3D image and render it out using the built-in tool. The results you see below list how long it took each processor to complete the test.



3ds MAX Corona Renderer


Autodesk’s 3ds MAX is currently one of the most-used 3D modeling, animation and rendering programs on the market, providing a creative platform for architects to industrial designers alike. Unfortunately its rendering algorithms leave much to be desired and third party rendering add-ons are quite popular. One of the newest ones is called Corona.

In this test we take a custom 3D scene of a room with global illumination enabled and render it out in 720P using Corona’s built-in renderer.


 

SKYMTL

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Productivity Benchmarks: GIMP / Handbrake

GIMP


While it may be open source, GIMP is actually one of the most popular free photo editors available right now. It uses both CPU and GPU acceleration for certain tasks. In this test we use an 8K image and use a script to run eight different filters in succession. This is considered a lightly threaded workload since the memory, CPU and storage drive can all play a role in performance.




Handbrake


Video conversion from one format to another is a stressful task for any processor and speed is paramount. Handbrake is one of the more popular transcoders on the market since it is free, has a long feature list, supports GPU acceleration and has an easy-to-understand interface. In this test we take a 6GB 4K MP4 and convert it to a 1080P MKV file with a H.264 container format. GPU acceleration has been disabled. The results posted indicate how long it took for the conversion to complete.

 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
13,421
Location
Montreal
Productivity Benchmarks: POV Ray / WinRAR

POV Ray 3.7


POV Ray is a complex yet simple to use freeware ray tracing program which has the ability to efficiently use multiple CPU cores in order to speed up rendering output. For this test, we use its built-in benchmark feature which renders a high definition scene. The rendering time to completion is logged and then listed below.



WinRAR


WinRAR is one of those free tools that everyone seems to use. Its compression and decompression algorithms are fully multi-core aware which allows for a significant speedup when processing files. In this test we compress a 3GB folder of various files and add a 256-bit encryption key. Once again the number listed is the time to completion.

 

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