Intel's flagship 10th Gen i9 -10900K has top speeds a voracious appetite for power

Living with the fastest gaming chip on the planet

Steve reviews Intel’s new 10th Gen processors, selling now, and checks out whether they are as fast as Intel claims. See his pre-launch coverage last month.

I have been living with the “the fastest gaming chip on the planet” for the past several weeks. That’s the new Comet Lake 10Th Gen Intel Core S series i9 -10900K ($750) high end processor that screams to 5.3 GHz out of the box. I also have been trying its sibling i5-10600K mid-level processor $399. Available in stores now.

Was I blown off my seat?

Nope! The i9 – 10900K processor is a speed demon but is a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows.  The chip is beefed up to 10 cores and 20 threads rightfully claiming to be the fastest, reaching the ultimate 5.3 GHz. This means gamers don’t have to handle manual overclocking as they would with previous Intel chips. It has several other Turbo Boost scenarios listed below, but you will need a good liquid CPU cooler to keep this chip from overheating or you will be stuck below 5 GHz .  

What is Unique About the i9 -10900K Processor

Here are the new “boost” options with the dreaded “up to” provisos:  

• INTEL THERMAL VELOCITY BOOST TECHNOLOGY single / all Core Turbo up to 5.3/4.9 (GHZ)

• INTEL TURBO BOOST MAX TECHNOLOGY 3.0 up to 5.2 GHz for Dual-Cores

• INTEL TURBO BOOST TECHNOLOGY 2.0 maximum single core TURBO 5.1 GHz


This Processor Delivers if You Can Keep it Cool

“Up to” is Intel’s disclaimer, meaning when the stars line up right. In this case, processor temperature current and memory must be below pre-determined levels, like under 70C, or there is less boost and thus the need for a good cooler.

These chips will only work on the new Z490 motherboard standard, one of Intel’s bad habits compared to wider range of AMD processors in the same motherboard type. Thankfully you can still use the older LGA 115X standard for heatsink coolers. Intel disappointed PC enthusiasts with yet one more aging 14-nanometre chip while competitor AMD is already producing cooler running and less power demanding 7nm CPUs and GPUs with more cores and threads.

Intel pushed limits to achieve single core 5.3 GHz…including more heat and power draw

But Intel’s over the top 5.3 GHz speed combined with fewer cores and threads than AMD’s still makes it the fastest processor…for now.

Intel packed every high-performance trick in the book to squeeze through its 14nm chips one more time, meaning more heat output and power draw…a lot of it. The i9 -10900K’s Thermal Design Limit of 125 (watts) is often surpassed. Despite a thinner Die Solder Thermal Interface Material to cut down heat, the chip has a penchant for higher frequencies above 4 GHz even when running simple tasks like Word. In benchmarking when the normally whisper-quiet chip turbo boosts in the 5 GHz range it is accompanied with the roar from eight combined fans from CPU and GPU coolers, case fans, motherboard fans and power box fans drawing more than 300 watts at peak times. 

Still, it feels kind of nice to have this racehorse under my desk, ready for anything.

Intel took the hassle of manually overclocking 10th Gen processors with motherboards

Should you buy it?

To buy or not to buy? Although Intel has cut CPU prices across chip core generations, gaming enthusiasts who also have other lives would be better served with the cheaper but loaded Ryzen 9 3900X CPU ($649) (with more Cores – 12, more threads – 24, and more L3 Cache – 64 MB but slower speeds 3.8 GHz / 4.6GHz). The Intel i9 -10900K will hold sway in the upper stratosphere of ultra-gamers where ego and the highest one-core 5.3 GHz stumps everything else.

Intel has included hyperthreading capability, key to multitasking, all the way down to its 10th Gen i3 chips. The average customer who wants a little bit of everything, including decent gaming and media creating will get the biggest bang for their buck with Intel’s 10th-gen i5-10600K over a two-year or older PC. See the last benchmarking section.

Benchmarks, where hype meets reality

Unlike most media global processor testing producing pages of Excel benchmark results, I decided to simplify my reporting. Still testing every setting of Intel’s suggested benchmarks in the background, I averaged results in group categories when comparing new chips against each other. Like how much faster a twice as expensive CPU is. I also compared the mid-level 10th Gen i5-10600K against the two-year-old similar 8th Gen i5-8400 chip to help consumers decide whether to upgrade to a new 10th Gen chip from their two-year-old PC.

Pushing 3D graphics on the 3DMark 10 benchmark

Here is the gear I used to test these processors.

  • ASUS ROG STRIX Z490-E Gaming ($400), motherboard with smart BIOS update choices like Bios Flashback which works by inserting a BIOS loaded USB stick behind a turned off, yes, PC.
  • The ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2070 Super ($850), mid/upper level gaming card supplementing Intel’s built-in 630 Graphics which is not suitable for enthusiast gaming. The 2070 is in the 85% and 95% percentile rating worldwide. A good bang for the buck.
  • A liquid cooling ASUS ROG STRIX LC 120 to cool the i9 -10900K chip for top 5.3 GHz turbo performance.
A suitable liquid CPU cooler like the ASUS ROG STRIX LC 120 is a must
  • Newest Kingston KC2500 – 1 TB – PCI Express 3.0 x4 NVMe and Samsung EVO 970 Plus SDD 500GB NVMe SSD cards.
  • RAM: Kingston 32GB (16GB 2G x 64-Bit x 2 pcs.) DDR4-3000 CL15 288-Pin DIMM Kit.

Putting the Pedal to the Metal with the “fastest gaming chip on the planet”

These one-stop benchmarks recommended by Intel measured much of what a PC does. Keep in mind that these results are affected by the graphic card capability. In my case, the ASUS 2017 was used throughout.

3DMark 10 Fire Strike benchmark
  • SYSMark’s 2018 is a tightly controlled benchmarking environment with a mix of productivity and media creating apps. It reflected the most realistic testing with an overall performance rating on the i9 -10900K of 2220.  
  • The lighter and easier to use popular PCMark 10 benchmark posted an overall score of 7631.  Gamming prowess was tested with 3DMark Time Spy Extreme overall score of 4931 and 3DMark Fire Strike overall score of 22069. Scores are relative to how much you are willing to spend on the dedicated graphics card.
  • WebXPRT 3 contains six realistic HTML5- and JavaScript-based scenarios. Like Photo Enhancement, Organize Album Using AI, Stock Option Pricing, Encrypt Notes and OCR Scan, Sales Graphs, and Online Homework. It works on any online capable device. Score 263.

The mid-level i5-10600K averaged a 12% lower score on the same benchmarks, at half the cost. It should be noted that during hours of stress testing, the i9 -10900K processor hovered at 5.11 GHz touching  5.3 GHz several times in PCMark’s Photo Editing test portion with a score on 14195.

When CPU Power Counts

Nero AI Photo Tagger uses artificial intelligence recognizing image contents for proper content tagging

These CPU-intensive apps highlighted both processors ability, regardless of graphics card used:

  • Nero AI Photo Tagger tasked to analyze the image content of 1,000 pictures and assign the appropriate subject tag (like bicycle, chair, castle) completed in 24 seconds  
  • An Intel recommended multi effect two-minute 4K Sony Video in Adobe Premier rendered in four minutes flat.
!00,000 calculations in a 3000,000 row Monte Carlo Scholes Option Pricing Excel file
  • A massive 300,000 rows MonteCarloBlackScholesOptionPricing Excel file went through several 100,000 iterations calculating in only 4.5 seconds.
  • Duplicate File Finder from Ashisoft searched my almost full 1.5 TB SSD PC to find 40,800 duplicate photos taking up 124 GB of valuable space in 13 minutes.
  • Adobe After Effects performed a video Content Aware Fill on a 9 sec, 220MB video clip isolating an object in the frame to be filled out in 76.1 sec.

These scores are impressive. Respectively, the i5-10600K averaged 13.8% longer on the same tasks.

Multitasking three CPU intensive apps was faster than running them one after the other

Extreme Multitasking

Multitasking rocks with 20MB L3 cache, 10 independent central processing Cores in a high state of GHz readiness, each ready to process instruction sequences from 20 Threads.  My makeshift multitasking test came closest to knocking me off my chair. Running three CPU-intensive apps from the previous section simultaneously – Adobe Premiere 2K video render, Adobe After Effects Video Content Aware Fill and Nero AI Photo Tagger along with a YouTube video took 291 seconds to complete. Running these apps concurrently took 340 seconds to complete, 17% longer!  That’s faster than running them one at a time.

Gaming…the Holy Grail of high screen resolution and fast frame rates

The CPU and GPU depend on each other for the best gaming experience. The i9 -10900K certainly edged out last year’s i9 chips in CPU performance without requiring manual turbo boosting, done through motherboards like the ASUS STRIX Z490-E I used. 10th Gen Intel chips don’t leave much room for manual overclocking.

Here are some gaming benchmarks:

Far Cry New Dawn 1.0.5  (DX11, 1920×1080, Ultra Preset, V-Sync disabled) 110 FPS

Shadow of the Tomb Raider (DX11, 1920×1080, High Preset, V-Sync Disabled)  87 FPS

Intel partnership with games like Three Kingdoms magically enhances gameplay

Total War: Three Kingdoms 1.5.0 (DX12, 1920×1080, High Preset, V-Sync Disabled)  81 FPS     

Intel’s built-in UHD Graphics 630 graphics capability in both the i9-10900K and i5-10600K is suitable for casual computing saving the cost adding an additional graphics card. With a maximum resolution of 4096×2304@60Hz  and support for up to three monitors, Graphics 630 handles Office productivity apps, YouTube, personal video chats 4K streaming movies and simple games like Solitaire.

Dedicated graphics cards like the ASUS ROG STRIX GeForce RTX 2070-E Gaming with a huge cooling infrastructure overwhelm CPU’s with built-in graphics, right.

But real gaming? Forget about it. Budget for several hundred to $2,000 for serious gaming cards.

Comparing Two Similar Mid-Level Chips, Two Years Apart

The older 8th Gen i5-8400 ($325) and new 10th Gen i5-10600K ($399) share similar features like number of Cores, Threads, Turbo speeding, onboard CPU cache and identical built-in Intel Graphics Chips. The i5-10600K simply has more of everything starting off with noticeably higher CPU frequencies: 2.8GHz to 4 GHz for the 8th Gen chip versus 4.1 GHz to 4.8 GHz for the comparable 10th Gen chip.     

The same CPU intensive apps from above: AI Photo Tagger, Adobe Premiere movie, Excel, Duplicate File Finder and Adobe After Effects averaged 32% faster on the newer i5-10600K. At worst, the newer chip was “only” 13.5% faster in productivity software, like Office.

If you are big in media creation, with a limited budget, the i5-10600K is worth it.