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Intel Core I7-9700K Review: Eight Cores But No Hyper-Threading

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The Core i7-9700K ($374) is part of the 9th-generation Intel’s “Coffee Lake” family processors and a powerful processor that appeals to PC manufacturers looking for qualified gaming performance at a reasonable price. Thanks in part to its highly efficient architecture, this 8-core chip offers the excellent single-core performance that many AAA games require. However, if you are not looking only at the gaming performance on the CPU with a solid graphics card, the overall performance of the Core i7-9700K suffers compared to the performance of its main rival and the main choice for conventional processors, the 8-core AMD Ryzen 7 3700X.

PROS

  • Excellent single-core performance.
  • Handles demanding 3D graphics well.
  • Maintains high frame rates for high-refresh gamers.

CONS

  • No Hyper-Threading support.
  • Cooling fan and heatsink not included.
  • No PCI Express 4.0 support.

NO SUPPORT FOR HYPER-THREADING

The Core i7-9700K, announced in late 2018, replaces the Core i7-8700K as a desktop processor from Intel. The Core i7-9700K has a base clock frequency of 3.6 GHz, 100 MHz slower than its predecessor, although its maximum pulse frequency of 4.9 GHz is 200 MHz higher.

With the most important predictor of CPU performance, the clock speed is no longer as important as before, as multi-core chips and modern software are added that can execute separate command threads on each core. We’re still expecting small clock adjustments from generation to generation, and reductions may even occur (like here with base clock speed) if the new chip uses a more efficient architecture.

Intel Core i7-9700k

The Core i7-9700K is more powerful, but not dramatic. It is based on a 14 nanometers (14 nm) production process similar to the one that Intel has used for desktop and mobile devices in recent years. The next-generation Intel workstation processors with 10-nanometer processors from Intel have experienced significant delays. The latest third-generation chips from AMD, including the Ryzen 7 3700X, are based on a 7 nm process called “Zen 2”. (Generally, smaller process sizes are better for semiconductor manufacturing.)

Intel Core I7-9700K Review: Eight Cores But No Hyper-Threading 1

An important difference between the Core i7-9700K and its predecessor is Intel’s decision to drop multithreaded support for the Core i7-9700K. With the multi-threaded dropped, Intel calls the new tech Hyper-Threading, each kernel can process two processing threads simultaneously. This can have a huge impact on the processor’s ability to process the complex instructions of modern and sophisticated software such as video editing suites, although it has little impact on most games. The lack of hyper-threads means that the Core i7-9700K can process eight commands simultaneously (one for each core), while the Ryzen 7 3700X can handle 16.

IMPROVEMENTS

The Core i7-9700K has a thermal design power (TDP) of 95 watts, which is identical to its predecessor but exceeds the 65 watts of the Ryzen 7 3700X. AMD is also selling a more powerful Ryzen 7 3800X with 105 watts TDP and a slightly higher base clock and increasing clock speeds.

The Core i7-9700K provides 16 PCI Express lanes and offers enough flexibility to handle the GPU and one or more optional cards if it is compatible with your motherboard. Like the rest of the ninth-generation, the Core i7-9700K is compatible with Z390 motherboards that uses the LGA 1151 interface and a series of chipsets from the previous generation (especially Z370, Q370, B365, B360, H370, and H310). The Z390 offers subtle improvements over others, including USB 3.1 Gen 2 and Gigabit WiFi support. (Note: if you are using an LGA 1151 motherboard based on a set of 100 or 200 series chips, the board will not work with the Core i7-9700K).

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However, PCI Express 4.0 is not compatible, as is the latest X570 chipset for AMD Ryzen processors. The fourth-generation PCIe offers the maximum potential performance of many of its predecessors, but so far it has only been significant for people who own or want to buy a PCIe 4.0 storage unit. The Ryzen 7 3700X also has 36 usable PCIe lands. This makes it more suitable for Core i7-9700K to pc builds, which require a lot of space for expansions or configurations with multiple graphics cards.

The Core i7-9700K has a total cache of 12 MB, only one-third of the Ryzen 7 3700X. A higher general cache can help improve the performance of some applications, including many games, that benefit from faster memory usage, although this is a relatively small factor compared to the speed of the clock and cores.

The Core i7-9700K supports up to 128 GB of DDR4-2666 (if the motherboard supports that) and includes an integrated graphics processor, Intel UHD Graphics 630. The Ryzen 7 3700X lacks integrated graphics, so you must pair it with a separate GPU, although most buyers of these chips are mainly interested in games and will surely install their own graphics cards anyway.

NO COOLER OUT OF BOX

Because it’s shipped from the factory, you can overclock the Core i7-9700K for even more performance than Intel designed. This will invalidate the guarantee. So only try if you know what you are doing and are using software that may benefit from a higher clock speed.

Overclockers will definitely want to install a high-end liquid cooler so they don’t regret the fact that the Core i7-9700K is not equipped with an Intel fan cooler. On the other hand, AMD includes a fan with the Ryzen 7 3700X, which makes the price even better at $330.

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To control the settings of the Core i7-9700K without shutting down the PC and accessing the system BIOS, Intel offers various utilities. Beginners when overclocking particularly appreciate the Extreme Tuning utility, which enables both beginners and experienced hobbyists to overclock, monitor, and test the system. All in all, I think Intel CPU utilities are easier to use but not as detailed as AMD’s Ryzen Master, which plays a role similar to that company’s CPUs.

PERFORMANCE

Intel does not advertise the Core i7-9700K to dramatically improve performance, and most of the test results largely confirm the chip maker’s claims that the previous generation of eighth-generation components was marginally improved. The performance in several key multimedia workflow simulations was almost the same between the Core i7-9700K and, its six cores/12 threads predecessor, and we also discovered that the Core i7-9700K lags behind behind its rival AMD in many tests.

We tested the Core i7-9700K on an MSI MEG Z390 Ace ATX motherboard, a 16GB dual-channel G.Skper Sniper X DDR4-3400 RAM and a 500 GB Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus drive. A 240 Deepcool Captain closed-loop liquid cooler removed heat from the processor’s integrated heat sink.

Below, you will find an overview of the main competing processors (and earlier Intel) that we use against the Core i7-9700K …

Intel Core I7-9700K Review: Eight Cores But No Hyper-Threading 4

In addition to the Core i7-9700K the Core i7-8700K and 3700X Ryzen 7 I included a few additionals for comparison. Ryzen 5 3600X and Core i5-8400 are more affordable next level CPUs for less than $200, while Core i9-9900K and Ryzen 9 3900X show what you can expect if you can increase your budget.

CINEBENCH R15

One of the best predictors of CPU performance in highly threaded applications is the Cinebench test, which uses Maxon’s Cinema 4D media editor
to simulate real workflows.

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The Ryzen 7 3700X performed much better than expected on all cores. However, the Core i7-9700K scored 3.5 percent in a single-core test.

ITUNES 10.6

Rae single-core performance is significant in less and less modern computer programs over time, but some uses still now. As an example, we are running a test to transcode files with an outdated version of the Apple iTunes application.

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The Core i7-9700K worked well in this test, but not better than the Core i7-8700K.

HANDBRAKE 0.9.9

Most multimedia encoding and decoding tasks use more advanced multi-core software, like the open-source Handbrake application …

Intel Core I7-9700K Review: Eight Cores But No Hyper-Threading 7

Our handbrake test was a significant win for the Ryzen 7 3700X, which helped consolidate Cinebench’s established leadership.

POV-RAY 3.7 & BLENDER 2.77A

At the POV-Ray raytracing benchmark, the Core i7-9700K surpassed its
predecessor and the Ryzen 7 3700X on the single-core test …

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… but it was placed between the Core i7-8700K and the Ryze 7 3700X in
the all-cores test. The Ryzen 7 3700X won in the end.

The POV-Ray test is an abstract representation, but the same engine is used in many software applications, including Blender 3D animation software. The Core i7-9700K and its competitors performed similarly in our Blender test, which produces a 3D image of a flying squirrel.

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This test was less convincing; The results were a few seconds apart of
each other.

7-ZIP 16.04

The Ryzen 7 3700X and the Core i7-9700K did the same  in our 7-zip compression test …

Intel Core I7-9700K Review: Eight Cores But No Hyper-Threading 10

Here, too, the results correlate strongly with the number of CPU cores.

GAMING PERFORMANCE

During its first generation in 2017, AMD Ryzen desktop chips showed a certain delay with respect to the frame rate performance of Intel’s rival games at certain resolutions (especially the very popular 1080p), along with graphics cards from high performance. This does not apply to all CPU buyers. If you are looking for a CPU that can be combined with a graphics card with a better average distance, the CPU should replace your card for maximum performance.

Since then, AMD has solved this problem in the second and third generation of Ryzen desktops, and each generation fills the gap a little more in these situations. However, our tests of the third generation Zen 2 Ryzen chips sometimes showed a bit of light between Intel and AMD.

According to this model, the Intel processor beat the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X chip by several margins, some large, some small, in all the games we tested in the table below, with a screen resolution of 1080p. These include demanding titles such as Far Cry 5 and Rise of Tomb Raider, as well as games with less demanding graphics such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Obviously, the Core i7-9700K is a winner if you are looking for a  conventional game processor.

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However, many of the benefits of the Core i7-9700K in terms of graphics performance for 3D games are in the games themselves and not necessarily in the
characteristics of the CPU. Each game is different, and although some studies have optimized their titles to run Intel processors, others have done the same
for AMD or both. (Interestingly, the potential is present on both platforms; the subset of 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra test graphics was quite close to both).

Therefore, it is clear that the suitability of one processor for another depends on the games you want to play and the screen resolution. The CPU generally has a significant impact on game performance at only 1080p or less. With 4K resolution, the GPU functions are much more important, so most of the 4K results in our graph are within a few frames per second. This is more of a problem with 1080p if you use a large refresh rate screen where the difference between 100 and 150 fps may actually appear on the screen.

FINAL VERDICT

The Core i7-9700K is a little puzzle. Intel has discontinued hyper-threads between the 8th and 9th generation Core i7s. Although it has more cores (eight versus six), it has fewer addressable threads than its predecessor, the Core i7-8700K. And it is slightly behind its main competitor, the Ryzen 7 3700X with eight cores/ 16 threads when it comes to demanding multimedia workflows. Ryzen is also $44 cheaper and comes with a reliable fan, making it a good choice among the traditional processors.

However, the Core i7-9700K can compensate for these shortcomings with impressive single-core performance and the  advantage of many 1080p AAA games in combination with a robust graphics card. If you’re building the platform for demanding 3D games released in the past five years, the Core i7-9700K will be more attractive. Of course, it’s even better for upgrades that already have a compatible motherboard, though it’s less likely to be incompatible with 100 and 200 series chipsets.

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If you need a solid processor for fast gaming, the Core i7-9700K is one of the best.

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