When Intel launched the Core i9-9900K, we noted that while the CPU was easily the best-performing (and best-priced, in terms of price-per-core) Intel chip we’d ever tested, its price/performance ratio didn’t hold up very well compared with AMD’s eight-core Ryzen 7 2700X. When we checked prices back on October 26, we saw the Core i9-9900K listing at $580 and said that this might not actually have much impact on the CPU’s attractiveness to its target market. Because the Core i9-9900K was easily the fastest and most capable CPU Intel had previously launched, even besting the 10-core Core i9-7900X in some tests, the company had some room on price when addressing customers who work primarily within the Intel ecosystem.
That was the case on October 26. But as of Friday, November 9, the Core i9-9900K is finally available — at price points that kill our original recommendations, elasticity or not. As of this writing, the CPU is listed for $950 at Newegg and a minimum of $800 at Amazon. Any CPU cooler you’d purchase for it goes on top of the base price.
This kind of price inflation puts the Core i9-9900K squarely into the Core i9-7900X’s turf, and there’s not a clear winner between them — it varies, depending on which tests you run. The Core i9-99900K is generally equal to the 7900X, but there are certain tests, like Qt compiling, where the 10-core pulls ahead. Feel free to compare them in the slideshow from our 9900K review below.
The Core i9-9900K still has some advantages over the 7900X, including higher single-threaded performance and cheaper motherboards, but at $800 – $950, it has to contend with a 16-core gorilla in the room: Threadripper. And while we recognize that there are situations in which a client won’t use non-Intel hardware, the price gap between the two platforms means any business remotely concerned with performance-per-dollar at the hardware level should be thinking twice before slapping down cash for Intel chips in the $800+ price bracket.
The results speak for themselves. AVX-512 support in the Core i9-7900X might make it a must-have if you need that compatibility and the Core i9-9900K has slightly lower motherboard costs, but neither chip holds a candle in multi-threading to Threadripper in anything but H.265 encoding, where our results do show the Core i9-9900K still holding an edge over Threadripper, mostly because H.265 encoding doesn’t appear to scale all that well above eight cores. In every test that does scale well above eight cores, including some tests that nominally favor Intel, Threadripper wins.
When we spoke to Intel before the Core i9-9900K launch, the company assured us that it would prioritize high-end, high-value chips like the Core i9-9900K to keep them flowing, even though the company has been working through supply constraints. This type of availability isn’t exactly what we had in mind, and the situation risks turning into a repeat of the Core i7-8700K launch last year, when that chip was technically available but practically impossible to find in-channel at reasonable prices or in anything approaching volume.
It’s one thing to say the Core i9-9900K is still a good chip at $580 as opposed to $480 and something altogether different to proclaim it as a leader when it slams into the Threadripper 2950X at $900. Between the Threadripper 2950X and the Core i9-9900K, Threadripper wins our nod. For those of you who may stumble on this story while the chip’s price is fluctuating, our guidance is this: At MSRP to +$100 (call it $480 – $600), the Core i9-9900K makes a solid argument for itself, provided you’re either determined to buy the absolute fastest chip on the market in its price class regardless of cost or are locked into Intel’s ecosystem. Above $600, that argument starts to look dicey, with 12-core Threadripper parts (not tested above) offering competition of their own. At $750+, the Threadripper 2950X is going to offer better absolute performance than either Intel solution in the vast majority of cases.
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