So: the Core i9 10900K is indeed the fastest gaming CPU we've ever tested, as advertised, although Intel's ninth-generation Core i9 9900K remains a broadly competitive option. The Core i5 10600K is even more impressive, offering roughly the gaming performance of last generation's Core i7 at a much lower price point. The greater core counts of the 10900K and doubled thread count of the 10600K also manifested in significant gen-on-gen performance improvements in content creation workloads, even if AMD's processors still provide more performance per dollar for tasks like video encoding and 3D rendering.
Despite tending to draw more power than Ryzen processors of equivalent performance, the silicon thinning performed on the two 'K' models we tested seems to have resulted in quite reasonable temperatures, sitting in the 60s or low 70s under load with an entry-level 240mm AiO cooler. In general, we don't think these processors are significantly harder to cool than their predecessors, despite their higher clock speeds, and the large existing ecosystem of compatible air and liquid coolers should give a good range of options for those that want to push their chips even harder.
While Intel's lead in gaming remains intact and content creation performance has improved, buying into the Core ecosystem does have its downsides. Most importantly, Intel systems can be noticeably more expensive than their AMD counterparts, especially towards the lower end of the market where buyers need to choose between an expensive 'Z' motherboard or being limited to memory speeds of 2666MHz - well under the 3000MHz standard that we recommend for new builds at any price range. AMD processors also come with a capable Wraith air cooler, while on Intel you'll likely need to invest in a third-party cooling solution, again driving up the cost of a complete system. That makes it hard to recommend Intel for budget-oriented builds, even if the processors themselves perform to a high standard for purely gaming purposes.
Z490 is also relatively underwhelming, through no fault of Intel's motherboard partners, with the addition of Wi-Fi 6, 2.5-gigabit networking, some automatic overclocking features and a wider range of tuning tools not really justifying the switch to a new and expensive platform. Manufacturers like Asrock, Gigabyte and MSI have claimed their Z490 boards are technically capable of supporting the next-gen PCIe 4.0 connectivity standard, but as this isn't supported by the current generation of Intel CPUs it's hard to see that as a major selling point right now - especially when even the $100 Ryzen 3 3100 does support PCIe 4.0 on AMD's relatively affordable B550 and X570 platforms.
From what we've seen so far, Intel's tenth-generation is part of a necessary holding pattern for the company - a solid iterative update over 2018's models, with higher performance and better value, but one that does little to break the status quo. With AMD's fourth-generation Ryzen processors rumoured to be released later this year - plus PCIe 4.0 capable next-consoles - that all-important 10nm die shrink and a more egalitarian approach to motherboard features like RAM overclocking can't come soon enough.
Intel Core i9 10900K and Core i5 10600K analysis
- Introduction, hardware breakdown, test system
- Gaming benchmarks: Assassin's Creed Odyssey, Battlefield 5, Far Cry 5
- Gaming benchmarks: Crysis 3, Metro Exodus, Kingdom Come Deliverance, The Witcher 3
- Gaming benchmarks: Memory bandwidth analysis
- Intel Core i9 10900K and Core i5 10600K: the Digital Foundry verdict [This Page]
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