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Intel Core i9 13900K and Core i5 13600K review: an effective redoubt against AMD's Ryzen 7000 advances

Absurdly strong performance - at a price.

With AMD's Ryzen 7000 chips firmly on store shelves, it's now time for Intel to shoot their shot. Team Blue's 13th-gen chips arrive today, and on paper they represent a huge upgrade over 12th-gen despite compatibility with existing Z690 (and new Z790) boards. You get higher clock speeds (up to 5.8GHz!), more efficiency cores, more L3 cache and higher power targets - all of which you'd charitably expect to contribute to a significant uptick in gaming and content creation performance.

To discover if these processors live up to the hype, we've been testing the $589 Core i9 13900K and $319 Core i5 13600K in gaming and content creation benchmarks since last week. Our plan going in was simple: to find out exactly how much better these 13th-gen models are than their 12th-gen predecessors, as well as how they measure up to AMD's new Ryzen 7000 and popular Ryzen 5000 alternatives - including the excellent Ryzen 7 5800X3D.

As with our Ryzen 7000 testing, we've opted to check two RAM configurations for each new processor: DDR5-5200, representing 'budget' DDR5, and DDR5-6000, the AMD-identified sweet spot for price versus performance. We've also done some more in-depth RAM testing on page five, showing the maximum gains you can expect to see from opting for specialist high-speed RAM over more pedestrian models.

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The 13900K and 13600K represent the upper and lower bounds of the initial Raptor Lake range - otherwise, there's a $409 Core i7 13700K in the middle and 'F' variants that cost $25 less but don't include integrated graphics. As usual, we expect to see cheaper Core i5 and Core i3 models later on, where we could see even better value propositions if 12th-gen is any indication.

Looking at the specs provided by Intel for the new 13th-gen lineup, two things jump out at me. First, though Intel warned we might see higher prices, we only see two models that are more expensive than their counterparts - the Core i5 models are $30 more expensive, while the Core i7 and Core i9 parts are the same price. (Real world prices may vary, of course.) Secondly, the jump in turbo frequencies is incredible - 200MHz higher for the Core i5, 400MHz for the Core i7 and 600MHz for the Core i9. That's a massive improvement given that these chips are made using the same 'Intel 7' process node.

Processor Cores (P/E) Threads P Max Turbo E Max Turbo Smart Cache Cost
i9-13900K 24 (8P/16E) 32 5.8GHz 4.3GHz 36MB $589
i9-13900KF 24 (8P/16E) 32 5.8GHz 4.3GHz 36MB $564
i7-13700K 16 (8P/8E) 24 5.4GHz 4.2GHz 30MB $409
i7-13700KF 16 (8P/8E) 24 5.4GHz 4.2GHz 30MB $384
i5-13600K 14 (6P/8E) 20 5.1GHz 3.9GHz 24MB $319
i5-13600KF 14 (6P/8E) 20 5.1GHz 3.9GHz 24MB $294
i9-12900K 16 (8P/8E) 24 5.2GHz 3.9GHz 30MB $589
i9-12900KF 16 (8P/8E) 24 5.2GHz 3.9GHz 30MB $564
i7-12700K 12 (8P/4E) 20 5.0GHz 3.8GHz 25MB $409
i7-12700KF 12 (8P/4E) 20 5.0GHz 3.8GHz 25MB $384
i5-12600K 10 (6P/4E) 16 4.9GHz 3.6GHz 20MB $289
i5-12600KF 10 (6P/4E) 16 4.9GHz 3.6GHz 20MB $264

At this stage, before we dive into the content creation benchmark results, it's probably worth briefly outlining what hardware we're using in our test sytem. While we initially planned to test on the same Z690 board we used for our 12th-gen testing, we had boot and XMP issues with the Asus Z690 Maximus Hero board, even with the latest BIOS installed, and swapped instead to a Gigabyte Z790 Aorus Master. This motherboard offers all of the features we look for - a power button and boot code indicator on the motherboard itself, a quick-release PCIe slot, robust power delivery, five (!) NVMe slots, and of course support for PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 RAM. (We've also received an Asus Z790-I Gaming WiFi board that will no doubt feature in subsequent testing, and an MSI board is also reportedly on the way.) We'll go into more detail about the motherboards we were able to test on page six.

This new Aorus motherboard is combined with high-spec G.Skill's Trident Z5 Neo DDR5-6000 CL30 RAM, Corsair's Dominator Platinum DDR5-5200 CL40 for supplementary testing and of course Asus' RTX 3090 ROG Strix OC for the all-important GPU side of things. For storage, we're using three PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs to hold all of our games - a 4TB Kingston KC3000, a 1TB PNY XLR8 CS3140 and a 1TB Crucial P5 Plus. Our rig was completed with a 1000W Corsair RM1000x power supply.

Elsewhere, we used an Asus ROG Crosshair 8 Hero for Ryzen 5000 testing, an Asus ROG Maximus Z590 Hero for 11th-gen Intel testing and an Asus ROG Z690 Maximus Hero for 12th-gen testing; all of these are high-end boards for their respective platforms. DDR4 motherboards used G.Skill 3600MT/s CL16 memory, the sweetspot for DDR4.

Before we get into the gaming benchmarks that make up pages two to five, let's whet our appetite with some quick and dirty content creation benchmarks: a Cinebench R20 3D render and a Handbrake video transcode.

The 13900K is hugely impressive here, completing our H.265 (HEVR) transcode in three minutes and eight seconds - a new record - that works out to an average of 41.2fps, making the 13900K the first to reach the 40s while the next-fastest CPU we've tested hasn't even cracked 30fps. It does, however, draw an extra 100W compared to our Z690 system with the 12900K.

Still, in my book, I'd say the uptick in power consumption is worth it, given that your CPU will use much less power in non-AVX workloads like H.264 encoding or gaming; of course in gaming we'd expect thread utilisation to also be significantly lower. Intel's claims of a more efficient processor, performance per watt, is definitely borne out. Be aware that most motherboards default to running flat-out though, so you will see higher power draw from the 13900K and 13600K compared to 12900K and 12600K - something worth changing in the BIOS if you'd prefer a cooler, quieter system.

CB R20 1T CB R20 MT HB h.264 HB HEVC HEVC Power Use
Core i9 13900K 873 15570 104.67fps 41.20fps 473W
Core i5 13600K 767 9267 62.37fps 26.44fps 254W
Core i9 12900K 760 10416 70.82fps 29.26fps 373W
Core i7 12700K 729 8683 57.64fps 25.67fps 318W
Core i5 12600K 716 6598 44.27fps 19.99fps 223W
Core i5 12400F 652 4736 31.77fps 14.70fps 190W
Core i9 11900K 588 5902 41.01fps 18.46fps 321W
Core i5 11600K 541 4086 29.00fps 13.12fps 250W
Ryzen 9 7900X 791 11324 79.38fps 33.77fps 288W
Ryzen 5 7600X 750 6063 44.35fps 20.28fps 236W
Ryzen 9 5950X 637 10165 70.28fps 30.14fps 237W
Ryzen 7 5800X3D 546 5746 42.71fps 19.10fps 221W
Ryzen 7 5800X 596 6118 44.18fps 19.50fps 229W
Ryzen 5 5600X 601 4502 31.75fps 14.43fps 160W

The 13600K also acquits itself well, exhibiting better single-core speeds than the 12900K and better multi-core results than the 12700K. In fact, it's fairly close to the 5950X while consuming around the same amount of power, which is absurd for a Core i5. All-told, it's a 40 percent advantage for the 13600K over its last-gen counterpart in terms of both Cinebench and Handbrake - nice.

Now, let's get into the fun stuff - the games. We've tested a range of titles, so pick out your favourites from the links below or just hit that next page button to continue the journey. Remember, you get a special prize for reading every page of the review..!

Intel Core i9 13900K and Core i5 13600K analysis

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About the Author
Will Judd avatar

Will Judd

Deputy Editor, Digital Foundry

A bizarre British-American hybrid, Will turns caffeine into technology articles through a little-known process called 'writing'. His favourite games are Counter-Strike, StarCraft and Fallout 2. Will also tweets the latest tech deals at @DigitalFoundry.

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