The whole story of the introduction of the Core i9-9900KS from the very beginning made us feel deja vu. Why? Yes, it's very simple, we found similar events sixteen years ago when AMD released its revolutionary Athlon 64 and Athlon 64 FX processors with Hammer microarchitecture. Then, in order to repulse these new products, Intel urgently organized the release of Pentium 4 Extreme Edition processors equipped with a 2 megabyte L3 cache, which were whipped up from the Xeon MP server chips. Now, of course, the situation is developing in a slightly different scenario, but the overall plot outline has remained the same. Not having the opportunity to respond symmetrically to the cheeky creeps of a competitor, Intel twists out as best it can and instead of a new family of products offers temporary flagship processors "quick response".
Core i9-9900KS is just such a stuck answer from improvised materials to the third-generation Ryzen. Remember, the announcement of the upcoming release of this processor Intel made at the beginning of June at the Computex exhibition – just a few days before the announcement of the Ryzen 3000. The meaning of such a step was easily guessed exactly at what point it was made, because in reality the Core i9-9900KS reached the market only a few months later – in November. At the same time, there’s nothing that is why it should be said so much about the Core i9-9900KS in it, it’s just a slightly overclocked version of the eight-core Core i9-9900K, which in reality should only become Intel’s trump card for the next few weeks high New Year's demand.
Intel will see a full answer to Ryzen 3000 pretty soon. The release of 10-core Comet Lake processors is scheduled for the first quarter of 2020. But if you want to put a new Intel processor under the tree, you will have to be content with just the Core i9-9900KS. However, you should not think that it will be something like a “comforting” gift. Intel without false speed says of the Core i9-9900KS as follows: “Based on the Core i9-9900K, we made the world's best gaming processor even better."- and this seems to be true.
Translated from marketing, this thesis means that the Core i9-9900KS, which went on sale, is a special version of the Core i9-9900K, built on selected semiconductor crystals capable of operating at even higher clock frequencies. Moreover, the “special” is literally: the letter S, which appeared at the end of the model number, is an abbreviation for Special Edition. The formal characteristics of the new items are such that the Core i9-9900KS is able to operate at the “beautiful” frequency of 5.0 GHz with a simultaneous load on all eight cores. Only one thing confuses: the duration of the warranty period of such an accelerated processor is limited to one year, while the usual Core i9-9900K (in the box) is given a three-year warranty.
The manufacturer emphasizes the exclusivity of the Core i9-9900KS by the story that for the manufacture of such CPUs he has to use a special procedure for selecting semiconductor crystals, which makes the circulation of such processors quite small. The exact number of “special” chips to be delivered to the market is not reported, but you can be sure that next year it will be problematic to buy a Core i9-9900KS in the store. This is partly due to the fact that the margin for the Special Edition label and the 5 GHz frequency are not so great and are not able to become a significant obstacle for buyers. The recommended price of the Core i9-9900KS is $ 513, only $ 25 more than the price of a regular Core i9-9900K.
However, the question of whether it is worth chasing just the Core i9-9900KS still remains, and we will try to answer it in this review, in which we compare Intel's new product with available alternatives from the same price category, among which even the most interesting not the usual Core i9-9900K, but the 12-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900X.
⇡ # More on Core i9-9900KS
The Core i9-9900KS became the fifth representative of the Coffee Lake Refresh family, which received model number 9900. His brothers always offered eight cores with Hyper-Threading technology and had a 16 MB L3 cache, but they differed in thermal package, overclocking capabilities, and target frequencies and the presence or absence of an integrated graphics core. In the Core i9-9900KS, as in the crown of the entire evolution of the ninth generation of Core, all these characteristics are twisted to maximum values, but when compared with the previously released sister processors, the formal specifications of the Core i9-9900KS are not at all amazing.
|Core i9-9900KS||Core i9-9900K||Core i9-9900KF||Core i9-9900||Core i9-9900T|
|Kernels / Threads||8/16||8/16||8/16||8/16||8/16|
|Base frequency, GHz||4.0||3.6||3.6||3,1||2.1|
|Turbo frequency (max.), GHz||5,0||5,0||5,0||5,0||4.4|
|L3 cache, MB||16||16||16||16||16|
|Overclocking||there is||there is||there is||No||No|
|Integrated graphics||UHD 630||UHD 630||No||UHD 630||UHD 630|
|Memory, DDR4||2 × 2666||2 × 2666||2 × 2666||2 × 2666||2 × 2666|
|Price||$ 513||$ 488||$ 463||$ 439||$ 439|
What is impressive in this table is the calculated heat dissipation of the Core i9-9900KS – 127 watts. However, there were instances among the mass processors as well, it’s enough to recall, for example, the Intel Core 2 Extreme or AMD FX Black Edition series of nine thousand.
Higher than the other 9900, the base frequency of the Core i9-9900KS absolutely does not mean anything. First, as we know, Intel processors never actually work on it, and the aggressiveness of Turbo Boost 2.0 technology determines the real frequencies. Secondly, the increase in the base frequency is a direct consequence of raising the bar of the heat packet, because according to the current formulation, TDP is just defined as the heat dissipation of the processor at the nominal base frequency.
Therefore, in order to fully appreciate the exclusiveness of the Core i9-9900KS, you need to look deeper – at the frequencies that are maximum achievable within the turbo mode when loading on a different number of computing cores. It's funny that just recently Intel decided to remove information about these values from open access, and now the company was faced with the fact that this was done in vain, because without this the advantages of the Core i9-9900KS could not be shown. However, with a certain degree of patience, the values of turbo frequencies can be determined experimentally or using diagnostic utilities.
And only in this case, the advantages of the Core i9-9900KS become clearer: with a load of six or more cores, this processor is allowed to operate at 300 MHz or 6.3% faster than the Core i9-9900K and Core i9-9900KF.
|Base frequency, MHz||The maximum frequency in turbo mode, MHz|
|8 cores||7 cores||6 cores||5 cores||4 cores||3 cores||2 cores||1 core|
However, in fact, all this does not mean at all that, choosing the Core i9-9900KS for your system, you will get 5.0 GHz at any load. Do not forget that turbo frequencies are the maximum auto-acceleration that is possible, but not guaranteed. Turbo Boost 2.0 technology does not automatically increase the CPU frequency based on the number of working cores, but also takes into account other parameters, in particular, the nature of the load and, most importantly, the energy consumption generated by it. The theory establishes for the processor power consumption in turbo mode two limit values, PL1 and PL2, which limit it for short-term and long-term loads. The limit PL2, which sets the maximum consumption for long periods of time, is assumed to be equal to the passport value of TDP. The limit of PL1 is usually set a quarter higher than PL2, allowing the processor to consume more than is in the TDP, but only for short periods of time. The maximum duration of such time periods is set by the constant τ, which, according to the specification, can be selected in the range from 1 to 8 seconds.
All this means that when designing the Core i9-9900KS it was laid down that it would consume no more than 127 W for long-term loads and no more than 159 W for short-term ones. And such consumption limits with a 5-GHz frequency are clearly incompatible. For example, even the Core i9-9900K at its 4.7 GHz turbo frequency in multi-threaded rendering in the Cinebench R20 consumes about 195 watts. The new Core i9-9900KS at a frequency of 5.0 GHz in this test shows a consumption of about 220 watts.
Therefore, if everything was honest and in accordance with the specification, then we would not see any 5.0 GHz even close. This is illustrated in the following graph, on which we plotted the frequency curve of the Core i9-9900KS depending on the load in the Cinebench R20, built when this processor operates with the correctly set limits PL1 and PL2 set to 127 and 159 watts. A similar curve for the Core i9-9900K is also given here, in which these limits are set a quarter lower in accordance with the specification – at 95 W and 119 W.
Although the Core i9-9900KS and operates at a noticeably higher frequency compared to the Core i9-9900K, we are not talking about any 5 GHz at full load. Such a frequency can be observed if the number of workload streams does not exceed six, and no more. The maximum multi-threaded load in the Cinebench R20 cuts the frequency of the Core i9-9900KS to 4.5 GHz due to the fact that Silicon Lake Lake Refresh, manufactured using 14-nm technology, always crosses the 4.4-4.5 GHz border dramatically increases energy appetites.
However, all of these concerning the frequency of research are purely theoretically interesting, since motherboard manufacturers with the tacit consent of Intel simply ignore the limits of PL1 and PL2, setting them to the maximum. You can meet some meaningful settings for these restrictions only on inexpensive motherboards with a rather weak power supply, while the vast majority of Z390 platforms by default twist these restrictions to maximum and obviously unattainable values. And that is precisely why the reduction in frequency with an increase in power consumption beyond the limits established by the TDP specification in reality for Intel processors is not observed.
Until now, Intel and motherboard manufacturers have gotten away with such a loose attitude towards energy consumption. Everyone was happy, because users in the end did not get as economical as stated in the specifications, but automatically accelerated to the maximum frequencies for the turbo mode of the system with increased performance.
But with the Core i9-9900KS this trick goes with a creak. Operating at a frequency of 5.0 GHz, this processor emits so much heat that only selected cooling systems can handle it. For example, during testing of our instance of Core i9-9900KS, we encountered the failure of our usual Noctua NH-U14S and NH-D15 air supercoolers. With both a single-section and a two-section tower, when the Prime95 29.8 was launched, the processor quickly reached a limit temperature of 115 degrees and fell into throttling. To achieve stable operation of the Core i9-9900KS at a frequency of 5.0 GHz in any program, without exception, it was possible only after the transition to liquid cooling. And not just any, but to one of the most effective closed-loop cooling systems NZXT Kraken X72, which is equipped with a 360-mm radiator.
But even with such a powerful LSS, the processor temperature during the tests reached 108 degrees, which, however, is natural, considering the 275-watt power consumption of the Core i9-9900KS under heavy load, seasoned with AVX2 instructions.
All this means that owners of the Core i9-9900KS, who are not prepared to cool this processor properly, can easily encounter temperature throttling, even if they are armed with a completely efficient cooling system and will not disperse it. We are absolutely sure that soon forums and groups on social networks will be overwhelmed by a wave of complaints about overheating of the Core i9-9900KS at default settings. Intel has only one opportunity to avoid this: somehow agree with the manufacturers of motherboards so that at least in the case of the Core i9-9900KS they do not ignore the setting of consumption limits.
Of course, you need to keep in mind that we checked the temperature regime in Prime95 29.8 – a program that very much warms up processors by searching for Mersenne numbers. Such heating is not so common in commonly used tasks, but, for example, there is a high risk of overheating when transcoding video content with modern encoders or when rendering. Therefore, having installed the Core i9-9900KS into the system, it is better to devote some time to checking the temperatures and setting it up. We would recommend either manually selecting the PL1 and PL2 consumption limits, or setting a downward correction to the frequency when using the AVX instructions, or trying to reduce the supply voltage. And in the stories about 5.0 GHz “out of the box” one does not always and everywhere need to be trusted: this is a hyperbole (artistic exaggeration).
This raises the quite reasonable question of whether the Core i9-9900KS is better than the Core i9-9900K if the $ 25 overpayment for this CPU does not guarantee that there is no overheating at a frequency of 5.0 GHz and, in addition, inevitably dooms the user to a careful selection of cooling and additional system setup? But the answer is still positive. At a minimum, the Core i9-9900KS is really based on selected Coffee Lake Refresh crystals, which translates into slightly lower temperatures and consumption at the same frequency and voltage. For example, we compared the thermal and energy characteristics of the available copies of the Core i9-9900KS and Core i9-9900K at a frequency of 4.7 GHz at a voltage of 1.25 V with a liquid cooling system NZXT Kraken X72. And as you can see from the results obtained when the Prime95 stress test was launched, the Core i9-9900KS really turns out to be more economical and colder, all other things being equal.
|4.7 GHz, 1.25 V||Maximum temperature||Maximum consumption|
|Core i9-9900KS||86 ° C||218 watts|
|Core i9-9900K||90 ° C||226 watts|
In addition, the Core i9-9900KS processors, unlike the Core i9-9900K and Core i9-9900KF, are guaranteed to be based on R0 semiconductor stepping crystals. And this means that they already have hardware patches for some sensational vulnerabilities, in particular Fallout and Specter V4 (Speculative Store Bypass). However, from a practical point of view, this does not mean too much. Hardware fixes, as well as their software counterparts, have a similar effect on performance, and in the end, users of the Core i9-9900KS gain nothing but the lack of the need to update the microcode and install critical updates to the operating system and software.
⇡ # Acceleration
Considering how the Core i9-9900KS heats up when working in the “nominal” mode at a frequency of 5.0 GHz, it would be strange to expect from it any feats in the field of overclocking. However, to achieve a higher frequency, overclockers can use a special backup tool that helps with overclocking the Core X-Series HEDT processors. Namely – frequency limitation when the processor works with AVX instructions.
The fact that in the case of the Core i9-9900KS it can have a positive impact on the result, says, for example, that all foreign stores offering Core i9-9900KS samples with overclocking guarantee resort to it. And on Caseking.deand on SiliconLottery.com when sorting processors, a downward correction of -2 or -3 is used for the multiplication factor when working with AVX instructions.
But this did not help us at all. Our instance of Core i9-9900KS could not provide stability at 5.1 GHz when working with demanding programs even if they did not use AVX instructions. In other words, the processor turned out to be without any overclocking potential, 5.0 GHz – its ceiling.
However, one should not be surprised at this. We are dealing with a CPU already pre-overclocked at the factory, which was chosen among the usual Core i9-9900K just by the principle of operability at a frequency of 5.0 GHz. And if its overclocking potential would allow it to take more distant frontiers, Intel would probably use this to improve the characteristics of its offer, because this is not about a mass product, but about a special limited series of processors.
Actually, all this agrees well with the results of the selection of the most successful representatives of the Core i9-9900KS family, which is carried out by the store’s specialists. SiliconLottery.com. According to the statistics they collected, only one of three copies of the Core i9-9900KS is accelerated beyond 5.0 GHz. And we, obviously, did not get a “happy” chip this time.
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