Intel Core i9-11900K Review: Not a Great Flagship CPU

Intel Core i9-11900K Review: Not a Great Flagship CPU


The Core i9-11900K is Intel’s flagship offering in their new Rocket Lake-S desktop CPU series. Earlier this week we reviewed another new Rocket Lake processor, the mid-range Core i5-11600K and found it to be a decent offering. Although at the MSRP it’s not competitive enough with the Ryzen 5 5600X, with that AMD CPU currently overpriced, we felt the best 6-core option for those buying right now is actually the older 10th-gen Core i5-10600K, or even better, the $200 10600KF model which is readily available.

So while a bit disappointing, overall the 11600K did show strong gains over its predecessor for productivity workloads and a very small improvement in gaming performance. We deliberately skipped the 10900K for our day-one coverage as the 10600K just looked like the more reasonable product and it stood a chance against its Ryzen competition.

Usually it’s the flagship CPU grabbing the headlines, but frankly, the Core i9-11900K at a list price of $540 (in 1,000 unit quantities) and a current retail price of $615 at places like Newegg, simply doesn’t stand a chance. We saw that coming on paper, then the pre-release reviews confirmed it. But because you’ll want to know where it stands, here we are. Needless to say, it’s not a great time to buy high-end computer parts.

Intel Core i9-11900K Review: Not a Great Flagship CPU

Even at $540, we don’t know why this CPU exists, this is something you’ll understand once we get into the benchmark graphs. Intel themselves have admitted in a recent AMA that they began work on 11th-gen Core processors in Q1 2019, and perhaps didn’t expect Ryzen performance to scale as well as it did when they moved to 7nm. Keep in mind that the 12-core, 24-thread Ryzen 9 5900X costs $550, although availability has been dismal for that part, the performance deficit is going to be pretty ugly in most tests.

If you missed our previous coverage discussing the pricing and specifications of these new 11th-gen Core processors, here’s a quick refresher…










  Core i9-11900K Core i7-11700K Core i9-10900K Core i9-10900KF Ryzen 9 5900X
Price (MSRP) $539 $399 $488 $472 $549
Current Retail $615 $420 $460 $420 $550
Cores / Threads 8 / 16 10 / 20 12 / 24
Base Frequency 3.5 GHz 3.7 GHz 3.7 GHz
Max Turbo 5.3 GHz 5.0 GHz 5.3 GHz 4.8 GHz
L3 Cache 16 MB 20 MB 64 MB
iGPU Model UHD Graphics 750 UHD Graphics 630 N/A
TDP 125 watt 105 watt

Unlike the 10-core/20-thread Core i9-10900K, the 11900K is an 8-core, 16-thread part packing a 16MB L3 cache and a 125 watt TDP. Despite featuring less L3 cache and fewer cores the list price has increased from $490 to $540. That’s a 10% price hike for 20% fewer cores.

Surely, it’s a little more complicated than that as the 11th-gen architecture is entirely different to the 10th-gen series that came before it. Rocket Lake is a new architecture, or rather a hybrid architecture that backported Ice Lake’s 10nm Sunny Cove cores, hence the codename change to Cypress Cove.

This makeshift solution seems entirely unnecessary at present. All Intel needed to do was keep prices of their 10th-gen lineup where they currently are — undercutting AMD Zen 3 parts — and we believe they could have sold well. Intel just needed to make the price cuts official and we’d change our CPU recommendations accordingly.

Instead, the 11900K is a more complex CPU that’s more expensive to produce and in many ways worse. This is all the more confusing once you realize that Intel’s true next-gen CPU is right around the corner and it should be much better.

The 12th-gen Core series codenamed ‘Alder Lake’ is expected in late 2021, and with it we should see Intel transition to a 10nm process on the desktop, while also adopting a new LGA 1700 socket and other technologies like DDR5.

That being the case, why release Rocket Lake? Why release new Z590 motherboards that won’t support the 12th-gen parts coming later this year? You can tell I’m not keen on this release and the Core i9-11900K won’t be getting my recommendation, but rather than ending the review here, let’s check out the results so you can get the full picture.

For testing the Intel CPUs I used the Gigabyte Aorus Z590 Master using BIOS version F5a, the board was configured with 32GB of DDR4-3200 CL14 dual rank, dual-channel memory, and cooling was provided by the Corsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix White. All this hardware was installed in a Corsair 5000D Airflow case and powered by the RM850x power supply. The Ryzen test system features the Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master motherboard, using the same cooler, memory and power supply.

For this review we’re looking exclusively at results for Intel CPUs that aren’t power limited, so no TDP limited testing. This is typically how we test Intel CPUs, as this is also how the majority of Z490 and Z590 boards operate out of the box. So while we’ll be using the default clock multiplier tables, none of the Intel CPUs are adhering to any power limits.

All productivity benchmarks were ran using a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, then we switched to an RTX 3090 for the gaming tests.

Benchmarks

Right off the bat, we’ll tell you we plan to skip a portion of our productivity tests as the results are pretty boring. The 11900K is slower than the 10900K while costing more, so it’s not a great CPU choice for workstation and productivity loads. The Cinebench R20 multi-core results sum it up well. When compared to the previous gen 8-core part, the 10700K, the 11900K looks good as it boosts performance by 20%.

But the new 8-core part isn’t priced to replace the 10700K, but rather the 10900K and in that match up it was 8% slower, an impressive effort for a CPU with 20% fewer cores, but also not impressive given the price.

The real issue for the 11900K though is the Ryzen 9 5900X, which is a whopping 42% faster in this test. That’s no small margin and you certainly wouldn’t expect both CPUs to occupy the same price point based on that.

When looking at single core performance we see that the 11900K is 14% faster than the 10900K, and just barely behind the 5900X. For single or lightly threaded workloads the 11900K is unlikely to beat the 12-core AMD processor.

Intel has managed to go backwards with its new Core i9 processor. This time the 11900K is 4% slower than the 10900K in the 7-zip compression test or 30% slower than the 5900X.

When measuring decompression performance, the 11900K is 16% slower than the 10900K and 40% slower than the 5900X. A similarly ugly margin to what we saw in the Cinebench R20 multi-threaded benchmark.

The 11900K did manage to match the performance of the 10900K in Adobe Premiere Pro 2020, but it’s also 8% slower than the 5900X.

Moving over to the Blender Open Data benchmark, we see that the 11900K is slower than the 10900K again, trailing by an 8% margin. Obviously though if you have ~$500 to spend on a CPU and you’ll be doing a lot of core-heavy productivity tasks like rendering, the 5900X is the way to go and here the Ryzen 9 part offers 40% more performance.

Power Consumption

This is the icing on the cake for AMD or the death blow for Intel. We just saw that the Ryzen 9 5900X was 40% faster in Blender, which is a massive margin in favor of AMD. But it also managed to produce that margin while consuming 25% less power than the 11900K.

So, 40% more performance, 25% less system power. Probably don’t need to say much more. Let’s move on to gaming and see if the 11900K can redeem itself there.

Gaming Performance

Kicking off the gaming benchmarks we have Watch Dogs Legion. Here the 11900K manages to make its way to the top of our chart, boosting performance from the 10900K by 3%. Not exactly an exciting margin, but it’s better than the alternative. The 11900K is also 4% faster than the 5900X.

Unfortunately performance in F1 2020 does regress. We’re looking at a 6% drop in frame rate down to 261 fps, which admittedly is more than enough.

But when comparing CPUs directly, it does mean that the 11900K is 4% slower than the 5900X which isn’t going to help Intel claim the gaming performance crown.

Testing with Horizon Zero Dawn saw no performance improvement for the 11900K over the 10900K, matching the 5900X.

The 11900K also matches the 10900K in Borderlands 3 making it 6% faster than the 5900X which is a small margin, but also a clear win for Intel in this title.

Moving on to Death Stranding, we see the 11900K edging out the 10900K by 5% but unfortunately still 7% slower than the 5900X.

We’re looking at virtually identical performance between the 11900K and 10900K in Hitman. The new 11th-gen processor was slower than the Ryzen 9 5900X by 6% in this gaming test.

The Star Wars: Squadrons results are a bit brutal. Here the 11900K is 9% slower than the old 10900K and 11% slower than the 5900X by. So not a good result for Intel’s new flagship Core i9 processor.

Serious Sam 4 is another example where the 11900K ends up being a step backwards for Intel as it loses out to the older 10900K by a 9% margin. Worse than that is the 18% loss it suffered to the 5900X.

The Core i9-10900K was a bit of a beast in Rainbow Six Siege and while you can certainly argue the relevance to 538 fps, it remains the fastest CPU in this game. We’re seeing the same situation where the 11900K ends up reducing performance, dropping frame rates by a 7% margin to come in just behind the 5900X.

Last up we have Shadow of the Tomb Raider where the 11900K is 2% faster than the 11900K, but hey at least it was faster, managing to match the 5900X as well.

Average Gaming Performance

Here’s a look at the 10 game average which shows that Intel is not taking the gaming crown with their 11th-gen Core series, at least not based on our sample of games. In fact, they’ve managed the rather unimpressive feat of reducing overall performance as the 11900K came in 2% behind the 10900K.

However it should be noted that’s an insignificant margin and it means both CPUs will enable the same gaming experience when using typical quality settings in-game with a high-end GPU like the RTX 3090, running at 1440p or greater.

At least for gaming, the 11900K doesn’t fare badly, but why spend roughly the same amount for a power hungry 8-core processor when you can get a more efficient 12-core CPU from AMD that’s way faster for productivity tasks?

Try Something Else

The main issue with the Core i9-11900K is that the price just doesn’t make sense. Assuming good availability of both the 11900K and 5900X, with both selling at the MSRP, there’s no reason to consider the Intel offering.

Also we can’t overlook that the more affordable i9-10900K that was released a year ago is faster in most applications, certainly faster for core heavy workloads, and it’s basically on par for gaming performance. Right now the 10900K can be had for $460 while the 11900K seems to be starting at $615. Obviously the new CPU is not worth a 34% premium, so again, why did Intel even bother?

If you’re wondering what an acceptable price for a part like the 11900K might be, we’d say around $400-420 would be reasonable. That’s based on the fact that the Ryzen 7 5800X, which is also an 8-core processor, costs $450 and delivers comparable gaming and application performance while using significantly less power.

In a way, we’ve just reviewed the 11700K which happens to come in at $400-420, which is acceptable based on our previous estimate. The 11700K is based on slightly worse silicon than the 11900K, but overall performance should be very similar.

But wait, you can also purchase the Core i7-10700KF for just $300 and that would be the 8-core CPU to buy right now. Sales might end soon though, so if that part returns to $380, you might as well just buy AMD then.

Intel is hanging on there and will need Alder Lake to deliver the goods later this year before AMD counter-punches with Zen 4. Hopefully we have some exciting battles to come because right now Intel’s 11th gen just isn’t it.

Shopping Shortcuts:
  • Intel Core i7-10700KF on Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-11900K on Amazon
  • Intel Core i7-11700K on Amazon
  • Intel Core i5-11600K on Amazon
  • Intel Core i5-10600KF on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 9 5900X on Amazon
  • AMD Ryzen 7 5800X on Amazon



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