Intel Core i9-11900K and i5-11600K review: Solid gaming, if you can get one


Intels 11th-gen Core processors are exceeding my low expectations. The company is still on its 14nm process, but a new architecture means its desktop CPUs are maxing out at 8 cores and 16 threads. Thats opposed to the 16 cores in the Ryzen 5950X (or 12 in the more comparable 5900X) and 10 cores in Intels own last-gen i9-10900K part. But the reality is that the Intel Core i9-11900K and the i5-11600K both deliver strong gaming performance. And in the case of the 10900K, its an ideal CPU for livestreaming depending on what you pay for it.

Here are the quick basics about Intels Rocket Lake-S processors.

The i9-11900K has 8 cores and 16 threads at a base clock of 3.5 GHz and boost speeds up to 5.3GHz. Intel is selling the chip to retailers for $539 per CPU in bunches of 1,000. The i5-11600K, meanwhile, has 6 cores and 12 threads at a 3.9GHz clock that boosts up to 4.9GHz. The 11600K has a unit price of $262.

With these products, Intel is hoping to fend off AMDs Ryzen. Intel has fallen behind AMD in terms of core count, and it is trading blows in terms of single-threaded performance. But really, this fight is a secondary concern. What Intel really needs to do is offer products that people feel good about buying when they have the chance because both AMD and Intel are competing against record demand. And in that context, the 11th-gen Core components should fill in an important gap for Intel.

Intel Core i9-11900K and Core i5-11600K performance

I tested the processors on the following machine:

  • MSI Godlike Z590 motherboard
  • Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti GPU
  • EVGA 1000W PSU
  • 3600MHz HyperX Predator memory

Here are the results.

Cinebench

The Cinebench scores reveal pretty much what I expected. Ryzen has an advantage thanks to its extra cores, and the 5950X is about even with the 11900K in single-core tests. You cannot really apply these results to real-world gaming performance, though. So keep that in mind.

Timespy

While Cinebench likes AMD, 3DMark likes Intel. The i9-11900K and the 10900K both outperform the Ryzen 5900X and 5950X parts.

Teardown

When it comes to actual game performance, the 11900K has a serious advantage in Teardown. Its closest competition is the last-gen 10900K. This is a game with a robust physics-simulation model, and a speedy CPU helps to keep up with the dynamic destruction model.

Watch Dogs: Legion

But if you already have a 10900K, you definitely shouldnt update to the 11900K at least not yet. Youll find plenty of games where the 10900K is faster than its successor CPU. That might improve over time as Intel and its partners roll out updates.

Marvels Avengers

Finally, for now, here is Avengers, which is always weird. The 11900K and 11600K outperform the 5950X, but the 5600X and 5900X top the chart overall.

If you need a new CPU, buy what you can find

These reviews are easier when I can feel comfortable pitting product against product, but no one is able to shop like that at the moment. Availability and pricing are both going through volatile changes, and a lot of people just want to get whatever they can find to upgrade their system. And it might be damning Intel with faint praise, but the 11th-gen Core parts are great if you just need something.

If you are a livestreamer, and you need a fast and capable CPU for gaming and broadcasting simultaneously, the fast, 8-core i9-11900K is wonderful if you can get the component for around its suggested price. If you just want to game, the 11600K is fantastic. The 5600X might potentially be better, but those CPUs are very difficult to find at the moment.

But again, if you need to upgrade, then upgrade with what you can find. Otherwise, Intel doesnt really have anything that should compel you to upgrade if you werent already thinking about it.

The Intel 11th-gen Core Rocket Lake-S processors are available now. Intel provided sample units for the purpose of this review.

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