Intel’s 10th Generation Core processors (aka Comet Lake) have landed – along with a new Z490 chipset and LGA1200 socket. This article will tell you what to expect if you’re thinking about buying a new CPU and should help you determine which one best suits your needs.
In this article I’ll be comparing the two review sample CPUs to each other to demonstrate what to expect in terms of performance, power and thermals. Both of these CPUs are the unlocked ‘K’ models that allow overclocking.
Whilst the i5-10600K and i9-10900K both still use the 14nm manufacturing process, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as long as the performance is there with acceptable thermals. After the 9900K, I’d really liked to have seen a more meaningful architectural progression but we’ve known for ages that Comet Lake was going to be 14nm and would need a new LGA1200 socket with the Z490 chipset.
The 9th Gen i9-9900K was the fastest gaming CPU on the market since its release and like any high-end gaming technology it was expensive, power hungry, and could get hot when pushed to the max. It wasn’t for those on a budget or the casual gamer; the 9900K was for the committed enthusiast or dedicated content creator. Most of all, the 9900K was a lot of fun and proved that you could have a lightning fast gaming rig with 16 threads of grunt for creative workloads in the same rig. The i9-10900K needs to outdo this and when compared to its predecessor, it does – thanks to an improved frequency range and 2 more cores / 4 more threads. The promise of more performance than we’ve seen from an Intel® Core processor in the past comes with an eye-watering $1150-1200AUD price tag. For context, the 10th Gen prices are not dissimilar to the launch prices of the 9th Gen CPUs once you factor in currency conversion and SKU position.
The i5-10600K seems very modest in comparison to the i9 but don’t let that fool you. It has very capable but realistic gaming specifications and a still hefty but comparatively digestible price tag of $500AUD. The i5-10600K also has enough grunt to do creative workloads in a way that we haven’t seen from an i5 in the past. Make no mistake, the i5-10600K is Intel’s option for the masses.
The key improvement of the i5 is Intel’s inclusion of hyperthreading. For context, the lack of hyperthreading in the i5 product line was the sole reason that I discounted it very early in previous buying decisions so this is a game-changing revision by Intel for me.
The high-level specification of these 10th Gen Core Processors are below. Both CPUs are 14nm and have Intel® UHD Graphics 630.
The i5-10600K has twice the threads and 0.4GHz higher base /0.2GHz higher boost frequencies than the previous i5-9600K that it supersedes. This is quite the upgrade, and good news for gamers who were hoping for a little bit more from the 10th Generation i5!
The new king of the hill is the i9-10900K that replaces the 9th Generation i9-9900K. The key improvements are two additional cores, four additional threads, 0.1GHz base frequency and up to .3GHz boost frequency (I’ll cover that next), plus 20MB of Intel® Smart Cache.
Intel® has also introduced some new boosting algorithms to squeeze more performance out of the i9-10900K. When I saw “up to” in the above spec sheet I recognised that this meant some conditions would apply and I was sceptical, but after testing both CPUs under different workloads I saw those numbers in HWiNFO64 on our test bench – regularly. The i9-10900K has a second stage boost via Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 and a third stage increase via Thermal Velocity Boost that can apply to a single core or all cores. Do not expect these frequencies to be in effect all the time, they are effectively ‘sprint’ modes for the i9 CPU that kick in when it’s operating under certain thermal and power limit thresholds. I’ll explain these in more detail when I cover the Key Features.
Intel® Thermal Velocity Boost: This feature is the automatic boosting of the CPU frequency on both single core and all core workloads that occurs when the temperature is below 70C. When the CPU temperature is above 70C, the highest boost level available is the Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 limit.
Intel® Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0: This boost applies to lightly threaded applications so it isn’t an all core increase but I regularly saw it taking effect during some gaming benchmarks and other variable workloads where the active core count was low.
Memory Support for up to DDR4-2933 Memory Speeds: Official support from Intel® for DDR4-2666 (i5-10600K) and DDR4-2933 (i9-10900K) is now available but you will find that motherboard manufacturers have added support for much higher speeds. As an example, ASUS will support 4800+(OC) on the ROG MAXIMUS XII EXTREME Z490 motherboard.
Per-Core Hyperthreading Control for Overclocking: Full control over which cores have Hyperthreading active.
Intel® Ethernet Connection I225: 10th Generation platforms have 2.5G Intel Ethernet available for a significant improvement over previous 1GB ethernet using existing cabling. At the time of writing, ASUS has confirmed they use only i225v2 chips for optimal compliance to networking hardware in the field. For others, it is best to check intel.com/i225v1 for more details and a list of compatible networking hardware to make sure your infrastructure will support it though.
CNVi, wireless IP has been integrated into 10th Generation Core processors, and can be enabled with a companion RF (CRF) module in M.2 such as the Wi-Fi AX201. Wi-Fi 6 802.11ax 2×2 160MHz (theoretical 2402Mbps) is listed as 2.8x faster than 802.11ac 2×2 80MHz (theoretical 867Mbps). This is something that we’ve obtained the relevant hardware to test in more detail at a later date so watch this space.
Other key technology that is worth a quick mention is Thunderbolt™ 3, Intel® Optane memory H10 with SSD Support for faster non-volatile storage, and Intel®Smart Cache that provides both dynamic provision of cache to the CPU cores for reduced latency to frequently used data.