Intel Conquers the Mountain AMD Famously Died on and Produces a 5GHz Processor

By Alex Cranz on at

If you’re in the market for a new desktop CPU, then Intel’s got a whole bunch of new 9th-Gen chips for you to check out, including one with the fastest clock speed ever a mass-produced processor.

The new i9-9900K has a turbo clock speed of 5GHz (and a base clock speed of 3.6GHz). That’s significant because a 5GHz CPU, turbo or base, is notoriously hard to ship. In fact, just one CPU has ever been mass produced ships at that clockrate—IBM’s zEC12 which was released back in 2012 and intended solely for mainframes.

AMD famously attempted a 5GHz base clockrate CPU with its Bulldozer architecture back in 2011, and it failed miserably. Instead, Bulldozer became something of an embarrassment for the company and it wasn’t until 2017 that AMD really became a competitive CPU maker again. It did however produce a single CPU with a 5GHz turbo clockrate, the FX-9590. It was based on the successor architecture to Bulldozer, and like all things Bulldozer did not do well.

Intel is facing its own embarrassment now. As Apple releases a 7nm CPU in its new iPhones and AMD claims its own 7nm CPU will be available for desktops next year, Intel is still stuck on a practically antique 14nm process. Specifically, the new i9-9900K is based on the 14nm++, also known as Coffee Lake Refresh.

The downside of this is the improvements in speed aren’t going to knock your socks off—they’re merely respectable. On average, Intel claims the chips will be about 10 per cent faster than last year’s 8th-gen desktop CPUs and about 40 per cent faster than a 3-year-old PC with a 6th-gen CPU. The exception is for video editing in Adobe Premiere, where Intel claims the 9th-Gen will be 34 per cent faster than an 8th-Gen CPU and 97 per cent faster than a 6th-Gen CPU. This, Intel claims, is primarily due to how Adobe Premiere utilises the higher clock speeds of the CPUs. Of course, we won’t know how well any of this stuff performs until we try it ourselves. Will that 5Ghz clock cause gigantic problems? Maybe!

But one major upside, especially for people who like to overclock or tinker, is that Intel is finally moving to Solder Thermal Interface Material or STIM. When you pull a CPU out of the box you’ll notice that the top of the CPU has a lid, or heat spreader, on it. You apply thermal paste to this lid and then put on your heatsink.

Hardcore CPU modders will go through a process called “de-lidding” where they remove the lid, and the thermal paste underneath, so they can apply their own cooling solution directly to the CPU. STIM is an alternative to that. Instead of thermal paste between the CPU and lid, solder is applied. It tends to be more costly, but also much more efficient. STIM CPUs, like those AMD has been making, don’t require de-lidding for maximum theoretical performance.

There will be three chips available for the 9th-Gen series at launch. The aforementioned 5GHz i9-9900K, which will retail for $488 (£373), the i7-9700K, which will retail for $374 (£286), and the i5-9600K, which will retail for $262 (£200); UK pricing is TBA. Pre-orders start today with shipping later this month.