June 10, 2023
Hands-on review: Intel 13th Gen "Raptor Lake Core i9-13900K" processor

Hands-on review: Intel 13th Gen “Raptor Lake Core i9-13900K” processor

Intel has released its new flagship desktop processor, the Core i9-13900K. Boasting 24 cores and 32 threads with a maximum boost clock of 5.80 GHz, does this new processor have the chops in productivity, creative and gaming applications? We take a look.

Unlike last year’s Alder Lake processors, not everything has changed this year. Intel’s Raptor Lake processors use the LGA1700 socket introduced with 12th generation chips. 13th generation processors also work with Z600 series motherboards, although you may need to update the BIOS for the newer generation of processors. Raptor Lake supports both DDR4 and DDR5. All in all, these are pretty easy processors to upgrade, especially if you’re planning to upgrade from, say, a 12th-gen i5 to a 13th-gen 19.

If you’re considering upgrading your components from an 11th Gen Intel processor, things aren’t that simple. Besides possibly your DDR4 memory, you will need a new motherboard and probably a new CPU cooler.

Like its predecessor, the Intel Core i9-13900K is an Intel 7 (10nm) microprocessor. It features 24 cores divided into eight performance cores and 16 efficient cores. Performance cores run the important tasks with efficient cores left to perform background and housekeeping tasks. The 13th generation processor doubles the number of effective cores compared to the last generation.

The performance cores of the Intel Core i9-13900K have a base frequency of 3.0 GHz with a maximum turbo frequency of 5.40 GHz, while the efficient cores have a base frequency of 2.2 GHz and a maximum turbo frequency of 4.3 GHz. The maximum CPU turbo frequency is touted as 5.8 GHz running a single core. On paper, these are relatively small gains over last year’s Core i9-12900K.

The unlocked K suffix processor has integrated graphics provided by the same Intel UHD Graphic 770, slightly improved over the last generation. Technologically, the main draws are support for faster DDR5 memory up to 5600 MT/s, with increased memory bandwidth of 89.6 GB/s. Z790 chipset motherboards, if you opt for one, support more PCIe 4.0 lanes and an additional USB Type-C socket.

Unable to get a DDR5 motherboard in time, and in the absence of components that will take advantage of the capabilities of the Z790 chipset, I stuffed the Core i9-13900K sample that Intel installed into my trusty MSI Z690 motherboard. Carbon WIFI . Like most manufacturers, MSI recently released a BIOS update to prepare the motherboard for the new generation of Intel processors. If you plan to do the same, remember to update the motherboard with your 12th gen CPU still installed, before upgrading to the new CPU, as it probably won’t work otherwise. While I’ll be checking out a Z790 motherboard later, I don’t expect any noticeable performance gains between a Z690 motherboard and a new Z790 board.

I used my standard benchmarks to gauge the performance of the new Intel processor. It’s a mix of consumer and professional benchmarking apps: BAPCo’s Crossmark, UL’s Procyon, PC Mark 10 and 3DMark, and Cinebench R23. I also dove into Intel’s Extreme Tuning utility to stress the chip and check for throttling.

The benchmark test all showed an improvement over last year’s Intel Core i9-12900K, which is what you’d expect. The percentage increase, however, was very application dependent.

Crossmark recorded the Intel Core i9-13900K as having an overall performance increase of 13% over the Core i9-12900K. The gain in creativity is 17%, productivity 11% and responsiveness 8%.

Procyon, which uses Microsoft Office and Adobe applications for real-world testing, reported productivity gains of 16% for office, 19% for photo editing and 6% for video editing. PC Mark 10 gave the Intel Core i9-13900K an 8% higher score than the Core i9-12900K, with 5% gains for Essentials, 8% for Productivity and 11% for Content Creation digital.

Cinebench R23 tests the 3D rendering capabilities of the processor by generating a photorealistic image through two tests, one using a single core and the other using multiple cores. The single-core result made the Core i9-13900K run 16% faster than last year’s i9 and for the multi-core test 49% faster.

The 3D Mark Time Spy Extreme benchmark is really a GPU test rather than a CPU test, but it serves to illustrate the potential effect on performance of a more powerful CPU when playing games. The overall 3D Mark score showed a 5% increase for the new processor over its predecessor.

The GPU score, being the same RTX 3090 used for both tests, was, unsurprisingly, virtually identical. The CPU score, however, showed a performance increase of 41%.

It would appear that the generally higher specs of the Intel Core i9-13900K achieve a 5-10% performance boost over the 12th Gen i9, whether it’s higher clock speeds and optimizations. It also appears that increasing the number of efficient cores has also increased performance by up to 40-50% with applications that make good use of multiple cores. This is also evident in 3D rendering results and creative application testing. And that makes sense, because Intel traditionally markets the i9 for these kinds of applications.

You also can’t ignore the increased performance that the Core i9-13900K brings to gaming. Of course, a lot depends on the game, but even a 5% increase could save you ten more frames per second, or more for CPU-dependent games.

The Intel Extreme Tuning Utility is an application designed to allow users to easily overclock their unlocked processors, such as the Core i9-13900K (the ‘K’ meaning it is an unlocked processor). The app also comes with a stress test and lots of CPU monitoring features. It’s not the best software, but it’s free. I find this useful to see if there are any thermal issues causing performance throttling.

A ten-minute run of the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility stress test caused the CPU cores to heat up to just over 90ᴼc. While the junction temperature, the maximum allowed temperature at the CPU chip, is 100ᴼc, I was surprised to see such temperatures at storage speeds. I also noticed thermal throttling during the stress test. Of course, this is a total artificial test and not indicative of ordinary CPU activities.

The test bed was cooled by a Corsair H150i Elite LCD all-in-one cooler, which featured three 120mm fans. Switching the fans from “balanced” to the louder “extreme” settings, dropped stress test temperatures to just below 90°C and virtually eliminated the thermal throttling issue. The takeaway is that these processors run hot, which can be a problem overclocking without a very robust cooling solution.

I recently tested AMD’s flagship desktop processor, the Ryzen 9 7950X. In my tests, overall, the Intel Core i9-13900 processor scored about the same or even slightly better than the AMD processor. The difference between the two chips is more down to price and vendor loyalty (and maybe Intel chips still support DDR4) than anything else.

The Intel Core i9-13900 is a powerful processor. It raises the bar for Intel’s desktop processor performance. It’s not a big step up from the 12th-gen chips, but the gains are significant, especially for multi-core applications like 3D rendering, image manipulation, and video editing. Gamers will also see an improvement, but from a price/performance standpoint, they may be better off with an i5 or i7.

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