Intel Core i5-9600K Review: A Mid-Range Gamer’s CPU — Tom’s Hardware
When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Here’s how it works.
By Paul Alcorn
Tom’s Hardware Verdict
The Core i5-9600K is an iterative update over the previous-gen model. But if you’re shopping for a new processor, it does provide enough of a performance improvement to merit attention. The processor clearly provides the best performance for gaming at its price point, though AMD alternatives are enticing if you’re more interested in productivity applications.
TODAY’S BEST DEALS
Why you can trust Tom’s Hardware
Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
Today’s best Intel Core i5-9600K deals
872 Amazon customer reviews
Show More Deals
The Core i5 Doldrums
It used to be that Core i5 processors represented the best choice for mainstream users looking for value-oriented pricing, high performance, and modest power consumption. But now, fast Ryzen 5 CPUs often prove superior. Intel did increase the core count of its Coffee Lake-based Core i5s by 50 percent to grapple with AMD’s first-gen Ryzen 5 chips. However, the latest round of Ryzen 5 models is even faster, particularly in threaded workloads, as you can see in our CPU Benchmark Hierarchy.
Intel’s ninth-gen Core i7 and Core i9 processors come with more cores, too. Unfortunately, the Core i5-9600K we’re reviewing today does not. It includes the same six cores as its predecessor, along with a price tag that lands between Ryzen 5 2600X and Ryzen 7 2700. Worse, both competing CPUs are bundled with coolers, while Intel makes you buy your own.
The story isn’t all bad for Intel. It did switch to a solder-based thermal interface material between its die and heat spreader, enabling higher multi-core Turbo Boost frequencies. But those incremental improvements are hardly earth-shattering.
Choosing between a Core i5-9600K and Ryzen presents the same conundrum we’ve faced in the past: it depends on the type of software you run most frequently. If you’re a gamer who doesn’t really venture beyond 1920×1080, Intel’s Core i5-9600K is the chip for you. But if a majority of your workloads are threaded in nature, including content creation and productivity, a powerful Ryzen gets you more performance at a competitive price.
AMD has also launched its Ryzen 3000-series processors. The updated Ryzen line-up employs a smaller 7nm process that should confer power and price benefits. It’ll also wield the new Zen 2 microarchitecture, which is expected to boost performance while Intel remains mired in a derivative of the seven-year-old Skylake design. These chips have now taken our Best CPUs list by storm, so be sure to head there for a list of the latest leading processors.
- INTEL I5-9600K at Walmart for $235.51
Intel Core i5-9600K
The ~$263 Core i5-9600K lands between the $299 Ryzen 7 2700 and $225 Ryzen 5 2600X. Inexplicably, Intel raised the -9600K’s price by $5 compared to its previous-gen Core i5-8600K.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Row 0 — Cell 0||Core i9-9900K||Core i7-9700K||Core i5-9600K|
|Architecture||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake|
|Cores / Threads||8 / 16||8 / 8||6 / 6|
|Base Frequency (GHz)||3. 6||3.6||3.7|
|Boost Frequency ( Active Cores — GHz)||1-2 Cores — 5.0, 4 Cores — 4.8, 8 Cores — 4.7||1 Core — 4.9, 2 Core 4.8, 4 Core 4.7, 8 Core 4.6||1 Core — 4.6, 2 Core — 4.5, 4 Core 4.4, 6 Core 4.3|
|Integrated UHD Graphics GT2 (Base/Boost MHz)||350 / 1200||350 / 1200||350 / 1150|
|Recommended Customer Pricing||$488 — $499||$374 — $385||$262 — $263|
Intel manufactures the -9600K on its 14nm++ process. In addition to six execution cores (without Hyper-Threading technology), the chip includes an integrated UHD 630 graphics engine, sports unlocked ratio multipliers for easy overclocking, and supports two channels of DDR4-2666 memory. Like the Core i5-8600K that preceded it, the -9600K comes equipped with 9MB of L3 cache and a 95W thermal design power rating.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Active Cores||Base||1 Core||2 Cores||3 Cores||4 Cores||5 Cores||6 Cores|
|Core i5-9600K (GHz)||3.7||4.6||4.5||4.4||4.4||4.3||4.3|
|Core i5-8600K (GHz)||3. 6||4.3||4.2||4.2||4.2||4.1||4.1|
Intel does dial up the -9600K’s Turbo Boost frequencies quite a bit, though. Solder-based thermal interface material improves heat transfer, facilitating higher frequencies whether you’re using one core or all six. A base clock rate of 3.7 GHz already represents a 100 MHz improvement over the Core i5-8600K frequency floor, and you get as much as a 300 MHz speed-up when multiple cores are utilized.
We didn’t see the need for extreme cooling with Intel’s Core i5-9600K, even during our overclocking efforts. The processor held a steady 80°C under five hours of Prime95 optimized for AVX instructions, and ~64°C during a series of non-AVX tasks. Granted, we did use a beefy Corsair h215i cranking away at full speed. But you shouldn’t have any trouble cooling the processor at stock settings. Overclocking is fine with a capable closed-loop liquid cooler.
Swipe to scroll horizontally
|Model||Cores / Threads||Base Frequency||Boost Frequency||Memory Support||PCIe Lanes||Cache||TDP||Price|
|Core i9-9900K||8 / 16||3.6 GHz||5 GHz (1 / 2 Core)4.8 GHz (4 Core)4.7 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||16MB||95W||$488|
|Ryzen 7 2700X||8 / 16||3. 7 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||105W||$329|
|Core i7-9700K||8 / 8||3.6 GHz||4.9 GHz (1 Core)4.8 GHz (2 Core)4.7 GHz (4 Core)4.6 GHz (6 / 8 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$374|
|Core i7-8086K||6 / 12||4.0 GHz||5.0 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$425|
|Core i7-8700K||6 / 12||3.7 GHz||4. 7 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||12MB||95W||$330|
|Ryzen 7 2700||8 / 16||3.2 GHz||4.1 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||95W||$299|
|Core i5-9600K||6 / 6||3.7 GHz||4.6 GHz (1 Core)4.5 GHz (2 Core)4.4 GHz (4 Core)4.3 GHz (6 Core)||DDR4-2666||16||9MB||95W||$262|
|Core i5-8600K||6 / 6||3.6 GHz||4.3 GHz||DDR4-2666||16||9MB||95W||$279|
|Ryzen 5 2600X||6 / 12||3. 6 GHz||4.2 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$225|
|Ryzen 5 2600||6 / 12||3.4 GHz||3.9 GHz||DDR4-2966||16 + 4 (NVMe)||16MB||65W||$199|
The Core i5-9600K drops into existing 300-series motherboards after a BIOS update. Most, if not all of them, should support Core i5-9600K and its power requirements quite easily, though you might want to steer away from the lowest-cost models if you plan on overclocking.
MORE: Best CPUs
MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy
MORE: All CPUs Content
INTEL I5-9600K: Price Comparison
872 Amazon customer reviews
The Core i5 Doldrums
Next Page Overclocking, Power, and Test Setup
Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom’s Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.
Intel Core i5-9600K review: Our new best gaming CPU champion
Intel’s Core i5-8600K has been one of the top gaming CPUs ever since it came out at the end of 2017. Now, however, there’s a new best gaming CPU in town in the form of its 9th Gen Coffee Lake successor, the Core i5-9600K.
Priced at a very competitive £220 / $230 at time of writing, Intel’s Core i5-9600K is a tough act to beat — especially when AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 5 3600X CPU is slated to start at an even more expensive $250 when it launches on July 7th. The Ryzen, admittedly, does have the added benefit of coming with a bundled cooler in the box (which the i5-9600K sadly does not), but even once you factor in the additional cost of a cooler, the Ryzen 5 3600X is going to have a pretty tough job on its hands if it’s going to beat the i5-9600K’s exceptional gaming chops. I will, of course, be updating this review once I’ve got my hands on the Ryzen 5 3600X, but in the mean time, here’s how the i5-9600K stacks up to the rest of the gaming CPU spectrum right now.
On paper, at least, it doesn’t really look like much of an improvement over the already brilliant Core i5-8600K. It has a slightly higher base clock speed of 3.7GHz and a faster Turbo Boost speed of 4.6GHz, but fundamentally it’s still a six core CPU with a TDP (or thermal design point) of 95W.
Indeed, when you compare its out of the box performance to its 8th Gen predecessor, you’d almost be forgiven for thinking you’d forgotten to change them over, so similar are their respective gaming speeds and general desktop chops.
The RPS Test PC:
Motherboard: Asus Prime Z370-P (Intel), Asus Prime X370-Pro (AMD)
Cooler: BeQuiet BK009 Pure Rock (Intel), AMD Wraith Prism (AMD)
RAM: 16GB Corsair Vengeance 2133MHz
GPU: Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE
PSU: OCZ ZX850W
Admittedly, testing any CPU’s gaming performance is still a bit of a difficult undertaking. As our friends at Digital Foundry have explained in the past, a lot of benchmarks either don’t test your CPU properly, or simply aren’t very accurate in the first place. Fortunately, a handful of gaming benchmarks have got a lot better at this recently, with the likes of Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Forza Horizon 4, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and more all providing an in-depth look at your CPU’s performance as well as what your graphics card’s doing.
That said, there are also several other factors that can impact gaming performance, such as your graphics card, the type of RAM you’ve got, and even what type of storage you’ve installed the game on. As a result, getting a truly accurate picture of a CPU’s gaming performance is tricky, but I’ve done the best I can with the equipment available to me.
I’ve also focused a lot more on gaming performance in this review than I have on, say, application performance or media creation bits and bobs because, well, I’m not really interested in that. I’ve included some cursory Cinebench scores as a basic indicator of what each CPU will be like for general desktop tasks, but really, my main goal here is to work out what CPU is the best for gaming and gaming alone.
And as you can see from the graphs below, the i5-9600K is just as capable as its 8th Gen predecessor. It’s a smidge quicker in Shadow of the Tomb Raider at 1080p, but otherwise it’s pretty much identical. However, at time of writing, the i5-9600K is a lot less expensive than the i5-8600K, which instantly makes it better value for money overall.
What’s more, I was also able to get a lot more out of it when it came to overclocking it in Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility software, making it an even more tempting proposition than its 8th Gen predecessor. While I was only able to reach a high of 4.5GHz on the i5-8600K before my PC conked out, I was able to push the i5-9600K all the way up to a whopping 4.9GHz before it called it quits. Admittedly, you could probably reach a similar speed on the i5-8600K by using a more substantial liquid cooler, but that’s only going to add even more expense to your CPU setup overall.
Admittedly, the actual benefit you’ll see when it comes to playing games with an overclocked CPU is surprisingly small. Indeed, the only game that seemed to show any benefit whatsoever from running at each CPU’s new overclocked speeds was Total War: Warhammer II. Otherwise, you’re either looking at exactly the same average gaming performance, or a boost of just a couple of frames.
For general desktop applications, however, the i5-9600K really comes into its own at 4.9GHz, giving you a 17% boost to its single core Cinebench score, and a 12% improvement to its multicore performance. The i5-8600K, on the other hand, was only able to increase each of its single and multicore Cinebench scores by a measly 7%.
In truth, even the i5-9600K’s new overclocked multicore highs still can’t match the positively stonking multicore performance of AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600X CPU (which is also a good deal cheaper at £169 / $185, I might add), and it’s even further behind what you’ll get from the £200 / $210 Ryzen 7 2700, too. Indeed, you’d have to shell out on the monstrously expensive Core i9-9900K before you started seeing better multicore performance from an Intel CPU, which is the only black mark on the i5-9600K’s otherwise spotless record.
However, while its Ryzen rivals will almost certainly feel that bit nippier when you’re using creative applications or photo and video editing tools and the like, their respective gaming performance just can’t compete. In fact, you could almost say there’s a similar gulf between Intel and AMD’s respective gaming chops as there is between their multicore performance. It’s simply a matter of what your priorities are, and what you value the most.
As I stated above, I’m more interested in finding out what the best gaming CPU is around this kind of price range, which is hands down the Intel Core i5-9600K. The Ryzen lot may be better picks if you also regularly use your PC for heavy-duty media bits, but for those after a pure gaming thoroughbred, it simply doesn’t get much better than the i5-9600K.