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Intel Core i9-14900K review: Better to wait for Arrow Lake

More 13th Gen than 14th

As it stands, Intel’s latest 14th Gen ‘Raptor Lake Refresh’ Core i9-14900K is a powerful but puzzling addition to the chip maker’s line-up. Its capabilities are beyond question, but its practical application and appeal are significantly less clear-cut. With Meteor Lake (the true 14th generation of Intel’s CPU architecture) on the horizon and existing options that deliver comparable performance at a lower cost, the i9-14900K may ultimately find itself occupying a somewhat awkward position in the market

A particular point of contention is the i9-14700K’s lack of substantial innovation over its predecessor, the Core i9-13900K. Both chips use Intel's 10nm Intel 7 process node and boast the same number of processor cores (8 P-cores/16 E-cores), threads (32), and cache (32MB of L2 cache along with an additional 36MB of L3 cache). So, what exactly distinguishes the newer model? The answer lies primarily in the realm of clock speeds.

The i9-14900K receives a modest 0.2GHz increase to its base frequencies. Its P-core turbo boost clock ascends to 5.6GHz, and the E-core turbo clock inches up to 4.4GHz. This is a small leap from the 13900K's 5.4GHz P-core and 4.3GHz E-core turbo clocks. And it doesn't stop there: the i9-14900K employ Intel's Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0. This feature identifies the best-performing core in the chip and hikes up its frequency further, as long as the power and thermal constraints allow it. This tweak pushes the Core i9-14900K up to an eye-catching 5.8GHz turbo clock on specific P-cores.

There's also an additional feature exclusive to the Core i9 – Intel's Thermal Velocity Boost. This engages when a P-core, already being ramped up by Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0, has some power and thermal headroom left. This can send the core speed skyrocketing to an impressive 6.0GHz. However, it's essential to note that these conditions are far from typical. The higher frequency is used very sparingly, making the P-Core boost clock the performance metric most users will predominantly encounter.

Both Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 and Thermal Velocity Boost are not novel features; they were also part of the Core i9-13900K. However, the Core i9-14900K ekes out slightly higher maximum clock speeds, and Intel claims that the 6.0GHz makes it the world's fastest processor. Yet, it's imperative to qualify this by pointing out that the 6.0GHz is sparingly utilized. It's not just about the speed, though. The chip maintains the same 125W TDP as its predecessor i9-13900K and has an identical 253W maximum turbo power.

There are other upgrades too. For one, the i9-14900K introduces support for discrete Wi-Fi 7 and Bluetooth 5.4 connectivity. These, along with the support for Thunderbolt 5, are features across the 14th Gen lineup that sort of future-proofs your investment.

However, those looking for leaps in AI functionality will be somewhat disappointed. The Core i9-14900K does include some AI-related features, but these are tailored for very specific workloads relevant almost exclusively to industry and academia. If you're seeking AI-driven innovations tailored for everyday consumers, the refrain remains unchanged: you'll have to wait for Meteor Lake.

Benchmarking the Core i9-14900K

I put the Core i9-14900K through some of our regular gaming and workload benchmarks and against AMD’s flagship counterparts. In tests geared towards creative professionals, the Core i9-14900K outperformed AMD's Ryzen 9 7950X and 7950X3D. This builds on the already strong performance of its predecessor, the 13900K, against AMD in similar tasks.

In gaming performance, the results were unexpected. Despite its high-end positioning, the 14900K was outpaced by AMD’s 7800X3D in the majority of the games used in my benchmarks. This mirrors a similar trend observed earlier with the i9-13900K, which also couldn't surpass its AMD rivals. It’s clear AMD’s 3D V-Cache technology does have a leading edge in games and right now Intel simply does not have anything in response to it.

Another observation here is that as far as gaming is concerned, there isn’t a clear performance advantage that the i9-14900K has over the i9-13900K.

What about thermal efficiency? Well, the Core i9-14900K shows no significant improvement over its predecessor either. This was particularly evident during a PugetBench workload (with Adobe Premiere Pro), where both the 14900K and the i9-13900K peaked at 100 degrees Celsius. This contrasts sharply with AMD's offerings, with the 7950X reaching 96 degrees Celsius and the 7950X3D maxing out at a cooler 81 degrees Celsius. So, while Intel's chip slightly surpasses AMD in terms of performance in the same benchmark, it does so at the expense of greater heat generation and power consumption – in fact, more than doubling the 7950X3D, which is proving to be a beast of a processor at thermal efficiency.

Final thoughts

The Intel Core i9-14900K presents a complex scenario. While the processor does demonstrate some minor advancements over its predecessor, these improvements are not particularly revolutionary. The chip is likely to appeal to a niche market, predominantly hardcore gamers seeking the latest technology. However, its wider appeal remains questionable, especially considering significant upcoming releases like Meteor Lake later in the year. This situation places the i9-14900K in a contentious spot within Intel's range of CPUs.

Intel is currently navigating a challenging landscape, especially as it has yet to offer a compelling counter to AMD’s 3D V-Cache technology. There is speculation about Intel's potential release of Arrow Lake desktop CPUs next year, which might include a transition to the LGA 1851 socket. This shift suggests that the 14th Gen processors could be the last to use the LGA 1700 socket, signaling a somewhat underwhelming conclusion to this chapter in terms of performance enhancements.

The Core i9-14900K may find utility in specific applications, but a general recommendation for this processor is difficult to justify. It lacks significant performance improvements or innovative features that would warrant its high cost, particularly for those who already own 13th Gen Intel chips or recent AMD models. With Intel's next generation of chips on the horizon, the i9-14900K might be seen more as a temporary solution, a placeholder before a more attractive option becomes available. As a result, those contemplating an upgrade might be better served by either waiting for the forthcoming generation or exploring alternatives offered by competitors.

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