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Intel Core i9-13900K review: an AMD Zen 4 beater

Intel takes the PC performance crown back from AMD thanks to big multithread performance gains and boosts to gaming and creator apps

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Intel’s latest Core i9-13900K processor and its packaging

I said in my AMD Ryzen 9 7900X review last month that 2022’s Intel versus AMD CPU battle had only just begun. And now, less than a month later, Intel is back on top. While AMD’s Zen 4 generation brings big gains over its previous Zen 3 desktop chips and 12th Gen-beating performance, Intel’s 13th Gen has regained the overall performance crown.

The flagship Core i9-13900K is priced at $589 (with retailers offering it at around $659 today) and includes 24 cores, 32 threads, and clock speeds of up to 5.8GHz. While base clocks have dropped this year, the boost clock speeds of up to 5.8GHz seem to make all the difference for performance, alongside the extra efficiency cores.

Intel has promised up to 15 percent better single-thread performance on its Core i9-13900K over the previous 12900K and up to 41 percent better multithread performance. I’ve been testing a Core i9-13900K over the past week, and it largely delivers on Intel’s promises, with some big multithread performance gains that really speed up the heaviest workloads.

But this might not be the best option for gaming. While the 13900K beats AMD’s top 7950X Ryzen 7000 CPU in the majority of my gaming tests at 1080p, AMD’s impressive 5800X3D still looms large over both the Zen 4 and Intel’s 13th Gen chips when it comes to gaming.

The great thing about Intel’s 13th Gen chips is that they work on existing motherboards that support 12th Gen processors. That means there are plenty of affordable motherboard options to choose from, which hasn’t been the case with AMD’s switch to its new AM5 socket just yet.

It also means existing coolers work just fine here, and you only need to buy the latest Z790 motherboards if you really need the eight additional PCIe 4.0 lanes and increased USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20Gbps) ports. I decided to stick with MSI’s MAG Z690 Carbon Wi-Fi for my testing, and all it needed was a simple BIOS update to get Intel’s 13th Gen chips working out of the box.

Built on Intel’s 7 process and its x86 performance hybrid architecture, 13th Gen processors include performance cores (P-cores) and efficient cores (E-cores) that split workloads intelligently using Intel’s Thread Director, an embedded microcontroller inside the CPU that monitors threads and ensures they’re running on the correct cores.

Intel has bumped up the amount of efficiency cores on the Core i9-13900K by eight for a total of 16, but there’s no change to the eight performance cores. It’s really the boost clock speeds that are different this time, which can take the Core i9 all the way to 5.8GHz. That’s 600MHz more than the 12900K, and it’s noticeable.

There’s also PCIe Gen 5.0 support with up to 16 lanes off the processor and DDR5-5600 and DDR5-5200 support. Intel is also maintaining DDR4 compatibility for motherboard makers that want to continue shipping with DDR4 instead of DDR5.

The Verge doesn’t review processors in the traditional sense, so we don’t own dedicated hardware testing rigs or multiple CPUs and systems to offer all of the benchmarks and comparisons you’d typically find in CPU reviews. We’re going to recommend Eurogamer’s Digital FoundryTom’s Hardware, and PC Gamer for those.

But I have tested a variety of workloads, synthetic benchmarks, and games across both Intel’s Core i9-13900K and AMD’s Ryzen 9 7950X processors. All tests were run on the latest Windows 11 2022 Update with VBS security off, Resizable BAR enabled, and games at 1080p with high or max settings.

Intel Core i9-13900K 1080p (RTX 3080 Ti)

BenchmarkIntel Core i9-13900KAMD 7950XAMD 7900XIntel Core i9-12900K
Geekbench 5 single-thread2202214322021946
Geekbench 5 multithread24207224921974217963
Cinebench R23 single-thread2169194119891943
Cinebench R23 multithread38704348142881826602
Blender Fishy Cat00:12.9600:12.5200:13.7700:14.72
PugetBench for Premiere Pro1227114810751150
PugetBench for Photoshop1517149714401351
3DMark Time Spy CPU19205186501832318927
Metro Exodus (ultra / high)150fps147fps146fps142fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider244fps230fps227fps217fps
Gears 5187fps167fps169fps174fps
Assassin's Creed Valhalla138fps138fps114fps112fps
Watch Dogs: Legion126fps123fps116fps119fps
Cyberpunk 2077144fps144fps138fps138fps

Intel’s Core i9-13900K comes out on top in nearly every creator task I tested and even in most of the gaming benchmarks. It delivers around a 6 percent performance boost in most games over the 12900K and comfortably improves games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider from 230fps on the 7950X at 1080p to 244fps on the 13900K. Gears 5 also sees a big boost, with an average of 167fps on the 7950X at 1080p and a bump up to 187fps on the 13900K.

Both Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077 produced the same frame rates on both the 7950X and 13900K using the RTX 3080 Ti.

I used Nvidia’s previous generation RTX 3080 Ti for the testing across the 12900K, 7900X, 7950X, and 13900K, but I also managed to squeeze in some comparisons between AMD’s 7950X and Intel’s 13900K using Nvidia’s latest RTX 4090.

Intel Core i9-13900K 1080p (RTX 4090)

BenchmarkIntel Core i9-13900KAMD 7950X
3DMark Time Spy CPU3262530355
Metro Exodus (ultra / high)165fps147fps
Shadow of the Tomb Raider304fps284fps
Gears 5232fps198fps
Assassin's Creed Valhalla201fps197fps
Watch Dogs: Legion147fps136fps
Cyberpunk 2077225fps202fps

While the gap between gaming tasks on the 7950X and 13900K is less than 5 percent on average with the RTX 3080 Ti, this increases to around 8 percent using the RTX 4090 at 1080p. In Gears 5 and Cyberpunk 2077 there was a surprising gap in performance between the 7950X and the 13900K, with Intel leading by more than 10 percent.

We also perform a standard video test at The Verge, where we export a five-minute 4K video using Adobe Premiere Pro. I used the latest Premiere Pro 23 release for this alongside the RTX 4090, and it exported in just two minutes and 39 seconds. That’s nearly 40 seconds faster than the 12900K managed last year.

One thing that’s common across both AMD and Intel’s latest flagship CPUs is maximizing thermal headroom. The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X runs at around 95C during heavy multithread workloads, and Intel’s Core i9-13900K hits 100C in similar workloads. Those sound like scary numbers, but both AMD and Intel have designed these latest chips to run this hot.

That means you’ll need a good cooler if you want to stop these CPUs from thermally throttling, but you’re only likely to see these high temperatures during really heavy loads. During most of the gaming tests, I never saw either CPU spike to these highs, but in heavy multithread loads like Cinebench, both CPUs were running at their max.

As I don’t own a 5800X3D, I haven’t been able to test just how well this chip performs against the 13900K. It dominated the 12900K in many games, and even Intel’s own benchmarks for the 13900K showed some games where it was still ahead. That’s all thanks to AMD’s 3D-stacking V-Cache technology.

Intel’s Core i9-13900K inside a Z690 motherboard.
Intel’s Core i9-13900K inside a Z690 motherboard.

I’m now expecting to see a 7800X3D down the line for AMD to really push gaming performance with its Zen 4 chips. It might have temporarily taken the gaming performance crown with Zen 4, but Intel’s response is a strong one, and at $589, the 13900K is priced more than $100 less than AMD’s $699 Ryzen 9 7950X.

Until then, Intel’s top 13th Gen processor beats out the best that AMD has to offer with its new Zen 4 architecture. With rumors that AMD could reveal its X3D lineup for Zen 4 in January at CES, 2022’s CPU battle looks like it’s about to spill over into 2023.

Photography by Tom Warren / The Verge