Intel’s 11th Gen Core i9 processor boosts Microsoft Flight Simulator by 20 percent

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I built a new gaming PC in September to play new games like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Cyberpunk 2077, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I figured that picking Intel’s Core i9-10900K and Nvidia’s RTX 3090 would make this machine last for years and offer top tier performance in demanding titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator. I was wrong. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a notorious beast of a game and is quickly becoming the new Crysis test for PCs.

It has struggled to run smoothly above 30fps with all settings maxed out at 1440p on my PC, and even AMD’s Intel-beating Ryzen 9 5950X only improved the situation slightly for some.

Intel’s latest 11th Gen processor arrives with a big promise of up to 19 percent IPC (instructions per cycle) improvements over the existing i9-10900K, and more specifically the lure of 14 percent more performance at 1080p in Microsoft Flight Simulator with high settings. This piqued my curiosity, so I’ve been testing the i9-11900K over the past few days to see what it can offer for Microsoft Flight Simulator specifically.

It’s less than a year after the i9-10900K release, and I’m already considering upgrading to Intel’s new i9-11900K because I’ve found it boosts Microsoft Flight Simulator by 20 percent.

Intel’s Core i9-11900K processor.

The Verge doesn’t typically review processors, 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. For those, we’re going to recommend you visit the excellent folks at Tom’s Hardware, KitGuru, or Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.

Intel’s new Core i9-11900K ships with eight cores, 16 threads, and boosted clock speeds up to 5.3GHz. On paper, that sounds like it would be less powerful than the 10900K with its 10 cores, 20 threads, and boosted clock speeds up to 5.3GHz, but the reality is far more complicated thanks to how games and apps are designed. Most of Flight Simulator currently runs in a main thread that’s often limited by how well your CPU can run single-threaded applications and games.

Intel Core i9-11900K

  • $550

Intel’s new Core i9-11900K desktop processor is its latest top-of-the-line consumer grade chip. It has eight cores, 16 threads, and a top boost clock speed of 5.3GHz.

So in recent years Intel has managed to stay on top with its single-threaded performance, despite AMD offering more cores. That was until AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X managed to beat the final Intel performance advantage late last year. Intel’s new 11th Gen chips are trying to reclaim its traditional advantage.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a good example of where Intel typically has an advantage. It’s also an increasingly rare example of a game that’s very sensitive to your entire system components and not just how good your GPU is at rendering games.

Microsoft Flight Simulator is a demanding title on PC.

Intel’s Core i9-11900K does its job well enough here to boost performance by around 20 percent depending on resolution. I’ve tested a variety of flights taking off from different airports and flying over some of the world’s most beautiful locations and the most demanding cities the game has to offer. Everything feels smoother with Intel’s latest chips, but the results aren’t dramatic enough to get me beyond 60fps without stepping some settings down. A flight over Seattle with all the settings maxed out shows a 24-percent performance improvement with the new 11th Gen Core i9 at 1080p and an 18-percent increase at 1440p.

On my i9-10900K PC, I saw average frame rates of 38fps at 1440p and 33fps at 1080p. The Core i9-11900K managed to bump these to 45fps average at 1440p and 41fps average at 1080p. Averages during a particular benchmark don’t always tell the whole story, though. Over the hours I’ve been playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, I’ve noticed the game dip and stutter less than before. It’s still not perfect, but it’s certainly smoother overall.

If I dial the game back to high settings, it immediately jumps to a 66fps average at 1440p — demonstrating just how much the ultra settings hit frame rates. I can personally barely notice the difference between high and ultra settings in Microsoft Flight Simulator, so the boost here is noticeable thanks to the smoother gameplay.

I also tested Shadow of the Tomb Raider and the Cinebench R23 and Geekbench 5 benchmarks. Shadow of the Tomb Raider saw a tiny bump of around 3 percent at both 1080p and 1440p, while the i9-11900K managed some impressive single core performance gains in both Cinebench and Geekbench.

Intel Core i9-11900K benchmarks

Benchmark Intel Core i9-10900K Intel Core i9-11900K % change
Benchmark Intel Core i9-10900K Intel Core i9-11900K % change
Microsoft Flight Simulator (1080p) 33fps 41fps up 24.2%
Microsoft Flight Simulator (1440p) 38fps 45fps up 18.4%
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1080p) 176fps 181fps up 2.8%
Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1440p) 154fps 159fps up 3.2%
Cinebench R23 single-thread 1281 1623 up 26.6%
Cinebench R23 multi-thread 14,968 14,826 down 0.94%
Geekbench 5 single-thread 1336 1766 up 32.1%
Geekbench 5 multi-thread 10,709 11,148 up 4%

I should note I was also hoping to do most of my testing with my existing Z490 motherboard, but that didn’t go to plan. I swapped the chip in with the latest BIOS update for 11th Gen processors and found that the system rebooted a few minutes into games without even a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). I wasn’t able to troubleshoot it fully in time for review, but the Asus Maximus XIII Hero (Z590) board supplied by Intel worked just fine.

You should be able to easily use 11th Gen processors with Z490 motherboards, as most manufacturers have already issued BIOS updates to support Intel’s latest processors. Some will even support M.2 NVMe storage using PCIe 4.0 with these latest chips, while others like Asus only support PCIe 4.0 on the Primary PCIe x16 slot with 11th Gen processors.

Intel’s 11th Gen processors finally deliver PCIe 4.0 support, and that’s good news for storage. Manufacturers have started to fully support PCIe 4.0 drives in recent months, with Western Digital, Samsung, GigaByte, and MSI all launching high-speed drives. If you have a compatible PCIe 4.0 NVMe drive, the upgrade to 11th Gen processors will certainly be worth it. I’ve managed read speeds of 6729MB/s and write speeds of 5206MB/s using Western Digital’s new SN850 1TB drive. Corsair’s MP600 also manages 4987MB/s read and 4259MB/s write speeds. Using Intel’s older 10th Gen chip, the Corsair drive managed 3484MB/s reads and 3235MB/s writes, so an 11th Gen upgrade improved speeds by more than 40 percent. If you work with a lot of files every day, the upgrade to 11th Gen processors will be worth it for PCIe 4.0 alone.

Western Digital’s SN850 has super fast PCIe 4.0 speeds with Intel’s 11th Gen processors.

I don’t think the Core i9-11900K does enough for me personally to upgrade from a 10900K, but the PCIe 4.0 support would tempt me more if I needed the speeds there. At $550 (if you can find it at this retail price), the Core i9-11900K sits in between AMD’s offerings, being less expensive than the top 5950X and 5900X Ryzen 9 chips and $90 more than the 5800X.

There’s some solid single-thread performance here, and the 11900K and AMD’s 5900X and 5950X all trade blows depending on the games. Intel’s performance improvement will come at a cost of energy efficiency, though. Tom’s Hardware found that the 11900K “sets the new high power mark” in several of its power tests, drawing over 200 watts in the same test that AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X drew 116 watts. If you even need a new CPU, it’s worth considering just how much Intel’s latest chips will influence your energy bills and the games you play.

Whether you decide to upgrade to Intel’s 11th Gen or one of AMD’s chips will probably depend on the games you play and stock availability. A lot of games do a bad job of utilizing multiple cores on CPUs, mostly because console gaming hardware hasn’t offered solid CPU performance and spreading multiple rendering and physics threads across different cores can complicate game design. Intel’s new chips do a better job of handling these single threads to improve performance, but it’s very game-dependent.

For Microsoft Flight Simulator, the general consensus is that the game desperately needs to be moved to DirectX 12 for improvements to multi-core CPU performance. But Intel’s IPC improvements have managed to help until the Direct X 12 update arrives with the Xbox Series X release this summer.

Where Intel might have an advantage over AMD here is availability of chips. It has been increasingly difficult to find AMD’s latest Ryzen processors in recent months, thanks to a global chip shortage. Intel partners have already been accidentally selling some 11th Gen desktop CPUs, which may indicate it will have a steadier supply in the coming weeks.

The winner between Intel and AMD will be the company that can get these chips into the hands of PC gamers eager to upgrade. Much like the GPU market right now, benchmarks don’t matter when the best chip is often the only one you can actually buy.

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Comments

What GPU did you use for these tests?

I would assume RTX 3090 as that’s the GPU the author had in his possession before getting the CPU.

RTX 3090 Founders Edition

Now compare the power draw between this and a 5800X.

It seems that there isn’t consensus on how well the 11th generation performs. This is probably the most positive review I’ve seen of this processor. I’ve seen other reviewers call it "meh" – no improvements on gen-over-gen performance except in specific benchmarks – and Ars Technica saw a decrease in generational performance. Almost everyone agrees though that these processors aren’t able to catch up to the Ryzens.

I think the single thread perf is a good jump, but that’s always what you expect with Intel. It really comes down to what games you play to be honest, and whether you can even purchase a Ryzen right now. It’s great they’re both so close though (even with Intel’s big power draw) so we all benefit from competition and choice.

Agreed. I for one am very happy that AMD is giving Intel such tough competition. I’ve used Intel all my life, but recently went AMD (got lucky with a 5900X). My CPU benches about the same as your 11900K in C23 in single core, but boy does it thrash the Intel in multi-core. I’m looking forward to Intel coming back swinging.

And also, it’s great to be able to run MSFS without worrying about framerates

So lucky. I want to upgrade from the 3900x to the 5900×. I do a lot of photo editing and video editing. The 3900x was amazing but I could use an IPC bump

Well, at least you should be able to get these 14nm chips from Intel since they’re making them and should have plenty of capacity. The Covid crisis has definitely given Intel a big extra amount of breathing room (since all CPU’s have been getting bought for the last year).

Gotta say though – I’d really hesitate to buy this generation of Intel CPU’s….they’re supposed to go to 10nm (later this year or early next year I believe)…waiting if possible (or going to the far more power efficient AMD’s for sooner purchase) seems like a better move. JMHO

Here’s the thing: 10nm Intel chips have been out for some time. You had:

10th gen 10nm chips up to 4 cores
10th gen 14nm chips from 4 to 10 cores
11th gen 10nm chips
11th gen chips designed for 10nm but were backported to 14nm

All of this the result of yield and performance problems on the 10nm node that have finally been fixed. Except that going forward things are going to get even more confusing.

12th gen Alder Lake 10nm chips are going to launch this year only 6 months after 14nm Tiger Lake S and 10nm Tiger Lake H chips launched
In 2022 we are going to get 13th gen Alder Lake chips: 10nm but on a newer, better process
And we are going to get 6nm and possibly 4nm CPUs made by TSMC
And 2023 (possibly early 2022) we are going to get 7nm chips made by Intel that are equivalent chips (meaning better than the 2022 6nm but worse than the 2022 4nm).

The best part: all of these chips are going to vary in single core, multicore, graphics and power performance. Even among chips that are allegedly aimed at the same general market i.e. gaming desktop versus thin/light laptop and have the same generation and core count. Other things – such as which support DDR5 and which don’t – will compound this.

Quite naturally, Intel doesn’t care which chip you buy. Consumers will have to figure this out on their own until Intel gets 7nm back online and people will be able to go back to the simple "Core i3/i5/i7/i9 then generation then laptop/desktop then core count" thing. Which actually isn’t that simple, but is much better than what we are going to have to put up with until 2023(24).

Oh well. There is always AMD. Or – if you can afford it and it actually runs the software you need – Apple.

This "review" doesn’t jive with views from traditional cpu review sites. Gamers nexus called the 11900k an embarrassment and a waste of sand

And Hardware Unboxed called it "SH*T". Not a great look overall for Intel.

or the Verge, this review is not good.

Flight Simulator Results look reversed. Hard to believe got more FPS @1440p than @1080p. It’s the opposite of all the other titles.

As an ex-IT support guy, the pic of that chip pins-down on the box gives me chills.

The Verge recommended the following sites for the in depth reviews: Tom’s Hardware, KitGuru, or Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.

I’ll post some enlightening snippets here:

Tom’s Hardware:
"For gamers, the Core i9-11900K would have to show a more appreciable advantage to justify its price tag and power consumption — the performance deltas are so slim you likely wouldn’t see much difference with current-gen GPUs. But you would see the extra cost associated with buying a robust motherboard to feed the chip and an adequate cooler to unlock the best performance. You’ll also sacrifice quite a bit of threaded performance by choosing the 11900K over the Ryzen 9 5900X.
In fact, the Core i9-11900K trailed its previous-gen counterpart, the Core i9-10900K, in several heavily-threaded tests."

Kit Guru:
"The performance is decent but does not deliver the levels that we expected – heck, that we were promised – but there is little doubt that Intel still has the ability to deliver CPUs that cater for gamers. Our tests results are very good in that respect.
Where things finally go off the rails is that Intel hoped to sell Core i9-11900K for £500 and it is currently listed at £560. The problem is that Intel has to compete with AMD Ryzen 7 5800X and that means the desired price is closer to £400. Take those point together and it is clear that Intel’s new Core i9 has some major problems to overcome."

EuroGamer
"Intel’s 11th-gen processors and their accompanying 500-series motherboards are an evolution over their previous offerings, if not quite enough to convincingly steal the performance or value crowns back from AMD."

So it looks like a 20% boost in MS Flight Simulator might not be reflecting the overall awesomeness suggested by the headline.

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