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Hands-on review: Intel Core i9-14900K and Intel Core i5-14600K 14th -generation CPUs
Tue, 28th Nov 2023

Intel has unleashed the company's new 14th-generation desktop processors. We check out the Core i9-14900K flagship CPU and its little sibling, the Core i5-14600K.

There was one stand-out feature that Intel revealed during the confidential 14th-generation CPU press briefing a few weeks ago. Breaking with tradition, Intel's new CPUs would still run on motherboards with 600 and 700-series chipsets. There would be no 800-series motherboard chips to go with Intel's 14th-generation CPUs. Instead, vendors release Z790 refresh motherboards in time for the CPU launch. From a consumer point-of-view, this is good and bad.

It's good in that you can pop one of these new processors in your two-year-old Intel 600-series-based LGA1700 motherboard, either replacing a 12th or 13th-generation CPU or upgrading from an i5/i5 to an i7/i9 and off you go. Happy days. The bad news is that this means that there's likely not much in the way of innovation over last year's 13th-gen CPUs.

Yes, the 14th Generation Intel CPUs are a "Raptor Lake Refresh" which means that a year or so of manufacturing refinements has resulted in CPUs that bin a bit better than before. 

Side by side, last year's Core i9 CPUs are identical with the same eight "performance cores", 16 "efficient cores", 36MB smart cache, 32MB L2 cache, 125W base power, and 255W boost power. The same goes for the Core i5, which also has the identical six "performance core" and eight "efficient cores" as its predecessor, as well as the same available cache and power requirements.

The difference is with the higher frequencies that the 14th-generation CPUs run at. The max turbo boost speeds of the Core i9-14900K have been increased from the i9-13900 K's 5.8GHz to 6.0GHz, similarly, the new i9's performance cores top out at 5.6GHz and the efficient cores 4.4GHz, an increase over last years 5.4GHz and 4.3GHz, respectively. 

With the Core i5-14600K, it's a numbers game of very small increments. 

The new Core i5 has identical base frequencies and max turbo frequencies as its predecessor. For this year's i5, Intel has just squeezed a bit more out of the performance and efficient core max frequencies, from 5.1GHz and 3.9GHz to 4.0GHz and 5.3GHz. 

With the Core i9-14900K, pushing the single-core boost frequency to 6GHz is a marketing win, but you can tell that the CPU is coming up against some limitations, mainly thermal, as we shall see. The i5's 5.3GHz max boost frequency limit seems to be set, but the CPU's thermal headroom has allowed for some extra multi-core clock speeds. Over the last few years, Intel has been pushing the i9s to the limit out of the factory, but the i5s are arriving with more scope for a bit of casual overclocking.     

The Intel 14th-gen media kit arrived before a new Z790 refresh board. With my test rig occupied with another test, I decided to open up the review rig and replace the Core i9-13900K with the i9-14900K. The review rig has not been upgraded with a Z790 board. Instead, it still rocks an MSI Z690 Carbon WIFI - which has done a good job in accommodating the i9-13900K. The rig also has 64GB of DDR5 running at 6000Mhz and an RTX 4090 GPU. Whilst performance-wise, a few quick tests didn't see any discernible improvement over the 13th-gen CPU, this did confirm that the new chips do, indeed, work with motherboards based on Intel's 600-series chipset.

ASUS Australia kindly stepped in and supplied a TUF Gaming Z790-PRO WIFI motherboard to properly test the new Intel CPUs. The TUF Gaming Z790-PRO WIFI is a new version of Asus's TUF Gaming Z790 DDR5 ATX motherboard. It was released in conjunction with Intel's 14th-generation CPUs, but it is also compatible with 12th-gen and 13th-gen CPUs.

Both the Core i9-14900K and Core i5-14600K were tested using some standard benchmark software: PCMark 10, Crossmark, and Cinebench R23. I also included Procyon's video editing benchmark, which uses Adobe Premiere in a real-world test.    

Running the Intel Extreme Tuning Utility to stress test the Core i9 under a mild overclock (5.7Ghz), I noticed quite a bit of thermal throttling, confirming that the CPU was being pushed to its limits. It is essentially the same die as the 13th-generation CPU, capable of higher frequencies, rather than a new CPU. The new i5, on the other hand, performed well under the chip's TJmax temperature of 100ᴼ Celsius, even with a reasonable Asus AI overclock.

The multi-core Cinebench and Procyon video editing test had the 14900K flagging behind its predecessor. The i5-14600K scored similarly to the Cinebench test, with a score less than its predecessor. I tested multiple times, so this could be just an anomaly common in synthetic benchmarks. I had a similar weird result with PCMark 10 and the 13th-gen test last year. 

The Asus TUF Gaming Z790-PRO WIFI does its own thing with AI optimisation, and I let it have a go. Some of my performance gains may be partly down to Asus's new motherboard, but my previous tests were on past iterations of the same board, albeit using DDR4 RAM. 

The i9 and i5 CPUs ran stably during the benchmarking, stress tests, and during general computing use. Operations using Adobe Creative suite, including video rendering, were responsive and quick. Office applications, as you'd expect, ran flawlessly. From a practical point of view, there were no problems with either of the CPUs performing day-to-day work and playing games. 

Intel's marketing has gone to great lengths to promote both the one-click overclocking capabilities of its Intel Extreme Tuning Utility and the Intel Application Optimization app available from the Microsoft Store. These software-based optimisations seem to be covering up a perceived performance issue with the new CPUs. The XTU's new Speed Optimizer 2.0 may get more out of the CPUs, but I had no luck installing the Intel Application Optimization app.

I do have concerns that my cooling solution in the test rig is being tested too much by the i9, which is pushing the Intel 7 semiconductor technology to its limits. We will have to see what result we get with the Intel 4 technology the company is using for its Meteor Lake mobile CPUs when they launch next month.

The results achieved showed the new CPUs offered some improvement over the 13th-generation CPUs. Granted, some of this may be down to the "refreshed" Asus Z790 motherboard and the DDR5 RAM, but in any case, a new PC based on the Intel Core i9-14900K should see about a 10% performance gain over last year's Core i9-13900K running in a DDR4 system. It's not a huge improvement, perhaps a little less than for the Core i9-12900 to the i9-13900, but it's something.  

I don't want to come across as some sort of Intel apologist, but there's nothing that surprises me about the performance of the Core i9-14900K and the Core i5-14600K. Yes, we would all like a massive boost year-in-year-out. And perhaps these would be better labelled the Core i9-13950 and the Core i5-13650, but we've had these refreshed CPUs in the past. The CPUs are more like this year's model of a car rather than a new car. There are optimisations and benefits to be had, but probably not worth the upgrade from last year.

The Intel Core i5-14600K offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to general PC use and gaming. The chip's thermals mean you needn't worry about a top-end cooling solution. As a gaming CPU, the i5 performs very well. The Asus motherboard managed to boost the i5 to 5.9GHz for single-core and 5.7GHz for multi-core, so there's the potential to get more than you paid for out of the CPU.

For the Core i9-14900K, you perhaps need to be a little more particular with your cooling system, especially if you are going for maximum performance. I had little joy trying to overclock the CPU, coming up against thermal throttling every time I tried. But with more cores and more threads, the i9 better suits creators and multi-media applications that make good use of multi-core operations.

Both the Core i9-14900K and Core i5-14600K performed well. Whilst I can say I had no trouble running the CPUs with a Z690 motherboard, I think a refreshed DDR5 Z790 board is probably the way to go. These are not CPUs that I'd recommend for upgraders unless they are coming from an Intel 12th-gen CPU and stuffing the upgrade in their old 600-series motherboard as a stop-gap. Those building a new Intel PC should absolutely be getting one of these, preferably paired with a Z790 refresh motherboard.