Computing

Intel Core i9-13900K vs. Core i9-12900K: Is it Worth the Upgrade?

Intel Raptor Lake has arrived, bringing with it a new wave of CPUs, including the flagship Intel Core i9-13900K. With a multitude of cores, high clock speeds, and compatibility with Alder Lake, it’s a top-tier CPU that ticks all the boxes. But is the Core i9-13900K just a refined version of the 12900K with more cores? Is it worth the splurge, or should you stick with a 12th-gen CPU? In this article, we’ll compare these two Intel flagships and help you make an informed decision.

Pricing and Availability

Intel Core i5-13600K installed in a motherboard.
Image Source: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

At the time of writing, the price of the 12900K has dropped from its initial $589 MSRP to around $500 to $550, with some deals available on platforms like Amazon. While it’s not a cheap CPU, it’s important to remember that these flagship processors are targeted at enthusiasts and are not meant to be budget-friendly options.

Surprisingly, the Core i9-13900K is priced the same as the Core i9-12900K, at least during the initial launch. However, as the new CPU gains popularity, we can expect the price of the 12900K to gradually decrease in the coming months. This could significantly impact your decision, especially if you can find a good deal on the previous generation.

The Core i9-12900K is readily available at most retailers, whereas the Core i9-13900K may experience temporary stock shortages soon after launch. However, significant shortages are not expected, and pricing should stabilize shortly after the initial rush.

Specs

Intel's Raptor Lake presentation slide.
Image Source: Intel

The Intel Core i9-13900K offers several straightforward upgrades compared to the Core i9-12900K. With a higher core count, faster clock speeds, and a larger cache, it has the potential to deliver significantly better performance than its predecessor. Let’s delve into the most important specifications.

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It’s worth noting that the eight additional cores in Raptor Lake are efficiency cores, rather than performance cores. Apart from that, these CPUs are architecturally very similar.

Architecture

Intel Raptor Lake chipset information.
Image Source: Igor’s Lab

In terms of architecture, these two Intel processors are like siblings rather than cousins. They both utilize the same LGA1700 socket and share many similarities. However, the 13th-gen CPU brings several upgrades. The real boost is expected with the next generation, Intel Meteor Lake, which is unlikely to be backward compatible in the same way as Raptor Lake.

Intel has continued with its winning hybrid core technology for Raptor Lake, maintaining what Alder Lake initiated. The Core i9-13900K features a combination of performance (P) cores and efficiency (E) cores. The E cores remain mostly the same as the previous generation, but the P cores have been enhanced and are now called “Raptor Cove” instead of Alder Lake’s “Golden Cove.”

Both the Intel Core i9-13900K and Core i9-12900K are based on the same “Intel 7” 10nm process. They both support DDR5 and DDR4 RAM, with the new CPU boasting a higher memory speed cap. Additionally, both generations offer PCIe Gen 5.0 support and can be used on the same motherboard. However, Intel Raptor Lake will see the introduction of many new 700-series motherboards, including the high-end Z790, followed by the more affordable H770 and B760 models from various manufacturers like Asus, MSI, and Gigabyte.

It’s important to mention that the Core i9-13900K will also be available in a KF variant, which does not include integrated graphics.

Performance

Intel Core i9-13900K held between fingertips.
Image Source: Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

If you expected the 13900K to deliver significant improvements in multithreaded performance but not so much in single-threaded performance, you would be correct. In our review, we found that the 13900K was generally 30% to 50% faster than the 12900K in multithreaded applications like Handbrake and Cinebench R23.

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Cinebench R23 showcased the largest performance difference for the 13900K, outperforming the 12900K by 47% due to a combination of additional cores and higher frequencies. However, in single-threaded benchmarks, where the extra cores are not utilized, the performance gains are not as significant.

In Cinebench R23’s single-core benchmark, the 13900K was only 14% faster than the 12900K and just 8% faster than the Core i9-12900KS. Intel deserves credit for achieving these gains, as increasing single-threaded performance is challenging without significant architectural improvements.

Despite Intel’s claim of delivering the “world’s best gaming experience,” the 13900K did not show significant gaming performance improvements compared to the 12900K. In games like Far Cry 6, Red Dead Redemption II, and Cyberpunk 2077, the 13900K only provided marginal frame rate increases, which are barely noticeable. This is surprising, considering the 13900K has a larger cache than the 12900K, and additional cache typically improves gaming performance. The higher clock speed of Raptor Lake should also contribute to better gaming performance, making the lack of substantial gains perplexing.

However, there are games that benefit from Raptor Lake’s increased cache and clock speeds. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla showed an 11% higher frame rate on the 13900K, and turn times in Civilization VI were reduced by 24%, making a noticeable difference in gameplay.

Intel also emphasizes the CPU’s overclocking capabilities, and leaked benchmarks have already shown a Raptor Lake CPU reaching the 6.0GHz mark—an achievement unlikely for the Core i9-12900K with its maximum boost clock of 5.2GHz. It’s worth noting that the CPU that achieved 6GHz was not even the flagship; it was the Core i7-13700K. Therefore, the Core i9-13900K should also have similar overclocking potential. Intel has made overclocking easier for Raptor Lake CPUs, incorporating new per-core tuning visualizations and one-click overclocking directly into the CPU.

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Faster, but Only if You Need More Cores

Intel unveils the 12th Gen Intel Core processor.
Image Source: Intel Corporation

The 13900K is undoubtedly an upgrade over the 12900K, but it’s not a significant one unless you need the extra cores for workloads that can effectively utilize them. Applications that rely less on threads or cache won’t see substantial performance gains, and gaming performance on the 13900K is not significantly better.

Additionally, there’s the price consideration. The Core i9-13900K costs roughly $100 more than the Core i9-12900K, which may not be the best option if you’re not chasing the absolute best performance. However, if you do require those extra cores, the Core i9-13900K is the better choice, and the $100 premium seems justified. It’s worth monitoring the prices of the 12900K as they may continue to drop, so waiting a bit could be beneficial.

If you primarily use your PC for gaming or work with software that doesn’t heavily rely on multiple cores, the Core i9-12900K should suffice.

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