Intel has released their new 9th gen CPUs. They compete directly with AMD’s 16 core parts and claim to be the world's fastest gaming desktop CPU. The new CPUs launched have spawned a new Z390 series of motherboards and introduces some important changes to the 14nm architecture.
Today, I will be doing a rundown of the new technology and doing a guide on overclocking with the new ASUS Z390 Formula. I'll pick out important new settings and cover both basic and advanced tweaking.
Best Features of the ASUS Z390 Formula:
- LGA1151 socket for 9th/8th -gen Intel® Core™ desktop processors
- CrossChill EK III and Water Cooling Zone: Keep your system cool when the action heats up
- ROG Eco-System: ASUS-exclusive Aura Sync RGB lighting, including headers for both standard and addressable RGB strips.
- Gaming connectivity: Aquantia 5G LAN, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, LANGuard, 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Dual M.2, USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A and Type-C™ connectors.
- Change to 5-way Optimization: Automated system-wide tuning, providing AI Overclocking and cooling profiles
- Gaming Audio: SupremeFX and Sonic Studio III – High fidelity audio that draws you deeper into the action.
Coffee Lake With Better Creamer
It’s almost been a year since Coffee Lake was introduced along with their Z370 motherboards. Intel’s new 9th gen chips offer huge improvements with up to eight cores and 16 threads.
Breaking down the new chips we have the new i9-9900K, i7-9700K, and i5 9600K. I will focus on the 9900K for this guide and it’s the only 9th Gen CPU to support “HyperThreading”. This is a first because the previous i7 parts included the technology. 9th Gen is also based off of the previous 8th gen 14nm fabrication process and LGA 1151 socket. The new 9th Gen CPUs can be referred to as 14nm++.
I've gone over the coffee lake architecture and previous Z370 platform here.
Best Features of the i9-9900K:
- 8 Cores / 16 Threads
- 3.60 GHz up to 5.00 GHz / 16 MB Smart Cache
- Compatible only with Motherboards based on Intel 300 Series Chipsets
- New Soldered TIM
- Intel Optane Memory Supported
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
The 9900K’s MSRP is $488. This is a huge increase from the previous 8th Gen 8700K. Chances are it will be much more after launch because of demand. It’s currently priced for $530.00 or more on Amazon.
The largest improvement to the new chips is the move from thermal paste TIM (Thermal Interface Material) to a soldered interface under the IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader). This has been questioned for years and will certainly play a big role in the future decline of delidding. The soldered interface should provide a big advantage by providing better overall CPU temperatures and thermodynamics.
The i9-9900K provides clock speeds up to 5GHz (Turbo 2.0) with improved power requirements. Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 Dynamically increases the processor frequency
when applications demand more performance.
Adopting Z390 will provide little gains over Z370. The two biggest differences are going to be built in USB 3.1 Gen 2 (10Gbps) and WiFi 802.11ac into the chipset. Z390 includes up to six native USB 3.1 ports.
Thankfully, if you’ve adopted Z370, you don’t have to buy a new motherboard. All new 9th gen CPUs are compatible with the 300 series of chipsets.
ASUS has included its own set of new features for the Z390 platform that is a bit more exciting. Automated Intelligence (AI) is a new feature that automates overclocking for you. It uses AI tips, tricks, and cooling potential to predict an optimal configuration for your system.
For the additional cores, ASUS has made the VRM better. For the Maximus Formula, it offers a 10 phase design (8+2). Most of the higher end boards include proper VRM cooling and the Formula even has integrated watercooling support.
The Formula offers a collaboration between EK Water Blocks and ASUS to offer the CrossChill EK II VRM block. It has a wider internal channel and more copper to improve thermal dissipation.
A common trend is the incline in memory frequency and overclocking. The Formula includes Optimem II and enables speeds up to DDR4 4266MHz. I’m using the TEAMGROUP TFORCE Xtreem 16GB (8x2) (Latency 18-20-20-39 1T) @ 3600MHz kit. The reason these Xtreem series kits are good overclocking chips is that TEAMGROUP insists on using high-quality SAMSUNG ICs. They use a 10 layer PCB (Printed Circuit Board), which offers 25% more efficiency.
The specifications are as follows:
- The finest crafted heat spreader with unique trench design
- High-efficiency aluminum heat spreader
- 10 layers of circuit board
- Selected high-quality SAMSUNG original IC chips
- 1.2V~1.4V ultra low working voltage
- Support Intel XMP 2.0 smart overclocking technology
- QVL approved by motherboard manufacturers in the market
- Latency of 18-20-20-39 1T
To keep the 9900K cool for our overclocking test, we are using the Corsair 240mm H100i PRO RGB AIO. You may be asking yourself, why use an AIO? I’m doing this intentionally to see what type of overclocks we can achieve. The reason is that AIOs are extremely popular and many people prefer these other air coolers.
The H100i PRO offers a new precise pump control feature with zero RPM profiles, PWM speed control between 400 RPM to 2400 RPM, and includes two ML series static pressure magnetic levitation PWM fans.
This AIO is compatible with Corsair’s new iCUE software that allows synchronized RGB lighting, customizable fan speeds, and total system monitoring.
H100i PRO specifications:
- Cooling Warranty: Five years
- Cold Plate Material: Copper
- Radiator Material: Aluminum
- PWM: Yes
- CORSAIR LINK compatibility: Yes
- Radiator Dimensions: 276mm x 120mm x 27mm
- Fan Dimensions: 120mm x 25mm
- Fan Speed: 2400 RPM
- Number of Fans: 2
- Cooling Socket support: Intel 115x, Intel 2011/2066, AMD AM3/AM2, AMD AM4, AMD TR4
- Lighting: RGB
- Radiator Size: 240mm
- Fan Model: ML-Series
- Fan airflow: 75 CFM
- Noise level: 37 dBA
- Fan static pressure: 4.2 mm-H2O
Power supplies provide critical power to your PC, and it's important to find one with a good rating. The included Cooler Master PSU is 80 Plus Gold certified, and that means the PSU is 87% efficient at 100% load. Typically using lower rated PSUs are fine for gaming and can also save you some money.
I generally look for Gold certified but Bronze is an option if you want to save even more money. The lower the standard, the less efficient the PSU is at 100%. You can find more about PSU ratings here. Since the i9-9900K offers 8C/16T, we are going to want a decent PSU to provide enough power to the test bench.
This Cooler Master V750 Gold PSU will be way more than enough to power this PC at 750W. Gold just means it's not as efficient as a Platinum rating and should have no impact on overclocking. The only other thing that would be nice is the ability to switch between "Multi" or "Single" rail distribution, this PSU offers single rail, which I believe is better for overclocking. This PSU offers the important over protections for the single 12V rail.
The GPU isn't as important in this situation because we are going to focus on overclocking the CPU. I still wanted to list it as a point of reference because we will be testing the CPU overclock in benchmarks. We are going to focus on 1080P so we can really put more stress on the CPU.
Zotac RTX 2080 Specifications:
- GPU GeForce: RTX 2080
- CUDA cores: 2944
- Video Memory: 8GB GDDR6
- Memory Bus: 256-bit
- Engine Clock Boost: 1770 MHz
- Memory Clock: 14.0 Gbps
- PCI Express: 3.0
- Display Outputs: 3 x DisplayPort ([email protected]) / HDMI 2.0 ([email protected]) / USB Type-C
- HDCP Support: Yes
- Multi Display Capability: Quad Display
- Recommended Power Supply: 650W
- Power Consumption: 215W
- Power Input: 6-pin 8-pin
- DirectX 12 API feature level: 12_1
- OpenGL: 4.5
- Cooling: 2 x 90mm fans
- Slot Size: Dual Slot
- SLI NVLink: (SLI-ready)
- Supported OS: Windows 10 / 7 x64
- Card Length: 268mm x 113mm x 38mm (10.55in x 4.45in x 1.50in)
Disclaimer: To start our overclocking adventure, I want to make a few things clear! Before you overclock your system, I can take no responsibility for any damaged hardware that may result from overclocking. There are risks involved with pushing your system further than its intended and also causes more system heat as a result. You will need adequate cooling for overclocking, and decent hardware to achieve anything good.
Also, keep in mind that overclocking your system will vary across different types of hardware, and even using the same hardware I used may not provide the same results.
Before you start overclocking the first step is DON'T! You need to make sure that your system is running well before you do any overclocking. Once you're in Windows make sure you either run a few quick stress tests or play a few games to make sure your system is running well. This can really help eliminate or reduce any problems that might occur after overclocking your hardware.
First get all your appropriate drivers installed and make sure your system is running the way it's intended to.
To configure any setting in your UEFI hit the "Del" key to enter the environment. Also, ASUS boards take significantly longer to boot, so be patient as it may take a few minutes to register your settings.
The first thing that needs to happen is we need to set CPU Fan Speed to ignore. We need to do this because I chose to use the AIO header on the Formula motherboard. Since nothing is plugged into the CPU Fan header the board will give us an error.
Depending on your system you will also need to optimize your fan control. I'm using an open-air test bench and having the AIO fand blow air across the VRM. Some air is better than no air moving across the motherboard. For the H100i pump, I just made sure it was set to DC and to 100% for better performance. The fans for the H100i are controlled by the unit itself and through iCUE. there is no need to plug them into motherboard headers.
I am choosing to stick with an AIO here because they are still widely popular. I want to demonstrate what you can do with something more reminiscent of what a person might buy for a new build. Certainly, you can get much better cooling performance from a custom loop or exotic cooling choices.
Z390 ASUS boards now offer AI Overclocking. My first tip is to press F11 for the AI OC Guide. This will introduce Ai Overclocking and briefly give you setup procedures, options, and tips. For the 9900K ASUS recommends an LLC level of 5 to strike the best balance for VRM temperatures. There is some good information listed here, so I definitely recommend you read through everything.
If you choose to stick with AI overclocking then it will tune everything for you. If you plan to manually overclock you can still benefit from it.
The new prediction tab shows very useful information. This is going to save you a bunch of time with guessing how good of a chip you have. For instance, this 9900K Silicon quality is predicted to have 78% quality and shows what voltage you may need to be stable at your chosen CPU Core Ratio. It can predict the highest stable nonAVX/AVX s speeds that may be reached. You also have a Cooler score which plays a big role in determining your prediction speeds.
Sil Quality: Represents estimated quality of your individual CPU.
Cooler Score: Refers to the efficiency of your current cooling situation. This value is constantly collected and updated depending on your AI settings. The higher the number the better your prediction speeds will be. The better your cooling situation is the higher the score will be.
Important: All voltage recommendations are from your (AUTO) settings from load line calibration.
Non-AVX req for target: Determines minimum voltage required for normal non-AVX workloads.
AVX req for target: Determine minimum voltage required for AVX workloads
Cache V req for target: Refers to minimum voltage for Cache frequency during non-AVX workloads
Max-Non-AVX Stable Frequency: Determines capabilities of CPU cores under Prime 95 small FFTs loads (non-AVX)
Max AVX Stable Frequency: Determines capabilities of CPU cores under Prime 95 small FFTs loads (AVX)
Max cache Stable Frequency: Determines capabilities of CPU cache and CPU cooler under Prime 95 small FFts loads (non-AVX)
Since we are focusing on the new AI features, let look over the new AI Features under Extreme Tweaker. In order for any of the Ai Features to take effect, you will need to set CPU Core Ratio to the AI setting. This will ensure it follows the automatic prediction speeds and AI settings.
When you go there you will notice the predetermined information the prediction tab showed.
Package Temperature Threshold: Determines temperature limit for above frequency thresholds. if the temperature goes above threshold regulated frequencies take effect.
Regulate Frequency by above Threshold: Allows frequencies to take effect when a specific temperature limit is set from Package Temperature Threshold. This can be AUTO / Enabled / Disabled.
I am going to set this to disabled because I will be manually tuning in our settings under Extreme Tweaker.
Cooler Efficiency Customise: I would leave this to keep training but you can choose to stop training if you're happy with your current setup.
Recalibrate Cooler This allows you to start over if you've changed coolers or are unhappy with the prediction.
Cooler Re-evaluation Algorithm: You can choose how aggressive the cooler gets evaluated. normal seems fine for basic air or aio coolers.
Optimism Scale: This is how aggressive your prediction rates are. This is useful for trying to target a specific frequency. For example, If you want 5GHz you will raise this number until it shows what it predicts the non-AVX/AVX stable voltages to be for your frequency.
My target is going to be 5GHz LLC5 with adaptive voltage. I am going to manually tune everything so I won't enable AI Overclocking. I will, however, take advantage of the prediction tab values. Spoiler Alert, I've tested manually overclocking vs these predicted values and they are very close. You can probably squeeze a bit more from manual tuning but just use the predicted values for a quick and easy overclock.
To overclock further let's head over to the Extreme Tweaker page.
Ai Tuner: I like to et this to manual. You can select XMP to set your RAM XMP profile. I always choose no for MCE settings. This is something that will allow ASUS to set what it determines the best values regardless of what Intel's defaults are. I'm going to set manual because I want to manually adjust my settings.
BCLK Frequency: If you want to adjust your BCLK manually you can but be warned it will affect other hardware. My recommendation is to set it to 100.00 for normal overclocking and if you wish to squeeze out more you can with BCLK overclocking. This will alter DRAM ratios and isn't recommended but can be useful when targeting higher memory ratios.
ASUS Multicore Enhancement: Setting this to Auto is probably your best option for the 9900K. I've determined that it helps force the all core Turbo policies from ASUS rather than Intel's. Previously, it was recommended to disable this for overclocking but setting to AUTO has fixed some current issues with AVX workloads.
AVX Instruction Core Ratio Negative Offset: This setting reduces your CPU core frequency based on the negative offset during AVX workloads. This is actually useful for the 9900K when targeting all core frequencies over 5GHz. Most 9900K CPUs will not handle over 5.2GHz on average. Setting a negative AVX offset could help you run everyday clocks over 5GHz but reduce for AVX workloads.
CPU Core Ratio:
Sync all cores: Syncs all cores to the same value
Per Core: Allow ratios to be individually targeted.
AI: Sets targeted CPU frequency to predicted AI values. Sets up automatic overclocking based on Sil quality and Cooler scores. Optimism scale plays a role for achieving higher Core Ratios.
DRAM Frequency: This allows you to set the memory operating frequency. When XMP is configured the speed is automatically selected. We are going to manually select 3600MHz for our 16GB TEAMGROUP XTREEM kit.
CPU SVID Support: This can be left to Auto for normal overclocking. This allows the processor to communicate with the integrated Voltage controller. If you're going to use adaptive or offsets you must leave this setting to Auto.
To change our RAM timings we need to go to DRAM Timing Control. For our XTREEM kit the XMP values are rated for 18-20-20-39 2T @ 3600MHz.
We are now going to target our voltages for our overclock. You can choose to target a manual, offset, or an adaptive CPU Core Cache Voltage.
Just a heads up it isn't normally recommended to run AVX workloads with adaptive voltage. Adaptive has improved a lot with this board and the 9th Gen CPUs. Maybe it's due to the soldered TIM but I never experienced thermal issues or outrageous voltage spikes. In fact, it was actually pulling what the predicted voltages were from AI. You still have to be cautious of your LLC levels.
CPU Core/Cache Current Limit Max: Allows you to set the current limit for frequency/power throttling. Auto can be left for normal operation but I recommend setting 255.0. This came in handy when running the XTU and checking on any power limitations.
CPU Core/Cache Voltages:
Manual: Allows for manual control over CPU Vcore and Uncore
Offset Mode: In Offset Mode, you can add or subtract voltage levels from the CPUs default voltage. This depends per chip and isn't the same for everyone.
Adaptive Mode: Adaptive Mode was developed because Offset isn't perfect. If you know where your CPU is stable at, you can set this for better voltage ranges. It allows for idle/load voltage states determined by CPU. This can take the guesswork out of messing with an Offset. Adaptive will automatically adjust your voltage based on loads.
You can target your adaptive voltage too. For this 9900K I surprisingly left everything in AUTO after selecting Adaptive.
DRAM Voltage: This sets the specified voltage (VDIMM) for your memory. This can be determined by XMP but typically high-speed kits are rated for 1.35V. The XTREEM kit I'm using requires 1.35V.
CPU VCCIO Voltage: This rail is for the IO transceiver within the CPU. It has an impact on memory stability but not as important as System Agent. Try keeping this 0.05V (lower) of the System Agent Voltage.
CPU System Agent: This is important because it handles the IO between the CPU and other domains. For overclocking, this can help stabilize higher memory frequencies. I want to point out since I am on AUTO, the UEFI is showing a much higher number than what should usually be the healthy range. If possible, do not go outside of 1.35V as a maximum. I must adjust mine accordingly for memory stability. In Windows 10, AI Suite 3 reports 1.12V for System Agent (AUTO) and is fully stable for my 3600MHz kit. This may be a bug with the first BIOS release.
Setting Voltage in increments is always a good idea when overclocking, the values I used are what worked for me, and are just a starting or reference point for others. Overclocking and voltage will vary from system to system so any values I suggest are just to help others try to achieve their overclocking goals and are not 100% guaranteed.
• DDR4 frequency range: DDR4-2133 - DDR4-2800 Required CPU VCCIO Voltage range: 1.05V - 1.15V Required CPU System Agent Voltage range: 1.05V - 1.15V
• DDR4 frequency range: DDR4-2800 - DDR4-3600 Required CPU VCCIO Voltage range: 1.10V - 1.25V Required CPU System Agent Voltage range: 1.10V - 1.30V
• DDR4 frequency range: DDR4-3600 - DDR4-4266 Required CPU VCCIO Voltage range: 1.15V - 1.30V Required CPU System Agent Voltage range: 1.20V - 1.35V
You can fine-tune your IO/SA voltages if you're still not stable with automatic settings. The values above are a reference ONLY! Some CPUs will require more than others and will depend solely on your CPUs memory controller and the memory kit used.
To set up your LLC level head to Extreme Tweaker>Digi+ Power Control. For the best balance set to LLC 5 per ASUS. Depending on your target Overclock, it's best to combat Vdroop for possible instability.
You can also set CPU Current Capability to your desired level. For normal operation, you can leave this alone. Setting a higher number only regulates the shutoff point when the current limit is exceeded.
To remove power limitations and prevent throttling, I am going to adjust Long Duration package Power Limit / Short Duration Package Power Limit. Navigate to Extreme Tweaker>Internal CPU Power Management to change those settings. Set them both to 4095 because this will help keep your targeted overclock and Turbo Ratios from downclocking.
Once all the settings have been changed to the desired values, it's time to save and exit the UEFI to test for stability.
It is critical to test for everyday stability, otherwise, the infamous BSOD can occur. There are several tests available but which one should you use? I like to use a mix of testing tools\software but the 9900K is new and I experienced bugs with CPUID and ADIA64 Extreme.
During RealBench stress testing the maximum VID pulled was 1.340V. This was even a bit lower with AVX workloads with LLC5. You will also notice that at those voltage levels temperatures are very healthy at a max of 56°C.
ROG RealBench: For a well-rounded test of stability, RealBench is going to be your best choice. It aims to test real-world load scenarios with stress tests from Handbrake, Luxmark, and Winrar.
CPUID (CPU-z): This is an ideal tool to check on voltage, CPU speed, memory timings, and memory frequency. However, it is bugged with the current version. It does not properly show the correct Core VID. However, in the built in ROG RealBench version, it does. You can see this from the above screenshot.
AI Suite 3: This utility was the most accurate for my testing. It was consistent with correct voltages and clock speeds for my 9900K. For now, I couldn't find a better tool for monitoring all the motherboards critical points of data. It allows you to monitor temperatures, voltages, frequency, and UEFI settings. It also offers a wide range of built-in ASUS features like Dual Intelligent Processor 5 and 5-way optimization.
Prime95: This tool is good for pushing your chip to its limits. It's a synthetic benchmark that pushes AVX workloads to the CPU. To really test the thermal limits of your chip you can run the small FFTs test. it is not normally recommended to run synthetic tests with adaptive voltage on. This can result in much higher temperatures and pull more voltage than required for the CPU. Max temps of 72°C are very reasonable with an AVX offset of -2. I am running at 4.8GHz AVX all core and 5GHz all core for gaming and other non-AVX loads.
If you want to test memory stability Prime 95 also has a "Blend" test that will test everything but test more RAM.
The H100i PRO really seems to do a decent job here but I am running the pump/fans in extreme mode.
iCUE: This software is used for monitoring and controlling the H100i PRO. You can customize RGB lighting, control fan speeds, and monitor important system data. This was used to monitor the temperatures during my Prime 95 test.
Since I covered overclocking, let's see how much of an advantage you can gain from Intel's stock speeds. The 9900K is impressive because it offers a Max Turbo Frequency of 5GHz already. Most people won't even bother overclocking this chip and will find it difficult to get all cores to 5GHz. Remember, we have an AVX offset of -2 and only hit 5GHz during regular workloads. During regular operation, the speeds\voltages will reduce based on the adaptive voltage settings.
The 9900K is a beast out of the box. I'm willing to bet most people won't even bother to overclock. There are minimal gains to be seen since because most chips won't go past 5.2 GHz. Going from 5GHz (Stock Turbo) to 5GHz/4.8GHZ (AVX) all cores shows minimal FPS gains. Gaming at 5GHz with a decent AIO, I was seeing temps between 42°C-55°C. If you use a custom loop you may get lucky and get all cores to 5GHz or beyond but don't expect it out of the box. Intel finally brings 5GHz gaming to the masses and offers enthusiasts an ideal solution for their system. I was never bottlenecked by the CPU at 1080P and 4K gaming CPU utilization was good.
While testing synthetics I chose to keep my 5GHz/4.8GHz (AVX) overclock because we already know it is good out of the box. I wanted the scores to have the best possible outcome. TimeSpy is better suited for testing CPUs instead of TimeSpy Extreme. This is because it runs with a resolution of 1080P instead of 2160P.
I thought temperatures would have improved more with the new soldered TIM. Realistically you can go above 1.35 on these CPUs but temperatures are still high. I had expected more from soldered TIM. I personally like to stay below 85°C. T Junction of the 9900K is 100°C. I'm not surprised by the power draw considering we have 2 more C/T with higher turbo frequencies.
I am not yet familiar with other Z390 boards but the new ASUS AI tools make overclocking a breeze. The 9900K provides capabilities beyond 5GHz and the soldered TIM is an improvement. I just expected better thermals from a soldered TIM. I was hoping to see much lower temperatures when compared to the 8700K. I did at least stay within my comfort level of 85°C and the H100i PRO did a great job for an AIO. I don't think many people will even bother with overclocking but that is okay. Intel has finally brought an enthusiast CPU to market capable of 5GHz but sufficient cooling will be required.
Out of the box, the 9900K provides some of very impressive FPS. This chip is going to be ideal for enthusiasts who are mega-taskers and want the absolute best. The 9900K is impressive but its pricing is steep when compared to AMD's offerings. You can buy a Ryzen 2700X right now for $304.99 on Amazon. The 9900K on Amazon is $529.99 which still makes AMD the better option for people on a budget.
Considering the 9900K is compatible with Z370 and Z390, there is no major reason to upgrade from Z370. If you already have Z370, the small changes to USB and Wi-Fi are nominal and not worth a new motherboard upgrade. The 9900K is truly an impressive processor but at what cost. For $529.99, It offers impressive results for gaming/content workloads but temperatures can still be high.
Pros: Impressive Performance / 5GHz Turbo 2.0
Cons: Expensive when compared to AMD 2700X