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OUR VERDICT

The Core i9-10850K gives you the same gaming performance as the world’s fastest gaming chip, the Core i9-10900K, but at a lower price point, making it a great choice for performance fanatics.

FOR

  • Cheaper than Core i9-10900K, but with similar gaming performance
  • Strong in both single- and multi-threaded applications

AGAINST

  • Power consumption
  • Thermal output and cooling requirements
  • PCIe 3.0 interface
  • Little overclocking headroom

The 10-core 20-thread Core i9-10850K has landed in our lab, bringing with it nearly identical specifications as Intel’s halo Core i9-10900K that holds the crown as the world’s fastest gaming processor (albeit by a slim margin).

In many respects, the Core i9-10850K feels like a price cut that comes disguised as a new product. A scant 100 MHz of frequency separates it from the $488 Core i9-10900K, but the 10850K’s recommended price of $453 represents a 7% savings. Given the price gouging we’ve seen on the 10900K due to its spotty availability, we expect the price deltas to be even larger at retail. That makes the 10850K a contender for our list of Best Gaming CPUs.

As you’ll see below, the Core i9-10850K offers nearly the same level of performance as the 10900K in the majority of our gaming tests, and very similar performance in our suite of application workloads.

The slight difference between the two chips raises the question: Why did Intel release the 10850K three months after the Comet Lake-S launch?

There are a few possibilities, but they’re interrelated. Despite the 10900K’s impressive performance in gaming, it brings along some baggage in the form of intense power consumption and heat generation that require a bevy of high-priced accommodations, like a premium motherboard, cooler and power supply. That magnifies the 10900K’s high up-front pricing. Those factors make AMD’s ultra-competitive Ryzen 9 3900X, which retails for $100 less and doesn’t require such extravagant accommodations, a better value if you aren’t looking to pay a hefty premium to eke out the very last few fps of gaming performance. The Ryzen 9 3900X also excels in threaded workloads, making it more attractive for the productivity-minded.

The 10900K is a high-priced and high-performing product with a limited target market, but Intel has had problems filling that niche. The Core i9-10900K has suffered from spotty availability in the US. It is also consistently out of stock overseas, which has led to price gouging from retailers and exacerbates the already-high pricing.

It’s rational to assume the availability issues stem from the 10900K’s position at the top of the Comet Lake-S binning chart – it’s a premium-binned chip and there simply might not be enough chips coming out of that fabs that land on the higher end of the binning distribution, making it hard to satisfy demand. The resulting price gouging only serves to widen the pricing gap between Intel’s halo model and AMD’s competing chips that already hold several key advantages.

Conversely, the 10850K obviously falls into a slightly lower position on the binning chart, which could boost Intel’s production capacity and help address the obvious demand for the unlocked Core i9 chips. We imagine that would take some pressure off of the 10900K and result in better pricing and availability all around.

The end result for you? A chip that will largely provide identical performance to the Core i9-10900K, but at a discount. Let’s take a quick look at the Core i9-10850K at stock settings, overclocked settings, and with the power limits removed, which equates to a simple form of quasi-overclocking.

Core i9-10850K Pricing, Specifications and Availability

The Comet Lake architecture, which comes with the 14nm++ process, is yet another Skylake derivative, meaning most performance gains come from added features and clock rate improvements. We’ve covered the finer review here, but like the Core i9-10900K, the 10850K has an unlocked multiplier that enables easy overclocking, solder TIM to boost overclocking capabilities, and doesn’t come with a bundled cooler. As before, be sure to price in a Z-series motherboard and a capable cooling solution, preferably liquid, if you’re off to the overclocking races.

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High End Mainstream MSRP/Retail Cores / Threads Base / Boost GHz L3 Cache TDP PCIe Memory Graphics
Ryzen 9 3950X $749 / $739 16 / 32 3.5 / 4.7 64 105W 24 Gen4 Dual DDR4-3200 N/A
Ryzen 9 3900X $499 /$434 12 / 24 3.8 / 4.6 64 105W 24 Gen4 Dual DDR4-3200 N/A
Core i9-10900K / KF $488 (K) / $472 (KF) 10 / 20 3.7 / 5.3 20 125W 16 Gen3 Dual DDR4-2933 UHD 630 – 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Core i9-10850K $453 / 10 / 20 3.6 / 5.2 20 95W 16 Gen3 Dual DDR4-2933 UHD 630 – 1.2 GHz
Core i9-10900 / F $439 / $422 (F) 10 / 20 3.7 / 5.2 20 65W 16 Gen3 Dual DDR4-2933 UHD 630 – 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Core i9-9900K / F $488 / $524 8 / 16 3.6 / 5.0 16 95W 16 Gen3 Dual DDR4-2666 UHD 630 – 1.2 GHz (non-F only)
Core i9-9900 $449 8 / 16 3.1 / 5.0 16 65w 16 Gen3 Dual DDR4-2666 UHD 630 – 1.2 GHz

There isn’t much to chew over here. Compared to the Core i9-10900K, the i9-10850K comes with an across-the-board 100 MHz reduction in the base and boost frequencies. The ten-core 20-thread chip runs at a 3.6 GHz base frequency, peaks at 5.2 GHz, and retains all of Intel’s normal boost mechanisms (like Turbo Boost 2.0, 3.0, and Thermal Velocity Boost).

Intel hasn’t announced or listed a graphics-less Core i9-10850KF model, so it’s unclear if it will bring a reduced-cost version of the 10850K to market. As you can see, the 10850K already encroaches upon the locked Core i9-10900’s pricing territory. The 10900 isn’t overclockable and is only $14 less, with the only advantage being a 100 MHz higher base frequency. As a result, the 10850K is the better buy for most of us.

Intel lists the Core i9-10850K with a 95W TDP, meaning it falls into a lower TDP bracket than the Core i9-10900K. That’s largely an inconsequential metric because Intel’s TDP rating doesn’t have a direct correlation to power consumption, and it only applies to performance at the base frequency when the processor isn’t under full load.

We turn to Intel’s power level ratings for a more accurate look at power consumption. At stock settings, the 10850K has the same 125W PL1 (power level 1 – at base frequency) and 250W PL2 (power level 2 – at all-core boost frequency) rating as the Core i9-10900K. Motherboard vendors can, and do, ignore those limits, so motherboard quality and BIOS settings will have an impact on performance.

Test Setup and Overclocking

We’re using the same test systems that we used for our recent string of Comet Lake-S and AMD Ryzen XT reviews (listed at the bottom of the page). We’re sticking to current-gen chips for this round of testing, as the generational performance deltas for both series of chips are already well known.

We’ve tested the Core I9-10850K at the stock settings on the Gigabyte Aorus Z490 Master, but be aware that all motherboard makers tune their boards based on the capabilities of the power delivery subsystem. This involves adjusting power limits and Turbo Boost duration, among other optimizations hidden in the lines of the BIOS code. Intel gives motherboard makers wide latitude to modify ‘stock’ performance, so your mileage may vary. For stock testing, we disabled the Multi-Core Enhancement (MCE) feature (it’s essentially overclocking).

We overclocked the Core i9-10850K and found that it had the same overclocking capabilities, and at the same voltages, as our Core i9-10900K. That said, this isn’t guaranteed – Intel provided our test sample, we have a sample size of one, and you’re still at the whims of the silicon lottery in the retail market. In either case, the 10850K cements Intel’s winning position in the Intel vs AMD CPU battle.

Much like the situation we find with AMD’s Ryzen 3000 series processors, our overclocking efforts found that we couldn’t sustain an all-core overclock that matches the single-core boost watermark, but we did pull off an all-core 5.1 GHz overclock. We dialed in a 1.3V vCore to sustain the 5.1 GHz core clock and also dialed the ring bus multiplier up to 48 to improve stability and performance. We also set the memory at DDR4-3600 with 16-18-18-36 timings, just like with the Core i9-10900K.

For our original 10900K review, we tested our overclocked 10900K with the Load Line Calibration (LLC) set to auto. For this round of testing, we retested the overclocked 10900K and 10850K with LLC set to level four. This reduces the chance of motherboard-imposed influences on our apples-to-apples overclock testing. We also retested the Core i9-10900K at stock settings for good measure to employ the same BIOS settings to both chips, which granted the 10900K a larger lead than we originally recorded in some workloads.

We also tested a quasi-overclocked 10850K configuration by removing all power and Turbo Boost limits on the Gigabyte Z490. This quick and dirty technique allows the chip to run at its maximum turbo frequencies and exceed the typical boost duration while consuming as much power as it can handle. This certainly isn’t as efficient (especially in terms of power and efficiency) as manual overclocking, but it gives us a taste of the 10850K’s unrestrained performance. We listed that configuration as “Core i9-10850K Unlimited” in the charts. All other overclocking details can be found in the reviews of the chips in our test pool.

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