Review: Intel’s new 13th Generation CPUs deliver notable performance for gaming at any level

Originally announced back toward the end of September, Intel’s latest 13th Generation processors are now officially here. We’ve spent the past few days with them, running both the i5-13600K and i9-13900K through its paces to see if they could best AMD’s Ryzen 7000 lineup to help you decide what your next system should be. While our testing is far from over, there are a lot of interesting tidbits that separate Intel and AMD this time around.

Intel 13th Generation review

Our review of Intel’s 13th Generation lineup is going to center around gaming performance, but we’ll touch on other areas like multi-core and single core performance and the like. Overall, Intel’s 13th Generation lineup, dubbed Raptor Lake, is very similar to Alder Lake that came before it, just with a few more cores and a bit of a faster clock. Intel also was able to make the processors more efficient, pulling additional performance without much power increase.

Getting our PC specs out of the way up front, we’ve spent the past few days with the i5-13600K and the i9-13900K, though our testing is far from over. The rest of the system includes NZXT’s Z690 motherboard flashed with the latest BIOS and 16GB of CORSAIR’s Dominator Platinum DDR4 memory clocked at 3200MHz. While not the highest-end or fastest memory clock around, we think this gives a good representation for someone who might already have some hardware on hand and who isn’t ready to shell out for DDR5 and Z690. However, in our more in-depth review of Intel’s 13th Generation lineup, we do plan to test with Z790 and DDR5 to see what the performance difference is between using previous- and latest-generation chipsets.

For storage, we’re using the 1TB WD BLACK SN850 NVMe SSD with the Sapphire 6750 XT Nitro+ graphics card. And, on the cooling front, this time around we’ve gone with CORSAIR’s H150i Elite 360mm all-in-one liquid cooler and Noctua NT-H1 thermal paste. The only variable in our testing is the processors themselves, as our BIOS stayed the same as did everything else with the systems.

A lot of the same, but faster

Intel’s 13th Generation processors are more of a refresh then a redesign, as the processors build off of the 12th Generation lineup which ushered in both DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support. Those standards continue to be supported in 13th Generation, as does PCIe 4.0 and DDR5. Also, 13th Generation continues the trend of Intel leveraging what it calls efficiency and performance cores as part of its design, which marks the second time Intel has gone this route.

However, with 13th Generation, Intel added more cores, faster clock speeds, and “up to 15% better single-thread performance.” Which, in our testing, does show pretty impressive performance.

Even using a previous-generation test rig with half as much memory as our AMD test setup from last month, even the i5-13600K held its own against AMD’s top-tier processors when it came to gaming. Single-threaded performance on Intel’s system matches or beats AMD in most tests we put the system through, which holds Intel’s claim to better single-thread performance.

Similar to our AMD review, I noticed how smooth the Intel 13th Generation lineup is, and it didn’t matter whether I was on the i5 or i9 processor. The entire system just felt like butter, and it was ready to handle something the moment I clicked on it.

It’s possible to just upgrade your processor and nothing else

Like we already mentioned, our test rig doesn’t use the latest Intel has to offer, and that’s in part for us to test how previous-generation specs handle the latest-generation processors. While AMD went all-in on a new motherboard, socket, and ditched DDR4 support, Intel is merely upgrading its Z690 motherboards to Z790 for the added new features and kept the rest of the specs the same. This means that if you already have 12th Generation and want more performance, or maybe you already have DDR4 on hand and are wanting to make the jump from a previous Intel or AMD build, then it’s possible to reuse your parts and save some cash.

And, honestly, we were quite impressed with the performance that DDR4 is delivering on Intel’s 13th Generation platform. When we tested AMD’s Ryzen 7000 processors, we used 32GB of DDR5 memory, while Intel’s 13th generation testing was done with 16GB of DDR4. And, guess what? Gaming performance was almost identical across the board. That’s right, in our limited testing so far, Intel and AMD are almost neck and neck, and that’s with Intel being tested with much slower DDR4.

For example, we saw an average frame rate of 94 FPS in Forza Horizon 5 on extreme settings at 1440p for Intel’s 13th Generation. AMD? 99 FPS. That’s around 5% better, but on much slower (and a generation older) hardware for Intel. Now, going with DDR5 might not deliver an extra 5% improvement, but we’re going to be sure to test it again and see exactly what the system delivers on the latest.

All that to say, you don’t need to build an all-new system in order to enjoy the latest-generation of performance. And, so far, we’re not even sure that we fully recommend going all-out on a Z790 motherboard with DDR5 if you’re just planning to game on the system, as the performance on Z690 with DDR4 was so impressive. Even in other titles, like No Man’s Sky, Minecraft, and Subnautica we saw near to identical performance across both AMD and Intel, with Intel still on DDR4. If you’re looking to get the best performance without building a whole new rig, Intel’s 13th Generation sure does deliver, and at a (potentially) lower cost to what AMD is offering this generation with backward compatibility with previous-generation hardware.

You don’t need to go big for gaming, but it may be prudent in other workloads

Another area that we were somewhat surprised in, but not completely taken aback by, is that the i5-13600K and i9-13900K were nearly identical with each other in gaming performance. Using a 6750 XT graphics card for testing, we stuck to 1440p ultra settings in most titles and didn’t venture far into 4K, but both CPUs sat at sub-10% utilization in most benchmarks, with some titles pulling less than 5% at times.

In our benchmarking, we used a range of seven games ranging from Forza Horizon 5 to Subnautica. All games were tested on the highest settings preset and at 1440p. Our results are as follows:

i5-13600K Game Benchmarks:

  • Forza Horizon 5: 94 FPS
  • Minecraft with BSL shaders: 180 average FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: 80 FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins: 88 FPS
  • No Man’s Sky: 130-200 FPS
    • 130 FPS was achieved flying toward a planet, 200 FPS flying toward outer space
  • Ghost Recon Breakpoint: 96 FPS
  • Subnautica: 140 FPS

i9-13900K Game Benchmarks:

  • Forza Horizon 5: 94 FPS
  • Minecraft with BSL shaders: 200 average FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey: 92 FPS
  • Assassin’s Creed Origins: 98 FPS
  • No Man’s Sky: 135-240 FPS
    • 134 FPS was achieved flying toward a planet, 240 FPS flying toward outer space
  • Ghost Recon Breakpoint: 96 FPS
  • Subnautica: 141 FPS

As you can see, several of these games are either identical or nearly identical. It was interesting that Assassin’s Creed showed a pretty bit uptick in performance, while Forza Horizon 5 and Ghost Recon Breakpoint both had identical results. We’ll be diving even further into more tests in our upcoming in-depth review of Intel’s 13th Generation processors where we’ll be testing even more games and providing graphs for better visualization of the performance differences between the processors.

Now, while several of the games might be nearly identical for the i5 and i9 processors, that’s not the entire story. The i9 had a score 33% higher than the i5 when it came to multi-core performance in Cinebench R23, clocking in an impressive 36,076 compared to the i5’s 23,929. However, the i5 did beat our AMD’s Ryzen 7 7700X in multi-core performance, as team red’s higher-end counterpart (comparative to an i7) only scored a 19,196 in Cinebench’s R23 multi-core test. So, if you’re wanting performance on a budget, then the i5-13600K could take the crown for best performance per dollar processor of this generation, though we’ll have to do more testing against AMD’s Ryzen 5 7600X to know for sure.

Either way though, you don’t need to go all-out if your rig is just for gaming. Sure, those who want to play at 4K144 or even 8K60/144 might want to pick up the i9 just to have the extra horsepower, but for those who are okay with 1080p or 1440p, the i5-13600K is a very solid processor and delivered identical performance to the i9-13900K in almost every game we tested it in.

We’re working on testing Intel’s i5 and i9 processors in other more practical workloads than just gaming including Premiere Pro, Lightroom Classic, and Photoshop as well as others to see how the performance scales there. Given the i9’s 33% increase in performance over the i5 in multi-threaded workloads, we expect the i9 to walk all over its little brother in these tests.

Is Intel 13th Generation worth it?

In short? Absolutely. While AMD gave gamers little choice on whether to upgrade or not, Intel offers far more choice in how to build a system. In fact, one of our writers here was looking to upgrade to Ryzen 7000, only to stop once he realized that it would require a new motherboard and RAM.

Intel, I think, got it right for this generation. I’m an AMD fan at heart, and have been for a while, but the fact that I was able to get nearly the same gaming performance out of the i5-13600K on DDR4 as I did with the Ryzen 9 7900X with twice as much DDR5 says quite a lot for what Intel did for gaming. Plus, the fact that you can simply upgrade your BIOS and install a new processor in an existing system makes the upgrade that much easier.

In the end, regardless of what desktop you’re currently running, there’s a good chance that Intel’s 13th Generation processors could offer some performance gains across the board. I wouldn’t necessarily say that you could take a step down and still enjoy increased performance, but so long as you stay at the same level or higher to what you have now, you’re going to see improved frame rates, render times, and more across the board. Really, regardless of which processor you choose from Intel’s 13th Generation lineup, our review finds that you can’t go wrong. Intel 13th Generation offers a lot of power in a more efficient package that’s compatible with a wide range of new and existing motherboards, which that last part is something that even AMD can’t say with its latest Ryzen 7000 series.

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