Intel i9-7900X Review: Game Streaming, VR, Production, Overclocking

By Published June 19, 2017 at 9:00 am
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Intel i9-7900X – Total War: Warhammer Benchmark

Total War: Warhammer saw an update post-Ryzen launch that improved performance significantly on both AMD and Intel processors. Intel saw a major uptick in frametime consistency, reflected in our 0.1% lows, and AMD saw a major uptick in SMT-enabled performance. CPUs with an asterisk have been re-tested with this update, while CPUs without the asterisk have not yet been retested. CPUs without the asterisk would see an improvement of a couple percent in AVG FPS if retested.

Stock, the i9-7900X operates at 168FPS AVG, placing it behind the i5-7600K and ahead of the 6900K stock CPU and overclocked 1700X CPU with overclocked RAM. The stock i7-7700K CPU ranks at around 190FPS, where we begin bumping into GPU limitations. This illustrates why HEDT CPUs aren’t really meant for gaming. Some games will use the threads, but many are still frequency-intensive before they are core-intensive.

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Intel i9-7900X – Battlefield 1 Benchmark

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Battlefield 1 also got an update after Ryzen’s launch, moving to version 1.08 and improving CPU bottom-line performance. Again, asterisks on items indicate retesting after 1.07.

The i9-7900X runs 144FPS AVG, placing it roughly tied with the $330 i7-7700K and, better yet, the $240 i5-7600K. The R7 1700X with overclocked core and memory speeds runs 136FPS AVG, marking the 7900X about 5.7% faster. Not a huge gain.

Intel i9-7900X – Metro: Last Light Benchmark

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Metro: Last Light hasn’t been updated in ages, which means we have a large database of numbers. More of the same here, really: Not quite a 7700K. These games care more about frequency than cores, for the most part.

Intel i9-7900X – GTA V Benchmark

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GTA V has issues with CPUs beyond 180FPS, as we’ve detailed, so this chart is somewhat truncated. Same story – a bit slower than the much cheaper 7700K.

Ashes of the Singularity & Escalation

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We see some better scaling in these, but Ashes really is a synthetic benchmark, at this point, and not a game. But it is one of the few games – benchmarks, whatever – that will leverage features like explicit multi-GPU or heavy multithreading. We see more of a boost here than elsewhere.

Conclusion: When the i9-7900X Is Worth It (And When it Isn’t)

We’ve still got a lot underway with the i9-7900X ($1000) – thermals and power testing being two major elements that were sacrificed in favor of VR & game stream testing. Both will be run as their own content pieces. We’re just waiting on some new tools.

That aside, we can look at the i9-7900X from the perspective of our benchmarks. Intel claimed that the CPU would excel in multi-stream output scenarios, and it appears that the company was accurate in this statement. Our game stream testing shows fewer than 1% dropped frames with reasonably high quality streaming to two services, which is more than can be said for most other CPUs on the market. Intel’s done a good job here; however, this does come with its caveats. One of them is that, as is always the case with encoding on the gaming system, frametime variability goes up and potentially impacts the playback fluidity. This would mostly be noticeable for competitive streamers who are working with games like CSGO, DOTA2, or Overwatch. In these instances of demanding consistent frametimes, we’d still recommend a secondary capture machine to remove all doubt. In instances where the capture and gaming must be done on the same system, the i9-7900X makes it possible to multi-stream while still carrying gameplay at a reasonable clip. It’s just a matter of that frametime consistency.

For a single stream output, Ryzen still does quite well. The R7 1700 would overclock to readily match an 1800X in our tests and didn’t drop frames in our Twitch-only testing. The 7900X is a bit superfluous for single-game streaming, but does make multi-streaming possible in a way which hasn’t been as affordable before.

Intel gets praise here, as it is deserved. The lowered 10C price makes that performance all the more reasonable for streamers working with a single box. If that frametime consistency isn't a concern, or if working with lower framerate games than what we've tested so far (again: DOTA, CSGO), then Intel has managed to build and price a CPU that would allow a cheaper streaming+gaming build than two individual machines. There's just still a reason for a capture machine, depending.

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But there are plenty of use cases where the 7900X makes no sense. VR gaming is one of those, despite Intel’s marketing. The i9-7900X is a monumental waste of money for VR gaming, given its performance is not only imperceptibly different from both the i7-7700K ($330) and R7 1700, but also technically worse than the $330 7700K. “Technically,” of course, because that objective lead by the 7700K isn’t really relevant -- no user will ever see or experience that difference, as all three CPUs output 90Hz to the HMD and do so within runtime limitations. That said, there’s no reason to buy a worse product for more money. We made that exact point with the 1800X review, and we’re making that point again now. The i9-7900X has no place in a machine built only for VR gaming. Buy any $300 CPU instead. Maybe there’s something to be said for “VR content creation,” but then you’re really entering into the realm of a productivity/office machine – there are other benefits to that, like reduced encode/rendering times, that are proven to be beneficial.

And speaking of those productivity tasks, we did see a substantial uptick generationally for Intel’s *900 series HEDT CPUs. The 7900X completed our Blender render in approximately 26% less time than the stock i7-6900K, and in approximately 23% less time than an overclocked R7 1700 CPU. Overclocking the i9-7900X to 4.5GHz (1.275 Vcore) furthered that, improving us another ~12% over the 7900X stock CPU. That time is valuable to the right audience, like a production studio or environment where money is made on time regained. For a lot of folks, though, like enthusiast artists, part-time freelancers, and folks not pulling a full salary on this kind of work, the R7 1700 CPU isn’t too terribly far behind and runs significantly cheaper on both the CPU and platform. It’s also a lot more memory and platform-limited, naturally, but that’s where you’ve got to use your own judgment. If the $700 is worth the additional memory support and speed, it probably means you’re making enough money on this work to write it off as an important expense. If that’s not the case, save the money and go with an R7 1700 CPU, spend 15 minutes on a trivial overclock, and be happy with competitive performance at one-third the price.

Both CPUs have their use cases and audiences, is the point.

Now, with regard to gaming only, the i9-7900X is an absolute no-go. This is not something you buy for a gaming-only machine. Just like the 1800X, the 7900X is wasteful and superfluous for gaming-only builds, and those builds would be better-served with something like a 7700K (~$330) or R5 1600 ($210) in their respective price categories. The i9-7900X does well in our rendering tests, overclocks reasonably, and is a serious performer in multi-stream outputs, with AMD's most direct competition likely coming sometime in early August or late July. It does not do well in price:performance for unstreamed gaming or VR. The extra $700 gains you nothing in either scenario.

We’ve laid-out what it does well and what it’s beaten in, particularly in price:performance. That should assist in making initial decisions. Note that our testing is not fully complete – we have thermals yet to come, among other benchmarks.

Editor-in-Chief: Steve Burke
Video Producer: Andrew Coleman


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Last modified on June 19, 2017 at 9:00 am
Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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