I built a new gaming PC in September to play new games like Microsoft Flight Simulator, Cyberpunk 2077, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. I figured that picking Intel’s Core i9-10900K and Nvidia’s RTX 3090 would make this machine last for years and offer top tier performance in demanding titles like Microsoft Flight Simulator. I was wrong. Microsoft Flight Simulator is a notorious beast of a game and is quickly becoming the new Crysis test for PCs.
It has struggled to run smoothly above 30fps with all settings maxed out at 1440p on my PC, and even AMD’s Intel-beating Ryzen 9 5950X only improved the situation slightly for some.
Intel’s latest 11th Gen processor arrives with a big promise of up to 19 percent IPC (instructions per cycle) improvements over the existing i9-10900K, and more specifically the lure of 14 percent more performance at 1080p in Microsoft Flight Simulator with high settings. This piqued my curiosity, so I’ve been testing the i9-11900K over the past few days to see what it can offer for Microsoft Flight Simulator specifically.
It’s less than a year after the i9-10900K release, and I’m already considering upgrading to Intel’s new i9-11900K because I’ve found it boosts Microsoft Flight Simulator by 20 percent.
The Verge doesn’t typically review processors, so we don’t own dedicated hardware testing rigs or multiple CPUs and systems to offer all of the benchmarks and comparisons you’d typically find in CPU reviews. For those, we’re going to recommend you visit the excellent folks at Tom’s Hardware, KitGuru, or Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.
Intel’s new Core i9-11900K ships with eight cores, 16 threads, and boosted clock speeds up to 5.3GHz. On paper, that sounds like it would be less powerful than the 10900K with its 10 cores, 20 threads, and boosted clock speeds up to 5.3GHz, but the reality is far more complicated thanks to how games and apps are designed. Most of Flight Simulator currently runs in a main thread that’s often limited by how well your CPU can run single-threaded applications and games.
So in recent years Intel has managed to stay on top with its single-threaded performance, despite AMD offering more cores. That was until AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X managed to beat the final Intel performance advantage late last year. Intel’s new 11th Gen chips are trying to reclaim its traditional advantage.
Microsoft Flight Simulator is a good example of where Intel typically has an advantage. It’s also an increasingly rare example of a game that’s very sensitive to your entire system components and not just how good your GPU is at rendering games.
Intel’s Core i9-11900K does its job well enough here to boost performance by around 20 percent depending on resolution. I’ve tested a variety of flights taking off from different airports and flying over some of the world’s most beautiful locations and the most demanding cities the game has to offer. Everything feels smoother with Intel’s latest chips, but the results aren’t dramatic enough to get me beyond 60fps without stepping some settings down. A flight over Seattle with all the settings maxed out shows a 24-percent performance improvement with the new 11th Gen Core i9 at 1080p and an 18-percent increase at 1440p.
On my i9-10900K PC, I saw average frame rates of 38fps at 1440p and 33fps at 1080p. The Core i9-11900K managed to bump these to 45fps average at 1440p and 41fps average at 1080p. Averages during a particular benchmark don’t always tell the whole story, though. Over the hours I’ve been playing Microsoft Flight Simulator, I’ve noticed the game dip and stutter less than before. It’s still not perfect, but it’s certainly smoother overall.
If I dial the game back to high settings, it immediately jumps to a 66fps average at 1440p — demonstrating just how much the ultra settings hit frame rates. I can personally barely notice the difference between high and ultra settings in Microsoft Flight Simulator, so the boost here is noticeable thanks to the smoother gameplay.
I also tested Shadow of the Tomb Raider and the Cinebench R23 and Geekbench 5 benchmarks. Shadow of the Tomb Raider saw a tiny bump of around 3 percent at both 1080p and 1440p, while the i9-11900K managed some impressive single core performance gains in both Cinebench and Geekbench.
Intel Core i9-11900K benchmarks
|Benchmark||Intel Core i9-10900K||Intel Core i9-11900K||% change|
|Benchmark||Intel Core i9-10900K||Intel Core i9-11900K||% change|
|Microsoft Flight Simulator (1080p)||33fps||41fps||up 24.2%|
|Microsoft Flight Simulator (1440p)||38fps||45fps||up 18.4%|
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1080p)||176fps||181fps||up 2.8%|
|Shadow of the Tomb Raider (1440p)||154fps||159fps||up 3.2%|
|Cinebench R23 single-thread||1281||1623||up 26.6%|
|Cinebench R23 multi-thread||14,968||14,826||down 0.94%|
|Geekbench 5 single-thread||1336||1766||up 32.1%|
|Geekbench 5 multi-thread||10,709||11,148||up 4%|
I should note I was also hoping to do most of my testing with my existing Z490 motherboard, but that didn’t go to plan. I swapped the chip in with the latest BIOS update for 11th Gen processors and found that the system rebooted a few minutes into games without even a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). I wasn’t able to troubleshoot it fully in time for review, but the Asus Maximus XIII Hero (Z590) board supplied by Intel worked just fine.
You should be able to easily use 11th Gen processors with Z490 motherboards, as most manufacturers have already issued BIOS updates to support Intel’s latest processors. Some will even support M.2 NVMe storage using PCIe 4.0 with these latest chips, while others like Asus only support PCIe 4.0 on the Primary PCIe x16 slot with 11th Gen processors.
Intel’s 11th Gen processors finally deliver PCIe 4.0 support, and that’s good news for storage. Manufacturers have started to fully support PCIe 4.0 drives in recent months, with Western Digital, Samsung, GigaByte, and MSI all launching high-speed drives. If you have a compatible PCIe 4.0 NVMe drive, the upgrade to 11th Gen processors will certainly be worth it. I’ve managed read speeds of 6729MB/s and write speeds of 5206MB/s using Western Digital’s new SN850 1TB drive. Corsair’s MP600 also manages 4987MB/s read and 4259MB/s write speeds. Using Intel’s older 10th Gen chip, the Corsair drive managed 3484MB/s reads and 3235MB/s writes, so an 11th Gen upgrade improved speeds by more than 40 percent. If you work with a lot of files every day, the upgrade to 11th Gen processors will be worth it for PCIe 4.0 alone.
I don’t think the Core i9-11900K does enough for me personally to upgrade from a 10900K, but the PCIe 4.0 support would tempt me more if I needed the speeds there. At $550 (if you can find it at this retail price), the Core i9-11900K sits in between AMD’s offerings, being less expensive than the top 5950X and 5900X Ryzen 9 chips and $90 more than the 5800X.
There’s some solid single-thread performance here, and the 11900K and AMD’s 5900X and 5950X all trade blows depending on the games. Intel’s performance improvement will come at a cost of energy efficiency, though. Tom’s Hardware found that the 11900K “sets the new high power mark” in several of its power tests, drawing over 200 watts in the same test that AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X drew 116 watts. If you even need a new CPU, it’s worth considering just how much Intel’s latest chips will influence your energy bills and the games you play.
Whether you decide to upgrade to Intel’s 11th Gen or one of AMD’s chips will probably depend on the games you play and stock availability. A lot of games do a bad job of utilizing multiple cores on CPUs, mostly because console gaming hardware hasn’t offered solid CPU performance and spreading multiple rendering and physics threads across different cores can complicate game design. Intel’s new chips do a better job of handling these single threads to improve performance, but it’s very game dependent.
For Microsoft Flight Simulator, the general consensus is that the game desperately needs to be moved to DirectX 12 for improvements to multi-core CPU performance. But Intel’s IPC improvements have managed to help until the Direct X 12 update arrives with the Xbox Series X release this summer.
Where Intel might have an advantage over AMD here is availability of chips. It has been increasingly difficult to find AMD’s latest Ryzen processors in recent months, thanks to a global chip shortage. Intel partners have already been accidentally selling some 11th Gen desktop CPUs, which may indicate it will have a steadier supply in the coming weeks.
The winner between Intel and AMD will be the company that can get these chips into the hands of PC gamers eager to upgrade. Much like the GPU market right now, benchmarks don’t matter when the best chip is often the only one you can actually buy.