A lot of tech blogs or hardware reviews may be focusing on the new Ryzen products available to help you hit either the gold standard or silver standard of gaming, but this article will be your guide to a powerful gaming PC based on Team Blue’s reliable 9600K(F) and the best GPU’s to pair with this underrated Intel processor that can just as easily get you to the 144hz smoothness we dream about.
To be clear, if you’re building with the 9600K(F), you are going for a gaming machine. The 9600K can still kick some serious butt in maxing FPS for the price, but in workloads, has started to fall behind due to its non-hyperthreaded 6 core set-up. So the main reason to build a rig with the 9600K today is for gaming with a modest budget, and that is what this guide will focus on: helping you find the right GPU to pair with the 9600K to get the most performance possible.
For the GPU, we are spoiled by a variety of choices at almost any price point. For the lowest end, you may not be able to get the most out of your 9600K, and at the high end you will be paying a premium to ‘future-proof’ your rig to prepare for any later upgrades to a 9700K or 9900K, but at almost any budget above $200 for the GPU, there are some phenomenal choices to complement your 9600K. If you are comfortable buying used, there are a few more options that could be considered, but for this article we will recommend new GPUs that come with complete warranties and return policies, just to be on the safe side.
From our ultra-value end to our likely-overkill-for-current-games high-end category, here are the best GPUs available for your 9600K(F) gaming rig:
Best GPUs for i5-9600K – My Recommendations
Best Ultra-value GPU for 9600K Builds
For someone at this budget tier, we are looking for the absolute minimum GPU that will still let us take advantage of the stock 9600K speeds (no overclocking) and will maintain the bronze standard 1080p 60fps for years to come, while still hitting close to 144hz in today’s games and well-optimized future games. For a GPU with criteria like that, there is only one option we would recommend: the Nvidia GTX 1660.
The GTX 1660 is a recent addition to the Nvidia line, succeeding the 1060 but not including the ray tracing or DLSS hardware of the newest RTX line. The 1660 is a super power efficient GPU, the pinnacle of efficiency for the Pascal architecture.
For the 9600K, the 1660 is the least powerful GPU we would recommend. In newer titles or more greedy titles, you will likely need to lower settings to maintain an FPS close to 144hz due to the GPU bottleneck (the 9600K can maintain 144hz in almost all titles), but for eSports titles or older games we expect the 1660 to keep up with the 9600K at medium graphics settings. And because of its super efficiency, the 1660 requires very little power draw and produces very little heat, making it a compelling choice for a ‘silent’ build or a small form factor build that might have more tightly packed components.
At right around $220 for dual fan AIB models like this Zotac GTX 1660 (and occasionally available for even cheaper on sale), this card is a great choice to complement the 9600K for a budget gaming build that will give you at least 1080p 60hz performance for years to come.
Best Value GPU for 9600K Builds
If we take one step above the ultra-value tier and begin looking for a card that will perform well at 1080p 144hz with medium to high graphics in the majority of games when paired with the 9600K, we begin to have a few more choices. We will likely still have a bottleneck at the GPU that stops the 9600K from reaching its full potential, but it won’t be by much and for some games, you might be CPU bound after all. From Team Green, we recommend the big brother to the 1660, the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti, while from Team Red we have the very interesting AMD Radeon RX Vega 56.
Both of these cards will provide for strong performance at reasonable costs, which fits in really well with the 9600K ethos. Between the two options, the major differences are the trade-offs in slightly more power (around 10%) from the RX Vega 56, at the cost of a significant increase in power draw, heat output, and noise. Neither card will maintain constant 144FPS in all titles, so you will not quite be getting the maximum possible out of your 9600K, but both will let avoid bottle necking on the CPU in eSports titles or Source engine games that really overload the processor.
In terms of pricing, the RX Vega 56 is being phased out, so its price is different depending on where you shop. The most common price range is around $320-$330, with one possible dual-fan partner card available on Amazon within that price range and an MSI Airforce RX Vega 56 blower model available at closer to $310. On the other hand, the 1660 Ti is available at $280 with some strong partner models, such as this Gigabyte Windforce Gaming 1660 Ti. Both of these prices make sense for a 9600K rig considering the 9600K(F) floats around $225-235 and for a gaming PC, it is almost always better to spend more on the GPU.
Best Mid-tier GPU for 9600K Builds
For a mid-tier GPU to pair with the 9600K, we begin to enter the territory of the most recent generation of entry-level cards, or one generation old higher-end cards. If we are going to spend at this level, we might not be able to use 1440p for newest games, but we expect to be able to play eSports titles at 1440p and to keep 144hz at either resolution, due to the power of the 9600K. And pairing any of these choices with the 9600K will give you a build that will last for at least a few years as long as you are ok lowering settings on some of the more demanding yet-to-be-released games. Like the value tier GPU category, we are lucky to have a few viable choices that all offer good performance at good prices. From Nvidia, we are targeting the RTX 2060. AMD has two solid options: the Radeon RX Vega 64 and the newer Radeon RX 5700.
The Nvidia RTX 2060 is from the newest Turing architecture and offers a few hardware neither AMD GPU includes, like ray tracing and DLSS anti-aliasing technology, and is typically less expensive as well. On the other hand, it is not quite as powerful as either card (but is more efficient) and only has 6GB of VRAM vs 8GB. Between the AMD GPUs, the RX Vega 64 and RX 5700 are almost identical in terms of performance, but the 5700 is more efficient and should improve over time with driver optimization. The only reason to choose the Vega 64 would be if you can find it for a discount compared to the 5700.
When it comes to pricing, the RTX 2060 is the least expensive of the group, with current dual-fan models available starting from $330, such as this Gigabyte Windforce Gaming RTX 2060. For a 9600K build, that’s a really great deal. The next most expensive is the RX Vega 64. Similar to the Vega 56, this card is being phased out so pricing can fluctuate with stock availability and currently Amazon is not showing much stock, if you can find a Vega 64 card for around $350, it is a reasonable price for what the Vega 64 offers. The newest and most expensive card is the RX 5700 and there are quite a few partner models available in the $360-$370 range, but it is difficult to find them in stock right now due to high demand. If you can find one, the Sapphire Pulse RX 5700 is a great buy.
Best High-end GPU for 9600K Builds
At the high-end of the GPU spectrum for a 9600K build, we don’t just want to be able to maintain 144FPS at 1080hz, getting the most out of our 9600K and finally entering into potential CPU bottleneck territory for some games as we move up towards 1440p gaming. And the other major advantage to this tier is that in a few years, the lower tiers might need to put graphics settings on low to get to 144 FPS, but these cards should still be able to play with decent settings. For high-end 9600K rigs, from Nvidia we have the RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070, and from AMD, the Radeon RX 5700 XT.
All three of these cards are very capable GPUs and hover around the $400-$420 mark depending on sales and which partner card you select. The RTX 2060 Super and RTX 2070 perform almost identically (the RTX 2070 is around 3% faster), and offer great performance at high refresh rates for 1080p and even gaming at 1440p at modest frame rates or for eSports titles. The major advantage of these two cards over the RX 5700 XT are the hardware capabilities for ray tracing and DLSS, and slightly better efficiency in terms of power draw. For the 2060 Super, the MSI 2060 Super Ventus is a great choice at $410, while the MSI 2070 Armor is a good choice for a 2070, once the price drops down to around $420-$430 where it belongs.
On the AMD side, the RX 5700 XT is a stronger performer than both the 2060 Super and 2070, but does not have the same hardware capabilities. So if you are sure to not want to try ray-tracing in some upcoming games, the 5700 XT will give you the best bang for your buck and should ensure a great experience for years to come with the 9600K. When it comes to selecting a model, the RX 5700 XT Sapphire Pulse is very hard to beat at $420 (if you can find one in stock!).
Any of these cards will truly let the 9600K spread its wings, and if you overclock, will give you a beast of a gaming rig that will handle just about anything you throw at it.
The 9600K is an interesting processor in today’s crowded consumer CPU market. In pure gaming, the 9600K still outperforms its Ryzen competitors like the 2600X/3600, but is very much weaker for any workload/streaming activities. The overclocking headroom on Intel processors remains extraordinary, with 5GHz very possible on the 9600K with the right cooling solution.
For your build, this means that the 9600K can serve as a powerful processor to accompany a very budget graphics card like the 1660 to achieve ultra-fast FPS for games like CS:GO, or can be overclocked to pair with a 2080 Super and still offer plenty of processor speed for the majority of games.
The biggest downside to the 9600K is the lack of hyperthreading. At 6 cores, some people fear that next-generation games that are optimized for higher core/thread counts will start to make the 9600K show its age. And while this fear is not unfounded, for current games and the immediate future, the 9600K’s blazing fast clock speeds should still allow it to perform well when paired with any of the GPUs above. High-end processors remain particularly useful for productivity workloads, but for a gaming rig where spending on the GPU will be much more useful, a CPU like the 9600K is tough to beat.