Intel’s 12th Generation processors, dubbed “Alder Lake,” have arrived, bringing with them a new CPU paradigm. The Core i9-12900K desktop CPU ($589) leads the group of Intel’s 12th Generation processors, bringing a slew of enhancements and innovations to today’s and tomorrow’s desktops. On the first new motherboard platform to handle the newer CPUs, the Intel Z690, these updates include support for the new, high-speed DDR5 RAM standard, as well as an upgrade to PCI Express 5.0. Intel also collaborated closely with Microsoft to optimize the new CPUs for Windows 11, including new scheduling technologies that automatically load the Core i9-12900K based on which cores are used where and for what.
Although Alder Lake and the Core i9-12900K are impressive, our connection with the CPU is a bit tangled. For many shoppers, the increased cost of upgrading to yet another new motherboard platform will not offset the victory percentages in our benchmarks. The eight-core, rather cheaper AMD Ryzen 7 5800X ($449 list price, but currently snipe-discounted to $386 on Amazon and Newegg) proves itself a worthy contender on performance-versus-price in PC gaming, while Intel’s older-but-still-reliable “Comet Lake” Core i9-10900K kept itself in the race during several benchmarks.
INTEL CORE I9-12900K SPECS
|Base Clock Frequency||3.2 GHz|
|Maximum Boost Clock||5.1 GHz|
|Socket Compatibility||Intel LGA 1700|
|L3 Cache Amount||30 MB|
|Thermal Design Power (TDP) Rating||125 watts|
|Integrated Graphics||Intel UHD Graphics 770|
|Integrated Graphics Base Clock||300 MHz|
The high cost of a new Z690 motherboard (the cheapest are just under $200, according to our Z690 motherboard guide) and DDR5 adoption, as well as Intel’s insistence on upgrading your system to Windows 11, are all major factors for anyone considering the 12th Generation Core as their next big desktop upgrade. That, combined with the fact that our test platform and numerous prebuilt Alder Lake PCs were unable to launch several popular games that require certain DRM, makes Alder Lake a bit of a wait-and-see proposition. “Intel is on the rise, with some limitations,” is our first Alder Lake takeaway. But keep reading to learn more about our findings.
The Basics of Alder Lake: A Whole Lotta’New’
Intel’s new 12th Generation desktop CPUs, which are based on Intel’s so-called “7 Process,” are built on 10nm lithography, finally severing the company’s half-decade love/hate relationship with the 14nm process and its subsequent “14nm+”-based revisions that followed for years. (ExtremeTech has a good explanation of how Intel describes its “7 Process.”)
In just over five years, Intel has advanced one of its desktop consumer chip stacks completely beyond a variant of the 14nm technology. AMD’s production agreement with TSMC has seen the Austin chipmaker produce wafers on 7nm lithography for nearly three years, but Intel has only recently moved up to 10nm. Is this a hint of what we may anticipate from benchmarks? Not if Intel’s new arsenal of trickery is anything to go by…
Intel makes a big bet on a huge bet.
Though we’d ordinarily jump right into spec comparisons at this point in the review, let’s take a quick detour to learn more about the “big.LITTLE” chip design: What is it, how does it affect desktop processors, and do they actually require it?
A chip architecture using the big.LITTLE approach stacks a group of cores focused on peak performance alongside cores focused on efficiency and power management on the same die. That notion isn’t new; as an efficiency tactic, smartphone CPUs have used versions of a big.LITTLE architecture for years. It’s also not a brand-new concept for Intel; in 2020, the firm released “Lakefield,” an x86 processor based on a big.LITTLE design. Only a few laptops and mobile-device experiments, like as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold, used Lakefield technology. It did, however, set the tone for Intel’s major announcement this year: Intel Performance Hybrid Architecture.
Performance Hybrid Architecture is being billed as Intel’s “largest architectural shift in a decade.” Instead of the monolithic core design seen in previous generations, the Core i9-12900K (together with the rest of the chips disclosed thus far in the 12th Generation desktop stack) will include two sets of heterogeneous cores in its Alder Lake debut. “P-cores” (short for “performance”) and “E-cores” are the two main varieties (with the “E” for “efficient”). The P-cores will use Intel’s “Golden Cove” microarchitecture, while the E-cores will use Intel’s “Gracemont” microarchitecture.
This explains the core/thread mismatch in the specs below, as only the P-cores will be Hyper-Threaded this time (allowing two processing threads per P-core), whereas E-cores will only support one thread per core.
Depending on the task at hand, these P-cores and E-cores shift off various roles under normal system usage. For example, P-cores are better for achieving peak performance during demanding jobs like gaming, whereas E-cores are better for picking up requests from background processes that aren’t as sensitive to reduced latency speeds. Also, if a task requires a lot of throughput at the same time (think multi-core rendering, etc. ), the load can be split between P-cores and E-cores as the operating system’s scheduler sees appropriate.
As a result, the scheduling is crucial, especially when the CPU’s resources are in high demand. (And meeting that demand is the whole idea of buying a high-end processor!) So, while we’re on the subject of schedulers, meet Windows Thread Director, the scheme’s ostensible Spielberg.
Thread Manager for Windows
While Intel’s big.LITTLE strategy for smartphones and mobile devices may be old hat, there’s a lot of “new” in store for laptops and desktops. To compensate for the novelty, Intel collaborated closely with Microsoft this time, co-developing Intel Thread Director, a new scheduler for Windows 11.
Consider the scheduler for Windows 11 (or any modern operating system) as a traffic cop: It determines where parts of programs should run on a processor based on a variety of criteria. Thermal/cooling capacity, available power draw, performance peaks, and task/thread priority are all factors to consider. On typical desktop processor designs, this process is pretty simple, and it operates in the same way on Windows 10 as it did in prior versions.
However, when hybrid architecture was introduced to the desktop market, Intel had to think beyond the box. Without a little extra aid, Windows won’t know which cores to deliver programs to on a chip where the cores aren’t homogeneous. This is where Thread Director comes in.
In comparison to previous updates in Intel’s desktop line, Thread Director is informed by a new microcontroller on the CPU itself, which will send Windows 11 more specific hardware telemetry about the present health of the processor and its cores. Thermals, power settings, and which threads can accept more instructions are now conveyed to the scheduler in microseconds, leaving almost no impact and (in principle) adding significant speed advantages, depending on the workflow and the many types of overhead that can be used.
All of this is important because, as our benchmarking findings show, Windows 10 can be poorer than Windows 11 at scheduling a 12th Gen desktop CPU. This is due to Windows 10 not understanding what it’s looking at when it sees an E-core, mistaking it for a low-performance core with a different power spectrum than the P-cores. As a result of its limited information, it can schedule the E-cores “incorrectly,” as it were (albeit this is an exaggeration). Meanwhile, the additional information transmitted from Thread Director to the Windows 11 scheduler is put into the mix, which, in theory, should result in improved performance in that OS.
This time, Intel also gave many bespoke “workflow” benchmarks to its reviewer pool, meant to simulate instances where the hybrid-architecture approach (and Thread Director’s influence) would be most noticeable.
We tested the Photoshop and Premiere Pro versions of these benchmarks, and the results were remarkable enough that they shouldn’t be dismissed as marketing hype. (I’ll get to that in a second.)
New Power Definitions, New Day
Finally, before we get into the numbers, Intel has reclassified our previous definitions of processor power usage. “Base Power” and “Maximum Turbo Power,” according to the business, are replacing the traditional Thermal Design Power rating (commonly represented as “TDP” in watts).
In actuality, consumers will not notice much of a difference. On the back of the package, both the 12th Gen and 11th Gen (“Rocket Lake”) Core i9 processors will have a 125-watt Base Power rating. Rather, the Core i9-12900K is listed at “125-watt Base Power, 241-watt Turbo Power,” which is a more true indication of what type of spectrum consumers may expect during both base and boost frequency peak usage.
Intel Core i9-12900K Specs and Comparisons
|Cores / Threads||Base Clock (P-Core)||Base Clock (E-Core)||Peak Boost (P-Core)||Peak Boost (E-Core)||Processor Base Power||Integrated Graphics||Estimated Price||Unlocked?|
|Core i9-12900K||16 (8P, 8E) / 24||3.2GHz||2.4GHz||5.1GHz||3.9GHz||125 watts||UHD Graphics 770 (Iris Xe)||$589||Yes|
|Core i9-12900KF||16 (8P, 8E) / 24||3.2GHz||2.4GHz||5.1GHz||3.9GHz||125 watts||None||$564||Yes|
|Core i7-12700K||12 (8P, 4E) / 20||3.6GHz||2.7GHz||4.9GHz||3.8GHz||125 watts||UHD Graphics 770 (Iris Xe)||$409||Yes|
|Core i7-12700KF||12 (8P, 4E) / 20||3.6GHz||2.7GHz||4.9GHz||3.8GHz||125 watts||None||$384||Yes|
|Core i5-12600K||10 (6P, 4E) / 16||3.7GHz||2.8GHz||4.9GHz||3.6GHz||125 watts||UHD Graphics 770 (Iris Xe)||$289||Yes|
|Core i5-12600KF||10 (6P, 4E) / 16||3.7GHz||2.8GHz||4.9GHz||3.6GHz||125 watts||None||$264||Yes|
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at the entire Alder Lake stack, starting with the Core i9-12900K at the top…
First and foremost, Intel has reduced the number of 12th Gen CPUs available at launch from 14 to just six “K” and “KF” models, down from 14 for the 11th Gen/Rocket Lake introduction in early 2021. (Integrated graphics are not available on the KF chips.) These are all premium chips that have been unlocked for overclocking, thus Intel’s focus is on tweakers and performance fanatics for the time being. (This is reflected in the premium Z690 motherboards that were available for the initial Alder Lake launch.)
This year’s limited initial selection of chips is also priced significantly more aggressively than previous years (this time, against AMD’s current stack of Ryzen 5000 CPUs). While Intel isn’t new to undercutting AMD’s MSRPs with recommended selling prices that are $10 lower, this is the first time in a long time that the company’s top-end offering, in this case the $589 Core i9-12900K, actually offers a better cost-per-core ratio than its aisle-adjacent competitor, the $749-MSRP Ryzen 9 5950X. The Ryzen 9 5900X, on the other hand, is less expensive…
Prices of AMD Ryzen 9 and Intel Core i9 processors
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X||Intel Core i9-11900K||AMD Ryzen 9 3900X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Cores||8 P-Cores, 8 E-Cores||12||8||12||10|
|Base Clock||3.2GHz (P-Cores)||3.7GHz||3.5GHz||3.8GHz||3.7GHz|
|Boost Clock||Up to 5.1GHz (P-Cores)||4.8GHz||Up to 5.3GHz||4.6GHz||Up to 5.3GHz|
|TDP Rating||125 watts||105 watts||125 watts||105 watts||125 watts|
|Socket||LGA 1700||AM4||LGA 1200||AM4||LGA 1151|
The Core i9-12900K will include eight P-cores and eight E-cores, for a total of 16 cores and a thread count of 24. Compare that to the Ryzen 9 5950X’s 32 total threads, which Intel’s marketing and pricing analysts believe may explain the $140 price difference between the two. The Intel Core i9-12900K is equipped with Intel’s new Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 technology, however “new” is a stretch given that the only differences over UHD Graphics 750 are a little lower base clock speed (300MHz vs. 350MHz) and a higher maximum dynamic frequency (up to 1.55GHz, from 1GHz).
Though we didn’t run any benchmarks on the Core i9-11900integrated K’s graphics processor (IGP) (partly due to time constraints, but mostly because few buyers will buy this chip without a graphics card), we recommend reading our review of the Core i5-12600K to see how much of a performance boost gamers can expect. The Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 solution, on the other hand, will handle four 4K (up to 4,096-by-2,303-pixel) screens at up to 60Hz for those searching for an IGP that can only drive a display.
In our assessments of the Core i5-12600K and Core i7-12700K, we’ll go into the ramifications of their specific pricing points. Overall, one can look at this current stack of Intel processors and be pleased that, for the first time in a long time, Intel is aggressively pricing its chips against the competition, in a way that doesn’t immediately skew the argument in AMD’s favor due to simple math.
LGA 1700 and Z690: New Platform, New Socket
Intel has changed sockets…again! Anyone prone to whiplash might choose to skip this part. Rocket Lake (which came in with the preceding 10th Generation Comet Lake chips) was the last hurrah for LGA 1200 in March 2021 (only six months ago), and now we have LGA 1700. Unlike LGA 1200 and later-generation Z590 motherboards, which were widely (and correctly) viewed as dead-end platforms, Intel appears to be more committed to keep LGA 1700 alive this time.
Intel is betting that top-end overclocking-happy gamers who buy at this level of the stack (Core i5 and above) will be willing to spend at least $180 to get onto 12th Gen. The company is launching on just one chipset platform this time around—Z690—with rumors of more to come on cheaper chipsets next year. (Asrock Phantom Gaming 4 was the cheapest Z690 model we could find at the time of publication.) But what do gamers gain with all of this new gear?
Let’s start with the packaging’s selling points: PCIe 5.0, DDR5 memory up to 4,800MHz (5,200MHz with overclocking applied, with some boards going much higher), an upgrade to Intel’s new XMP 3.0 memory overclocking profiles, WiFi 6E, and support for Intel’s “Dynamic Memory Boost Technology” are all included. Also, by adding a DMI 4.0 x8 link, the Z690’s effective PCI Express bandwidth will be doubled, allowing two PCIe 4.0 SSDs to function at full speed without slowing down.
If you want to learn more about all of the benefits that the Z690 will bring to early adopters, read our comprehensive article.
As a result, we’ve arrived to this point. Intel is back with a new platform, new lithography, new DDR5 memory, and Intel Thread Director after years of benchmarking and pricing losses to upstart AMD Ryzen silicon in the desktop processor arena. Will the firm ultimately be able to turn the tables on AMD with all of these capabilities at its disposal? Let’s take a look at the data to see what we can learn…
Putting the Core i9-12900K to the Test: Thread Director Deserves an Oscar
The Core i9-12900K was put to the test on an MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi motherboard with 32GB of 4,800MHz Corsair Dominator RAM and a 4TB Sabrent Rocket Q4 PCI Express 4.0 boot SSD that also served as our game drive.
All of this was housed in a Corsair iCue 7000D Airflow chassis with a Corsair iCue H150i Elite Capellix 360mm liquid cooler and a Corsair RM1000X 1,000-watt power supply. We used an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti at Founders Edition speeds for our gaming tests, as we do on all of our recent mainstream and high-end CPU reviews.
We put CPUs to the test with a variety of proprietary synthetic benchmarks, as well as real-world tests with consumer apps like 7-Zip, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere (the latter two using Puget Systems’ PugetBench for Photoshop and Premiere extensions), multiplayer games like Rainbow Six: Siege, and AAA 3D games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Tests that are CPU-centric
The CPU tests come first. We tested the CPUs listed below (including the Alder Lake chips) running Windows 10 on testbeds specifically designed for this generation of processors. (To include Thread Director, we reran some of the tests on the Core i9-12900K with Windows 11.)
We tested our AMD Ryzen 9 5950X on the most tricked-out liquid-cooled machine we have on hand, the Maingear Turbo, because Intel has the platform advantage with the launch of Z690 and its bundled accoutrement of faster features than AMD (2021). While graphics tests will not be directly comparable (in most games, the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3090 are a few percentage points apart), the Maingear’s productivity tests, combined with its overkill liquid cooling, should bring AMD’s 16-core chip and Intel’s new Core i9 16-core offering closer together.
To reiterate, the majority of these data were gathered on Windows 10 to make things as consistent as feasible with earlier Intel CPU testing, as well as AMD testing across the aisle. Of course, this isn’t the best match for Intel’s Alder Lake processors. Without Thread Director, the 12th Generation Core i9-12900K on Windows 10 can only produce results that are marginally better than AMD’s 16-core 5950X in content creation, or that lose in some cases. Granted, there’s a $140 difference in pricing, but there’s also a RAM difference, a platform difference, a cooling difference…you get the idea. In this new environment, a lot of uncontrollable variables are at play.
In our more limited run of Windows 11 benchmarks, we saw that Thread Director delivered a significant improvement in some situations. The difference was sometimes insignificant (for example, Cinebench R23, POV-Ray, and gaming tests all remained around the same), but in others, such as the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere runs, we witnessed a nearly 30% boost in both benchmarks. It’s all a matter of perspective. It may be 30 percent faster in Windows 11 or 30 percent slower in Windows 10.
But let’s take a closer look at that finding. Intel was quite precise in both its early marketing and reviewers’ guidance about when the benefits of Thread Director would kick in, and the only applications that showed a visible improvement in our benchmarking suite were Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. To be sure, that should pique the interest of content makers, but keep in mind that it’s a temporary benefit.
But that’s just the first of many to come. We expect the breadth of Thread Director’s effects on your PC to grow in scope and power as the engineers engaged refine things over time. However, we have only observed two examples where the effect was visible as of launch, and you must factor in the additional expense of upgrading to Windows 11.
Intel Core i9-12900K Frame Rates With Discrete GPU for High-End Gaming
Here’s what we discovered in our gaming tests using our GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition GPU. With all of the CPUs listed below, this top-end consumer graphics card is the key arbitrator of performance at 4K. However, at 1080p, the card gets out of the way a little more, allowing the CPU differences to come through. (We put 3DMark Time Spy and three AAA games to the test.) Except where specified, all of these tests were performed on Windows 10.
No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you: Intel has taken its success from content production to gaming, and for the first time in a long time, it has developed a desktop gaming CPU that is both price and performance comparable with AMD. Sure, games like F1 2021 are a “given” owing to their RAM sensitivity, but the 3DMark and Rainbow Six Siege results give us hope that Intel will be able to keep up with AMD in the gaming competition for at least the next several months (if reports about Zen 4’s release schedule are true).
However, there is one gaming caveat…
And, although we’d ordinarily spend the remainder of this section delving into the details of the results and what they might indicate for Intel’s new status among PC gamers, there’s one snag: the Core i9-12900K can’t play every game. Italics are used on purpose.
The boldness of that remark may not have gotten everyone’s attention at first, so let me repeat: Intel’s latest gaming CPU, dubbed the “World’s Best Gaming Processor” by the company, may not be able to play some games. It is reliant on the game’s digital rights management (DRM) technology to preserve its licensing.
Who’s to blame? All of that P-core/E-core nonsense we described earlier. We discovered that the game would either crash halfway through the test run or not boot in at all during our testing, which included two runs of the popular title Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, one in 1080p and the other in 4K. We tried to test as many titles as possible before writing this review, but with the benchmarking suite we had, time was already a concern, let alone following Intel’s late-stage answer about DRM compliance with a trail of games that may or may not start on the first try.
When we contacted Intel about the problem, we were told that it was due to Denuvo DRM, a protection technology used by many single-player and multiplayer games to confirm a game’s license online. Denuvo is a DRM system that protects games against piracy, and it has proven to be one of the most difficult DRMs to crack over the years. This makes it particularly popular among AAA single-player game creators, who are frequently the hardest hurt when a game that costs millions of dollars to build is cracked for free just a few days after its release (sometimes even sooner).
Denuvo believes that the P-cores and E-cores correspond to two independent systems, rather than two different core types on the same chip, which causes problems with games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. It recognizes the new cores as a new license holder (a separate system) and force-quits the game to prevent what it believes is two PCs trying to play the same game on the same key.
What does it mean when you say “choose game titles” and “most games in Windows 11”? Will Windows 10 get the updates it needs before December 2022? There isn’t any specificity to be found. We were unable to obtain a figure for how many games are affected, either because Intel refused to divulge or because it does not know.
We only have the Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla data to go on at the time of writing, however the issue was constant across three different Windows 10 and 11 computers with an Alder Lake Core i9: our main testbed, and two prebuilt systems supplied to us by OEMs for review. This is why neither this review nor our reviews of two new 12th Gen systems from Alienware (the new Alder Lake-based Aurora R13) and Velocity Micro include any AC: Valhalla results (its latest Raptor Z55, also based on the Core i9).
This is a new phenomenon, as Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has been a part of our system testing schedule for months (without issue). Finally, just to be clear, this isn’t some random Podunk game we grabbed out of the bargain bin to see what would break the 12th Generation Core…
Anyone familiar with Ubisoft’s annual revenue should be blown away by that statistic, as it means that AC: Valhalla (and its numerous released/scheduled DLCs) will be a mainstay of the publisher’s content strategy for at least the next year. And, until there’s a cure, Intel 12th Gen processors will just refuse to play it. If you play Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (or any Denuvo game for that matter), you should keep this issue in mind before purchasing a 12th Gen console. This is the first time we’ve had to skip a benchmark because the gaming processor we’re testing won’t play the game. That’s a lot of italics to underscore the significance of this major blip in Intel’s otherwise stellar performance.
In the coming weeks, we’ll be testing more Denuvo-protected titles to get a better image of how prevalent the problem is on both Windows 10 and Windows 11, but in the meantime, gamers should use this list to seek for (potentially) unlaunchable titles.
|Processor Cores (P-cores + E-cores)||16 (8P+8E)||16 (8P+8E)||12 (8P+4E)||12 (8P+4E)||10 (6P+4E)||10 (6P+4E)|
|P-core / E-core Base Frequency (GHz)||3.2P-core / 2.4E-core||3.2P-core / 2.4E-core||3.6P-core / 2.7E-core||3.6P-core / 2.7E-core||3.7P-core / 2.8E-core||3.7P-core / 2.8E-core|
|Single P-core / E-core Turbo Frequency (GHz)||Up to 5.1P-core / 3.9E-core||Up to 5.1P-core / 3.9E-core||Up to 4.9P-core / 3.8E-core||Up to 4.9P-core / 3.8E-core||Up to 4.9P-core / 3.6E-core||Up to 4.9P-core / 3.6E-core|
|Intel Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 Frequency (GHz)||Up to 5.2||Up to 5.2||Up to 5.0||Up to 5.0||N/A||N/A|
|Intel Smart Cache (L3) Size||30MB||30MB||25MB||25MB||20MB||20MB|
|Total L2 Cache||14MB||14MB||12MB||12MB||9.5MB||9.5MB|
|Memory Speed||DDR4 DDR5||DDR4 DDR5||DDR4 DDR5||DDR4 DDR5||DDR4 DDR5||DDR4 DDR5|
|Memory Speed Support||4800MHz 3200MHz||4800MHz 3200MHz||4800MHz 3200MHz||4800MHz 3200MHz||4800MHz 3200MHz||4800MHz 3200MHz|
|Total CPU PCI Express Lanes||20||20||20||20||20||20|
A Look at Thermals and Overclocking
Last on our list of test runs was overclocking, which Intel was eager to devote a considerable chunk of its press briefings to.
Because of the extra complexity and depth that has been introduced to the Z690 platform for overclockers, we’ll be creating a separate post that goes over everything that’s available. Meanwhile, we decided to experiment with Intel’s latest Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) and its basic sliders to see what we could accomplish on a tight schedule.
I was able to reach a very comfortable peak overclock of roughly 8% across all cores in those runs on the Core i9-12900K, a figure that will probably certainly increase higher once I start overclocking E-cores and P-cores independently of one another.
This resulted in a near-parity improvement in our F1 2021 run, as well as a 5% increase in Cinebench R23 and the Puget Systems/Adobe Photoshop test. Given the one-slider tools supplied by Intel, this wasn’t a large boost, but it was also the easiest to do.
Finally, our attempts to push the Intel Core i9-12900K to its thermal limitations in a 10-minute run of Cinebench 23 in CoreTemp resulted in a maximum temperature of 73 degrees C in our tests on a new Corsair iCue 360mm closed-loop liquid cooler.
This is a good result, however the big cooler we were supplied to test with taints it little (no pun intended). A 360mm liquid chiller, regardless of flavor or brand, is a substantial piece of equipment. Your results may vary if you use air or a liquid cooling radiator that is less than 360mm. You’ll need something because the Core i9-12900K doesn’t come with one, and your cooler must be compatible with the new LGA 1700 socket.
Conclusion: Intel’s Desktop Processors Have Turned the Corner
Over the last few years, Intel has taken its lumps from critics and tech reviewers (including this reviewer), and for the first time in a long time, the company has a stack of consumer CPUs that aren’t out of the race before they even get off the line in specified conditions and use cases. Alder Lake is a significant turning point, even if it isn’t at the forefront of sophisticated process technology.
This time around, Intel has released a Core i9 chip that, based on our limited set of testing, appears to be the next big thing for video creators who value their time management. With its lead in process technology and sheer core/thread count for the money, AMD has had a comfortable lead in content creation for years. Intel’s cost-per-core has finally reached parity, allowing it to compete in ways that 14nm rarely enabled.
However, because of the nature of the Ryzen architecture, all of our AMD Ryzen comparative numbers are predicated on an AMD X570-based motherboard that only supports DDR4 RAM up to 3,600MHz, against brand-new, fast DDR5 on the Alder Lake platform. This means that for this round of testing, some games (like F1 2021) and applications (like Photoshop) that are sensitive to RAM timings and speeds will invariably benefit Intel. We’re looking forward to testing more motherboards in the future to see how a Z690 DDR4 board performs.
But, before we close off our study, we thought we’d put up a brief table that compares the estimated costs of upgrading to Intel 12th Gen with competing options (based on data taken from Newegg and Amazon on the date of publication, as well as pricing information provided by OEMs directly).
We’ve put up a few AMD systems below that cost around $100 as a package deal, including both a B550 motherboard and some (cheap) DDR4 RAM. Meanwhile, we’ve taken into account the cost of a Windows 11 license as well as the cost of DDR5 on Intel’s side. However, you can get Z690 boards that support DDR4, which will save you money in the long run.
Cooling is also a factor that isn’t mapped here; the LGA 1700, like the 5900X, will require a new cooler (nothing comes in the box).
AMD Ryzen 5000 vs. Intel Alder Lake: Adoption Costs Compared
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X|
|Est. Selling Price for CPU||$599||$549|
|Number of Available Threads||24||32|
|Basic Platform Adoption Budget Cost (Cheapest Motherboard and 8GB Memory)||$350 (basic Z690 board, 16GB of DDR5)||$100 (basic B550 board, 16GB DDR4)|
|Windows 11 License||$99||Optional (assumes ownership of Win 10)|
|Total Upfront Cost of Adoption (Approximate)||$1,048||$649|
|Plays All Denuvo DRM Games?||N||Y|
This logic is especially essential for gamers during GPU-starved periods like these, when acquiring a new graphics card at MSRP often comes down to the luck of the lottery draw. Every dollar you put into your build counts these days, and if you’re already going to spend a lot on your GPU, the last thing you should do is overspend on the rest of your hardware.
The value argument of 12th Gen for content creators improves thanks to many outright wins that show Intel’s 16 cores are, in some situations, just as good as AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X in terms of performance. However, for many PC builders and upgraders, the cost of adoption is still skewed in AMD’s favor. That, and the fact that AMD chips will run just about any game that works on your preferred version of Windows…not just whatever gets patched on a game-by-game basis on Windows 11. Almost any game, almost any operating system. We didn’t expect Intel’s first significant entry into desktop computing to earn a point in the “Pros” column in 2021, but it did. LITTLE appears to have its own set of problems at first.
Over the last few years, we’ve tested a lot of AMD and Intel processors, and Alder Lake has a lot of hurdles to jump through: new power limits, possibly the need for new RAM, new cooler sizes on a new socket, new game compatibility caveats, and the need for Windows 11 to get the most out of the chip. Meanwhile, AMD’s AM4 platform has been a picture of consistency: build the PC, turn it on, and enjoy the show.
If you want the “world’s best gaming processor” right now—that is, a desktop processor that can play any PC game—you should wait and see how the DRM situation on Alder Lake plays out. However, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X remains a budget-friendly, hassle-free alternative that has maintained its gaming position in Windows 10.
In the end, Intel can claim the Core i9-12900K wins for what they are: a strong first showing for their desktop CPUs based on the new 7 Process, albeit with certain restrictions. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X remain somewhat slower but more cost-effective options for multimedia creators: no hoop-jumping required. However, it appears that the competition for desktop CPUs will resume in 2022 and beyond.
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