Intel i9 12900K and i5 12600K Review: The Next Generation


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Intel unveils the 12th Gen Intel Core processor family (Credit: Intel Corporation)
Intel unveils the 12th Gen Intel Core processor family (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Without further delay, we can finally introduce Intel’s newest process node, Intel 7, for mainstream consumers. Intel has had a rocky road transitioning from their 14 nm process and is introducing a CPU with significant changes. The Intel i9-12900K and i5-12600K processors we have here today are part of Intel’s Alder Lake CPU line-up and bring with it some radical changes over its predecessors. These changes and improvements are covered in-depth in our specifications and features section below.

The flagship CPU using the new Intel 7 process node, previously referred to as Intel 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, is a 16-core, 24-thread CPU with a maximum boost speed of 5.2 GHz for the P-Cores and 3.9 GHz for the E-Cores; we’ll elaborate on this later. This time around, the i9-12900K costs about $50.00 more than the 11900K with an MSRP of $589.00 (Preorder at Newegg $649). We have included a list of SKUs with specifications and pricing below as well.

Today we are pitting AMD against Intel, and we’ll see who comes out as a winner in our testing suite. The showdown will include the i9-12900K (16-core @ $589) and the i5-12600K (10-core @ $289) from Intel up against the Ryzen 9 5950X (16-core @ $749) and the Ryzen 7 5800X (8-core @ $394) in an effort to align core count and pricing.

Specifications and Features

Intel’s engineering team has taken a bold approach with Alder Lake combining performance cores and efficient cores into one die designed to take advantage of the benefits both have to offer. Looking at the i9 12900K, we have eight performance cores (P-Cores) that incorporate Intel Hyperthreading technology for a total of 16 threads. These cores can boost up to 5.2 GHz optimized for single and lightly threaded performance. In addition to the P-Cores, the i9 12900K utilizes eight efficient cores (E-Cores) in two 4-core clusters, optimized for highly-threaded workloads with a turbo boost of up to 3.9 GHz. The i5 12600K is a scaled-down version offering six P-Cores with 12 threads boosting to 4.9 GHz and four E-Cores, which boost up to 3.6 GHz. Only the P-Cores have hyperthreading capabilities hence the odd thread count of the CPUs.

 

Intel Alder Lake Improvements
Intel Alder Lake Improvements, Image Courtesy of Intel

Memory Enhancements

Alder Lake introduces a couple of new technologies to the mainstream. On top of the new Intel7 process, we’re also introducing DDR5. The new CPUs can run either DDR4 with officially supported speeds up to 3200 MHz in Gear1 and DDR5 modules up to 4800 MHz in Gear2. The maximum capacity for both is 128 GB in a two DIMM per channel configuration.

With this launch, Intel has updated Intel XMP 3.0 support for DDR5 with expanded capabilities. Intel’s XMP has been around for quite some time, and with it, users were introduced to a one-click memory overclocking profile. These profiles are tested across platforms with Intel’s XMP test to aid with compatibility.

DDR5 also brings with it advancements in memory module voltage control. The new memory standard now incorporates a PMIC (power management IC) into the DIMM. In effect, this moves the VDD, VDDQ, and VPP voltage rails from the motherboard to the memory module.

With Intel XMP 3.0, we now have much more flexibility with up to five XMP profiles stored in the modules. The vendor profiles have increased from two up to three, but the most remarkable part is that we now have access to rewritable, customizable profiles. Profile naming has also improved, allowing up to 16 characters for more descriptive naming. Accessing this programming feature requires memory vendor-specific software support such as iCUE from Corsair.

Intel XMP 3.0 image courtesy of Intel
Intel XMP 3.0, Image Courtesy of Intel

Intel Thread Director

With the Alder Lake series of processors, Intel introduces a hybrid core design with P-Cores and E-Cores, designed for different workloads. Doing so helps maximize performance per Watt, but physical and operating system changes were needed to maximize efficiency. Intel devised the Intel Thread Director and worked closely with Microsoft on Windows 11 to optimize the operating system’s scheduler for Alder Lake CPUs to accommodate thread scheduling.

Intel Thread Director helps to monitor and analyze performance data in real-time to seamlessly place the right application thread on the right core and optimize performance per watt.

Intel Thread Director, Image courtesy of Intel
Intel Thread Director, Image Courtesy of Intel

The OS (Operating System) will send a thread to the P-Cores by default, so one P-Core needs to be active at all times if you choose to disable cores in BIOS. The Intel Thread Director, using an AI-trained model, will then send feedback to the OS. The OS sees the demand and schedules threads to either P-cores or E-cores, depending on the type of load. It prioritizes the throughput, pushing background tasks off onto the E-Cores.

As an example, Gaming and streaming simultaneously. The game itself will run through the performance cores, and the streaming/recording end of things uses the efficient multi-threading cores giving a boost to the in-game FPS (frames per second) compared to the 11900K.

Thread Director Comparison for Gaming Image Courtesy of Intel
Thread Director Comparison for Gaming, Image Courtesy of Intel

Intel Smart Cache

With the new core design in Alder Lake, Intel needed to make some changes to its cache architecture. They allotted 1.25 MB of L2 cache for each P-core and 2.0 MB of L2 cache for each efficient 4-core cluster. Doing the math gives the i9 12900K a total of 14 MB L2 cache and the 12600K a total of 9.5 MB L2 cache between the P-Cores and E-Cores. On top of that, the i9 12900K has 30 MB of L3 Intel Smart Cache. The shared L3 cache size is dependant on the CPU, as we see with the 12700K having 25 MB and the 12600K reduced to 20 MB of L3 cache, a significant increase over previous generations reducing latency by keeping more work close to the CPU cores.

12th Gen Cache Architecture Image courtesy of Intel
12th Gen Cache Architecture, Image Courtesy of Intel

Below is a list of the new Alder Lake unlocked CPUs with specifications and pricing; keep in mind this is MSRP.

Alder Lake CPU Specifications and Pricing Image courtesy of Intel
Alder Lake CPU Specifications and Pricing, Image courtesy of Intel

Z690 and Socket 1700

Now for motherboard support and platform improvements: With Alder Lake CPUs, we also have a new socket, LGA 1700. Meaning, adopting the new platform will require a new LGA 1700 motherboard and compatible cooler as the hole spacing on the motherboards has changed.  Currently, some cooler vendors are offering an upgrade package to accommodate the new socket.  Something to keep in mind if contemplating a system upgrade.

Another first with the Alder Lake launch is PCIe 5.0 (32 GT/s transfer rate) compatibility from the CPU. We end up with a varied mix of PCIe standards between the CPU and the Z690 chipset, including PCIe 4.0 and PCIe 3.0 lanes. We’ll attempt to break this down as clearly as we can.

The new i9 12900K has 20 dedicated PCIe lanes; 16 of these are PCIe 5.0 (32 GT/s) in either an X16 or X8/X8 format. We also have four PCIe 4.0 (16 GT/s) lanes for storage devices. That brings us to the Z690 chipset, and thanks to Intel’s DMI 4.0 x8 link, which has double the transfer capabilities of the DMI 3.0 link, we have an additional 28 PCIe lanes. These lanes are broken down into 12 PCIe 4.0 and 16 PCIe 3.0 enabling massive connectivity on the Alder Lake platform.

Intel Z690 Chipset Layout Image courtesy of Intel
Intel Z690 Chipset Layout, Image Courtesy of Intel

We’ll also see native support for additional USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20 Gbps) through the chipset and Thunderbolt 4 (40 Gbps) for USB connectivity using Intel’s Maple Ridge controller. Thunderbolt 4 doesn’t offer any additional data transfer bandwidth but does improve video output now with resolutions up to 8K, dual 4K monitor support, and improved security with Intel VT-d DMA protection. The platform also comes with integrated Intel Wi-Fi 6E (Gig+), Intel Killer 2.5G, and integrated support for Intel I219-V LAN.

Intel 600 Chipset Image Courtesy of Intel
Intel 600 Chipset, Image Courtesy of Intel

Overclocking Enhancements

With Alder Lake CPUs produced on a smaller node, this changes the thermal characteristics of the die. It packs the same amount of heat but in a smaller area. To help alleviate the heat, Intel redesigned their IHS (Integrated Heatsink) package. As you will see in the image below, as the generations progressed, the dies got thinner; Intel reduced the thickness of their STIM (Solder Thermal Interface Material) on the 12th Gen, leaving more room for a thicker IHS. The added mass of the IHS, in theory, should aid in wicking heat away from the die and transferring it to the cooler.

Thermal Improvements Image Courtesy of Intel
Thermal Improvements, Image Courtesy of Intel

CPU overclocking still maintains many of the same tuning knobs. In addition to the typical ratio settings, we now have separate P-Cores and E-Core settings. We can adjust the multipliers on a per-core basis, disable hyperthreading on a per-core basis, and disable/enable specific cores or E-Core clusters as long as one P-Core remains active. Intel has alluded to leaving headroom for overclocking and that we won’t be disappointed. We’ll see how that goes in our Pushing the Limits section.

Intel is also updating its Xtreme Tuning Utility (XTU) for the 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs, adding additional tuning knobs to accommodate the Hybrid Core structure and DDR5. Intel Dynamic Memory Boost, when enabled in BIOS, will switch between the JEDEC standard and the XMP profiles, almost like a “Turbo mode” for the memory. Ideal for saving as much power as possible when the PC is idle, checking email, or just watching movies. We also see the Intel Speed Optimizer again for an easy one-click overclock that automatically adjusts core ratios and voltages, so you don’t have to.

Intel XTU Ver. 7.5 Image Courtesy of Intel
Intel XTU Ver. 7.5, Image Courtesy of Intel

As always, keep in mind that Intel considers setting XMP to be overclocking.

Turbo Boost and Efficiency

We’re all familiar (or not) with Intel’s collection of turbo boost technologies that accelerate the CPU frequency depending on factors such as power use and temperature. With Alder Lake, they have trimmed down the various names and have left us with two. ABT (Adaptive Boost Technology), first introduced on the 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs, is gone, and so is Turbo Boost 2.0. We now have Turbo Boost Max, an all-core boost for the P-Cores and E-Cores, although they run different speeds. Then we have Turbo Boost Max 3.0 for lightly threaded loads, optimizing performance by sending work to your fastest cores. This technology is only used on the P-Cores and is not available on all Alder Lake CPUs.

We still have two different power levels for the operating window of the CPU. PL1 (Power Level 1) is the processor’s base power or default and remains 125 W for continual operation. PL2 is the maximum turbo power which varies by CPU. PL2 is 241 W for the 12900K, 190 W for the 12700K, and 150 W for the 12600K. Keep in mind that many motherboard vendors default to PL1 = PL2, so the processor runs at maximum turbo out of the box.

Performance vs. efficiency is the bar that has guided new tech for generations. This concept is what drove Intel to design a hybrid CPU. Ideally, it should deliver the best of both worlds—outstanding single-threaded performance as well as improved multi-threaded performance. According to Intel’s internal testing, one cluster of four E-Cores occupies the same area on the die as one P-Core but delivers 1.6x the performance in multi-threaded workloads. Comparing the whole 12900K package to the 11900K Rocket Lake, Intel claims a 50% performance gain at 241 W and on par performance at 65W for multi-threaded workloads. In other words, the same performance but using 1/4 the power, if true, is quite impressive.

Hybrid Power Comparison Image Courtesy of Intel
Hybrid Power Comparison, Image Courtesy of Intel

 

Intel has also incorporated the new Enhanced Intel Xe graphics into the Alder Lake CPUs, namely, the Intel UHD Graphics 770.  The new iGPU has 32 execution units with high-efficiency dual encoders, supports up to a single 8K HDR or four 4K HDR displays simultaneously. It also has support for Display Port 1.4a and HDMI 2.0b connectivity. The specifications are listed as Intel UHD Graphics 770 and are only available in the Alder Lake CPUs. We cannot compare performance with the UHD 750 graphics but will update in the future.

Meet the i9-12900K and i5-12600K

Here’s a slideshow of the sample packaging, which differs from retail, some close-ups of the CPUs’ top and bottom, plus a comparison of the i9-12900K and the i9-11900K.  Overall you can see the shape has changed from a square to a rectangle shape. Pad orientation is entirely different with a significant addition, and the pads themselves are quite a bit smaller. You’ll also notice a change to the IHS in shape and size.

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Meet the i9-12900K and i5-12600K

Before things get started, below are images of the 12900K and 12600K in CPU-Z at their stock settings with XMP enabled.

CPUz Screen Shot of I9 12900K
CPUz Screen Shot of I9 12900K

CPUz Screen Shot of I9 12600K
CPUz Screen Shot of I9 12600K

Here’s a slideshow of the sample packaging, which differs from retail, some close-ups of the CPUs’ top and bottom, plus a comparison of the i9-12900K and the i9-11900K.  Overall you can see the shape has changed from a square to a rectangle shape. Pad orientation is entirely different with a large addition, and the pads themselves are quite a bit smaller. You’ll also notice a significant change in the IHS, which is now thicker, but the CPU package’s overall height is a bit shorter. This is why you see LGA1700 mounting kits as some mounting methods cannot apply the required pressure. So just because you can get your LGA1200 cooler to fit, it may not be optimal.

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Special Thanks

At this point, we would like to thank MSI, ASUS, and Corsair for providing hardware to facilitate our testing.

Starting with the motherboard, MSI sent us their Pro Z690 A. The Pro series aren’t gaming-centric motherboards and, as such, lack some of the flair and onboard RGB. What they do offer is stable functionality, high quality, less troubleshooting, and longevity. This dependability and reasonable pricing ($230 @ Newegg) make the Pro series one of MSI’s most popular motherboards.

MSI Pro Z690-A Image Courtesy of MSI
MSI Pro Z690-A Image Courtesy of MSI

Now for some highlights of the Pro Z690-A DDR5:

  • 14+1+1 power design with 55A power stages
  • Supports DDR5 Memory, up to 6400+(OC) MHz
  • 6-layer PCB made by 2oz thickened copper and server-grade material
  • Extended Heatsink Design, MOSFET thermal pads rated for 7W/mk
  • M.2 Shield Frozr and Steel armor PCI-E slot

For more details, you can check MSI’s website.

Next up is Corsair for providing a set of Vengeance 2 x 32 GB DDR5 4400 Cl 36. The Corsair Vengeance is made with hand-picked tightly screened memory ICs, solid aluminum heatsinks, and high-performance PCBs. This set uses Micron IC in a dual-rank format. At the moment, we could only find this memory on Corsair’s website for $615.

Vengeance DDR5 4400 MHz Image Courtesy of Corsair
Vengeance DDR5 4400 MHz Image Courtesy of Corsair

We ended up with two LGA 1700 cooling solutions to try out, the ASUS ROG Ryujin II 360 AIO and the MSI MAG Coreliquid C280 AIO.

The ROG Ryujin II 360 is quite an outfit. It comes with a customizable 3.5″ color LCD screen over the Asetek 7th generation pump. The LCD screen practically covers the entire mounting mechanism but does come off easily as it is affixed using magnets (I wish that were mentioned in the manual). It comes with a round copper CPU block, and the paste is pre-applied sleeved rubber tubing and an aluminum radiator. The fans included with the Ryujin II are Noctua’s PWM NF-F12 InductrialPPC 2000, and we also get a ROG fan controller. The software for the Ryujin II, Live Dash, comes bundled with ASUS’s Armoury Crate and isn’t available as a stand-alone download. All this goodness does come with a significant price tag of $310 @ Newegg.

ROG Ryujin II 360 Image Courtesy of ASUS
ROG Ryujin II 360 Image Courtesy of ASUS

The MSI MAG Coreliquid C280 makes a statement with ARGB fans and on top of the CPU water block. If you want a light show, this is it. It’s nice to see an AIO based on Asetek’s design with the pump and block as one unit. MSI has put the pump in the radiator instead, saying that it reduces the noise levels and keeps the pump cooler for longer life. The radiator itself uses evaporation proof” tubing made from aluminum. There are two 140 mm MSI ARGB fans included. We also have a copper CPU block on the MAG Coreliquid, but this one is square more like a CPU. MSI’s Mystic Light software controls the pump and fans connected to the motherboard. The Mag Coreliquid C280 is available at Newegg for $140.

MAG Coreliquid C280 AIO Image Courtesy of MSI
MAG Coreliquid C280 AIO Image Courtesy of MSI

Test Setup and Results

Here we take a slightly different approach to CPU testing with ours based on many Hwbot.org benchmarks since that is what we are known for, overclocking and benchmarking. We use real-world testing as well with Cinebench, Blender, Corona, and 7Zip to give readers a good idea of the general performance of the product tested.

12th Gen Intel Test System

Test System Components
Motherboard MSI Pro Z690-A
CPU Intel Core i9-12900K, Intel Core i5 12600K (stock)
CPU Cooler ASUS ROG Ryujin II, MSI MAG Coreliquid C280
Memory 2×32 GB Corsair Vengeance 4400 MHz CL36-36-36-71
SSD Gigabyte Aorus 2 TB NVMe Gen4 (OS + Applications)
Power Supply EVGA 750 W G3
Video Card MSI RX 6900 XT Gaming X Trio

11th Gen Intel Test System

Test System Components
Motherboard ASUS ROG Maximus XIII Hero
CPU Intel Core i9-11900K (stock)
CPU Cooler EK Predator 360 QDC
Memory 2×8 GB G.Skill Royal 3600 MHz CL16-16-16-36
SSD Gigabyte Aorus 2 TB NVMe Gen4 (OS + Applications)
Power Supply EVGA 750 W G3
Video Card MSI RX 6900 XT Gaming X Trio

AMD Ryzen Test System

Test System Components
Motherboard ASUS ROG Crosshair VIII Hero Wi-Fi
CPU Ryzen 9 5950X, Ryzen 7 5800X (stock)
CPU Cooler EK Predator 360 QDC
Memory 2×8 GB G.Skill Royal 3600 MHz CL16-16-16-36
SSD Gigabyte Aorus 2 TB NVMe Gen4 (OS + Applications)
Power Supply EVGA 750 W G3
Video Card MSI RX 6900 XT Gaming X Trio

 

Intel i9-12900K and i5-12600K Performance Testing

CPU Tests

  • AIDA64 Engineer CPU, FPU, and Memory Tests
  • Cinebench R20 and R23
  • Corona Benchmark
  • Blender Benchmark, Fishy Cat scene
  • SuperPi 1M/32M
  • WPrime 32M/1024M
  • 7Zip

All CPU tests were run at their default settings unless otherwise noted.

Gaming Tests

We have updated our gaming tests and dropped them down to four games for CPU reviews. In many cases, even at 1440p, the difference between CPUs isn’t that much, and the titles we use cover both CPU-heavy and GPU-bound titles. All game tests were run at 1920×1080 and 1440×2560 with all CPUs at default settings unless otherwise noted. Please see our testing procedures for details on in-game settings.

  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider – DX12, “Highest” preset
  • Far Cry 6 – DX12, Ultra preset, VSync Off
  • F1 2021 – DX12, Very High defaults, TAA, and x16 AF, Bahrain track, show FPS counter
  • Metro: Exodus – DX12, Ultra defaults
  • UL 3DMark Fire Strike (Extreme) – Default settings

AIDA64 CPU, FPU, and Memory Tests

Included below are a couple of shots of the AIDA64 cache and memory benchmark results for both the i9-12900K and i5-12600K. As you can see, the number of cores seems to slightly impact memory bandwidth, with the 12900K taking the lead over the 12600K. The new Alder Lake CPUs using DDR5 dramatically improve the memory bandwidth, although the latency takes a hit compared to the other CPUs.

i9 12900K Aida Cache Benchmark
i9 12900K Aida64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
i5 12600K Aida64 Cache Benchmark
i5 12600K Aida64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
Aida64 Memory Test Results
Aida64 Memory Test Results
AIDA64 Cache and Memory Benchmark
CPU Read Write Copy Latency
Intel i9-12900K 69231 66523 68384 82.6
Intel i5-12600K 65766 65782 66048 85.8
Ryzen 9 5950X 54185 53143 47786 60.7
Intel i9-11900K 54517 53041 53388 56.8
Ryzen 7 5800X 50844 28787 45628 58.8

In the AIDA64 CPU tests, we can see that the AMD CPUs take the lead over their Alder Lake rivals in most tests. The Intel i9-11900K does hold its own through most of the testing, even though it has fewer cores than the 12900K. The PhotoWorx test, always a blue team favorite, is Intel all the way, with the new CPUs doubling the AMD scores.

Aida64 CPU Test Results
Aida64 CPU Test Results
AIDA64 CPU Tests
CPU Queen PhotoWorx Zlib AES SHA3
Intel i9-12900K 111826 45415 1592.8 140545 5130
Intel i5-12600K 84046 44932 974 84867 3261
Ryzen 9 5950X 162513 21345 1703.1 266081 6488
Intel i9-11900K 104466 31117 944 163039 5233
Ryzen 7 5800X 112640 20431 941.4 150245 3877

Moving on to the AIDA64 FPU tests, the Ryzen CPUs put on a show leading every test across the board by significant margins.

Aida64 FPU Test Results
Aida64 FPU Test Results
AIDA64 FPU Tests
CPU Julia Mandel SinJulia FP64-RT
Intel i9-12900K 59196 38734 14604 8258
Intel i5-12600K 36717 23772 9394 5051
Ryzen 9 5950X 190157 104103 26243 15656
Intel i9-11900K 67235 41473 11204 9248
Ryzen 7 5800X 111109 60826 13558 9833

Real-World Tests

The race heats up when moving on to real-world testing. In our Cinebench tests, the new i9 12900K and i5 12600K leverage their hybrid design beating the Ryzen 5950X and 5800X, respectively. For the last few years, Cinebench has been AMD’s strength, but it appears that the crown has changed hands. Moving on to Corona 1.3 and 7Zip, AMD once again pulls ahead of the Alder Lake CPUs.

Real World Test Results
Real-World Test Results
Cinebench R20/R23, Corona, 7Zip – Raw Data
CPU R20 R23 Corona 7Zip
Intel i9-12900K 10473 27443 8704170 126851
Intel i5-12600K 6662 17480 5420830 85058
Ryzen 9 5950X 10157 26189 10414500 147523
Intel i9-11900K 6016 15143 5480870 83985
Ryzen 7 5800X 6039 15565 5663130 95090

Pi and Prime-Based Tests

Next up are the Pi and Prime number-based tests. SuperPi has always been an Intel favorite, but even with the improved IPC of Alder Lake, it was a close race between them and the Ryzen CPUs. SuperPi is a very memory-sensitive benchmark, and the high latency of the DDR5 memory we used appears to have reared its head here, giving the 11900K an opening to take the lead. Wprime, on the other hand, loves cores and threads. The short 32M test results are pretty close across the board, but the longer 1024M test spit out some strange results. It appears the test or Windows didn’t know how to handle the Gracemont, E-Core clusters, and the consequences suffered. We found that disabling the E-Cores altogether would cut the time in half, so take these results with a grain of salt. Moving on to the Blender benchmark, another rendering test, the Ryzen CPUs once again edged out their Alder lake rivals.

Pi and Prime Based Test Results
Pi and Prime Based Test Results
SuperPi and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data  
CPU SuperPi 1M SuperPi 32M wPrime 32M wPrime 1024M Blender
Intel i9-12900K 6.968 367.663 2.187 148.125 128
Intel i5-12600K 7.348 389.378 2.748 118.185 206
Ryzen 9 5950X 7.199 359.498 2.236 35.57 118
Intel i9-11900K 6.265 334.478 2.604 67.441 228
Ryzen 7 5800X 7.635 386.285 2.485 62.872 203

Below is a picture of WPrime 1024M with the E-Cores disabled, note the result is less than half the time we had with the E-Cores enabled.

Wprime Results with E-Cores Disabled
i9 12900K Wprime Results with E-Cores Disabled

Gaming Results

We’ll let the gaming results speak for themselves. In the 1080p tests, the i9 12900K leads the pack in all but F1 2021. In Shadow of the Tomb Raider that lead stretched to nearly 10% or 20 FPS. Moving up to 1440p, we see that the CPU has much less to do with the FPS and the GPU takes most of the load, leaving the results reasonably even.

1080p Gaming Results
1080p Gaming Results
1440p Gaming Results
1440p Gaming Results

Next up, we have 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme, a DX11-based test that UL says the graphics are rendered with detail and complexity far beyond other DX11 benchmarks and games using 2560×1440 resolution. As you can see below, the overall and graphics scores were fairly close to one another, but the physics results show a spread. This test is strictly CPU-dependent, and typically thread count is the most significant factor. What’s interesting is that Intel’s hybrid design shines here. The i9 12900K with 24 threads bested AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X even though it has eight more threads.

3DMark Fire Strike Extreme Results
3DMark Fire Strike Extreme Results

IPC Testing

With Alder Lake, Intel claims up to a 19% improvement in IPC (instruction per clock) during specific workloads. We have our own range of tests to compare IPC across generations and platforms, which we feel has a real-world approach comprised of commonly used software. All CPUs are set to the same clock speed of 4.0 GHz and performed on one thread without any hyper-threading for these tests.

As we can see below, compared to previous generations, Alder Lake offers 23% IPC gains in both of the Cinebench benchmarks and a 16% gain compared to the AMD 5950X. The WPrime and 7Zip tests weren’t quite as favorable for the 12900K, and it lost ground to AMD as well as its predecessors.

IPC Testing Results
IPC Testing Results

Power Consumption and Temperatures

Intel uses a set of variables called Power levels: PL1 (processor base power), PL2 (maximum turbo power). PL1 has a power limit; in this case, 125 W, for both the i9 12900K and i5 12600K. PL2 is the maximum sustainable power the CPU can handle until thermal issues occur. Intel has set the value of PL2 to 241 W for the i9 12900K and 150 W for the i5 12600K. This time around, Intel has set PL1=PL2 as default, so the CPUs will run at full power until thermal issues occur. At that point, the CPU will throttle its speed to stay at 100°C or below.

Power Levels at Stock and Overclocked
Power Levels at Stock and Overclocked
Temperatures at Stock and Overclocked
Temperatures at Stock and Overclocked

For testing, we used the ASUS ROG Ryujin II 360 AIO to cool the i9 12900K and the MSI MAG Coreliquid C280 AIO when testing the i5 12600K. We then subjected the CPUs to the AIDA64 stability test, Corona benchmark, and Blender benchmark’s Fishy Cat scene with the CPUs running stock. We then repeated the tests with our overclocked settings for comparison.

One thing that stands out here is the overclocked results for the i9 12900K. In both power use and temperature, the overclocked results were lower. We found that the voltage settings for the CPU were relatively high at stock, in the 1.35 V – 1.4 V range. This caused throttling in our Blender benchmark test and 410 W system power consumption. After a bit of testing, we found the 12900K would run stable at stock in the 1.2 V range. As you’ll see below in our overclocking section, we could overclock the 12900k with a lower voltage than it was using in stock configuration. As a result, Blender ran fine without throttling with a maximum temperature of 93°C and 380 W.

The i5 12600K, on the other hand, ran well at stock and the MSI MAG C280 AIO was easily able to keep it cool, reaching a maximum temperature of 71°C in the Blender benchmark. Once our overclock was applied, the power consumption went up from 209 W to 280 W with a maximum temperature of 96°C.

Overclocking the i9-11900K and i5-11600K

Overclocking the new Alder Lake CPUs is slightly different than it has been in the past. The new hybrid CPU design uses a mix of Golden Cove performance cores and Gracemont efficiency cores. This adds another level to overclocking using a multi-step approach. First, we overclocked the P-Cores to 5.1 GHz with 1.25 V through a bit of trial and error, adjusting voltage and speed to find that balance between voltage, speed, temperature, and stability. Then we moved on to the E-Cores adding another 400 MHz to their base speed. We also bumped the memory speed up to 5000 MHz from 4400 Mhz and added 400 MHz to the Ring speed. As you can see in the Fire Strike Extreme result below, we had significant gains in the physics test of 2500 points and nearly 2000 points to our Cinebench R23 score.

The i5-11600K was relatively easy to overclock but didn’t manage to reach the same speed on the P-Cores ending at 5.0 GHz with 1.3 V. We managed the same 4.0 GHz E-Core speed 5000 MHz memory speed leaving the ring speed untouched this time. These settings pushed us up to 96°C in the Blender benchmark test maxing out the cooling abilities of the MSI MAG Coreliqid AIO we were using. The results were quite favorable, giving us nearly 4000 points more in the Fire Strike Extreme physics test as well as a 2000 point increase in our Cinebench R23 results.

i9 12900K Overclocking Results
i9 12900K Overclocking Results

i5 12600K Overclocking Results
i5 12600K Overclocking Results

Conclusion

The Alder Lake CPU is something completely new from Intel and brings some new tech to the table. The hybrid design has paid off, delivering outstanding multi-threaded performance as seen in the Cinebench benchmarks and the 3DMark physics tests. We also see a nice boost to the single/lightly-threaded results, as demonstrated by our gaming tests. Intel’s Golden Cove architecture has also delivered a much-needed IPC gain over previous generations, and they have finally taken the crown back from AMD in Cinebench.

With Alder Lake and Z690, we’re also introduced to DDR5, the next step in RAM technology. At this time, DDR5 is still in its infancy and will continue to improve performance-wise. The kit we tested at 4400 MHz isn’t any faster than highly binned DDR4 kits, but they take a hit with much higher latency. That is one plus with the Z690 platform. When choosing a motherboard, you can still opt for DDR4 and save a bit of money. Currently, the DDR5 prices are still high, and the platform would benefit from 6000 MHz plus kits that aren’t widely available at the moment.

Intel is also ahead of the game with this platform by introducing PCIe Gen 5.0. The new PCI express standard effectively doubles the bandwidth, gigatransfer, and frequency rates over PCIe 4.0 for substantially faster data transfer rates. Since there aren’t any PCIe 5.0 devices available at the time of this writing, we cannot test. However, Z690 is ready.

Looking at the i9-12900K from a performance per dollar position gets tougher with today’s retail situation. With an MSRP of $589.00 but listing at $714 on Newegg plus the need for a premium cooling solution soon puts this CPU’s cost close to the $900 range. If we compare that to the Ryzen 7 5950X ($719.00 on Newegg), upgrading a current AMD system would be more cost-effective. There’s a much better case for choosing the i9 12900K when starting from scratch.

Moving down the product stack to the i5 12600K, we find a much better value in a gaming CPU for those who don’t need all the cores and threads of the 12900K workhorse. With a retail price of $369.00, $80 over MSRP, it’s about $10 more than the Ryzen 7 5800X, so this one is a close call. Gaming results and performance, in general, are similar, but 12600k is slightly faster in most cases.

In the end, the Alder Lake CPUs have managed to shift the tide back to the “Blue Team” in terms of performance. They also bring with them a new architecture with new features and a much-needed IPC improvement. With the addition of DDR5, Intel is blazing the way for future platforms. Although the platform needs to mature (as all do), they’re off to an excellent start.

Click to find out what this means

Shawn Jennings – Johan45

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Voodoo Rufus

Powder Junkie Moderator

6,501 messages 2 likes

This is more of a preview than a review, in all honesty.

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Johan45

Benching Team Leader Super Moderator

18,193 messages 7 likes

This is more of a preview than a review, in all honesty.

I fully intended on having a review up for release but....
The last few launches Intel would send CPUs and mobos etc.. all you need to run and test. This time there was no heads up and all we received were the CPUs. Long story short I should have performance data up in a week or so still don't have a motherboard in hand.

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Voodoo Rufus

Powder Junkie Moderator

6,501 messages 2 likes

Yeah, figured there was a mobo or ram complication. I just feel robbed getting to the bottom of the article and not seeing numbers.

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Johan45

Benching Team Leader Super Moderator

18,193 messages 7 likes

That makes two of us

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EarthDog

Gulper Nozzle Co-Owner

72,661 messages 103 likes

Results have been posted. We appreciate your patience. :)

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Voodoo Rufus

Powder Junkie Moderator

6,501 messages 2 likes

Yeah, that's more like it!

Nice to know the OEM thermals have improved, but it would be tempting to save the money, get the 12600K, and OC the snot out of it with the additional power headroom.

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