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Intel Core i9-12900K Review | PCMag

“Alder Lake,” Intel’s household of twelfth Generation processors, has arrived—and with it, a brand new CPU paradigm. Intel’s Core i9-12900K desktop CPU ($589) leads the pack of the corporate’s twelfth Generation processors, and brings with it a complete host of upgrades and improvements to the desktops of now and tomorrow. These tick-ups embody help for the brand new, high-speed DDR5 RAM customary, in addition to an improve to PCI Express 5.0, on the primary new motherboard platform to help the most recent chips, the Intel Z690. Intel additionally labored intently with Microsoft to optimize the brand new CPUs for Windows 11, including new scheduling options that intelligently load up the Core i9-12900K relying on which cores are getting used the place, and for what.

Alder Lake and the Core i9-12900K certainly impress, however our relationship with the CPU…is sophisticated. For all of the outright wins we noticed in our benchmarks (and there have been many), the added value of upgrading to but one other new motherboard platform will not outweigh the win percentages for a lot of consumers. Intel’s older-yet-still-reliable “Comet Lake” Core i9-10900K saved itself within the race throughout a number of benchmarks, whereas the eight-core, fairly cheaper AMD Ryzen 7 5800X ($449 listing worth, however at present snipe-discounted to $386 on Amazon and Newegg) proves itself a worthy contender on performance-versus-price in PC gaming.

The excessive value of a brand new Z690 motherboard (the most affordable are just below $200, per our Z690 motherboard information) and DDR5 adoption, together with Intel’s insistence on upgrading your system to Windows 11, are all front-facing issues for anybody who’s contemplating twelfth Generation Core as their subsequent huge desktop improve. That—and a not-insignificant downside by which our take a look at platform, and several other prebuilt Alder Lake PCs, couldn’t launch sure standard video games that use particular DRM—mood Alder Lake with a little bit of wait-and-see warning. Our preliminary Alder Lake takeaway is “Intel’s on the upswing, with some caveats.” But learn extra about our findings under.


The Alder Lake Basics: A Whole Lotta ‘New’

Leveraging Intel’s so-called “7 Process,” the corporate’s launch of its new twelfth Generation desktop CPUs sees the brand new chips constructed on 10nm lithography, lastly breaking the corporate out of its half-decade love/hate affair with the 14nm course of and its subsequent “14nm+”-based iterations that adopted for years after. (Read extra in-depth about how Intel defines its “7 Process” at ExtremeTech.)

Intel Core i9-12900K box


(Photo: Chris Stobing)

This is the primary time Intel has moved one in every of its desktop client chip stacks utterly past a type of the 14nm course of in simply over 5 years. AMD, by way of its manufacturing partnership with TSMC, has seen the Austin chip maker producing its wafers on 7nm lithography for almost three years now, whereas Intel is simply sidling as much as 10nm. Is {that a} signal for what we should always anticipate to see in benchmarks? Not if Intel’s new bag of methods has something to say about it…

Intel multi-core architecture

Intel Bets Big on huge.LITTLE

Though this may usually be the a part of the evaluation the place we dive straight into spec comparisons, let’s take a fast sidebar first to study a bit extra a couple of “huge.LITTLE” chip design: What is it, what does it imply for desktop processors, and do they actually need it?

Intel performance hybrid architecture

In an enormous.LITTLE strategy, a chip design stacks a set of cores centered on peak efficiency alongside cores centered extra on effectivity and energy administration, each on the identical die. That philosophy is nothing new; smartphone processors have been using variations of an enormous.LITTLE structure for years as an effectivity measure. It’s additionally not technically new for Intel, both—the corporate first launched an x86 processor primarily based on an enormous.LITTLE design again in 2020, often known as “Lakefield.” The Lakefield silicon made it into just a few scattered laptops and mobile-device experiments, just like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. But it set the tempo for Intel’s huge announcement this yr: Intel Performance Hybrid Architecture.

Intel is touting Performance Hybrid Architecture as the corporate’s “greatest architectural shift in a decade.” In the expertise’s Alder Lake debut, the Core i9-12900K (together with the remainder of the chips introduced to date within the twelfth Generation desktop stack) will every include two units of heterogenous cores, as an alternative of the monolithic core design we have seen in generations previous. The core varieties are “P-cores” (“P” being quick for “efficiency”) and “E-cores” (with the “E” for “environment friendly”). The P-cores will likely be constructed on Intel’s “Golden Cove” microarchitecture, whereas the E-cores are primarily based on “Gracemont.”

This will assist to elucidate the core/thread disparity that you will see within the specs under, as solely the P-cores will likely be Hyper-Threaded this time round (that’s, supporting two processing threads per P-core), whereas E-cores will help only one thread per core.

Performance hybrid benchmarks

These P-cores and E-cores swap off numerous tasks below typical system utilization, relying on the duty at hand. P-cores, for instance, are higher for hitting peak efficiency throughout demanding duties akin to gaming, whereas the E-cores are higher suited to choosing up requests from background duties that are not as delicate to decrease latency speeds. Also, if there is a process that wants a number of throughput without delay (suppose multi-core rendering, and the like), the load may be balanced between each P-cores and E-cores, nonetheless the working system’s scheduler sees match.

That scheduler, then, is a key participant, particularly when the CPU’s assets are a lot in demand. (And that demand is the purpose of shopping for any high-end CPU!) So, talking of schedulers…meet Windows Thread Director, the ostensible Spielberg of the entire scheme.

Windows Thread Director

While Intel’s strategy to huge.LITTLE could also be previous hat for smartphones and cellular gadgets, there’s a number of “new” on faucet right here for the laptop computer and desktop scene. To compensate for that newness, Intel has labored intently with Microsoft this time round, joint-developing a brand new scheduler for Windows 11, Intel Thread Director.

Think of the scheduler as a site visitors cop for Windows 11 (or any fashionable OS, for that matter): It tells bits of applications the place they need to every run on a processor, primarily based on quite a lot of elements. That contains thermal/cooling capability, accessible energy draw, efficiency peaks, and process/thread precedence. This course of is comparatively simple on conventional desktop-processor designs, and it really works the identical, in precept, on Windows 10 because it has in earlier variations.

Windows 11 OS scheduler

With the introduction of hybrid structure to the desktop market, nonetheless, Intel needed to get inventive. On a chip the place the cores aren’t homogenous, and not using a little additional assist, Windows will not know which cores it may well ship applications to most optimally. Enter Thread Director.

Thread Director is knowledgeable by a brand new microcontroller on the CPU itself, which can feed Windows 11 extra detailed {hardware} telemetry concerning the present standing of the chip and its cores, versus older releases in Intel’s desktop line. Information that was beforehand left a thriller to Windows—suppose features like thermals, energy settings, and which threads can take extra directions—is now communicated to the scheduler in microseconds, leaving nearly no affect and (in principle) including appreciable efficiency positive aspects, relying on the workflow and the assorted sorts of overhead that may be leveraged.

Thread Director

All of that is obligatory, as a result of as you may see in our benchmarking outcomes under, Windows 10 may be worse at scheduling a twelfth Gen desktop CPU than Windows 11 is. This is generally as a consequence of Windows 10 not understanding what it is when it sees an E-core, considering that it is only a low-performance core that does not have the identical energy spectrum on faucet because the P-cores. As such, it may well schedule the E-cores “incorrectly,” because it have been (although that is an over-simplification), as a consequence of its restricted data. Meanwhile, the added information being despatched from Thread Director to the Windows 11 scheduler is all included into the combination, which ought to, once more in principle, add as much as elevated efficiency in that particular OS.

Intel even supplied a number of customized “workflow” benchmarks to its reviewer pool this time, designed to simulate these situations the place the affect of its hybrid-architecture strategy (and Thread Director’s impact) could be most obvious.

Intel workflow benchmarks

We ran the Photoshop and Premiere Pro variations of those benchmarks, which confirmed some spectacular outcomes that should not be shoved apart as mere advertising hoopla. (More on that in a minute.)

New Day, New Power Definitions

Last up, earlier than we soar into the spec desk, Intel has as soon as once more reclassified our identified definitions of processor energy draw. The firm says it is now transferring past the acquainted Thermal Design Power ranking (typically expressed as “TDP” in watts), to its latest nomenclature, “Base Power” and “Maximum Turbo Power.”

Intel Base and Turbo power

In follow, issues will not change all that a lot for customers. Both twelfth Gen and eleventh Gen (“Rocket Lake”) chips on the Core i9 tier will retain their 125-watt Base Power ranking on the again of the bundle. Rather, Base Power and Maximum Turbo Power are getting used as a extra correct measurement of what sort of spectrum customers can anticipate throughout each base and enhance frequency peak utilization, with the Core i9-12900K being rated at “125-watt Base Power, 241-watt Turbo Power.”


Specs and Comparisons: Intel Core i9-12900K

With that bomber-load of backgrounder out of the best way, let’s soar right into a take a look at the complete Alder Lake stack, with the Core i9-12900K on the prime…

First up, the plain: Intel has chopped down the listing of twelfth Gen processors accessible at launch significantly from the 14 choices rolled out for early 2021’s eleventh Gen/Rocket Lake debut, down to only six “Okay” and “KF” variations. (The KF chips lack built-in graphics.) These chips are all premium ones which can be unlocked for overclocking, so it is tweakers and efficiency fanatics just for now, so far as Intel is anxious. (The premium Z690 motherboards occurring sale for the preliminary Alder Lake launch replicate that focus.)

That restricted preliminary choice of chips can also be priced rather more aggressively (this time, in opposition to AMD’s present stack of Ryzen 5000 processors) than we have seen in years previous. While pecking away at AMD’s MSRPs with beneficial promoting costs which can be $10 decrease is actually nothing new (that is been part of Intel’s playbook for years), that is the primary time shortly that the corporate’s top-end providing, on this case the $589 Core i9-12900K, truly presents a higher cost-per-core ratio than its aisle-adjacent competitor, the $749-MSRP Ryzen 9 5950X. Closer in worth, although, is the Ryzen 9 5900X…

The Core i9-12900K will characteristic eight P-cores and eight E-cores for a complete core rely of 16, and a most thread rely of 24. Compare that to the Ryzen 9 5950X’s 32 complete threads, which might assist to elucidate that $140 worth disparity between the 2 within the eyes of Intel’s advertising and pricing analysts. The Intel Core i9-12900K comes with the corporate’s new Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 silicon, although “new” is a bit beneficiant, as the one modifications from UHD Graphics 750 are a barely lowered base clock velocity (300MHz, from 350MHz), and an elevated most dynamic frequency (as much as 1.55GHz, from 1GHz).

Though we did not run any benchmarks on the built-in graphics processor (IGP) of the Core i9-11900K (partly due to time constraints, however primarily as a result of few patrons will store for this chip and not pair it with a graphics card), we advocate hopping over to our evaluation of the Core i5-12600K to see simply how a lot of an enchancment players can anticipate. For these on the lookout for an IGP that may simply drive a show, although, the Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 resolution will help 4 4K (as much as 4,096-by-2,303-pixel) shows, at as much as 60Hz.

We’ll talk about the implications of the Core i5-12600K and Core i7-12700K’s particular person worth factors in our opinions of these chips. However, general, one can take a look at this newest stack of Intel processors and really feel good that, for the primary time in a very long time, Intel is pricing its chips in opposition to the competitors aggressively, in a means that does not skew the dialog in AMD’s favor straightaway as a matter of primary math.


LGA 1700 and Z690: New Socket, New Platform

Anyone liable to whiplash might wish to skip this part, as a result of sure, Intel has swapped sockets…once more! The final hurrah for LGA 1200 was in March 2021 (simply six months in the past) with Rocket Lake’s launch (it got here in with the earlier tenth Generation Comet Lake chips), and now right here we’re with LGA 1700 at the moment. However, in contrast to with LGA 1200 and its latter-day Z590 motherboards, which have been extensively (and precisely) thought to be a dead-end platform, Intel sounds extra decided to maintain LGA 1700 round for a bit this time.

Launching on only one chipset platform this time round—Z690—with rumors of extra to return on cheaper chipsets subsequent yr, Intel is pinning its hopes on the concept that top-end overclocking-happy players who purchase at this stage of the stack (Core i5 and above) will likely be keen to spend not less than $180 to get themselves onto twelfth Gen. (At time of publication, this was the most affordable Z690 mannequin we might discover, an Asrock Phantom Gaming 4 mannequin.) But what precisely do players get with all that new package?

Intel LGA 1700


(Photo: Michael Sexton)

Let’s begin with the promoting factors on the packaging: Support for PCIe 5.0, DDR5 reminiscence as much as 4,800MHz (5,200MHz with overclocking utilized, and a few boards going a lot increased), an improve to Intel’s new XMP 3.0 reminiscence overclocking profiles, WiFi 6E, and help for what Intel is looking its “Dynamic Memory Boost Technology.” Also, an added DMI 4.0 x8 hyperlink will double Z690’s efficient PCI Express bandwidth, enabling two PCIe 4.0 drives to run at peak throughput with out velocity degradation.

Intel Z690 chipset

If you wish to learn a deeper dive on all of the enhancements that Z690 may have on provide for early adopters, try our full article breaking down all the pieces you have to know.

So, right here we’re. After years of benchmarking and pricing defeats to upstart AMD Ryzen silicon within the desktop processor area, Intel is again with a complete new platform, a brand new lithography, new DDR5 reminiscence, and Intel Thread Director on the prepared. With all these instruments on its belt, will the corporate lastly be capable to flip the tables on AMD? Let’s dig into the outcomes to seek out out…


Testing the Core i9-12900K: Thread Director Just Might Deserve an Oscar

We examined the Core i9-12900K on an MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi motherboard, with 32GB of Corsair Dominator reminiscence clocked to 4,800MHz, and a 4TB Sabrent Rocket This autumn PCI Express 4.0 boot SSD that additionally functioned as our recreation drive.

All this was packed in Corsair’s iCue 7000D Airflow chassis, fitted with a Corsair iCue H150i Elite Capellix 360mm liquid cooler, and a Corsair 1,000-watt RM1000X energy provide. For our gaming exams, we used an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, at Founders Edition clocks, as we’ve on all latest mainstream and high-end CPU opinions.

We take a look at CPUs utilizing quite a lot of artificial benchmarks that supply proprietary scores, in addition to real-world exams utilizing client apps akin to 7-Zip, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere (the latter two utilizing Puget Systems‘ PugetBench for Photoshop and Premiere extensions), multiplayer video games like Rainbow Six: Siege, and AAA 3D video games akin to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

CPU-Centric Tests

First up, CPU exams. We ran the assorted CPUs under (together with the Alder Lake chips) below Windows 10, on applicable testbeds constructed contemporary for this technology of CPUs. (We additionally reran among the exams on the Core i9-12900K below Windows 11 to get Thread Director into the combination.) 

One word right here: Since Intel has the platform handicap with the arrival of Z690 and its included accoutrement of speedier options than AMD, we examined our AMD Ryzen 9 5950X on the most-tricked-out liquid-cooled system we had readily available, the Maingear Turbo (2021). While graphics exams will not be instantly comparable (the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3090 are a couple of proportion factors aside in most video games), the productiveness exams of the Maingear, mixed with its overkill liquid cooling, ought to convey a bit extra parity between AMD’s 16-core chip and Intel’s new Core i9 16-core providing.

Now, there is a sight for sore eyes!

To repeat: Most of those outcomes have been collected on Windows 10 in an effort to preserve issues as whilst doable to earlier Intel CPU testing, in addition to throughout the aisle to AMD. This shouldn’t be, maybe, a perfect matchup for Intel’s Alder Lake, after all. Without Thread Director in play, in Windows 10, the twelfth Generation Core i9-12900K can solely submit outcomes which can be both barely forward of AMD’s 16-core 5950X in content material creation, or ones that lose in some circumstances. Granted there is a $140 worth disparity there, however there’s additionally a RAM disparity, a platform disparity, a cooler disparity…you get the drift. A whole lot of unfastened elements are at play on this new world.

In our extra restricted run of benchmarks on Windows 11 we did discover that, in sure circumstances, Thread Director supplied a large profit. Sometimes the distinction was negligible (for instance, Cinebench R23, POV-Ray, and gaming exams all stayed roughly the identical), whereas in others just like the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere runs, we noticed an enchancment of almost 30% in each benchmarks. Whether meaning it is 30% sooner in Windows 11 or 30% slower in Windows 10 is all a matter of your vantage level.

But let’s dig into that end result for a second. Intel was very particular in each its early advertising and reviewers’ steerage about the place the advantages of Thread Director would kick in, and so far as our benchmarking suite is anxious, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro have been the one functions that confirmed a visual profit. That ought to perk up the ears of content material creators, to make certain, however know that it is a situational profit.

However, that is only one move of many to return. Thread Director, Windows 11, and Intel twelfth Gen are all nonetheless of their infancy, and we anticipate the breadth of Thread Director’s results in your PC to extend in scope and energy as all engineers concerned refine issues over time. That stated, to date as of launch, we solely discovered these two circumstances the place the impact was obvious, and you must issue within the added value of upgrading to Windows 11.

Gaming on the High End: Intel Core i9-12900K Frame Rates With Discrete GPU

Here’s what we noticed in our financial institution of gaming exams with our GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition card operating the present. This top-end client graphics card is the first arbiter of efficiency at 4K with all the CPUs that we’ve laid out under. At 1080p, although, the cardboard will get out of the best way a bit extra and lets the CPU variations shine. (We take a look at with 3DMark Time Spy and three AAA video games.) These exams have been run below Windows 10 besides the place famous.

No, your eyes do not deceive you: Intel has carried its wins from content material creation proper on by to gaming, and for the primary time in too lengthy, has launched a desktop gaming CPU that is aggressive with AMD on each worth and efficiency. Sure, video games like F1 2021 are a “gimme” as a consequence of their RAM sensitivity, however each the 3DMark and Rainbow Six Siege outcomes go away us optimistic that Intel can preserve tempo within the gaming race for not less than the following a number of months (if rumors of Zen 4’s launch date show true).

One Gaming Caveat, Though…

And whereas usually we might take the remainder of this part to speak about all of the nuances of the outcomes and what they might imply for Intel’s new place in PC gamer’s minds, there’s only one downside we famous: The Core i9-12900K cannot play each recreation. Italics intentional.

The sheer boldness of that assertion might not have caught everybody on the primary move, so let’s reiterate: Intel’s newest gaming processor, marketed by the corporate because the “World’s Best Gaming Processor,” might not play sure video games. It’s depending on the digital rights administration (DRM) system utilized by the sport to guard its licenses.

The perpetrator? All that P-core/E-core stuff we talked about up above. During the course of our testing—which incorporates two runs of the favored title Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, one in 1080p and the opposite in 4K—we discovered the sport would both crash midway by the take a look at run, or just not boot in in any respect. We tried to check as many titles as we might forward of this evaluation, however time was already an element with the benchmarking suite we had, not to mention following behind Intel’s late-stage reply about DRM compatibility with a path of video games that will or might not launch on the primary go.

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla PC

Upon chatting with Intel concerning the concern, we have been instructed this was all the way down to Denuvo DRM, a safety methodology that many single-player and multiplayer video games use to validate the license of a recreation on-line. This DRM system retains video games shielded from piracy, and over time Denuvo has confirmed itself to be probably the most troublesome DRMs on the market to crack. This makes it particularly standard with builders of AAA single-player video games, those that are sometimes hardest hit when a recreation that prices thousands and thousands to develop will get cracked without cost inside a couple of days of launch (generally even sooner).

The concern with video games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla arises both on launch or on load, as a result of Denuvo thinks that the P-cores and E-cores belong to 2 separate programs, fairly than two completely different core varieties on the identical chip. Once it detects that some portion of the load has been break up between the P and E cores, it sees the brand new cores as a brand new license holder (a separate system), and force-quits the sport to forestall what it believes is 2 PCs attempting to play one recreation on the identical key.

When quizzed on how widespread this concern is, Intel had this to say:

“We are conscious of a DRM concern with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and we’re working with the sport writer on a repair. There are choose recreation titles which have had points operating on twelfth Gen Core platforms as a consequence of a DRM concern. These points have been addressed by way of recreation patches and OS updates for many video games in Windows 11. Windows 10 updates will start subsequent yr.”

[Editor’s Note: Intel has released a statement regarding Denuvo functionality on Intel 12th Gen processors. Workarounds are coming, but no determinate figure on when just yet.)

What does “select game titles,” and “most games in Windows 11,” mean? Will Windows 10 get its necessary updates before December of 2022? No specificity to be found. We couldn’t even get a number on how many games are affected, either because Intel wasn’t willing to share or because it doesn’t know.

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla screenshot

At the time of publication of this review, we have only the Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla data to fall back on, but the problem was consistent across three separate Windows 10 and 11 machines equipped with an Alder Lake Core i9: our main testbed, and two prebuilt systems sent to us by OEMs for review. This is the reason you won’t see any AC: Valhalla results in this review, nor our reviews of two new 12th Gen systems from Alienware (the new Alder Lake-based Aurora R13) and Velocity Micro (its latest Raptor Z55, also based on the Core i9).

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla has been a part of our system testing regimen for months (without issue), and this is a new phenomenon. Finally, to be clear, this isn’t some old Podunk game we dug out of the bargain bin to see what would break 12th Generation Core just for fun…

Anyone who knows how much money Ubisoft generates per year should be wholly impressed with that figure, as it suggests that AC: Valhalla (and its many released/scheduled DLCs) will be a staple in the publisher’s content strategy for the next year, at least. And Intel 12th Gen processors, until there’s a fix, will flat-out not play it. If you enjoy Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (or any Denuvo game, for that matter), this issue should be at the forefront of your mind before you make your 12th Gen purchase. This is the first time we’ve had to exclude a benchmark from our testing because the gaming processor we’re benching explicitly won’t play the game. That’s a lot of italics to emphasize the impact of this big hiccup in Intel’s otherwise impressive run of results here.

We’ll be testing more Denuvo-protected titles in the coming weeks to get a more complete picture of how widespread the issue may be on both Windows 10 and Windows 11, but until then we would advise gamers to use this list to look for (possibly) unlaunchable titles.


A Look at Overclocking and Thermals

Last up on our list of test runs was an area to which Intel was keen to dedicate a significant portion of its briefings to the press: overclocking.

Due to the increased complexity and depth that’s been added to the Z690 platform for overclockers, we’ll be publishing a separate article that takes a much deeper look at everything that’s on offer here. In the meantime, we chose to run with Intel’s latest version of its Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) and its simple sliders to see what we could get done on a time budget.

Intel overclocking

In those runs on the Core i9-12900K, I was able to achieve a surprisingly comfortable peak overclock of around 8% across all cores, a figure that will almost assuredly climb higher once I start overclocking E-cores and P-cores independently of one another.

This resulted in a near-parity gain in our F1 2021 run, as well as around a 5% bump to Cinebench R23 and the Puget Systems/Adobe Photoshop test. Not a huge bump, but also one that was the easiest to achieve given the one-slider tools provided to us by Intel.

Finally, to close out our testing (we always leave the stress runs for last in case of disaster), our attempts to push the Intel Core i9-12900K to its thermal limits in a 10-minute run through Cinebench 23 in CoreTemp, we found the CPU posted a maximum temperature of 73 degrees C in our testing on a new Corsair iCue 360mm closed-loop liquid cooler.

This is a fine result, but one that’s tempered slightly (no pun intended) by the oversized cooler we were sent to test with. A 360mm liquid cooler of any flavor or brand is big. If you run on air or any liquid cooling radiator smaller than 360mm, your results may vary. You’ll need something; the Core i9-12900K doesn’t come with a cooler in the box, and your cooler must support the new LGA 1700 socket.


Verdict: Intel’s Desktop CPUs Turn the Corner

Intel has taken its lumps from critics and tech reviewers over the past several years (this reviewer included), and for the first time in a while the company has a stack of consumer processors that, under specific circumstances and use cases, aren’t out of the race before they even get off the line. Even if it’s not leading in advanced process technology, Alder Lake is a definite turning point.

This time around, Intel has launched a Core i9 chip that, at least from our limited run of predetermined benchmarks, looks like the next big-ticket item for content creators who take their time management seriously. For years, AMD has enjoyed a comfortable lead in content creation with its lead in process technology and sheer core/thread count for the money. As Intel finally gets its cost-per-core up to parity, it finds itself able to compete in ways that 14nm rarely allowed for.

Intel Core i9-12900k chip


(Photo: Chris Stobing)

However, this launch is also a bit of an odd duck, in that our AMD Ryzen comparison numbers (by the nature of the Ryzen platform) are all on an AMD X570-based motherboard that only supports DDR4 RAM up to 3,600MHz, versus spanking-new, fast DDR5 on the Alder Lake platform. This means both some games (think F1 2021) and applications (Photoshop) that are sensitive to RAM timings and speeds will inevitably skew in Intel’s favor for this round of testing. We look forward to benching on more motherboards in the future that will give us an opportunity to see how a Z690 DDR4 board holds up in results.

But before we wrap up our review, we thought we’d build out a quick table that outlines the estimates (via data pulled from Newegg and Amazon on the date of publish, as well as pricing information we’ve been given by OEMs directly), on approximately what it would cost you to upgrade to Intel 12th Gen versus competing options.

Below we’ve cobbled together a few systems on the AMD side that, including both a B550 motherboard and some (budget) DDR4 RAM, came out to about $100 as a combo deal. Meanwhile, we’ve factored in the cost of both a Windows 11 license and the cost of DDR5 on the side of Intel. However, you can also buy Z690 boards that support DDR4, which cuts a percentage off the final tab.

Cooling is also a factor, not mapped here; LGA 1700 will require a new cooler (nothing comes in the box), but so will the 5900X.

This math is especially important for gamers during GPU-starved times like these, when finding a new graphics card at MSRP is often down to the luck of the draw in a lottery. Every dollar toward your build counts double nowadays, and if you’re going to be paying out the nose for your GPU already, the last thing you should overspend on is the rest of your hardware around it.

For content creators, the cost proposition of 12th Gen perks up, thanks to several outright wins that prove Intel’s 16 cores are, in select cases, just as capable in performance as AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X. But on cost of adoption, the percentages are still skewed in AMD’s favor for many PC builders and upgraders. That aspect, and that AMD chips will play just about any game that works on your chosen version of Windows…not whatever gets patched on Windows 11 on a game-by-game basis. Any game, almost any OS. We didn’t think that would be a point in the “Pros” column for any processor launched in 2021, but Intel’s first major foray into desktop big.LITTLE seems not without its own initial complications.

Intel 12th Gen promo packaging


(Photo: Chris Stobing)

We’ve benched a whole lot of AMD and Intel processors here over the past few years, and Alder Lake does come to the CPU circus with a basket of hoops to jump through: new power limits, possibly the need for new RAM, new cooler sizes on a new socket, new caveats around game compatibility, the need for Windows 11 to get the most out of the chip. Meanwhile, AMD has been a model of stable on AM4: Build the PC, hit play, and enjoy the show.

If you want the “world’s best gaming processor” today—as in a desktop processor that just plays any PC game you want—you might want to wait and see how the DRM situation shakes out on Alder Lake. But the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X remains a cost-conscious, fuss-free option that kept its station in gaming in Windows 10.

Ultimately, Intel can own these wins on the Core i9-12900K for what they are: an impressive first showing for its desktop processors built off the new 7 Process, albeit one with some caveats included. The Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X, meanwhile, remain slightly slower, but reliably more cost-competitive, alternatives for content creators: no hoop-jumping required. But it looks like desktop CPUs are poised to be a race again in 2022 and beyond.

Pros

  • Outright benchmark wins across many different runs

  • Z690 platform comes with support for DDR5, depending on the motherboard

  • Priced aggressively versus AMD

  • Numerous overclocking features

Cons

  • Requires new motherboard

  • High cost of adoption for peak performance

  • At the moment, not compatible with some games that use Denuvo DRM protection

The Bottom Line

The Core i9-12900K is Intel’s first truly innovative high-end desktop CPU in years, showing great potential in its performance/efficiency mixed-core design and support for DDR5 memory. Just expect a high initial cost of adoption—and, perhaps, some PC-gaming growing pains.

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