After talking up Alder Lake for more than a year, we have our first batch of Intel’s 12th-gen chips. This new generation brings the same slew of performance improvements you’d expect out of a typical CPU generation, but also marks the first time Intel has used its 10nm manufacturing process on desktop and it’s the first slot-in CPU with a hybrid architecture.
There’s a lot to talk about with Alder Lake, from how the chips are designed to how they perform in the real world. We rounded up everything you need to know about 12th-gen Alder Lake processors, including how much they cost, what kind of performance you can expect, and how they work with new Z690 motherboards.
Pricing and availability
The first batch of Alder Lake chips arrived on November 4, though we should see more products in the future. The company announced them during the Intel Innovation event on October 27, revealing six new CPUs to kick off the range. They’re split into three groups of two, with a K-series and KF-series model available for each SKU:
- Core i9-12900K — $589
- Core i9-12900KF — $ 564
- Core i7-12700K — $409
- Core i7-12700KF — $384
- Core i5-12600K — $289
- Core i5-12600KF — $264
The prices are much lower than we expected. Earlier leaks pointed to prices nearing $1,000 for the flagship chip. At least in the U.S., Intel didn’t raise prices much over 11th-gen chips. The i9 and i5 models have seen a slight bump, while the i7’s pricing is the same as the previous generation.
Although there are six processors available, they come in groups of two. The K-series chips are more expensive because they feature integrated graphics, which the KF-series chips do not. That’s the only difference between the chips, so the Core i9-12900K and Core i9-12900KF should be identical in terms of CPU performance.
The leaked box was real, too. The box designs are mostly unchanged from the previous generation, however, the flagship Core i9-12900K comes slotted inside a golden wafer replica in the box, confirming an earlier leak.
With the release of the first Alder Lake processors, we have our first look at the specs. They confirm earlier rumors overall, with the top chip sporting 16 cores split evenly across P-cores and E-cores. Here’s how the range looks at the moment:
|Cores||Base frequency||Max boost frequency||Intel Smart Cache (L3)||Integrated graphics||Base power||Max turbo power||Suggested price|
|Core i9-12900K||16 (8P + 8E)||3.2GHz (P-core), 2.4GHz (E-core)||Up to 5.2GHz||30MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||241W||$589|
|Core i9-12900KF||16 (8P + 8E)||3.2GHz (P-core), 2.4GHz (E-core)||Up to 5.2GHz||30MB||N/A||125W||241W||$564|
|Core i7-12700K||12 (8P + 4E)||3.6GHz (P-core), 2.7GHz (E-core||Up to 5.0GHz||25MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||190W||$409|
|Core i7-12700KF||12 (8P + 4E)||3.6GHz (P-core), 2.7GHz (E-core||Up to 5.0GHz||25MB||N/A||125W||190W||$384|
|Core i5-12600K||10 (6P + 4E)||3.7GHz (P-core), 2.8GHz (E-core)||Up to 4.9GHz||20MB||Intel UHD 770||125W||150W||$289|
|Core i5-12600KF||10 (6P + 4E)||3.7GHz (P-core), 2.8GHz (E-core)||Up to 4.9GHz||20MB||N/A||125W||150W||$264|
All of the chips come with a mix of P-cores and E-cores, but the balance is different for each model. Only the P-cores support hyperthreading, so the i9 model comes with 16 cores and 24 threads, the i7 model comes with 12 cores and 20 threads, and so on.
All of the chips come with a 125-watt rated power limit, though they can boost much higher. The flagship Core i9-12900K can climb as high as 241W when boosting. Still, that’s technically less than the Core i9-11900K, which could boost as high as 250W when pushed. Intel has stressed the efficiency of the new design, saying the i9-12900K can deliver the same peak multi-threaded performance as the i9-11900K while consuming only 65W.
Frequency-wise, it’s hard to lock Alder Lake down. The P-cores and E-cores run at different frequencies, so there isn’t a single number to reference. With Intel’s updated Extreme Overclocking Utility (XTU), you can tweak the P-cores and E-cores independently to dial in an overclock.
The six chips above are the ones that Intel has already released. We’ll see more, but for right now, all we have are rumors. A rumor from November revealed a slate of chips joining in 2022, some of which ditch the E-cores in favor of all P-cores.
With Alder Lake finally here, we can validate some of Intel’s performance claims. In our testing of the Core i9-12900K, we found massive gains over the previous generation and a significant lead over the competing Ryzen 9 5950X.
Gaming is a big focus of Alder Lake. Intel says the generation brings up to a 28% improvement in games like Hitman 3 over the previous generation. Some of that is on the back of Windows 11, which is optimized for Alder Lake’s Thread Director feature, and DDR5 memory, which benefits games with its increased bandwidth.
Our own benchmarks back up the improvements in games. In the synthetic 3D Mark Time Spy, the Core i9-12900K was about 8% faster than the Ryzen 9 5950X and Core i9-10900K. In a real game, Forza Horizon 4, the 12th-gen chip managed a massive 16% lead over the other two processors. This is a much wider gap than an early leaked benchmark of the same game suggested.
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|3D Mark Time Spy||19,396||17,922||18,341|
|Red Dead Redemption 2||137 fps||135 fps||129 fps|
|Assassin’s Creed Valhalla||118 fps||121 fps||122 fps|
|Forza Horizon 4||234 fps||201 fps||200 fps|
|Civilization VI (turn time, lower is better)||7.3 seconds||7.5 seconds||6.5 seconds|
Still, not all games saw a benefit. Red Dead Redemption 2 is one example, as the Core i9-12900K just barely managed to outclass the Ryzen 9 5950X. Similarly, the chip produced a slightly lower frame rate than even the Core i9-10900K in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which Ubisoft confirmed has a problem with this processor.
Although gaming is important, Alder Lake is also focused on multitasking and content creation. In a common scenario where you’re playing a game while streaming and recording, Intel says the Core i9-12900K can deliver an 84% improvement in frame rate over the previous generation. Intel says the new chips are also up to 36% faster in photo-editing applications like Adobe Lightroom, 32% faster in Premiere Pro, and 37% faster in Autodesk Revit.
Those numbers are accurate based on our testing. In Photoshop, the Core i9-12900K was about 30% faster than the Ryzen 9 5950X, and in Premiere Pro, it was about 7% faster. The chip also produced an impressive 47-second render in Handbrake, marking a massive 35% improvement over the Core i9-10900K.
In general computing, the Alder Lake still shows its power. Take Geekbench 5, for example, where the Core i9 model managed a 28% lead over the Ryzen 9 5950X. This is a much larger gap than in early leaked benchmarks, where the chip only managed a 3.8% lead. The extra jump is on the back of increased DDR5 memory speeds. Going down to DDR4, the Core i9-12900K is actually slower.
|Intel Core i9-12900K||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X||Intel Core i9-10900K|
|Cinebench R23 single-core||1,989||1,531||1,291|
|Cinebench R23 multi-core||27,344||27,328||13,614|
|Geekbench 5 single-core||2,036||1,726||1,362|
|Geekbench 5 multi-core||18,259||14,239||10,715|
|PC Mark 10||9,092||8,254||7,593|
|Handbrake (seconds, lower is better)||47||58||72|
|Pugetbench for Premiere Pro||1,066||992||855|
|Pugetbench for Photoshop||1,315||1,009||1,023|
Leaked Cinebench results showed the Core i9-12900K performing about 21% above Ryzen 9 5950X. In our testing, the two chips produced almost identical scores in the multi-core test, but Intel’s chip managed nearly a 30% lead in the single-core test.
We’ve only tested the Core i9-12900K, and there are only a small number of Alder Lake chips available right now. We have some leaked benchmarks for upcoming chips, though.
The most recent leaked benchmarks we have come from CPU-Z, where the Core i7-12700K bested AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X by a massive 45%. This is the clearest showcase of Alder Lake’s power yet, lining up with what Intel has been promising for over a year.
Another leaker also posted CPU-Z benchmarks for the Core i5-12400. This processor is rumored to only come with Golden Cove P-cores, but it still managed a 40% lead over the Ryzen 7 2700X in the single-core test. In Cinebench R20, the Core i5-12400 beat out every Ryzen 5000 chip in the single-core test while managing a decent lead over the Ryzen 5 5600X — which has the same number of cores — in the multi-core test.
Following the launch of 12th-gen Alder Lake processors, Intel confirmed a list of 51 games that were incompatible with the new chips. Some of the games had problems on Windows 11, others just on Windows 10, and some across both operating systems. The issue came down to Digital Right Management (DRM) services and how they handle Alder Lake’s hybrid architecture.
Certain DRM platforms recognize the different cores as different PCs, blocking select games from launching. Although the list was large at launch, Intel announced that a patch released through Windows Update solved the problem for the majority of games. Now, only three titles have issues — Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Fernbus Simulator, and Madden 22.
There is a way around this problem called the scroll lock workaround. To use it, enter your motherboard’s BIOS and turn on Legacy Game Compatibility Mode. Save the changes and reboot your PC. After entering, press the Scroll Lock key on your keyboard and launch the game you want to play. After you reach the title screen, toggle the Scroll Lock key off.
We recommend bookmarking Intel’s list of unsupported titles. The company will update the list as patches are released. We hope that Intel has fixes available for the final three games before the end of the year. In the meantime, Gigabyte and MSI has released fixes that can help you bypass these gameplay issues with your motherboard.
Alder Lake uses a hybrid architecture that brings together two types of processing cores. The first is a performant core that mirrors what you’d typically find in a new processor generation, and the second is an efficient core that’s used to handle background tasks and beef up applications that like a lot of cores.
Intel is designing both cores on Intel 7, which is the new name for the Enhanced 10nm SuperFin process node. Golden Cove cores are the big ones, and they handle the bulk of work you’d do on a computer. Gracemont cores are the little ones, and they’re useful for handling background tasks or conserving battery life when a performant core isn’t needed.
Golden Cove cores are focused on high-frequency, single-threaded performance. Utilizing Intel’s new Matrix engine, the company says that the cores should have higher frequencies across applications. The Matrix engine is a coprocessor that handles matrix multiplication, which can speed up A.I. workloads, in particular.
Gracemont cores handle the other side of the performance spectrum. Intel says they’re all about multi-threaded performance, juggling several lightweight tasks across multiple cores. Intel says they can perform about 40% above old Skylake cores at the same wattage.
Bringing the two core designs together is a series of high-bandwidth interconnects. The Compute Fabric ties the two cores together with up to 1,000GBps of bandwidth, the I/O Fabric delivers up to 64GBps of bandwidth between inputs and the memory subsystem, and the Memory Fabric offers up to 204GBps of bandwidth between the memory and the rest of the processor.
Other changes to Alder Lake include support for PCIe Gen 5 and PCIe Gen 4, as well as DDR5 and DDR4 memory. Though Alder Lake supports both generations of DDR system memory, it’s up to the board manufacturer to decide which standard to support. Users can’t mix DDR4 and DDR5 modules on the same board. Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E Gig+ are also supported on Alder Lake.
Rumors suggest Intel will continue supporting DDR4 for its 13th-gen Raptor Lake processors.
DDR5 modules support XMP 3.0. This new version of XMP comes with a bunch of upgrades, including up to two user-defined profiles, five onboard profiles overall, and support for tweaking in the operating system.
Alder Lake chips feature a thicker integrated heat spreader (IHS), which should give them more overclocking potential. Intel trimmed the die thickness and thermal interface material down to increase the IHS size, adding more bulk metal to the top of the chip for greater cooling potential.
Alder Lake marks the launch of Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) 7.5, which allows you to tweak the ratio and voltage settings of Alder’s P-cores and E-cores. You can overclock each of the cores independently. If you can’t be bothered, you can use Intel Speed Optimizer on the Core i9-12900K and Core i9-12900KF to add a moderate overclock with a single button.
In our testing, XTU boosted the chip to 5.0GHz all-core without increasing heat or power draw. With some manual tweaking, we managed a 5.4GHz overclock without much of a hassle, though it came carried a 300W power draw with it.
New socket and Z690 motherboards
Intel is moving to the Z690 platform with Alder Lake, which features the new LGA1700 socket. Many motherboard manufacturers, including Gigabyte, MSI, Asus, Colorful, and ASRock, have boards available with the new chipset and socket. Alder Lake supports DDR4 and DDR5, but as mentioned above, you won’t be able to use both on the same motherboard.
DDR5 features the same number of pins as DDR4, but it has a different layout. Motherboard makers can choose which standard they want to support, and you can’t switch between them.
A new socket means a new layout for CPU coolers. Many CPU cooler makers, including Noctua, are offering free brackets that work with the LGA1700 socket. If you’re wondering what you need, make sure to read our guide on everything you need to upgrade to Intel 12th-gen Alder Lake.
Thread Director and Windows 11
Alder Lake can leverage Windows 11 in a way a processor never has before. Thread Director is a new hardware-level feature on Alder Lake processors that helps the operating system — Windows 11, in particular — know how to assign tasks to different cores.
As mentioned, Alder Lake is a hybrid architecture that uses performant and efficient cores. Normally, an OS chooses which tasks go where through a combination of calculations (such as if the task is in the foreground or background) and guessing. The result is inefficient thread scheduling, which is a big deal for a hybrid CPU.
Enter Thread Director. With this feature, Intel is able to offer Windows 11 full visibility into what kind of workload the task is handling. That removes the guesswork from the equation, helping the operating system better assign tasks to appropriate cores.
Thread Director hits on two fronts. Although Alder Lake doesn’t have the first hybrid CPU architecture, most previous versions have focused on battery life and efficiency. Thread Director allows the processor to reach a peak performance state when tasks call for it while conserving battery life when the machine doesn’t have a large workload.
“We didn’t want to sacrifice,” Intel client architect Rajshree Chabukswar told Digital Trends. “It’s really about keeping [performance and battery life] in mind.”
Right now, Windows 11 sees the biggest improvement, but Intel tells us that Windows 10 has some improvements, too. Down the line, Intel says it hopes to work with more partners to bring Thread Director support to other operating systems. Based on leaked benchmarks, Alder Lake could offer up to an 8.2% improvement in single-threaded workloads on Windows 11.
Our testing backs that up, with PC Mark 10 showing a 15% improvement with the Core i9-12900K on Windows 11. A lot of applications don’t see much of a benefit, however. In our suite of benchmarks, only PC Mark 10 showed a significant improvement on Windows 11.
Alder Lake-P mobile processors
Alder Lake is a platform for Intel. The company is using the same name and architecture across its desktop and mobile releases, breaking from the launch cadence it has established. We don’t know much about Alder Lake-P right now, but a few leaks have offered glimpses at the upcoming range.
Both come from a rumored revision to the Samsung Galaxy Book. This machine will reportedly come with either a 12-core or 14-core Alder Lake-P chip. Both come with eight E-cores, but the 12-core model comes with four P-cores while the 14-core comes with six.
Keeping with the theme of simplifying naming schemes, Intel is set to use Alder Lake-P as the name for all of its mobile chips. Previous generations featured revisions with higher power limits, but Alder Lake-P chips will reportedly operate anywhere from 12W to 45W. You’ll likely find these everywhere from budget notebooks to high-end gaming machines.
Mobile Alder Lake chips aren’t here yet, but there are leaked benchmarks to reference. In the test, the flagship Core i9-12900HK boasted a 44.8% improvement in multi-core performance over the previous generation, and it was able to squeeze out a small 3% over Apple’s M1 Max.
We recently saw a Geekbench result for the unreleased HP Omen 17 laptop, which sports an Intel Core i7-12700H according to the benchmark. The test doesn’t say much about the processor, unfortunately, focusing on the RTX 3080 Ti apparently inside the laptop instead. However, it confirms that the Core i7-12700H will come with 14 cores and 20 threads.
Another Geekbench result, testing the Core i7-12700H inside the Gigabyte Aero 5 XE, showed more of the processor. According to this result, the Core i7-12700H could offer as much as a 45% improvement in multi-core performance over the previous generation, as well as sizeable lead over AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900HX.
These chips could beat the Apple competition, too. A leaked Cinebench result showed the Core i7-12700H outperforming Apple’s recent M1 Max chip by a massive 49%. That’s a huge margin, but as is the case with all pre-release benchmarks, so you should handle this result with skepticism.
We shouldn’t have to wait long for official performance numbers. Intel has confirmed that it’s shipping 12th-gen Alder Lake-P chips to manufacturers around the world, so we should see them on the market some time in 2022.