Intel Core i9-12900K "Alder Lake" CPU Review

We knew Alder Lake CPU architecture would be good, but the top-end Core i9-12900K processor easily plants Intel on top once again.

@TylerBernath
Published Thu, Nov 4 2021 8:00 AM CDT
Rating: 98%Manufacturer: Intel (i9-12900K)

Introduction and Pricing

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After seven months on the market, Intel's Rocket Lake comes away as a platform that brought new technology in PCIe Gen4 and additional connectivity to the LGA1200, a stop-gap to LGA1700. On top of this, 11th Gen Core was a relatively successful platform thanks to AMD stock woes and the current marketplace, something Intel didn't have to deal with on most SKUs. This leads us to today, where most of you know, Alder Lake has been unveiled, and we can now show off the performance and benchmarks.

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Alder Lake takes advantage of a hybrid architecture using "Golden Cove" high-Performance P-Cores and "Gracemont" Efficient E-Cores. There are several enthusiasts or gamer SKUs, seen above. Of course, the 12900K is the top offering with an 8+8 design with added HT on the P-Cores, the base frequency at 3.2GHz for the P-Cores, and 2.4GHz on the E-Cores.

Several Turbo Frequency technologies can boost the clocks organically with Alder Lake, the peak being Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0, which gives the 12900K a top clock of 5.2GHz on the P-Cores. Additionally, we have a next-gen iGPU with UHD 770, 20 CPU PCIe lanes, and support for DDR4 and DDR5 memory standards.

The MSRP of the 12th Gen Intel Core i9 12900K comes in at $589.

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Z690 Chipset and Alder Lake Architecture

Z690 Chipset

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Z690 continues to build off of the last generation Z5980 platform, offering increased connectivity with options for vendors to deploy either PCIe Gen4 or Gen3 lanes via the chipset. We still have the same 8x port SATA setup and 1Gbe NIC as a base, though most vendors will opt for 2.5Gbe on their platforms. USB connectivity includes the option for 4x Gen2x2 ports alongside 10x USB 3.2 and fourteen USB 2.0.

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For those wanting a bit more explanation on the features of the Z690 chipset, Intel has included the slide seen above.

Alder Lake Architecture

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With Alder Lake, Intel is pushing forward with a unique hybrid architecture. The typical P-Cores offer a 19% performance lift over the last Generation, while adding E-Cores makes multi-tasking more efficient and, coupled with Intel Thread Director, seamless.

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12th Gen Desktop processors bring together new architecture improvements with the Intel 7 process technology and hybrid architecture between P and E Core designs. Top offerings will be 16 cores and 24 threads with increased cache both L2 and L3.

Platform support is where consumers will connect with Alder Lake, with motherboards supporting both sixteen lanes of PCIe Gen5 alongside another twelve PCIe Gen4 chipset lanes. DMI has been updated to offer eight 4.0 lanes while connectivity now offers WiFi6e support integrated, and Intel UHD graphics have been updated as well.

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Generation over Generation, gaming performance sees a huge uptick. In some games like Troy, we see up to 30%. The newly released Far Cry 6 enjoys a solid 15% bump in performance.

Packaging and Test System

Intel Core i9-12900K

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We did receive the media kit for Alder Lake, like many other sites. This included both the 12900K and 12600K that we will touch on in a separate review.

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The 12900K does have a longer design to fit in the extra pins; this includes a longer HIS as well. Locating pins are on the top and bottom now rather than the sides.

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On the LGA side, we have 1700 pads, some of which appear to be reinforced at this angle.

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The board sent for testing the 12900K is the ASUS ROG Strix Z690-E Gaming Wi-Fi.

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Our full test setup, seen above, does include a kit of Micron DDR5. Additional components are listed below.

Cinebench R20,R23 and AIDA64

Cinebench,RealBench and AIDA64

Cinebench

Cinebench is a long-standing render benchmark that has been heavily relied upon by both Intel and AMD to showcase their newest platforms during unveils. The benchmark has two tests, a single-core workload that will utilize one thread or 1T. There is also a multi-threaded test that uses all threads or nT of a tested CPU. We run both the legacy R20 and modern R23.

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Out of the box, 12900K is quite impressive, scoring 754 in a single thread putting it over the last-gen 11900k and 5900X.

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nThread R20 produces a score of 10448, about 300 points over the 32 thread 5950X from AMD.

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Moving to R23, 12900K peaks at 1975 in a single thread.

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nThread R23 boosts 12900K to 27749, nearly doubling the 11900K and 5800X.

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Normalizing all CPUs to 4GHz, we ran single thread R20 to check IPC. In this scenario, we see 601 from Alder Lake, a good bit above Zen 3.

AIDA64

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AIDA64 still has yet to officially support Alder Lake in any of their benchmarks, but preliminary runs show 141011 for AES.

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SHA3 adds 5146 for 12900K.

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As we assumed, DDR5 adds a significant amount of bandwidth to the platform. In our testing at 5200MHz, we have 81K read, 77k write, and 78K copy.

UL Benchmarks and CrossMark

PCMark 10 Applications

PCMark 10 Applications

PCMark is a benchmark from UL and tests various workload types within Microsoft Office and Edge.

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PCMark overall gives us a score of 8762.

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Score breakdown shows a solid uptick in digital content to 14338 for the 12900K.

3DMark

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CPU Profile in 3DMark starts to show the 12900K pushing away at eight threads; at 16 threads, we have a near 2000 point gain.

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Timespy with our RTX card showed a sizable jump to 15370 for the 12900K.

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Testing the integrated graphics (Intel UHD 770) found in the 12900K takes another sizable jump to 13914, 3000 points over the Rocket Lake UHD 750.

CrossMark

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Running through CrossMark, the 12900K scores 2307 overall.

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The breakdown for CrossMark includes a huge jump in each scenario.

Gaming and Storage Performance

Gaming Performance

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I used Far Cry New Dawn and Shadow of the Tomb Raider for comparison purposes, testing 1080p and 1440p gaming at high resolution.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider showed a solid boost to the 12900K 182 FPS at 1440p and 234 FPS at 1080p.

Far Cry New Dawn didn't get quite the same bump in performance but did see 155 FPs in 1440p, about 9 FPS over last-gen, and at 1080p, we see 168FPS for 12900K nearly 10FPS.

Storage with CrystalDiskMark

We had just gotten in the S70 Blade from XPG when the Alder Lake kit arrived for testing, so we used it for this article. Storage performance appears to be on par with Gen4 platforms at 6733 MB/s read and 6422 MB/s write. 4KQ1 touched 90 quite easily in read, and random write moves upwards of 340 MB/s.

Power, Thermals and Final Thoughts

Power Consumption

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Power consumption for the 12900K was nearly 80 watts lower at idle than the previous platform while managing about 50 watts less at load despite the additional cores.

Thermals

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We used a Noctua NH-U12A Chromax cooling solution for the 12900K to keep things fair across all platforms. In testing, the 12900K idled at 28c, full load in R23 reached 87c.

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I did play with Intel XTU to see where the chip would run without manually changing anything. For our chip, which ASUS has rated at SP90 in the BIOS, we saw an E-Core overclock up to 4.1GHz and P-Core to 5GHz. Of course, these chips will overclock better, with increased cooling; keeping in mind, we are on air for this review.

Final Thoughts

Just a few weeks after the launch of Rocket Lake in March, we started hearing about Intel Alder Lake and just how good it would be both performance-wise and the platform upgrades that include DDR5 and PCIe 5. Now here we are, myself, several hours past testing and have been able to really think about the 12900K.

Performance is a fact; the 12900K is very good. We can start at the top of our testing with R20 and R23, both showing the 16C/24T 12900K handling the 5950X quite easily. We can even take a look at IPC in our normalized R20 testing, putting all CPUs to 4GHz; the 12900K puts nearly 100 points on Zen 3. CrossMark and PCMark both give a bump to Intel, a fantastic 500 point jump for CrossMark over Rocket Lake.

Memory throughput is up, of course, with DDR5. Our kit of standard Micron RAM ran at 5200MHz and enabled us to pull in 81K read 77K write in AIDA64 memory bandwidth tests. CPU Profile, the newest part of 3DMark, enabled a solid gain in both 8 thread and 16 thread scenarios, a 1000 point jump at 8 thread and 2000 with 16 threads.

Gaming is up as well, as predicted, overall 1000 points in Timespy. Real-world scenarios like Far Cry or Tomb Raider showed solid gains upwards of 20FPS in 1080p and 10 FPS at 1440p.

That all said, the upgrade path for Intel this time around puts consumers out quite a bit of cash. The move to DDR5 will come with a hefty price tag as we know, consumers can opt for a DDR4 platform for LGA1700, but I'm guessing most of you want the increased throughput of DDR5. This adds to the current GPU market that's already made building a PC impossible except for those with plenty of cash to spare.

Thankfully, Intel has priced these CPUs very aggressively, the 12900K tray price coming in at $589, making it likely $150 cheaper than AMD's top offering in the 5950X.

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Performance

99%

Quality

95%

Features

98%

Value

99%

Overall

98%

The Bottom Line

Intel delivers with its new hybrid Alder Lake architecture, a CPU that beats down the best AMD has to offer and at a cheaper price.

TweakTown award
98%

Intel Core i9-12900K Processor

TodayYesterday7 days ago30 days ago
$698.95$773.99-
* Prices last scanned on 11/30/2021 at 1:19 am CST - prices may not be accurate, click links above for the latest price. We may earn an affiliate commission.

Tyler joined the TweakTown team in 2013 and has since reviewed 100s of new techy items. Growing up in a small farm town, tech wasn't around, unless it was in a tractor. At an early age, Tyler's parents brought home their first PC. Tyler was hooked and learned what it meant to format a HDD, spending many nights reinstalling Windows 95. Tyler's love and enthusiast nature always kept his PC nearby. Eager to get deeper into tech, he started reviewing.

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