Intel Core i9-12900K Review | PCMag
“Alder Lake,” Intel’s family of 12th Generation processors, has arrived—and with it, a new CPU paradigm. Intel’s Core i9-12900K desktop CPU ($589) leads the pack of the company’s 12th Generation processors, and brings with it a whole host of upgrades and innovations to the desktops of now and tomorrow. These tick-ups include support for the new, high-speed DDR5 RAM standard, as well as an upgrade to PCI Express 5.0, on the first new motherboard platform to support the latest chips, the Intel Z690. Intel also worked closely with Microsoft to optimize the new CPUs for Windows 11, adding new scheduling features that intelligently load up the Core i9-12900K depending on which cores are being used where, and for what.
Alder Lake and the Core i9-12900K indeed impress, but our relationship with the CPU…is complicated. For all the outright wins we saw in our benchmarks (and there were many), the added cost of upgrading to yet another new motherboard platform won’t outweigh the win percentages for many shoppers. Intel’s older-yet-still-reliable “Comet Lake” Core i9-10900K kept itself in the race during several benchmarks, while the eight-core, rather cheaper AMD Ryzen 7 5800X ($449 list price, but currently snipe-discounted to $386 on Amazon and Newegg) proves itself a worthy contender on performance-versus-price in PC gaming.
The high cost of a new Z690 motherboard (the cheapest are just under $200, per our Z690 motherboard guide) and DDR5 adoption, along with Intel’s insistence on upgrading your system to Windows 11, are all front-facing considerations for anyone who’s considering 12th Generation Core as their next big desktop upgrade. That—and a not-insignificant problem in which our test platform, and several prebuilt Alder Lake PCs, could not launch certain popular games that use specific DRM—temper Alder Lake with a bit of wait-and-see caution. Our initial Alder Lake takeaway is “Intel’s on the upswing, with some caveats.” But read more about our findings below.
The Alder Lake Basics: A Whole Lotta ‘New’
Leveraging Intel’s so-called “7 Process,” the company’s launch of its new 12th Generation desktop CPUs sees the new chips built on 10nm lithography, finally breaking the company out of its half-decade love/hate affair with the 14nm process and its subsequent “14nm+”-based iterations that followed for years after. (Read more in-depth about how Intel defines its “7 Process” at ExtremeTech.)
(Photo: Chris Stobing)
This is the first time Intel has moved one of its desktop consumer chip stacks completely beyond a form of the 14nm process in just over five years. AMD, via its manufacturing partnership with TSMC, has seen the Austin chip maker producing its wafers on 7nm lithography for nearly three years now, while Intel is just sidling up to 10nm. Is that a sign for what we should expect to see in benchmarks? Not if Intel’s new bag of tricks has anything to say about it…
Intel Bets Big on big.LITTLE
Though this would normally be the part of the review where we dive straight into spec comparisons, let’s take a quick sidebar first to learn a bit more about a “big.LITTLE” chip design: What is it, what does it mean for desktop processors, and do they really need it?
In a big.LITTLE approach, a chip design stacks a set of cores focused on peak performance alongside cores focused more on efficiency and power management, both on the same die. That philosophy is nothing new; smartphone processors have been employing versions of a big.LITTLE architecture for years as an efficiency measure. It’s also not technically new for Intel, either—the company first launched an x86 processor based on a big.LITTLE design back in 2020, known as “Lakefield.” The Lakefield silicon made it into only a few scattered laptops and mobile-device experiments, like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. But it set the pace for Intel’s big announcement this year: Intel Performance Hybrid Architecture.
Intel is touting Performance Hybrid Architecture as the company’s “biggest architectural shift in a decade.” In the technology’s Alder Lake debut, the Core i9-12900K (along with the rest of the chips announced thus far in the 12th Generation desktop stack) will each come with two sets of heterogenous cores, instead of the monolithic core design we’ve seen in generations past. The core types are “P-cores” (“P” being short for “performance”) and “E-cores” (with the “E” for “efficient”). The P-cores will be built on Intel’s “Golden Cove” microarchitecture, while the E-cores are based on “Gracemont.”
This will help to explain the core/thread disparity that you’ll see in the specs below, as only the P-cores will be Hyper-Threaded this time around (that is, supporting two processing threads per P-core), while E-cores will support just one thread per core.
These P-cores and E-cores swap off various responsibilities under typical system usage, depending on the task at hand. P-cores, for example, are better for hitting peak performance during demanding tasks such as gaming, while the E-cores are better suited to picking up requests from background tasks that aren’t as sensitive to lower latency speeds. Also, if there’s a task that needs a lot of throughput at once (think multi-core rendering, and the like), the load can be balanced between both P-cores and E-cores, however the operating system’s scheduler sees fit.
That scheduler, then, is a key player, especially when the CPU’s resources are much in demand. (And that demand is the point of buying any high-end CPU!) So, speaking of schedulers…meet Windows Thread Director, the ostensible Spielberg of the whole scheme.
Windows Thread Director
While Intel’s approach to big.LITTLE may be old hat for smartphones and mobile devices, there’s a lot of “new” on tap here for the laptop and desktop scene. To compensate for that newness, Intel has worked closely with Microsoft this time around, joint-developing a new scheduler for Windows 11, Intel Thread Director.
Think of the scheduler as a traffic cop for Windows 11 (or any modern OS, for that matter): It tells bits of programs where they should each run on a processor, based on a variety of factors. That includes thermal/cooling capacity, available power draw, performance peaks, and task/thread priority. This process is relatively straightforward on traditional desktop-processor designs, and it works the same, in principle, on Windows 10 as it has in previous versions.
With the introduction of hybrid architecture to the desktop market, however, Intel had to get creative. On a chip where the cores aren’t homogenous, without a little extra help, Windows won’t know which cores it can send programs to most optimally. Enter Thread Director.
Thread Director is informed by a new microcontroller on the CPU itself, which will feed Windows 11 more detailed hardware telemetry about the current status of the chip and its cores, versus older releases in Intel’s desktop line. Information that was previously left a mystery to Windows—think aspects like thermals, power settings, and which threads can take more instructions—is now communicated to the scheduler in microseconds, leaving almost no impact and (in theory) adding considerable performance gains, depending on the workflow and the various kinds of overhead that can be leveraged.
All of this is necessary, because as you’ll see in our benchmarking results below, Windows 10 can be worse at scheduling a 12th Gen desktop CPU than Windows 11 is. This is mostly due to Windows 10 not knowing what it’s looking at when it sees an E-core, thinking that it’s just a low-performance core that doesn’t have the same power spectrum on tap as the P-cores. As such, it can schedule the E-cores “incorrectly,” as it were (though that’s an over-simplification), due to its limited information. Meanwhile, the added info being sent from Thread Director to the Windows 11 scheduler is all incorporated into the mix, which should, again in theory, add up to increased performance in that specific OS.
Intel even provided several custom “workflow” benchmarks to its reviewer pool this time, designed to simulate those scenarios where the impact of its hybrid-architecture approach (and Thread Director’s effect) would be most apparent.
We ran the Photoshop and Premiere Pro versions of these benchmarks, which showed some impressive results that shouldn’t be shoved aside as mere marketing hoopla. (More on that in a minute.)
New Day, New Power Definitions
Last up, before we jump into the spec table, Intel has once again reclassified our known definitions of processor power draw. The company says it’s now moving beyond the familiar Thermal Design Power rating (often expressed as “TDP” in watts), to its newest nomenclature, “Base Power” and “Maximum Turbo Power.”
In practice, things won’t change all that much for consumers. Both 12th Gen and 11th Gen (“Rocket Lake”) chips at the Core i9 tier will retain their 125-watt Base Power rating on the back of the package. Rather, Base Power and Maximum Turbo Power are being used as a more accurate measurement of what kind of spectrum users can expect during both base and boost frequency peak usage, 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 way, let’s jump into a look at the full Alder Lake stack, with the Core i9-12900K at the top…
First up, the obvious: Intel has chopped down the list of 12th Gen processors available at launch considerably from the 14 options rolled out for early 2021’s 11th Gen/Rocket Lake debut, down to just six “K” and “KF” versions. (The KF chips lack integrated graphics.) These chips are all premium ones that are unlocked for overclocking, so it’s tweakers and performance enthusiasts only for now, as far as Intel is concerned. (The premium Z690 motherboards going on sale for the initial Alder Lake launch reflect that focus.)
That limited initial selection of chips is also priced much more aggressively (this time, against AMD’s current stack of Ryzen 5000 processors) than we’ve seen in years past. While pecking away at AMD’s MSRPs with recommended selling prices that are $10 lower is certainly nothing new (that’s been a part of Intel’s playbook for years), this is the first time in a while that the company’s top-end offering, in this case the $589 Core i9-12900K, actually offers a better cost-per-core ratio than its aisle-adjacent competitor, the $749-MSRP Ryzen 9 5950X. Closer in price, though, is the Ryzen 9 5900X…
The Core i9-12900K will feature eight P-cores and eight E-cores for a total core count of 16, and a maximum thread count of 24. Compare that to the Ryzen 9 5950X’s 32 total threads, which could help to explain that $140 price disparity between the two in the eyes of Intel’s marketing and pricing analysts. The Intel Core i9-12900K comes with the company’s new Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 silicon, though “new” is a bit generous, as the only changes from UHD Graphics 750 are a slightly reduced base clock speed (300MHz, from 350MHz), and an increased maximum dynamic frequency (up to 1.55GHz, from 1GHz).
Though we didn’t run any benchmarks on the integrated graphics processor (IGP) of the Core i9-11900K (partly because of time constraints, but mainly because few buyers will shop for this chip and not pair it with a graphics card), we recommend hopping over to our review of the Core i5-12600K to see just how much of an improvement gamers can expect. For those looking for an IGP that can just drive a display, though, the Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 solution will support four 4K (up to 4,096-by-2,303-pixel) displays, at up to 60Hz.
We’ll discuss the implications of the Core i5-12600K and Core i7-12700K’s individual price points in our reviews of those chips. However, overall, one can look at this latest stack of Intel processors and feel good that, for the first time in a long time, Intel is pricing its chips against the competition aggressively, in a way that doesn’t skew the conversation in AMD’s favor straightaway as a matter of basic math.
LGA 1700 and Z690: New Socket, New Platform
Anyone prone to whiplash may want to skip this section, because yes, Intel has swapped sockets…again! The last hurrah for LGA 1200 was in March 2021 (just six months ago) with Rocket Lake’s release (it came in with the previous 10th Generation Comet Lake chips), and now here we are with LGA 1700 today. However, unlike with LGA 1200 and its latter-day Z590 motherboards, which were widely (and accurately) regarded as a dead-end platform, Intel sounds more determined to keep LGA 1700 around for a bit this time.
Launching on just one chipset platform this time around—Z690—with rumors of more to come on cheaper chipsets next year, Intel is pinning its hopes on the idea that top-end overclocking-happy gamers who buy at this level of the stack (Core i5 and above) will be willing to spend at least $180 to get themselves onto 12th Gen. (At time of publication, this was the cheapest Z690 model we could find, an Asrock Phantom Gaming 4 model.) But what exactly do gamers get with all that new kit?
(Photo: Michael Sexton)
Let’s start with the selling points on the packaging: Support for PCIe 5.0, DDR5 memory up to 4,800MHz (5,200MHz with overclocking applied, and some boards going much higher), an upgrade to Intel’s new XMP 3.0 memory overclocking profiles, WiFi 6E, and support for what Intel is calling its “Dynamic Memory Boost Technology.” Also, an added DMI 4.0 x8 link will double Z690’s effective PCI Express bandwidth, enabling two PCIe 4.0 drives to run at peak throughput without speed degradation.
If you want to read a deeper dive on all the improvements that Z690 will have on offer for early adopters, check out our full article breaking down everything you need to know.
So, here we are. After years of benchmarking and pricing defeats to upstart AMD Ryzen silicon in the desktop processor space, Intel is back with a whole new platform, a new lithography, new DDR5 memory, and Intel Thread Director at the ready. With all these tools on its belt, will the company finally be able to turn the tables on AMD? Let’s dig into the results to find out…
Testing the Core i9-12900K: Thread Director Just Might Deserve an Oscar
We tested the Core i9-12900K on an MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi motherboard, with 32GB of Corsair Dominator memory clocked to 4,800MHz, and a 4TB Sabrent Rocket Q4 PCI Express 4.0 boot SSD that also functioned as our game 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 power supply. For our gaming tests, we used an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, at Founders Edition clocks, as we have on all recent mainstream and high-end CPU reviews.
We test CPUs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks that offer proprietary scores, as well as real-world tests using consumer apps such as 7-Zip, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Premiere (the latter two using Puget Systems‘ PugetBench for Photoshop and Premiere extensions), multiplayer games like Rainbow Six: Siege, and AAA 3D games such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
First up, CPU tests. We ran the various CPUs below (including the Alder Lake chips) under Windows 10, on appropriate testbeds built fresh for this generation of CPUs. (We also reran some of the tests on the Core i9-12900K under Windows 11 to get Thread Director into the mix.)
One note here: Since Intel has the platform handicap with the advent of Z690 and its included accoutrement of speedier features than AMD, we tested our AMD Ryzen 9 5950X on the most-tricked-out liquid-cooled system we had on hand, the Maingear Turbo (2021). While graphics tests won’t be directly comparable (the RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3090 are a few percentage points apart in most games), the productivity tests of the Maingear, combined with its overkill liquid cooling, should bring a bit more parity between AMD’s 16-core chip and Intel’s new Core i9 16-core offering.
Now, there’s a sight for sore eyes!
To repeat: Most of these results were collected on Windows 10 in order to keep things as even as possible to previous Intel CPU testing, as well as across the aisle to AMD. This is not, perhaps, an ideal matchup for Intel’s Alder Lake, of course. Without Thread Director in play, in Windows 10, the 12th Generation Core i9-12900K can only post results that are either slightly ahead of AMD’s 16-core 5950X in content creation, or ones that lose in some cases. Granted there’s a $140 price disparity there, but there’s also a RAM disparity, a platform disparity, a cooler disparity…you get the drift. A lot of loose factors are at play in this new world.
In our more limited run of benchmarks on Windows 11 we did find that, in certain circumstances, Thread Director provided a sizable benefit. Sometimes the difference was negligible (for example, Cinebench R23, POV-Ray, and gaming tests all stayed roughly the same), while in others like the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere runs, we saw an improvement of nearly 30% in both benchmarks. Whether that means it’s 30% faster in Windows 11 or 30% slower in Windows 10 is all a matter of your vantage point.
But let’s dig into that result for a moment. Intel was very specific in both its early marketing and reviewers’ guidance about where the benefits of Thread Director would kick in, and as far as our benchmarking suite is concerned, Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro were the only applications that showed a visible benefit. That should perk up the ears of content creators, to be sure, but know that it’s a situational benefit.
However, that’s just one pass of many to come. Thread Director, Windows 11, and Intel 12th Gen are all still in their infancy, and we expect the breadth of Thread Director’s effects on your PC to increase in scope and power as all engineers involved refine things over time. That said, thus far as of launch, we only found those two cases where the effect was apparent, and you have to factor in the added cost of upgrading to Windows 11.
Gaming at the High End: Intel Core i9-12900K Frame Rates With Discrete GPU
Here’s what we saw in our bank of gaming tests with our GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition card running the show. This top-end consumer graphics card is the primary arbiter of performance at 4K with all of the CPUs that we have laid out below. At 1080p, though, the card gets out of the way a bit more and lets the CPU differences shine. (We test with 3DMark Time Spy and three AAA games.) These tests were run under Windows 10 except where noted.
No, your eyes don’t deceive you: Intel has carried its wins from content creation right on through to gaming, and for the first time in too long, has released a desktop gaming CPU that’s competitive with AMD on both price and performance. Sure, games like F1 2021 are a “gimme” due to their RAM sensitivity, but both the 3DMark and Rainbow Six Siege results leave us optimistic that Intel can keep pace in the gaming race for at least the next several months (if rumors of Zen 4’s launch date prove true).
One Gaming Caveat, Though…
And while normally we’d take the rest of this section to talk about all the nuances of the results and what they could mean for Intel’s new position in PC gamer’s minds, there’s just one problem we noted: The Core i9-12900K can’t play every game. Italics intentional.
The sheer boldness of that statement may not have caught everyone on the first pass, so let’s reiterate: Intel’s latest gaming processor, marketed by the company as the “World’s Best Gaming Processor,” may not play certain games. It’s dependent on the digital rights management (DRM) system used by the game to protect its licenses.
The culprit? All that P-core/E-core stuff we mentioned up above. During the course of our testing—which includes two runs of the popular title Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, one in 1080p and the other in 4K—we found the game would either crash halfway through the test run, or simply not boot in at all. We tried to test as many titles as we could ahead of this review, but time was already a factor with the benchmarking suite we had, let alone following behind Intel’s late-stage answer about DRM compatibility with a trail of games that may or may not launch on the first go.
Upon speaking to Intel about the issue, we were told this was down to Denuvo DRM, a protection method that many single-player and multiplayer games use to validate the license of a game online. This DRM system keeps games protected from piracy, and over the years Denuvo has proven itself to be one of the most difficult DRMs out there to crack. This makes it especially popular with developers of AAA single-player games, those who are often hardest hit when a game that costs millions to develop gets cracked for free within a few days of release (sometimes even sooner).
The issue with games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla arises either on launch or on load, because Denuvo thinks that the P-cores and E-cores belong to two separate systems, rather than two different core types on the same chip. Once it detects that some portion of the load has been split between the P and E cores, it sees the new cores as a new license holder (a separate system), and force-quits the game to prevent what it believes is two PCs trying to play one game on the same key.
When quizzed on how widespread this issue is, Intel had this to say:
“We are aware of a DRM issue with Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and we are working with the game publisher on a fix. There are select game titles that have had issues running on 12th Gen Core platforms due to a DRM issue. These issues have been addressed via game patches and OS updates for most games in Windows 11. Windows 10 updates will begin next year.”
[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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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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