Alder Lake CPUs: Everything you need to know

After talking up Alder Lake for more than a year, Intel has released all of the CPUs in its 12th-gen range. 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 the first slot-in CPUs with a hybrid architecture.

There’s a lot to talk about with Alder Lake. 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

Intel Core i9-12900K box on a desk.

The first batch of Alder Lake chips arrived on November 4. 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

Intel announced a further 22 Alder Lake processors later, but the company hasn’t revealed pricing details yet. These chips support the rest of the range, offering locked variations of the above models, as well as inexpensive Core i5 and Core i3 options.

The prices we know about 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.

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.

Outside of the golden wafer with the Core i9-12900K, the six chips listed above don’t come with anything but the CPU. The other 22 CPUs come with one of Intel’s redesigned Laminar CPU coolers.

Specs

Intel now has 12th-gen desktop processors from 16 cores down to only two, offering options across the price and performance spectrum. Although Alder Lake is known for having a hybrid architecture, only about half of the chips come with a mix of performant (P) cores and efficient (E) cores. Here’s a look at the desktop range:

Cores Base frequency Max boost frequency Intel Smart Cache (L3) Integrated graphics Base power Max turbo power
Core i9-12900K 16 (8P + 8E) 3.2GHz 5.2GHz 30MB Intel UHD 770 125W 241W
Core i9-12900KF 16 (8P + 8E) 3.2GHz 5.2GHz 30MB N/A 125W 241W
Core i9-12900 16 (8P + 8E) 2.4GHz 5.1GHz 30MB UHD 770 65W 202W
Core i9-12900F 16 (8P + 8E) 2.4GHz 5.1GHz 30MB N/A 65W 202W
Core i7-12700K 12 (8P + 4E) 3.6GHz 5.0GHz 25MB Intel UHD 770 125W 190W
Core i7-12700KF 12 (8P + 4E) 3.6GHz 5.0GHz 25MB N/A 125W 190W
Core i7-12700 12 (8P + 4E) 2.1GHz 4.9GHz 25MB UHD 770 65W 180W
Core i7-12700F 12 (8P + 4E) 2.1GHz 4.9GHz 25MB N/A 65W 180W
Core i5-12600K 10 (6P + 4E) 3.7GHz 4.9GHz 20MB Intel UHD 770 125W 150W
Core i5-12600KF 10 (6P + 4E) 3.7GHz 4.9GHz 20MB N/A 125W 150W
Core i5-12600 6 3.3GHz 4.8GHz 18MB UHD 770 65W 117W
Core i5-12500 6 3.0GHz 4.6GHz 18MB UHD 770 65W 117W
Core i5-12400 6 2.5GHz 4.4GHz 18MB UHD 730 65W 117W
Core i5-12400F 6 2.5GHz 4.4GHz 18MB N/A 65W 117W
Core i3-12300 4 3.5GHz 4.4GHz 12MB UHD 730 60W 89W
Core i3-12100 4 3.3GHz 4.3GHz 12MB UHD 730 60W 89W
Core i3-12100F 4 3.3GHz 4.3GHz 12MB N/A 58W 89W
Pentium Gold G7400 2 3.7GHz N/A 6MB UHD 710 46W N/A
Celeron G6900 2 3.4GHz N/A 4MB UHD 710 46W N/A
Core i9-12900T 16 (8P + 8E) 1.4GHz 4.9GHz 30MB UHD 770 35W 106W
Core i7-12700T 12 (8P + 4E) 1.4GHz 4.7GHz 25MB UHD 770 35W 99W
Core i5-12600T 6 2.1GHz 4.6GHz 18MB UHD 770 35W 74W
Core i5-12500T 6 2.0GHz 4.4GHz 18MB UHD 770 35W 74W
Core i5-12400T 6 1.8GHz 4.2GHz 18MB UHD 730 35W 74W
Core i3-12300T 4 2.3GHz 4.2GHz 12MB UHD 730 35W 69W
Core i3-12100T 4 2.2GHz 4.1GHz 12MB UHD 730 35W 69W
Pentium Gold G7400T 2 3.1GHz N/A 6MB UHD 710 35W N/A
Celeron G6900T 2 2.8GHz N/A 4MB UHD 710 35W N/A

The balance of P-cores and E-cores 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. Chips without the hybrid architecture come exclusively with P-cores, which support hyperthreading.

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 non-K models aren’t unlocked for overclocking, though some users have managed to bypass protective measures to overclock them anyway. Although Intel says not to overclocked non-K models, it can result in as much as a 33% increase in performance for midrange processors.

Performance

Intel Core i9-12900K in a motherboard.

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
7-Zip  126,215 139,074 86,172

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, but there are some leaked benchmarks we can reference for the CPUs Intel announced recently.

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 only comes 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.

Intel says AMD is “in the rearview mirror” with the release of Alder Lake, and performance backs up that claim. However, we’re still waiting for AMD’s Ryzen 7000 desktop processors, which should launch later in 2022.

Architecture design

Pins on Intel Core i9-12900K.

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.

Intel Alder Lake performance core design.

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.

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.

Although not related to hardware architecture, Intel removed functionality for software guard extension (SGX) in 12th-gen processors. In short, you can’t play 4K Blu-Rays with 12th-gen processors. SGX is used to protect the disks from piracy, and Alder Lake processors won’t read them.

Overclocking

Intel Alder Lake pin layout.

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 Lake’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 motherboards

Biostar Z170GT7
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

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.

Z690 is Intel’s flagship chipset, but the company also has budget-focused options — H670, B660, and H610. These chipsets don’t support CPU overclocking and they come with fewer PCIe lanes. They still support Alder Lake’s other tentpole features, though, including DDR5 on the motherboard with the correct RAM slots.

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.

Alder Lake mobile processors

Someone drawing on the Samsung Galaxy Book.

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. Intel has H-series (45W), P-series (28W), and U-series (18W and 9W) mobile chips available, but we only have specs for the H-series right now. Here’s how the range looks:

Cores Max boost frequency Intel Smart Cache (L3) Base power
Core i9-12900HK 14 (6P + 8E) 5.0GHz 24MB 45W
Core i9-12900H 14 (6P + 8E) 5.0GHz 24MB 45W
Core i7-12800H 14 (6P + 8E) 4.8GHz 24MB 45W
Core i7-12700H 14 (6P + 8E) 4.7GHz 24MB 45W
Core i7-12650H 10 (6P + 4E) 4.7GHz 24MB 45W
Core i5-12600H 12 (4P + 8E) 4.5GHz 18MB 45W
Core i5-12500H 12 (4P + 8E) 4.5GHz 18MB 45W
Core i5-12450H 8 (4P + 4E) 4.4GHz 12MB 45W

In our testing, the flagship Core i9-12900HK wipes the floor with the competition. In some cases, we found the chip to be as much as 21% faster than the competing Ryzen 9 5900HX, and at times, it even rivaled a desktop Core i9-10900K. The problem is that AMD’s Ryzen 6000 chips aren’t quite here, so we’ll have to see how Alder Lake stacks up.

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 inside the laptop instead.

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 a 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, you should handle this result with skepticism.

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