The Intel 12th generation codenamed Alder Lake is the most important Intel Core architecture update in the past decade. We’re taking a closer look at its peak performance in CPU-heavy benchmarks and analyzing the implications for power users and gaming PC enthusiasts.
We’ve described the architecture at length in our Intel Gen12 Alder Lake overview, but here’s the high-level view: Intel has embraced a heterogenous X86 architecture that embeds two different CPU core types, the “Performance” and “Efficient” cores.
I won’t go deep into how the new hardware and software schedulers work and how complex it must have been to build them. Intel and Microsoft seem to have been doing a great job. We’re going to look at peak performance, so many threads will look alike, regardless of which core type they run on. We’re aiming for maximum hardware utilization here.
I expect to see more nuance from the scheduler when we’ll test Intel’s 12th gen laptop CPUs, where the heterogeneous nature of these new CPUs should shine even more, especially in terms of power efficiency. For peak performance, Windows 10 users should not worry about potential improvements in Windows 11’s updated scheduler.
The new architecture lets Intel run more cores (up to 16) and more threads (up to 24) to elevate CPU performance to new levels. Compare that with the 8 cores / 16 threads of the last-gen Core i9-11900K, and it’s easy to see how things would scale nicely for massively multi-threaded apps."MORE CORES AND THREADS FOR NEW LEVELS OF PERFORMANCE"
When it comes to CPU performance saturation, typical benchmarks like GeekBench and Cinebench could be good proxies, even though they can’t reflect all real-world situations. Even though Intel was critical of Cinebench in the past, that benchmark has a good following in the Creative crowd, and Intel is now doing really well at it.
Benchmarks are not be-all end-all applications, but they provide valuable insight for individual components with the proper analysis. Also, you’ll find that they approximate many real-world use cases quite well.
If anything, our look at the product “value” (speed/price) at the end of the review might be the most important “real world” criteria, and that’s what I would use when shopping for a CPU. More on that later.
Intel Alder Lake CPU benchmarks
We have used the typical Kit that most reviewers feature for this round of tests, and differences typically come from more or less aggressive cooling solutions. The motherboard settings were left to the “default,” and we have not made any attempts to overclock this configuration at the moment.
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Motherboard: ROG STRIX Z690-E Gaming WIFI
CPUs: Intel Core i9-12900K (official specs) and Intel Core i5-12600K (official specs)
DDR5: Micron 2x32GB UDIMM DPARXPM001, PN MTC16C2085S1UC48BA1
CPU cooler: Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 110 140W TDP
Note that Intel’s 12th generation CPUs and Intel Z690 chipset support both DDR5 and DDR4 memory modules, so you will likely have to choose which, based on your budget. At the moment, we haven’t run any DDR4 tests, so consider these numbers as the best-case scenario from a RAM standpoint.
For cooling, we have a plain Thermaltake TOUGHAIR 110 CPU heatsink rated for 140W TDP. It should reflect what you get in a relatively standard build, without liquid cooling or exotic (expensive) materials. The overall system is very quiet as we use an open case.
Looking at both the Geekbench and Cinebench scores, you’ll realize that both stress the CPUs very well, and that’s why they tend to correlate. Basically, Intel is back at the top.
You will find more or less the same kind of outcomes and rankings on real apps that can saturate all CPU threads at 100%, like heavy CPU photoshop filters, CPU 3D rendering, etc. You can run tons of benchmarks and keep seeing this overall picture."INTEL IS BACK AT THE TOP"
Apps that rely on massive datasets benefit from the superior DDR5 bandwidth, so if you’re a professional, I would recommend opting for that memory type. Gamers might save a buck with DDR4 since game developers tend to optimize RAM usage to fit in affordable computers.
I’ll point out that the games must be CPU-limited for the CPU to influence the framerate heavily. That more likely happens at lower resolutions like 1080P or slightly above. As you scale from 1080p to 1440p, 4K, and 8K, the GPU’s fillrate becomes the primary limiting factor as the number of pixels rises exponentially.
Game developers and 3D Engine developers spend a great deal of time (literally hundreds of man-year every year) optimizing for multithreading, so it’s a good bet to have a high-thread CPU.
The most advanced 3D engines have a pre-rendering pass where all tasks are organized in dependency trees and dispatched into numerous threads that maximize CPU utilization. The chances are that Intel’s new CPUs will do very well in many AAA games.
CAD and Creative professionals running specific apps might search for industry-specific benchmarks. But even without being that picky, they might be swayed by the value proposition of these new CPUs. After all, money talk.
Value proposition highlights
Intel’s new processors do have excellent “absolute performance” in their category. You’ll find much more expensive Intel Xeon or AMD ThreadRipper CPUs with slightly better performance at much higher prices, so “no thanks.”
And that’s why the most important metric is “how much CPU speed are you getting for your money?” (performance / $)
Looking at our value data below, the Intel Core i5-12600K ($289) is a stunner, and the Core i9-12900K ($488) is far ahead of AMD’s formidable Ryzen 9 5950X ($718) and 5900X ($484), let alone the 5600X ($299). All these street prices are what I found at publication time.
And that’s the second facet of Intel’s new desktop processors. This new Alder Lake architecture brings great performance for the price. That’s what the data clearly shows. That’s especially true for the i5-12600K, which is cheaper than the AMD 5600X but performs noticeably better.
Whereas AMD products’ value dominated Intel’s last-generation i9 CPUs, the Alder Lake architecture has turned the tables.
Most people shop for CPUs with a limited budget, and everyone wants the most performance for every dollar spent. If anything, the Intel Core i5-12600K should be your default choice, and if your budget allows, the Core i9-12900K is awesome."GREAT PERFORMANCE FOR THE PRICE"
Talking about “value,” you should check the total cost of your system, including DDR5 and the motherboard. Both might be expensive this close right now, but things might ease off soon.
Gamers can safely jump onto this new Intel platform with future-proof features such as PCIe 5.0 that should help with future graphics cards, DDR5 for the absolute fastest memory, and the new Intel Z690 chipset that has better IO and bandwidth.
Power consumption is typically not a huge factor for high-performance desktop computers, but I’d point out that the Core i9-12900K draws more power than its AMD competitors at peak workloads. If you were to build a server farm, this could be an additional criterion, but I don’t think it’s a big factor for individuals.
Intel did it! I did not know if this new architecture would deliver at this level. It was essential to see it in action, and the results speak for themselves: Intel has regained its (gaming) CPU crown."INTEL DID IT!"
For IT-related usage or sustained heavy workstation-type workloads, you might want to invest in a fancy cooling solution to make sure thermals do not limit the performance. I was impressed by the speed, even with a plain heatsink.
And I suspect there’s more to discover from Intel’s Alder Lake CPU architecture. These desktop processors show the kind of absolute peak performance we can get. However, the laptop versions will, without a doubt, offer new levels of performance and battery life (power-efficiency). I’m very much looking forward to it.