Intel Core i9-12900K & Core i5-12600K Alder Lake CPU Review Ft. Z690 AORUS Master, MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi, & G.Skill Trident Z5 DDR5-6000 Memory
Conclusion - Solid Return To The Gaming Throne
Based on all those metrics above, we finally land to the conclusion and before I give the final verdict on the 12th Gen platform, let's talk about some aspects of the Alder Lake CPU itself.
The Intel 12th Generation lineup brings a brand new slate to the table. Gone is the 14nm, gone are the various Skylake iterations, and gone is the good ol' x86 design approach that we have seen over the many years. With Alder Lake, Intel has changed everything from top to bottom. We get a new process node, we get a new architecture (actually two new architectures) and we also get a brand new hybrid design that requires you to upgrade to the latest Windows 11 operating system to take full advantage of the performance that is packed under the hood.
The 12th Gen Performance - Hybrid Design Packs A Punch In Both Apps & Gaming
Starting with the performance numbers, Intel served AMD a good one by implementing a hybrid architecture to lift up its core count and also its multi-threaded performance. The Core i9-12900K is right there with the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, a true 16 core and 32 thread chip. In several applications and synthetic workloads, the Core i9-12900K manages to be faster than the Ryzen 9 5950X at price close to the Ryzen 9 5900X but the real show-stealer is the Core i5-12600K which managed to beat the Ryzen 5 5600X, Ryzen 7 5800X, i9-10900K and even Intel's own 11th Gen flagship, the i9-11900K with pure dominance. It's one chip that surprises me more than the i9-12900K and at its price, it's literally untouchable. The Core i5-12600K is a small multi-threaded monster and you really see those smaller cores in action on this chip more so than the 12900K.
With Alder Lake, Intel has also managed to recapture its gaming throne from AMD. Both the Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K offer exceptional gaming performance in all the games tested and once again, it's the Core i5-12600K results that impressed me the most. Offering faster gaming vs the Ryzen 9 5950X and even comes close to the 12900K in some instances, especially if you plan on overclocking that little monster. With that said, there isn't a whole lot of games that will make full use of Intel's hybrid architecture approach right now. With Intel's Thread Director technology and further game-engine integrations, we will see specific titles offer even more performance but since this is a new technology, it will take some time before we get to see the full benefit of this approach in action.
Pricing is good but is the availability too?
Pricing is also a small win-win for consumers and the reason I call it small is that while the MSRP of the 12th Gen lineup looks really good, I have been unable to find actual retail listings that are close to them. Again, considering the current supply situation and considering we are at day-1 of launch, this is to be expected but the Core i5-12600K is cheaper than the Ryzen 5 5600X and the 12900K is cheaper than the 5950X and close to the 5900X in pricing. That's very competitive and I hope that prices can come close to the MSRPs by the end of the year. I would also advise getting the 'KF' chips over the 'K' SKUs if you really don't want that iGPU on board. You save a couple of bucks & end up with even better price to performance ratio versus comparing Ryzen 5000 CPUs.
Most of the lucky people will be getting the chips shipped out to them today who pre-ordered it last week while the majority will be heading over to retail outlets and online stores to purchase the chips & once again, availability will be a concern depending on the region. In the US alone, there are certain retail outlets that are already out of stock but supply is expected to resume later today.
10nm Efficient But More Performance Means Higher Wattage & Temps
On the power efficiency front, 10nm ESF is a good enhancement of the 10nm SF node from Intel. It offers the same performance as a 250W Rocket Lake chip at 65W but to match AMD's Ryzen 5000 in multi-threading and IPC, the power envelope needs to be scaled up. As such, the MTP or max turbo profile has been raised to 241W and this is the first time ever that Intel has disclosed its full turbo TDP figures. While efficient, this means that the 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs still sip in more power than the Ryzen 5000 chips but it is more evident on the higher-end SKUs that boost past 5 GHz. The Core i9-12900K is a very power-hungry chip still, just like its predecessor but the Core i5-12600K actually offers better performance than the 5800X while consuming similar power.
That's where the lower voltage requirements for the 12600K play in. With 12900K, you need more volts to feed the higher clocks and that inversely affects the power envelope for the turbo profile. At the same time, the gaming power figures are an interesting thing to see as the Core i9-12900K really consumes lower power than both 5950X & 5900X during gaming loads while the 12600K is sitting at 10-15W higher than the 5600X but offers much faster gaming performance.
As the voltages go up, so do the temperatures and once again, 12900K manages to be a hot chip with temperatures hovering at around 70C while the 12600K hovers around the mid-50s at full load. So overall, in the power/temp segment, Ryzen 5000 CPUs still run cooler and consume low power but don't let this make you think that 12th Gen Intel chips are still as inefficient as those on 14nm.
What Platform To Choose? DDR5 or DDR4?
So this is an interesting one, like every new standard of memory before it, the Z690 platform also comes with both DDR5 and DDR4 options. The Z690 motherboards are purely designed for the K series chips and that's what I am going to focus on for now as the non-K parts are still few months away from launch.
If you are building an Alder Lake PC, then the first thing that will come to your mind is definitely if you want a DDR5 or a DDR4 motherboard. For one, you are going to pay for a new motherboard nonetheless, whether it be a DDR5 or a DDR4 variant, simply because of the new socket. The Z690 boards I have checked have a $10-$20 US+ premium on the DDR5 variants. Take for example the MSI Tomahawk which comes in both DDR5 and DDR4 flavors and costs $309 & $299, respectively.
That's a small premium compared to what you will be paying for DDR5 memory and boy are those expensive. The 16 GB kits start at over $200 US while the 32 GB kits start at over $300 US. This was to be expected since DDR5 is new and will take at least a year or two to reach parity with DDR4 prices. That's a $50-$100 US premium over DDR4 memory so in total, to go the DDR5 route, you will end up somewhere around $120-$150 US premium over a DDR4 platform. The performance difference in this early generation of DDR5 memory is also not that huge and to really see a CPU performance benefit, you'd need at least DDR5-5600 or above.
As a buyer, you will consider the DDR4 option to be more viable for you but that's only for the short term. Next year, more DDR5 platforms will become standard and DDR4 will go the way of the dinos so if you are looking for longevity, investing in DDR5 memory now is not a bad choice but certainly an expensive one. Because if you plan on upgrading to DDR5 in the future, you are going to need a new motherboard and memory kit anyways so rather than paying that premium later, why not pay it now? Yes, one argument could be that as the adoption rate for DDR5 increases, the prices will also come down on existing kits as more options enter the market but I don't see much point in DDR4 anyways for the high-end consumers. At the end of the day, if you really want a high-end PC, then DDR5 is a no-brainer, but if you want a mainstream or a budget solution then you should rather wait for the entry-level B660 motherboards that will be restricted to just DDR4 memory.
PCIe Gen 5.0 - Pretty Much Useless
Another key feature of the new Z690 platform is the addition of PCIe Gen 5.0 lanes. It looks like Intel wanted to be the first to each new IO and memory standard with Alder Lake but this one is quite useless. Yes, we know that new graphics cards are at some point going to come out & will feature support for PCIe Gen 5.0 hardware but existing graphics cards aren't even saturating the Gen 4 lanes entirely and we get another 2x bandwidth increase with Gen 5. Sure it offers future-proofing but I mean it would've been more beneficial as a consumer if those lanes were shared with one of the M.2 slots so next year when the new Gen 5 SSDs arrived, users could upgrade to make somewhat use of the new standard. But Intel decided to share all lanes to the PCIe slots & which to me is unnecessary and we will see if next-gen graphics cards are going to see any real-world benefit from it.
But all is not bad about having Gen 5.0 on the platform as certain motherboard vendors will be providing AICs with Gen 5 M.2 slots so you can slap that in one of the PCIe 5.0 slots and have a next-generation M.2 SSD running on your PC. But those AICs are only specific to the high-end motherboards.
So Is Alder Lake Worth The Hype? It Totally Is!
Intel's Alder Lake has many reasons for PC builders to be excited about. It's the fastest in gaming, it's a leap in multi-threaded performance for the blue team and it has a platform that offers the latest IO and memory standards. The Core i9-12900K is a really fast chip that is intended for users who are building PCs with the highest-end AIO and custom-loop cooling solutions. It's right there with the 5950X in terms of performance and even above & beyond in various applications while taking back the gaming throne.
But it is the Core i5-12600K that's going to be the game-changer for Intel. A chip that offers faster performance than the 5800X and 11900K at the price of a 5600X & even lower for the 'KF' variant. Unlike the 12900K, the 12600K runs cool and consumes much lower power, making it an ideal choice for consumers who want to build a fast mainstream gaming PC without spending too much in cooling and PSU upgrades. If you were really planning on getting a 5600X or a 5800X PC, then I'd advise you to change your plans and just get the 12600K, it's that sweet of a deal.
While the Core i9-12900K is the new gaming king, the Core i5-12600K is the new mainstream king and AMD needs to come up with something even more competitive than the 5600X and 3600X to match this little beast. Alder Lake with its added innovations & also additional features coming in the future through game developer integrations and hybrid architecture processor optimizations is surely to bring back PC builders to the blue team and get people excited about Intel CPUs once again!
Final Verdict - The 12th Gen Alder Lake lineup brings leading gaming performance back to the blue team along with a stellar increase to multi-threaded performance. The Intel 12900K is the new champ but the 12600K is going to be the hottest selling chip based on its highly competitive pricing and performance.