Intel’sIntel’s had a hard time competing with AMD lately. AMD’s Ryzen Zen 3 CPUs took the performance crown from Intel in gaming a year ago, and Intel’s response with its 11th Gen Core i9-11900K earlier this year was lackluster, to say the least. While it bumped some game performance, overall, it wasn’t enough to close the gap with AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X in both performance and power consumption. Some reviewers even labeled it “pathetic” and a “waste of sand.” Ouch.
Intel’s 12th Gen arrives today and with it the flagship Core i9-12900K. It’s a new era of x86 processors that are designed similar to Apple’s ARM silicon in offering both performance and efficiency cores. This allows Windows to offload background tasks and keep the performance cores for the more demanding workloads. Intel is promising the usual “world’s best gaming processor” and a 19 percent performance improvement over its widely panned 11th Gen chips.
This new generation of Alder Lake chips also relies heavily on Windows 11. Microsoft has optimized its new OS for Intel’s Thread Director, supposedly allowing it to better manage tasks across these new CPU cores.
Intel promises better performance with Windows 11, but what does that actually mean in reality? Not much. I’ve spent the past week with the Core i9-12900K running on both Windows 10 and Windows 11, and there’s barely a difference between the two for gaming.
Intel’s new Core i9-12900K has a total of 16 cores, but they’re not the cores you’re used to. Intel has split them into eight performance P-cores and eight efficient E-cores. These performance cores are similar to Intel’s Core-class processors, with the efficiency ones more like its Atom-class cores. Clock speeds can reach up to 5.2GHz using Intel’s Turbo Max 3.0 technology, and there are 24 threads in total based on two threads per P-core and one thread for each E-core.
Intel is also offering DDR5 memory support for the first time and PCIe 5.0 support. This means you’ll need a new motherboard for Intel’s 12th Gen chips, as the company has moved to its new LGA 1700 socket and Z690 chipset here. You may even need a new cooler, or updated standoffs, as the 12900K is slightly larger than the 11900K.
DDR5 will usher in an era of performance and power gains and even a new generation of overclocking with XMP 3.0. Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs also include Dynamic Memory Boost, which enables desktop PCs to automatically switch between faster XMP settings and a slower mode with less power consumption. It’s still enabled at a BIOS level, but you don’t even need DDR5 for this new memory boost feature. That’s good news, as DDR5 modules are likely to be expensive for some time yet.
While you can buy DDR5 memory right now, some Z690 motherboards will support existing DDR4 modules to ease the transition. The introduction of PCIe 5.0 is mostly future-proofing right now, as you can’t buy a GPU that supports this standard, and we’re still waiting on the first PCIe 5.0 SSDs to appear.
Still, you’re going to find a lot of Z690 motherboards with multiple M.2 slots. I’ve been testing MSI’s MAG Z690 Carbon Wi-Fi, which has five M.2 slots in total, with four at PCIe 4.0 speeds and one at PCIe 3.0. We’re now at the stage where just using M.2 for your storage needs is viable, even if it’s still not very affordable.
The Verge doesn’t review processors in the traditional sense, so we don’t own dedicated hardware testing rigs or multiple CPUs and systems to offer all of the benchmarks and comparisons you’d typically find in CPU reviews. For those, we’re going to recommend you visit the excellent folks at Ars Technica, KitGuru, or Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry.
Yet, I’ve been testing Intel’s Core i9-12900K paired with 64GB of SK Hynix DDR5 4800 RAM and Nvidia’s RTX 3080 Ti. I’ve been holding off on the Windows 11 upgrade on my main gaming PC, so I wanted to see if it was really worthwhile for Intel’s latest Alder Lake chips. Spoiler: it’s not.
I’ve tested a variety of workloads, synthetic benchmarks, and games across both Windows 10 and Windows 11, and the results are very similar. Performance improved slightly in some multithreaded tasks, but gaming was practically the same. Windows 11 does seem to favor Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro workloads, though. I was able to shave off mere seconds in 4K renders in general, and Puget Labs benchmarks are slightly higher on Windows 11 overall. We run a standard video export test at The Verge, which exports a 5-minute 4K video using Adobe Premiere Pro. This completed in 3 minutes and 14 seconds on Windows 11, which was 8 seconds faster than when I exported using Windows 10.
In gaming, frame rates are mostly unchanged between Windows 10 and Windows 11. I tested Metro Exodus, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Gears 5, Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, and Watch Dogs: Legion all at 1080p with ultra or high settings. Performance was practically identical across all these titles, apart from Gears 5, where it dipped slightly on Windows 11. A benchmark for 3DMark Time Spy CPU also dipped slightly on Windows 11.
There are bound to be improvements with Intel’s Thread Director on Windows 11 that are more noticeable when you’re running a lot of background tasks or just in regular day-to-day usage, but I wasn’t able to notice them during my testing.
I also tested a variety of PCIe 4.0 drives with the 12900K, just to see how capable it is at delivering the speeds you’d expect to see with the latest M.2 SSDs. Western Digital’s SN850 (1TB) is rated at 7,000MB/s sequential read speeds and 5,000MB/s write speeds. I recorded read speeds of 6,925MB/s and write speeds of 5,362MB/s. That’s only slightly better (less than 2 percent) than what I saw with Intel’s previous Core i9-11900K. Samsung’s 980 Pro also managed to hit read speeds of 6,706MB/s and write speeds of 4,977MB/s, all using CrystalDiskMark.
These types of speeds don’t mean much on paper, but in reality, I was able to do tasks like transfer 100GB of data between two PCIe 4.0 drives, all while exporting a 4K video without my PC bottlenecking or breaking a sweat. I use my PC for gaming and work, so it’s great to be able to leave a data transfer running in the background while I instantly load a game.
The Core i9-12900K also delivers big improvements on multi-core performance for benchmarks like Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23. Intel’s previous 11900K dropped its core count to eight, compared to the 10900K’s 10 cores, and it suffered in multi-core performance as a result. In Geekbench 5, the 12900K was nearly 12 percent better than the 11900K in single-thread performance and a massive 137 percent improvement in multi-core performance. I also noticed Geekbench 5 performing worse on Windows 11 here. Likewise, the Cinebench R23 scores are a big improvement over the 11900K and even push past what you’d find from AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X.
In terms of the AMD competition, Intel is finally delivering performance that can outperform AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X. The 12900K is a big improvement over the 11th Gen 11900K, in both productivity workloads and gaming.
The 12900K beats AMD’s 5950X in practically all of Eurogamer’s tests and nearly all of Gamer Nexus’ comprehensive benchmarks. CPU reviewers have found that this performance comes at an additional price beyond the sticker, though. At full loads for certain tasks, the 12900K can draw more than 240 watts of power, compared to AMD’s stock 120W for the 5950X, according to Gamers Nexus.
It has taken a year for Intel to respond, with a $589 processor that can match AMD’s $799 Ryzen 9 5950X. Whether you’ll actually be able to find it for anything close to $589 is another question, though. Pricing at various retailers in the US ranges from $620 all the way up to $649 right now.
Just how long Intel can maintain its performance advantage remains to be seen. AMD is rumored to be launching its Ryzen 6000 processors early next year, and they could be a stop-gap until the company is ready with its next Zen 4 architecture. For now, Intel is back and ready to usher in the DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 era.