Intel Core i9-12900K Review - Fighting for the Performance Crown 387

Intel Core i9-12900K Review - Fighting for the Performance Crown

Architecture »

Introduction

Intel Logo

Here it is, the next-generation Intel Core i9-12900K "Alder Lake," the tip of Intel's spear against AMD as it looks to regain its position as the top-performing PC processor maker. The 12th Generation of Intel's desktop processor series launches in the same year as its 11th Gen "Rocket Lake," showing just how eager the company is to compete with AMD, which had comprehensively beaten it with the Ryzen 5000 series. The new processors herald a new, larger CPU socket, the LGA1700, next-generation I/O, such as DDR5 memory and PCI-Express Gen 5 for graphics, and debut the Hybrid core architecture to the desktop segment. These are also the first desktop processors from Intel built on the Intel 7 (10 nm Enhanced SuperFin) node, a departure from close to six years of being on 14 nm! Technically, the i9-12900K we're reviewing today is a 16-core/24-thread processor, but there's a lot more to this core-count.



The "Alder Lake" silicon features two kinds of CPU cores—larger Performance cores, or P-cores, and smaller Efficiency cores, or E-cores. The "Golden Cove" P-cores offer a massive 28% IPC increase over the "Skylake" cores powering five generations of Core desktop processors (6th thru 10th), and an impressive 19% gain over the "Cypress Cove" cores from the 11th Gen "Rocket Lake." The "Gracemont" E-cores can at the right frequency and power match "Skylake" cores in performance while occupying a quarter of the die area and a fraction of the power of the P-cores. A combination of the two is how Intel has sneaked up behind the Ryzen 9 5950X "Zen 3" 16-core processor in its marketing slides. The Intel Thread Director is an on-silicon middleware that works at a low level with the operating system to ensure the right kind of workload is allocated with the right kind of CPU core.

The Core i9-12900K maxes out the "Alder Lake-S" (desktop) silicon, featuring all 8 "Golden Cove" P-cores and all 8 "Gracemont" E-cores. Each of the 8 P-cores features 1.25 MB of dedicated L2 cache. The 8 E-cores are split between two indivisible E-core Clusters of 4 cores, each sharing 2 MB of L2 cache. The 8 P-cores and 2 E-core clusters share 30 MB of L3 cache. The Intel UHD 770 integrated graphics is based on the same Xe LP graphics architecture powering the iGPU as on the 11th Gen "Rocket Lake," down to the same 32 execution unit count. There's just a minor iGPU frequency bump, up to 1.55 GHz from 1.30 GHz on the previous generation.

The two CPU core types each have their own clock speeds. The P-cores on the i9-12900K are clocked at 3.20 GHz, with 5.20 GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency. The E-cores, on the other hand, are clocked at 2.40 GHz, with 3.90 GHz maximum Turbo frequency. Intel has retired the concept of TDP as it was no longer a reliable representative value of a processor's power or thermal characteristics. Instead, we have a more upfront declaration of the power bands these chips operate at. The "processor base power" is the typical load power draw, rated at 125 W. The "maximum boost power" is the maximum power drawn at boost frequency (stock), which is 241 W for the i9-12900K. The chip can be made to stick to maximum boost power indefinitely, and overclocking increases this value.

Intel is pricing the Core i9-12900K at roughly $600, which is interesting considering that is $50 more than the Ryzen 9 5900X, but $150 less than the Ryzen 9 5950X (launch price). It remains cheaper on paper compared to the current retail price of the 5950X. In its marketing slides, the company is extensively comparing the i9-12900K to AMD's top part, so the pricing can be termed aggressive. In this review, we show you if Intel's confidence is justified, and whether it managed to pull off a giant-slaying act against the Ryzen 9 5950X, a 16-core processor with all "P" cores.

Intel Core i9-12900K Market Segment Analysis
 PriceCores /
Threads
Base
Clock
Max.
Boost
L3
Cache
TDPArchitectureProcessSocket
Core i5-9400F$1706 / 62.9 GHz4.1 GHz9 MB65 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i5-10400F$1806 / 122.9 GHz4.3 GHz12 MB65 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Core i5-11400F$2156 / 122.6 GHz4.4 GHz12 MB65 WRocket Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Core i5-10500$2256 / 123.1 GHz4.5 GHz12 MB65 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 5 3600$2306 / 123.6 GHz4.2 GHz32 MB65 WZen 27 nmAM4
Core i5-9600K$2106 / 63.7 GHz4.6 GHz9 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i5-10600K$2606 / 124.1 GHz4.8 GHz12 MB125 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Core i5-11600K$2606 / 123.9 GHz4.9 GHz12 MB125 WRocket Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 5 3600X$2906 / 123.8 GHz4.4 GHz32 MB95 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 5 5600G$2506 / 123.9 GHz4.4 GHz16 MB65 WZen 3 + Vega7 nmAM4
Ryzen 5 5600X$3106 / 123.7 GHz4.6 GHz32 MB65 WZen 37 nmAM4
Core i5-12600K$3006+4 / 163.7 / 2.8 GHz4.9 / 3.6 GHz 20 MB125 WAlder Lake10 nmLGA 1700
Core i7-9700K$3108 / 83.6 GHz4.9 GHz12 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i7-10700K$3308 / 163.8 GHz5.1 GHz16 MB125 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Core i7-11700K$3508 / 163.6 GHz5.0 GHz16 MB125 WRocket Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 7 3700X$3208 / 163.6 GHz4.4 GHz32 MB65 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 5700G$3508 / 163.8 GHz4.6 GHz16 MB65 WZen 3 + Vega7 nmAM4
Ryzen 7 3800XT$4008 / 163.9 GHz4.7 GHz32 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Core i7-12700K$4208+4 / 203.6 / 2.7 GHz5.0 / 3.8 GHz 25 MB125 WAlder Lake10 nmLGA 1700
Ryzen 7 5800X$4008 / 163.8 GHz4.7 GHz32 MB105 WZen 37 nmAM4
Core i9-10900$44010 / 202.8 GHz5.2 GHz20 MB65 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 9 3900X$43012 / 243.8 GHz4.6 GHz64 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 9 5900X$52512 / 243.7 GHz4.8 GHz64 MB105 WZen 37 nmAM4
Core i9-9900K$4708 / 163.6 GHz5.0 GHz16 MB95 WCoffee Lake14 nmLGA 1151
Core i9-10900K$47010 / 203.7 GHz5.3 GHz20 MB125 WComet Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Core i9-11900K$5508 / 163.5 GHz5.3 GHz16 MB125 WRocket Lake14 nmLGA 1200
Ryzen 9 3950X$76516 / 323.5 GHz4.7 GHz64 MB105 WZen 27 nmAM4
Ryzen 9 5950X$75016 / 323.4 GHz4.9 GHz64 MB105 WZen 37 nmAM4
Core i9-12900K$6008+8 / 243.2 / 2.4 GHz5.2 / 3.9 GHz 30 MB125 WAlder Lake10 nmLGA 1700
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