Test: Alder Lake Intel i9-12900K and i5-12600K

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Alder Lake update:

A hybrid architecture :

Alder Lake features a new architecture that can be called “hybrid” since it will mix two types of cores. If you’re a hardware fan, you know that the i9-12900K (F) will have 16 cores and 24 threads. But beware, the 16 cores are actually divided into 8C + 8c.

There are the first 8 cores (P-core also called Golden Cove) sitting next to 8 other cores (E-core also called Gracemont). These two different types of cores have different roles. The P-cores, for Performance-cores, are meant to perform the tasks requiring high computing power in the foreground and single-threaded tasks, and the E-cores, for Efficient-cores, are optimized for handling scaling highly-threaded workloads and minimizing interruptions for lighter tasks and automation tasks in the background. Now both types of cores will work together depending on the task.

P-cores are 8 distinct physical cores, while E-cores are grouped in clusters of 4. We will see later that if we want to change the frequency of the E-core, it’s actually on all 4 cores at the same time that the change is made.

The frequency of the P-core and the E-core is of course different. In the case of our i9-12900K (F), the P-core frequency is 4900 MHz (with a boost clock of 5200 MHz) and the E-core frequency is 3700 MHz (with a boost clock of 3900 MHz). It’ll also be interesting to see how these different cores will behave in overclocking.

Finally, on the graphics side, we will find Intel’s Xe architecture with 32 EU for desktop processors and 96 EU for mobile and ultra mobile. Regarding power consumption, we will have processors with a TDP ranging from 9 to 125 watts. Alder Lake will also introduce new I/O technologies such as PCIe 5.0 with 16 lanes (and 4 lanes in 4.0), Wi-Fi6E and Thunderbolt 4.

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A splendid media box :

A quick word on Intel’s kit packaging offered to the media for the launch of their new products. The launch of a new platform and processors often means review samples for the media. So, in addition to the motherboards and DDR5 kits, we received Intel’s media kit. We received a box with dimensions of 270 x 265 x 65 mm, stamped with Intel’s logo. Once the cardboard protection is removed, we finally discover the box itself with Intel’s latest version of its logo. Let’s see what’s hiding inside this box.

The first thing that jumps out is a cardboard printing of Intel’s i9-12900K die, with its 8 performance cores and its 8 efficiency cores. It’s a really nice reproduction which will be perfect in our lab as a new decoration item.

Inside, we can read the following message engraved on the lid : « Built for the next generation of gaming ». This first part of the box is gorgeous, and still, no sign of the CPUs so far. Underneath, Intel had thought of using a support made of plastic, in order to hold the die vertically. This support is inserted in a foam block. When we remove this block, it’s not one but two precious CPUs which are revealed !

Yes, Intel has indeed sent two processors ! We were provided with their i9-12900K and their i5-12600K, ready to be tested. We are looking forward to installing them on our Z690 chipset configurations.

The Alder Lake processor line:

We have received two Alder Lake processors: the i9-12900K and the i5-12600K. Nonetheless, Intel’s current line is broader, in this case six SKUs. The i9-12900K (F) with 16 cores and 24 threads, the i7-12700K (F) with 12 cores and 20 threads and finally the i5-12600K (F) with 10 cores and 16 threads. The six models will have 30, 25 and 20 MB of L3 cache respectively, and a TDP of 125W (and PL2 of 241W), which is slightly lower than previous generations, that could go up as high as 250W.

As a reminder, the “K” versions have an unlocked multiplier. It is therefore very easy to overclock them. The “KF” versions, on the other hand, have the integrated graphics part deactivated.

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A CPU with an updated design :

Alder Lake benefits from the long awaited 10 nm process node. This evolution has an impact on the DIE’s thickness. As shown in the screenshot below, we can see the evolution over the last generations. The DIE’s height decreases as well as the thermal compound’s.

On the other hand, the chip features a thicker integrated heat spreader (IHS), which should improve the cooling of the DIE and provide better heat spreading. As a reminder, the i9-12900K DIE’s dimensions are 10.5 x 20.5 mm with a surface area of 215.25 mm². The IHS is soldered to the DIE with Thin STIM, i.e. solder thermal interface material.

New chipset = new socket :

It is not always the case, but this time it is, Intel’s new chipset, the Z690, will be the only one (at first) to support Alder Lake CPUs. The socket will be different, larger and will be called LGA-1700.

Available above, a screenshot detailing the difference between the two sockets (credit to Igor’s Lab). The LGA-1700 socket has 1700 pins, when the previous generation had 1200. This change suggests you may need to invest in a new cooling system. Some brands will provide adapters for your current cooling solution. Make sure you contact them and ask them about this, as it is most of the time given for free.

Intel will later offer other CPUs using LGA-1700 format as well as other less expensive chipsets (H670, B650 and H610) which might be however, DDR4 compatible only. This will save users from having to buy the new DDR5 to enjoy their new Alder Lake CPU. A word of caution though, some Z690 motherboards will also be available with DDR4 only. So be sure to double check if it’s DDR4 or DDR5 compatible, as it won’t be both at the same time.

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