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Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake chips usher in a new generation of x86 processors

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A new era for Intel begins

Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake chips have finally arrived, ushering in a new era of the company’s chips, lead by the flagship Core i9-12900K CPU, which Intel promises is the “world’s best gaming processor.”

The company has been teasing Alder Lake since CES 2021 in January, and it revealed a lot more details on the specifics of its hybrid architecture approach at its 2021 Architecture Day in July. But today’s announcement marks the culmination of those efforts in the form of actual hardware that you can buy and use.

Intel is kicking things off with three new chips, led by the Core i9-12900K model, which offers a total of 16 cores (split between eight performance forced “P-cores” and eight efficient “E-cores”) and 24 threads and is capable of reaching clock speeds of up to 5.2GHz using Intel’s Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology. All told, Intel promises a 19 percent performance improvement thanks to the new P-core architecture compared to its 11th Gen chips.

Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

There’s also the Core i7-12700K (12 total cores and 20 threads, with eight P-cores and four E-cores) and the Core i5-12700K (10 total cores and 16 threads, with six P-cores and four E-cores) for those who don’t need as much firepower. Each of the three new chips are also available in a KF variant that ditches the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 770 to shave a few bucks off the price.

Intel 12th Gen Alder Lake desktop chips

Model Cores (performance / efficiency) Threads Base clock speed, P-core / E-core (GHz) Boosted clock speed, P-core / E-core (GHz) Turbo Boost Max 3.0 clock speed (GHz) Smart Cache (L3) Processor base power (W) Maximum turbo power (W) Graphics Recommended Price
Model Cores (performance / efficiency) Threads Base clock speed, P-core / E-core (GHz) Boosted clock speed, P-core / E-core (GHz) Turbo Boost Max 3.0 clock speed (GHz) Smart Cache (L3) Processor base power (W) Maximum turbo power (W) Graphics Recommended Price
i9-12900K 16 (8P / 8E) 24 3.2 / 2.4 Up to 5.1 / Up to 3.9 Up to 5.2 30MB 125 241 Intel UHD Graphics 770 $589
i9-12900KF 16 (8P / 8E) 24 3.2 / 2.4 Up to 5.1 / Up to 3.9 Up to 5.2 30MB 125 241 N/A $564
i7-12700K 12 (8P / 4E) 20 3.6 / 2.7 Up to 4.9 / Up to 3.8 Up to 5.0 25MB 125 190 Intel UHD Graphics 750 $409
i7-12700KF 12 (8P / 4E) 20 3.6 / 2.7 Up to 4.9 / Up to 3.8 Up to 5.0 25MB 125 190 N/A $384
i5-12600K 10 (6P / 4E) 16 3.7 / 3.8 Up to 4.9 / Up to 3.6 NA 20MB 125 150 Intel UHD Graphics 750 $289
i5-12600KF 10 (6P / 4E) 16 3.7 / 3.8 Up to 4.9 / Up to 3.6 NA 20MB 125 150 N/A $264

Intel is also using the new chips to introduce a lot of future-facing support for more advanced standards. All three new chips offer up to 20 PCIe lanes (split between 16 PCIe 5.0 and 4 PCIe 4.0 lanes), support for DDR5 memory at up to 4800MT/s (along with older DDR4 support at 3200MT/s), and larger L3 and L2 cache sizes.

Unfortunately, with new chips comes the need for a new motherboard: Alder Lake will need a motherboard built on Intel’s newly announced Z690 chipset, which adds more modern conveniences like Wi-Fi 6E support and faster USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 data transfer. Intel is using a new LGA 1700 socket here, so you may even need a new cooler or slightly updated standoffs from the manufacturer.

Intel is also heavily pushing Windows 11 as a key part of its Alder Lake lineup, noting that it’s worked with Microsoft to optimize its Intel Thread Director software to better manage tasks across threads when using the new OS. We’ll have to do some testing ourselves to see whether Windows 11 offers a notable boost in performance, however, along with how well the new chips stack up against competition from AMD and Apple.

Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

And while Intel often brands each year’s chips as a new generation, the 12th Gen lineup (starting with today’s desktop release) truly deserves the title. It represents not just the biggest leap for Intel’s desktop chips in years but the debut of a new approach for Intel as to how it designs its best chips.

The new lineup of Alder Lake chips are the first of Intel’s desktop chips to move beyond the 14nm process that the company has been using since it was first introduced in 2015’s 6th Gen Skylake chips. Instead, the new 12th Gen chips will be released on the freshly rebranded Intel 7 process (previously known as Intel’s third-generation 10nm process, or Enhanced Superfin).

As Intel has already explained, the new Alder Lake chips are a new approach to x86 chips for the company, one that strongly resembles the approach that Arm has been taking for years (and which has seen such success on Apple’s M1 line of chips). Instead of simply relying on cramming as many power-hungry cores as it can into a single chip, the Alder Lake hardware combines “performance” cores (broadly similar to Intel’s Core-class processors) with “efficiency” cores (closer to its Atom-class cores) for a mix of power and efficiency.

Intel has dabbled with this idea before, in 2020’s Lakefield chips, but those were a far more limited set of chips designed for low-powered hardware. Alder Lake, on the other hand, aims to power full-scale desktops as Intel’s flagship CPU, in addition to laptops and ultra-portable devices.

The 12th Gen chips also represent a chance for Intel to redeem itself after its lackluster 11th Gen desktop lineup, which tried to compensate for Intel’s aging 14nm process and its struggles with 10nm manufacturing delays by using the 10nm designs back-ported to the 14nm process. But due to differences in the two architectures, Intel was forced to reduce the number of cores it could offer on the 11th Gen chips compared to the 10th Gen hardware that preceded it.

As a result, last year’s models offered poor multithreaded performance compared to their processors: as Anandtech’s thorough review points out, the 11th Gen chips offered little to no gain (and even, in some cases, worse performance) for gaming, while also running far hotter and more power-hungry.

The new desktop chips are also only the beginning: Intel has big plans for the hybrid Alder Lake architecture, which includes mobile chips (an example shown featured six P-cores and eight E-cores) and ultra-mobile chips (like a model with two P-cores and eight E-cores) for laptops and other portable devices in the future.

Preorders for the new Intel 12th Gen chips start today, with the chips available on November 4th.