Core i9 12900K processor review

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Final Words & Conclusion

Final Words 

Alder lake is a colossal step forward for Intel, the architecture is sound and works really well. We can nitpick on the topic of power consumption, but other than that, these processors do deliver. Intel has come a long way, the new architecture shows very powerful performance cores. Basically, this is an 8-core processor at 16 threads paired with 8-energy efficient CPU cores (8-threads). The combination is sound and offers a product series that can compete extremely well with AMD's Ryzen Series 5000 high-end processors. 


If we look solely at the performance cores then Intel manages them well. Alder lake undoubtedly offers the best single-threaded performance on the market, and that still is a massive selling point. Multithreaded performance of course is severe as well. In specific the 12900K puts up a very good fight against the Ryzen 9 5900X (519 EUR/USD) and sometimes Ryzen 9 5950X (739 EUR/USD) from AMD, I am listing street prices here. For multithreading, the 5950X has the upper hand, but it's also a far more expensive part.  Then again making a move to Z690 presumably you'll want DDR5, this easily destroys that price benefit. Gaming wise Intel now has the faster processors, but as always, we test with the fastest GPU available (GeForce RTX 3090), and only up to 2560x1440 you'll notice substantial enough performance gains. But even then the differences in performance can be discussed. With a slower GPU the GPU is the bottleneck in graphics intense games, ergo the benefit of a faster CPU quickly vanishes. One thing we all need to get used to are the performance versus energy cores. For me personally, I cannot care much about it. The one thing that this architecture shows is that it's less energy efficient compared to a 5950X at 7nm. So for me, the E cores are not really a selling point? It however can be beneficial in demanding workloads where your application uses the P cores, and the E cores still do your background workload properly. It remains trivial though. I've been thinking about the fact as to why Intel did not pursue 12 or 16 cores P cores and strip away the E cores. But it's obvious that P2 state energy consumption would become an issue. Regardlessly, no matter what I think or how I feel about it, Intel's solution does work extremely well making this among the fastest processors on the globe. Gaming wise as mentioned Intel has a win. We still need to check out and rule out the performance differential with a DDR4 motherboard. I'll already state this though, in the beginning opting for a DDR4 motherboard might save you some money as transitioning to the new platform. But a lot of money on a Z690 motherboard is needed in general, you'd be better off going with DDR5 straight from the start. It's a budget-related choice of course. 

DDR5 Memory

Memory compatibility should not and likely will not be an issue as long as you stick to QVL supported DIMMs. The current sweet spot looks to be 5200 MHz DDR5 Cl38 or CL40. Check out Corsair's and G.Skills offering to start with, as they'll have impressive stuff to offer. We have three DDR5 kits at hand, they all are plug and play. E.g. insert them in the DIMM slots, apply the proper SPD/XMP profile and you're ready to roll. In our testing, we used the G.Skill Ripjaws S CL40 kits and the Corsair Dominator Cl38 kit. Both run fairly equal in performance. Nice is that Corsair will support storing two user-created SPD profiles in the memory, so if you can find a sweet spot tweak, you can store it inside the DIMMs as a profile. This is to be implemented at a later stage though.


So yes, LGA1700 ... these motherboards will start at roughly 250 USD ranging towards let's say 800 USD and with some very exclusive boards even passing 1000 USD. By definition a cheaper 250 USD Z690 motherboard will not be a lot slower than an 800USD one, however, it's all about features. The cheaper ones will be conforming closer to reference specs (more limited PL2 states), the expensive ones will have far higher and longer P states and thus offer a notch more performance in the long run as well as having more exclusive VRM power designs. Next to that the motherboards support features such as 2.5 GiGE connectors, WIFI6E (AX) network solutions, and of course are PCIe Gen 5.0 compatible, you're ready for something really fast and you'll be future proof with such a platform. The platform overall felt stable and refined, we can't say anything else here as that is the honest truth. 

Energy efficiency

With these processors now fabbed at 10nm, you may see some interesting energy efficiency; we expected to drop dead low IDLE energy levels due to the E-cores, but the system comes back at 70~80 Watts power draw in IDLE, granted our motherboard does have a roughly 5~7 Watts of RGB going on and has a lot of extra chips (multi-gig ethernet/wifi/thunderbolt) that require energy, but even then it's a fair bit. PCI Express 5.0 also is part of the enigma here, it simply requires more energy.  The system under full stress on the processors comes back at roughly 325 Watts and overclocked we even reached 450 Watts. Energy efficiency for this motherboard and processors as such are average at best. Keep that in mind with your choice of cooling, as processor wattage used usually is 1:1 in line with cooling performance. We recommend a good LCS.

Core Thread Clock speed L3 cache Proc Base Power Max Turbo Power
Base E Boost E Base P Boost P All cores Boost P 1-core
Core i9-12900K 8P+8E 24 2.4 3.9 3.2GHz 5.2 5.3GHz 30MB 125W 241W
Core i9-12900KF 8P+8E 24 2.4 3.9 3.2GHz 5.2 5.3GHz 30MB 125W 241W
Core i7-12700K 8P+4E 20 2.7 3.8 3.6GHz 5.0 5.0GHz 25MB 125W 190W
Core i7-12700KF 8P+4E 20 2.7 3.8 3.6GHz 5.0 5.0GHz 25MB 125W 190W
Core i5-12600K 6P+4E 16 2.8 3.6 3.7GHz - 4.9GHz 20MB 125W 150W
Core i5-12600KF 6P+4E 16 2.8 3.6 3.7GHz - 4.9GHz 20MB 125W 150W


Depending on your objectives, there are numerous approaches to overclock an Intel platform. With the Core i9-12900K you'll achieve roughly 5.2~5.3 GHz across all performance cores. And the processor is going to need something like 1.4 Volts. Most modern motherboards will have an automated setting for that. All 8 performance cores were overclocked to 5.3 GHz but at the cost of yet another 125W in energy consumption. We gained 5% extra performance due to this. As such, we feel overclocking is unneeded perhaps even an illogical thing to do. But you can if you want to and this platform certainly will assist you greatly with it.

Note on integrated graphics

We'd have loved to show you some scores and benchmarks on the integrated Xe GPU. Unfortunately, we have an issue where the IGP will not POST with the current BIOS on the ASUS boards, the MSI board we have does not have a display output. We'll follow up on this soon.


The conclusion

The simple truth is that Alder Lake is an impressive processor series with an equally impressive (Z690) platform. All factors combined make this a truly worthwhile upgrade to a new ECO system. We do think that the Core i5 12600K might be more interesting for the vast majority of people, though I'll talk more about that in the 12600K review. The Core i9-12900K then, with its 16 cores and 24 threads. 8 P-Core (16 threads) and 8 E-Core (with 8 threads) the CPU absolutely delivers. The CPU has 30 MB L3 cache, 3 MB per core (Golden Cove) and 3 MB per cluster (E-Core) (Gracemont). That's 8 P-Cores for 24 MB and 6 MB from each of the two clusters of 4 E-Cores. The chip has 12.5 MB of L2 cache and 1.25 MB of L3 cache. That said, I am not imbued about the inclusion of energy-efficient cores as they just do not matter to me if it does not bring IDLE and low load power consumption down. Overall platform power consumption was substantially higher than what AMD offers. The thing that Intel does have going for it is of course the very fast single-threaded performance. When you look at multi-core performance the Intel is at Ryzen 5000 level with a differential here and there. IPC for the P cores is on par with the fastest Ryzen 5000 core if you clock them both at the same frequency. The thing is, Intel can clock them faster and does so longer (PL2); that's where the increased single-thread performance is deriving from. Motherboard manufacturers are free to configure that PL2 state as they please btw. This will invoke a lot of variety in energy consumption. Allow me to focus on AMD for a second. They gained huge popularity by expanding on their ecosystem, the Ryzen 5000 release wasn't about the processor solely, it was all about the platform and of course PCIe Express 4.0 support, being first with new technology matters advancing that very same ecosystem, as it gives you a technology lead. Intel is now applying the very same idea, and ups it a notch as the inclusion of DDR5 support and PCIe Express 5.0 support, both are super interesting. While PCI-Express 5.0 might take a bit longer to adapt to, you do get PCIe Gen 4.0 backward compatibility, and that opens up a plethora of storage functionality. We do wonder how long will it take before we see 16GB/sec performing NVMe M.2 SSDs. Transitioning to DDR5 of course will deliver an effect much faster, gaming for example, or database workload-intensive applications. So in that respect, Intel is absolutely an industry leader with a more future-ready platform. Fact is also, the price of admission being first with technology is going to hurt your wallet. To bypass that fact a little, there will be DDR4 compatible motherboards as well, it might help you transition a bit easier. All in all; the accumulation of it all (CPU/Motherboard/New Tech) the platform aside from relatively high power consumption is absolutely impressive. A completely new architecture with improved IPC and terrific performance, we believe will encourage many people to make the switch to Alder Lake. It supports PCIe Gen 4.0 and 5.0, as well as DDR5 memory and WIFI6E for premium motherboards, which we believe will encourage even more people to make the switch with super-fast CPU-bound game performance in mind. Right now, it appears that the Core i9 12900K will sell for $589,- at retail, which is a reasonable amount of money to spend on something that is, in essence, an eight-core CPU with eight "slower cores." The reality is that Intel manages to keep the 5900X and 5950X well within striking distance, which is both a statement and a testament to the work that Intel has performed here. 

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