Intel has launched its 12th Generation Intel Core Processors also known as Alder Lake-S (or S-spec) CPUs as of October 27th, 2021. This is a big launch for Intel, as it has not only re-designed the architecture, not only produced it on a better process node finally but also completely re-invented how we think about desktop CPUs.
Often called a “big little” architecture, Intel has brought a hybrid CPU approach to the desktop PC by way of a CPU that has both high-performance “P-cores” and efficiency “E-cores” instead of just one type of core. There are actually two different types of cores in play here to carry out different workloads. However, don’t let the word “efficiency” fool you, these are not your typical efficiency cores, in fact, these use to be what you’d find as the full-fledged performance cores from Intel’s CPUs in the past generations. Needless to say, this is a unique approach to doing things, and we are excited to see how it performs.
Our review today is going to focus on one such CPU, the new Intel Core i5-12600K with an RCP Pricing of $289 (per 1K). However, we are throwing a twist into the mix, we are testing this CPU today with DDR4 instead of DDR5. That’s right, while the new 12th Gen Intel Core Alder Lake architecture supports DDR5, it also supports DDR4, all you have to do is find an Intel Z690 chipset motherboard with DDR4 support instead of DDR5.
That is exactly what we have done today, we purchased an off-the-shelf retail GIGABYTE Z690 GAMING X DDR4 motherboard for $220 to install our Intel Core i5-12600K CPU that we also purchased in retail. Our goal today is to compare it with the competition using exactly the same RAM between each system! That means the same RAM type, the same RAM speed, and the same RAM timings. The platform supports it, so why not test it and see how it performs with tried-and-true DDR4! It’s cheaper, and more widely available. Oh, and we tested all of this on Windows 11, so let’s see how it all performed.
What Is Alder Lake
What is an Alder Lake-S CPU? Firstly, that was the codename for the CPUs before launch, which is now officially called 12th Gen Intel Core Processors. They not only introduced a whole new architecture, but also are designed on a new fabrication node called Intel 7 (previously known as 10ESF), and requires a new CPU socket. They work in tandem with the new Intel Z690 chipset, which is not backward compatible with previous generations due to the socket being completely different. This means if you have heatsink fan coolers or AIOs, you will need new mounting hardware for the new LGA 1700 socket.
At its core (hah) the Intel 12th Gen CPUs are made up of combinations of performance cores based on Golden Cove and efficient cores based on Gracemont. It is the various combination of performance cores and efficiency cores that make up the different CPU specs, along with frequency, cache, and TDP. This architecture is known as a hybrid architecture.
The P-core is optimized for foreground tasks and handling single and lightly-threaded performance. This is where the majority of your game performance and productivity workload will come from. The P-core’s support hyper threading, so they can have one core and one thread for each. The E-core is optimized for background tasks and optimized for scaling highly threaded workloads. They minimize interruptions from background task management. They do not support hyperthreading, so however many E-cores you have, is what you have, but put a bunch on a CPU and they can each provide an additional thread per core.
In order for your computer to know which core to hand off application workloads to, Intel has designed a hardware Thread Directory inside the CPU. This scheduler monitors runtime instructions and talks to the OS to dynamically allocate the right threads to the right cores. This works in tandem with Windows 11 new schedular to properly optimize performance based on what you are doing. Windows 11 is an important component of Alder Lake, though the CPUs do work just fine on Windows 10.
There are a myriad of other changes in Alder Lake, naturally, the entire cache architecture has been changed. There is a common Intel Smart Cache that is shared among P-cores and E-cores and they still have IGP or integrated graphics. The L2 cache has been increased per P-core and the L2 cache can be shared amongst each E-core cluster. There is also up to 30MB of shared L3 Smart Cache.
Alder Lake does have integrated graphics (IGP) onboard in the form of Intel Xe architecture. The exact model is Intel UHD 770. It can support up to 32 Execution Units at 1450MHz.
Another big change to be aware of with Alder Lake is the changing of power definition, TDP. Intel has basically combined the PL1 and PL2 power states, and TAU is no longer a thing. The new method is that Alder Lake CPUs will run-up to the maximum turbo power, and sustain that level. This means potentially higher sustained power levels, but it also means potentially higher sustained performance for longer periods of time. Where before you’d get a short almost one minute of maximum power boost, then it would TAU down to a different power level. That won’t happen now.
Above you will find the currently announced CPU stack, where the “K” indicates unlocked CPUs. The one we are looking at today is the Intel Core i5 series Intel Core i5-12600K which has 6 P-Cores and 4 E-Cores, which equates to 16 threads total. This is the $289 CPU with 20MB of L3 cache, and a Base Power of 125W, and a Maximum Turbo Boost Power of 150W. It operates at a P-Core Max Turbo Frequency of 4.9GHz and an E-Core Max Turbo Frequency of 3.6GHz. Below you can see the differences between the 12600K, 12700K, and 12900K, all of which we will be reviewing in the future.
|Specifications||Intel Core i5-12600K||Intel Core i7-12700K||Intel Core i9-12900K|
|Architecture/Process Node||12th Gen/Intel 7||12th Gen/Intel 7||12th Gen/Intel 7|
|Cores/Threads||10 (6P+4E)/16||12 (8P+4E)/20||16 (8P+8E)/24|
|Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0||N/A||5GHz||5.2GHz|
|P-Core Max Turbo||4.9GHz||4.9GHz||5.1GHz|
|E-Core Max Turbo||3.6GHz||3.8GHz||3.9GHz|
|Base Power/Max Turbo Power||125W/150W||125W/190W||125W/241W|
|RCP Pricing USD 1K||$289||$409||$589|
Intel Z690 Platform
Combined with the new CPU changes, Intel has delivered a whole new platform with the new Intel Z690 chipset. First of all, is the new LGA 1700 socket. 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs have a reduced z-height with a thin die and thin STIM. Therefore, new mounting hardware for your coolers is needed.
There is now PCI-Express 5.0 support, but only to the primary x16 GPU slot. The M.2 slot coming from the CPU is still maxed out on a PCIe Gen 4×4 bus. Intel has upgraded the DMI to 8 DMI PCIe 4.0 lanes and the chipset has up to 12 PCIe 4.0 lanes.
The other big upgrade is that this chipset and memory controller on the CPU now supports DDR5 RAM at up to 4800MT/s. However, it does still retain backward compatibility with DDR4. The defining factor here will be what the motherboard has on it, you won’t find both on the same motherboard, you will find DDR4 Z690 motherboards and DDR5 Z690 motherboards. There’s a lot more to say about DDR5, but since we aren’t using it in this review, we won’t go into those details yet. When we test DDR5 on Z690 we will talk about what makes it new, including a new XMP support.