Intel Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K Review

👤by David Mitchelson Comments 📅04-11-21

Billed as a true game-changer for the company sometimes known as Chipzilla, Intel’s 12th Generation Core codenamed ‘Alder Lake’ is now available to buy from retailers. So, the question now is, with our results now in the books, can we recommend the new consumer platform?

The answer is an almost unqualified yes. From a performance perspective the new architecture is an excellent generational improvement over Rocket Lake, extending the performance advantage where they already had a lead and obliterating AMD’s advantage in benchmarks where they were weaker.

Heavily multi-threaded benchmarks, where three generations of AMD Ryzen architectures have dominated in the consumer space, are no longer quite so one-sided. The i9-12900K trades blows with the Ryzen 9 5950X despite ostensibly supporting fewer threads, which we have to attribute to the massive architectural improvements made with Alder Lake. The i5-12600K meanwhile makes the Ryzen 5800X look decidedly ordinary at a much lower price point, stealing its lunch money in gaming and multi-threaded benchmarks alike.

Commercial and prosumer applications which thrive on memory capacity and bandwidth will love Alder Lake as the platform offers DDR5 support, a feature that just isn’t available with Ryzen. PCI-Express 5.0 support however isn’t quite so in demand currently, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see high-performance storage manufacturers push the standard hard as they butt up against the limits of four PCIe 4.0 lanes.

Two caveats remain in our thoughts however, the first is obvious - cost as a barrier to entry. The processors themselves are exceptionally competitively priced compared to their AMD counterparts, to the extent that AMD surely must respond. We have yet to see the full breadth of motherboard pricing however, an aspect that Intel have sought not to clamp down launching with Z690 only. Without equivalent B660 designs for those who won’t dabble in overclocking, AMD Ryzen will be the more affordable platform even before considering the premium DDR5 DIMMs will impose for the early adopter.

Perhaps the greatest shame is that there are no affordable GPUs to match Alder Lake to if buying a brand-new system today. A Core i5-12600K paired with an RTX 3060/3060Ti should be a crushing system for enthusiast gaming at up to 1440p without breaking the bank, but inflated graphics card pricing will inevitably put a damper on those aspirations. Upgrading from a few generations ago, perhaps a quad-core system that already has an adequate GPU but needs some pep as we transition to the Windows 11 era? At this point Intel’s 12th Gen platform is the only sensible option for the vast majority of consumers.

As for our other caveat - it’s power draw, but you probably already guessed that. Alder Lake brings performance, but at the cost of drawing more Watts from the wall than any other platform, by a very large margin. The fact that the CPU can handle this amount of power for any length of time is a borderline marvel, but it does make us concerned whether it’s sustainable long-term. Early indications are that the 12900K had very little overclocking headroom, suggesting that the ‘factory overclock’ of allowing the core to operate at PL2 power levels indefinitely is close to the limit of the silicon with conventional cooling. That being said, Ryzen 5000-series chips aren't exactly renowned for their overclocking headroom either.

+ Superior to AMD’s 5950X in most benchmarks
+ Improved gaming performance
+ Superb single/multi-core performance
+ Both CPUs offer integrated graphics
+ 12900K marginally cheaper than 5950X

- Extremely power hungry
- Costly to upgrade to

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