Intel Alder Lake is the 12th generation of chips from the well-known chipmaker, one that promises unprecedented performance thanks to a new hybrid architecture for Intel's desktop CPUs. While the full lineup of Alder Lake desktop and mobile CPUs will be rolling out through 2022, a handful of Alder Lake desktop CPUs are now available for purchase -- including the top-of-the-line Core i9-12900K.
This is significant because Intel's long reign as top dog of the CPU market (fiercely contested by AMD) has been undercut this year by the outstanding performance and efficiency of Apple's new M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. These two new pieces of Apple silicon debuted in the new MacBook Pro 2021 (14-inch) and MacBook Pro 2021 (16-inch) laptops, and in our own Macbook 2021 benchmarks Apple's latest chips helped the new MacBooks outperform the lion's share of Windows laptops we've tested, all of which were packing Intel's 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs.
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Of course the M1 Pro and M1 Max are tailor-made for Apple's laptops, whereas Intel builds chips for everyone. And we can't compare the Alder Lake CPUs hitting the market in November 2021 against Apple silicon anyway, because Intel's releasing just a handful of its desktop chips first; we'll have to wait a while (potentially until 2022) to see the Alder Lake laptop chips and find out how well they stack up against the competition.
But now that we have our first real look at what Intel's Alder Lake CPUs are capable of, we can begin to see how the CPU market will heat up in 2022. Intel's 12th Gen chips promise remarkable power, but by early 2022 we're expecting to see not only a new generation of Ryzen CPUs from AMD built on its Zen 4 architecture, but a new Apple M2 chip powering the long-rumored MacBook Air 2022.
Without further ado, here's everything we know so far about Intel's Alder Lake 12th Gen CPUs.
Intel Alder Lake: Price and release date
Intel put 6 of its new Alder Lake desktop CPUs up for pre-order on October 27 2021, with a planned release date of November 4. All told the company plans to release at least 60 processors in the Alder Lake family through 2022, with models for both desktop and mobile devices.
Currently you can order from your choice of two Core i5, Core i7, or Core i9 Alder Lake CPUs, with prices ranging from $264 to $589. At the lowest end you can get a new Core i5-12600KF for an MSRP of $264, or a Core i5-12600K for $289. A Core i7-12700KF will run you $384, while the Core i7-12700K is $409. At the high end, a new Core i9-12900KF will set you back $564, while a Core i9-12900K costs $589. These prices are very close to what Intel asks for its current Tiger Lake chips, though the ongoing chip shortage might make prices unstable for a while.
The big difference between the two CPUs at each level is that the K variants come with Intel UHD Graphics 770 integrated graphics, while the cheaper KF variants do not. So if you're planning to slot one of these into a desktop with a discrete GPU, you're probably fine with the cheaper chip.
However, keep in mind that these Alder Lake CPUs utilize the new Z690 chipset, which means you'll need a motherboard with Z690 to make use of them.
Intel Alder Lake: Specs and performance
|Processor||Cores||Threads||Graphics||Base clock speed in GHz||Max clock speed (single core)||Max Intel Turbo Boost clock speed (all cores)||MSRP||Power range|
|Core i9-12900K||16 (8P + 8E)||24||Intel UHD Graphics 770||3.2 (P-core), 2.4 (E-core)||5.1 (P-core), 3.9 (E-core)||5.2 GHz||$589||12-28W|
|Core i9-12900KF||16 (8P + 8E)||24||None||3.2 (P-core), 2.4 (E-core)||5.1 (P-core), 3.9 (E-core)||5.2 GHz||$564||12-28W|
|Core i7-12900K||12 (8P + 4E)||20||Intel UHD Graphics 770||3.6 (P-core), 2.7 (E-core)||4.9 (P-core), 3.8 (E-core)||5.0 GHz||$409||12-28W|
|Core i7-12900KF||12 (8P + 4E)||20||None||3.6 (P-core), 2.7 (E-core)||4.9 (P-core), 3.8 (E-core)||5.0 GHz||$384||12-28W|
|Core i5-12900K||10 (6P + 4E)||16||Intel UHD Graphics 770||3.7 (P-core), 2.8 (E-core)||4.9 (P-core), 3.6 (E-core)||N/A||$289||12-28W|
|Core i5-12900KF||10 (6P + 4E)||16||None||3.7 (P-core), 2.8 (E-core)||4.9 (P-core), 3.6 (E-core)||N/A||$264||7-15W|
As you can see from the specs chart above, these new Alder Lake chips are the first Intel desktop x86 CPUs to be built on a hybrid architecture. That means they have a set of high-powered performance cores and a group of weaker, high-efficiency cores on each chip, as well as a new embedded microcontroller called the Intel Thread Director which aims to intelligently manage workflows across all cores for optimal performance.
If that sounds familiar, it's because Apple silicon like the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max all rely on a similar hybrid architecture of high-performance and high-efficiency CPU cores on a single chip. In fact, Apple takes things a step further by putting a multi-core GPU on the same chip, and letting both CPU and GPU access the same shared unified memory pool.
However, it's the hybrid high-power/high-efficiency CPU core setup that help give Apple chips like the M1 Pro and M1 Max their incredible power efficiency, allowing the modern MacBook Pros to last for up to 15 hours (based on our lab testing) on a single charge. While power efficiency is less critical in desktop CPUs since you don't have a battery to worry about, it's still quite exciting to see Intel roll out its first hybrid desktop CPUs. Power efficiency is still important for desktops, and we're eager to see what kind of battery life improvements we'll see in Windows laptops sporting new Alder Lake CPUs.
These are also the first Intel desktop CPUs to use DDR5 RAM and be built on a 7 nanometer process, an improvement over the 10 nm process used in Intel's 11th Gen Tiger Lake CPUs. That brings these new chips in line with AMD's current Ryzen CPUs, which are also built on a 7 nm process. However, the next generation of Ryzen chips are tipped to be built on a 5 nm process, so they could prove even more powerful when they hit the market in 2022.
Intel Alder Lake: Graphics and game performance
The first round of Alder Lake CPUs Intel is releasing are clearly marketed at folks building high-performance PC rigs, and the company is keen to back that up with promises of improving performance in demanding PC games.
Notably, Intel is marketing the top-of-the-line Core i9-12900K as "the world’s best gaming processor", claiming it can deliver up to 28% more frames per second in Hitman 3, up to 24% better FPS in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and up to 23% more FPS in Far Cry 6. These comparisons are based on Intel's own testing against its old Core i9-11900K CPU using a 1080p Windows 11 Pro system with an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU, and they suggest that at least at the high end, Alder Lake CPUs will deliver a significant performance improvement over Intel's old Tiger Lake chips.
Intel also shared some benchmarks illustrating how its new Alder Lake chips compete against AMD's high-powered Ryzen 5950X CPU, and you probably won't be surprised to hear the Core i9-12900K performed better overall -- though in credit to Intel, it did show two cases in which the Ryzen-powered system equaled or exceeded the gaming performance of the latest Alder Lake chip.
Specifically, Intel claims that on the same 1080p Windows Pro system (with an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU and 64GB DDR4 RAM) the Core i9-12900K delivered up to 15% more FPS than the Ryzen 5950X in Hitman 3, up to 14% more FPS in Far Cry 6, and up to 11% more FPS in Age of Empires IV. However, the AMD system and Intel system delivered roughly the same amount of FPS when running Crysis Remastered, and Intel says the Alder Lake system actually delivered up to 3% less FPS than the AMD system when running Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
So while it's clear that Intel's latest high-end Alder Lake desktop chips will deliver outstanding gaming performance, it likely won't be that much better than the competition. But if you're planning to overclock your new CPU, Intel says you should have an easier time than ever thanks to its updated Intel Extreme Tuning Utility 7.5. This utility will allow you to overclock the efficiency cores and DDR5 RAM in unlocked Alder Lake CPUs (unlocked Intel CPUs have a K designator in the name), and its Intel Speed Optimizer feature is meant to streamline the process of overclocking down to a single click.
Intel Alder Lake: Outlook
Though we've only seen manufacturer-provided benchmarks of a handful of desktop Alder Lake chips so far, that's already plenty to get excited about if you're passionate about PC performance. After witnessing Apple's remarkable success using hybrid SoCs in both the latest MacBooks and the 2021 iMac and Mac mini, it's thrilling to see Intel embarking on a similar path to deliver hybrid chips for desktops. Of course, we'll have to wait and see whether the laptop Alder Lake chips can help modern Windows laptops match the incredible power efficiency of M1-powered MacBooks.
But if you're primarily a desktop PC users, these new CPUs are awfully promising. With their hybrid high-performance/high-efficiency core arrays under the guidance of the Intel Thread Director, these new Alder Lake chips could potentially make life a lot easier for gamers, streamers, content creators, and anyone else who regularly runs into CPU bottlenecks.
Of course, we've got new Apple silicon and the next generation of AMD Ryzen chips on the horizon, so Intel may be in for a real fight come 2022. We'll just have to wait and see how well Alder Lake desktops and laptops perform in our lab, where we subject every PC we review to a battery of synthetic and real-world performance testing. Stay tuned!