Intel Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K Review: Retaking the Gaming Crown

Table of Contents Intel Alder Lake-S Core i9-12900K and i5-12600K Specifications and PricingIntel Alder Lake

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Intel’s $589 Alder Lake Core i9-12900K and $289 Core i5-12600K come to market with a powerful combination of competitive pricing and impressive performance, taking the lead in gaming over comparable Ryzen 5000 models and assuring a position on our list of Best CPUs for gaming. Intel’s newest chips are also incredibly competitive in productivity work, ranking among the top chips on our CPU benchmark hierarchy. Combine that with Alder Lake’s new next-gen connectivity technologies that bring big increases in throughput via DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interfaces, outstripping AMD’s venerable AM4 platform, and Intel has a winner on its hands.

With up to 16 cores and 24 threads on the flagship Core i9-12900K, Intel has finally achieved a comparable core count to AMD’s halo mainstream PC chips that have held the core count lead since the first 16-core 32-thread Ryzen 9 landed back in 2019. In fact, the $589 Core i9-12900K even beats the ultra-impressive $799 Ryzen 9 5950X in many threaded applications that have become Ryzen’s uncontested stomping grounds, like Cinebench.

That’s enabled by a first for desktop PCs — Intel’s new hybrid x86 design represents the company’s most disruptive architectural shift in a decade. Alder Lake combines big and fast Performance cores (P-cores) with a smattering of small and powerful Efficiency cores (E-cores) that chew through background processes with surprising speed. The Golden Cove architecture powers the ‘big’ P-cores while the ‘little’ E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture, with both providing much-needed IPC improvements to Intel’s core designs.

Intel etches those cores on its ‘Intel 7’ process, finally ending the misery of the 14nm node after six long years that ultimately cost the company its performance lead over AMD in desktop PCs. We previously knew this ‘Intel 7’ manufacturing tech as 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, but Intel recently renamed its process nodes to match industry nomenclature. Technically, this is the second generation of Intel’s 10nm process, but it’s a first for desktop PCs.

U.S. Price Cores | Threads P-Core Base/Boost E-Core Base/Boost TDP / PBP / MTP DDR4-3200 L3 Cache
Core i9-12900K / KF $589 (K) – $564 (KF) 8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads 3.2 / 5.2 GHz 2.4 / 3.9 GHz 125W / 241W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 30MB
Core i7-12700K / KF $409 (K) – $384 (KF) 8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 threads 3.6 / 4.9 GHz 2.7 / 3.8 GHz 125W / 190W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 25MB
Core i5-12600K / KF $289 (K) – $264 (KF) 6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 threads 3.7 / 4.9 GHz 2.8 / 3.6 GHz 125W / 150W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 16MB

Intel released three high-end overclockable K-series models today, along with their graphics-less KF counterparts that are slightly less expensive. The P-cores are hyper-threaded, while the E-cores only have a single thread, leading to what we would normally consider as non-standard thread counts. As a result, the chips stretch from a 10-core 16-thread Core i5-12600K up to the 16-core 24-thread Core i9-12900K.

The hybrid design is old hat for Arm processors, but it’s groundbreaking for the desktop PC. Unfortunately, that comes with some baggage. The new heterogeneous design requires special accommodations to unlock the best performance: High-priority tasks execute best on the P-cores, while the background and threaded workloads should run on the E-cores. That requires operating system intervention.

The Alder Lake chips work with both newer and older versions of Windows, but Windows 11 unlocks the best of Alder Lake because it supports Intel’s new Thread Director. The tech provides the operating system with information that assists in assigning work to the correct cores. Alder Lake’s performance is still competitive in Windows 10, but you might encounter wayward performance and/or variability, meaning some workloads will be slower at times due to unoptimized thread scheduling. We have plenty of evidence of that in our tests below.

Intel’s chips are competitively priced, but PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 are also significant cost-adders for motherboards. All signs point to DDR5 kits being expensive in the early days, so it’s good that some motherboards support the more affordable DDR4.

You’ll also need a new motherboard for an Alder Lake chip, and for now, Z690 boards are the only option on the menu (lower-end B- and H-Series boards won’t come until later). According to our tests, most users will be fine with DDR4-equipped motherboards (especially if you’re sticking with Windows 10), but that restricts you to lower-end Z-Series motherboards. Either way, you’ll pay a hefty platform premium to access Alder Lake’s leading gaming performance, at least until B- and H-series motherboards arrive.

Alder Lake takes the lead over Ryzen in most workloads, but it isn’t a slam dunk in every regard — we ran into several odd performance trends with Windows 10, and a few programs even refused to run correctly. We do expect those issues to be fixed sooner rather than later, though, as the industry adapts to the hybrid architecture.

Conversely, Alder Lake is incredibly impressive in Windows 11 and takes the lead over AMD in gaming and performance in most types of workloads. Overall, the Core i5-12600K is now the best gaming CPU on the market, while the Core i9-12900K slots in as the best high-end processor for mainstream platforms.

We have plenty of testing with both Windows 10 and 11 below, not to mention DDR4 vs. DDR5, as we take a closer look at the next chapter in the AMD vs Intel rivalry.

Intel Alder Lake-S Core i9-12900K and i5-12600K Specifications and Pricing