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Intel Core i9-12900K review: Intel finally has an answer for AMD Ryzen 9

Striking back at AMD and Apple with a single deadly Alder Lake swing.

Intel 12th Gen Core I9 Hero
(Image: © Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Intel has felt the heat since 2017 after AMD launched its new Ryzen family of processors. Intel had enjoyed countless years of little to no competition, particularly in the PC desktop space, but all that changed with AMD "ryzing" from the ashes. The two competitors have traded blows since. While Team Blue remained out ahead, AMD's line-up was considered the best CPUs.

AMD has been able to power ahead also in part to its manufacturing partner TMSC, which has been able to shrink the marketed transistor size down to just 7nm with the latest Ryzen 5000 series processors. Intel has been stuck on what it used to refer to as 14nm with the recent 11th Gen CPUs on what Intel called its refined 14nm process using a 10nm design.

But that's all changed with Intel's latest 12th Gen processors. This latest generation of CPUs is based on the "Intel 7" process, previously referred to as Intel 10nm Enhanced SuperFin (10ESF) — you can simply think of it as on a roughly equal sitting with TMSC's 7nm process used by AMD.

Is this new generation of Intel processors enough to entice those who may have departed the company for AMD Ryzen? We've got Intel's new flagship, the Core i9-12900K right here to find out!

Intel Core i9-12900K: Price and availability

Intel Core i9-12900K

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Intel announced the Core i9-12900K alongside other 12th Gen processors on October 27. These new processors are available at full MSRP and you should expect to pay around $589. This is an aggressive price for a brand new processor with 16 cores and 24 threads, largely in response to the success of AMD's Ryzen 9 range of CPUs.

One point to bear in mind is the cost of DDR5 RAM and a Z690 motherboard if you wish to take advantage of all the new tech offered by this CPU. If you're holding out for this launch to construct a new PC from scratch, that shouldn't be an issue, but an upgrade from a 10th Gen Intel CPU may require some additional cost factored in.

12th Gen

Intel Core i9-12900K: Alder Lake

Intel Core i9-12900K

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Alder Lake is Intel's codename for its 12th generation of processors. These new CPUs are special in that they're built using Intel's new Intel 7 (10nm) manufacturing process and follow the "big.LITTLE" hybrid design principle we've seen with ARM chips like the M1 from Apple. The company is banking on high-performance Golden Cove and more power-efficient Gracemont cores.

So what's all this hybrid core tech jargon? Simply put, it follows the same principle pioneered by British-based Arm Ltd, the company behind ARM chips found in countless devices, including your smartphone. The idea is to mix very power-efficient single-threaded cores that handle low-priority tasks with more traditional PC-grade multi-thread, high-performance cores to handle everything else.

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Desktop processors, in particular, have always been power-hungry but offer incredible levels of performance. This new approach cuts this power down slightly in favor of some cores that are designed specifically with certain tasks in mind. This should result in better (and more efficient) overall computing performance.

Golden Cove cores will handle all the main tasks like important processes, games, in-use apps, and other tasks while other, lower-priority apps and tasks get pushed off onto the Gracemont cores, freeing up resources. The end result is a core and thread count that seems out of place in 2021. The Intel Core i9-12900K, for instance, has 8 Golden Cove cores (16 threads) with an additional 8 Gracemont cores (8 threads).

Alder Lake brought a new hybrid core design for 12th Gen.

This is all handled by Intel's new scheduler called Intel Thread Director. It's supported by Windows 11, which is what Intel recommends with its new processors. The software will be able to work with the CPU to manage tasks in the most efficient way possible, leading to considerable performance gains.

It's been the case for years that more cores and threads don't necessarily lead to better performance and Alder Lake offers further proof through impressive results. As well as this new array of cores and threads, Intel also opened up support for DDR5 RAM and PCIe 5.0 with Alder Lake, snatching the standards lead from AMD.

Whilst both PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 aren't mature enough to see positive gains across the board with new hardware, it does mean a PC with a 12th Gen Intel CPU will be ready for serious upgrades further down the line. If you were disappointed by the Intel Core i9-11900K, you'll be pleased to read the successor is anything but an evolution.

Impressive results

Intel Core i9-12900K: Benchmarks & performance

Intel 12th Gen Hero Corei9 Chip

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The Intel Core i9-12900K is a beast of a processor. On paper, Intel packed inside 16 physical cores (consisting of 8 efficient and 8 performance cores) with a total of 24 threads. Compared to the most capable desktop-class processor on the AM4 platform, it's more than a match for the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X.

As well as the AMD chip, which we gave a full five-star rating for its performance and value, we'll be comparing the i9-12900K against its predecessor to see just how much of a leap in the right direction Alder Lake is for Intel. The chart below shows the three processors lined up on clock speeds, cache, PCIe support, and more.

CategoryIntel Core i9-12900KIntel Core i9-11900KAMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Base FrequencyP: 3.2GHz
E: 2.4GHz
BoostP: 5.1GHz
E: 3.9GHz
Turbo Boost Max 3.05.2GHz5.2GHz (favored cores)
Up to 128GB
Up to 128GB
Up to 128GB
L3 Cache30MB16MB32MB
Integrated GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 770Intel UHD Graphics Xe 750
PCIePCIe Gen 5.0 x 20PCIe Gen 4.0 x 20PCIe Gen 4.0 x 20
Manufacturing Node10nm14nm7nm

In order to test the Intel Core i9-12900K properly, both I and Executive Editor Daniel Rubino received the latest Z690 motherboards and DDR5 RAM. Both systems were running DDR5-4800 and PCIe 4.0 GPUs from NVIDIA. The motherboards differed with one test rig running an ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero and the other was built atop the MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi.

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Intel Core i9-12900K

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Intel Core i9-12900K Task Manager

The Core i9-12900K may be on 10nm, but you wouldn't notice with the performance.

The story of how Intel's Core i9-12900K compares to its predecessor, the Core i9-11900K, showcases how much of an upgrade Alder Lake is. CPU-Z showed a score increase of 99 for single-core and 4,620 for multi-core performance. Scores of 811 (single) and 11,154 (multi) are impressive, especially when you consider the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X came in at 648 and 11,906, respectively.

We observed similar results in Cinebench R23 with the Core i9-12900K pulling back and taking the fight to AMD. Time Spy and PCMark 10 saw considerable gains for the Intel chip, surpassing the Ryzen 5950X without issue. The most impressive feat here is that Intel is still technically using a 10nm process, whereas AMD was already on 7nm with the Ryzen 5000 series.

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Intel Core I9 12900k Gb5 Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Pcm10 Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Cpu Z Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Ciner23 Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Time Spy Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Corona Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Blender Bmw Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k Blender Barcelona Graph

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Intel Core I9 12900k 7zip Graph

The Intel Core i9-12900K doesn't get too hot, especially if you have enough thermal capacity. An all-in-one CPU cooler with a 360mm rad could be viewed as overkill for a single component, but if you want to push a processor such as this into the realm of overclocking, you'll want the additional headroom.

At stock, the Core i9-12900K has a TDP of 125W, but this can hit 250W when the turbo tech kicks in. Factor in overclocking and you'll have even more power and heat to deal with. Temperatures were great across all of our tests, using 360 AIO coolers. A stock Core i9-12900K can sit comfortably at 22C when idling and push up to around 60C when under load.

Temp testsASUS ROG Ryujin II 360 AIOCorsair iCUE H150i Elite Capellix 360 AIO
Idle (OC)22C
Gaming (OC)51C
Stress (OC)90C

These tests were performed in two different environments. Stress tests performed in Cinebench R23.

Overclocking the Core i9-12900K is an easy process and can even be handled by the motherboard if you don't want to mess with clock and voltage settings. To simulate what an average PC owner would experience, we opted to use ASUS' AI overclocking feature to set everything automatically. This also increased RAM speeds from 4800MHz to 5200MHz.

The results were impressive, the 5400MHz boost bumped up our benchmark results, but the added heat did cause the 360mm AIO to ramp up to keep temperatures down. The Core i9 was hitting 90C in Cinebench R23 synthetic tests, which wouldn't be the case in games (Ashes of a Singularity, GTA V, Mount & Blade II, etc.) and more realistic tasks, settling at around 66C across the board.

As one example for gaming, when paired with an NVIDIA RTX 3080, the Core i9 had no issues playing Doom Eternal at 3840x1600 resolution with graphics set to Ultra Nightmare (the highest) with DLSS (Quality), ray tracing enabled, and adaptive refresh — basically maxed out. Specifically, we consistently hit 144 frames-per-second (FPS) without a hitch. However, these results were achievable with the new Core i5-12600, which is just as impressive. As always, it's more about your GPU than CPU still for many top-tier games.

Finally, a Ryzen alternative

Intel Core i9-12900K: Competition

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

The primary competition to the Intel Core i9-12900K would be the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, though you could also include the Ryzen 9 5900X with its still-impressive 12 core and 24 thread configuration. As one can see from the above benchmarks, AMD remained ahead of Intel's older Core i9-11900K processor, but that's all changed with Alder Lake.

Intel finally has an answer to AMD and it's great for consumers.

For most people looking for a new processor to build or upgrade a gaming PC, we'd recommend the Core i9-12900K for value and performance. Sure, you lose a few threads to AMD that results in a few losses with multi-core tasks, but Intel makes up for this with unmatched single-core capabilities. As an all-rounder, you can't falter the Core i9-12900K.

Where Intel may lose out to AMD is with pricing. Black Friday is just around the corner and you can bet AMD will be pushing for aggressive pricing across its processor range as more stock becomes available. This will make it a tough decision to not only buy a new Intel CPU but also a new motherboard and potentially RAM too.

Intel Core i9-12900K: Should you buy it?

Intel 12th Gen Hero Corei9 Chip

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

You should buy this if ...

You want the latest Intel CPU

The Intel Core i9-12900K is part of the 12th Gen family of processors. If you're after the very latest and best the company has to offer in 2021, this is the processor to buy.

You want the best single-core performance

AMD may still be king of multi-core tasks with the Ryzen 9 5950X, but that doesn't mean the Core i9-12900K is a slouch. Far from it as this CPU boasts impressive single-core scores, as well as decent enough numbers for multi-core tasks that would make AMD sweat slightly.

You should not buy this if ...

You need all the cores

While this is technically a 16-core processor, the Intel Core i9-12900K doesn't pack as many threads as AMD's Ryzen counterparts. If your workload demands as many cores and threads as possible, you'll need to go with AMD Ryzen or Threadripper.

You don't need top-level performance

If all you do on your PC is check some mail, visit various websites, watch some videos and play the odd game here and there, the Core i9 may be an overkill option. We'd recommend the Core i7-12700K instead.

Since 2018, we've recommended AMD processors for most consumers, which offered great levels of performance at undercut prices compared to Intel's own range of CPUs. In the latter half of 2021, this is no longer the case. Intel is now once again back in front of AMD, and not only on single-core performance.

If you're after the latest Intel CPU and have the budget to spare, the Intel Core i9-12900K is an impressive feat of engineering. This processor has the best single-core performance compared to AMD's flagship offering, but it also costs less (comparing MSRP) and even beats AMD in some multi-task tests.

Whether you need a CPU for gaming or for video editing, the Intel Core i9-12900K is an amazing processor. The new hybrid technology Intel is using just works. The CPU uses very little power when the system is doing next to nothing but is capable of ramping up to impressive clock speeds when you need the performance.

Your turn, AMD.

Rich Edmonds is a word conjurer at Windows Central, covering everything related to Windows, gaming, and hardware. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a device chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • Awesome CPU and breakthrough performance ! At least, intel should recommend AIO cooler for this beast.
  • For me that new i5 looks fantastic. I cannot believe the price/performance on it.
  • "The most impressive feat here is that Intel is still technically using a 10nm process, whereas AMD was already on 7nm with the Ryzen 5000 series." Here are some tidbits for that statement.
    1) Intel has proving they don't have answer for 7nm, 5nm feat that TSMC is cable of. So why cheer them on what they can not do or have strained even trying. Now I'll say Yay if you tell me they are going fabless. 2) The 19-12900K Chip achieved that at 125w TDP and AMD did that at 105w (A quick reminder, back in the days, we blast AMD on how awfully hot their CPUs were and what an awful TDP you have to run them to be near intel chips at lower TDP. I hope that thought process is included in this comparison) Competition is good, especially for the consumers, look at the price point for this Intel feat... I expect AMD to put their thinking hats on and price accordingly if they know what is good for them.
  • 1. Because it doesn't matter. Nanometers are a marketing ploy, these days. It's used like MP in a smartphone camera. AMD's GPUs also suffered from this issue, yet they still had their fanboys. Ever wonder why almost no OEMs were using AMD GPUs in Laptops, even though they were cheaper than the Nvidia parts? Heat and power draw. AMD didn't produce a reasonably efficient GPU until Big Navi. The 5700XT was a monster when it came to Power Draw, compared to Nvidia GPUs that performed similarly to it. These are not mobile parts. Anyone building a machine with an i9 will have an 850-1000W Gold+ (or better) PSU and at least an AIO Cooler for it. Hell, I wouldn't even build an AMD system with less. The CPU isn't ramping up your electric bill, Lol. Mobile devices need this because they're disconnected devices with small batteries. Desktop systems appreciate it, but it isn't the "killer feature" you're making it out to be. The 7nm stuff was actually more useful for AMD in Laptops than Desktops, where the increased efficiency allowed smaller gaming laptops to have decent off-the-charger battery life. However, I think this Intel Architecture will match that, if not exceed it, by offloading tons of tasks to E-Cores. In a desktop system, this is heavily overrated. 2. 8.5/9% higher ST/MT Performance at 8.4 higher TDP... Achieved with a BIG.little Architecture that has less cores/threads than the AMD CPU. Almost anyone would take that and never complain about it. AMD's CPUs weren't only hot, they were slow - particularly their laptop parts. Intel clobbered them in ST and to this day MT performance (where Intel seems to be happy to compete) is only relevant for like half the market, who actually run workloads on the regular that bias heavily to that stat (i.e. Video Production). Granted, at the higher end of hte market, people are going for Xeons and Threadrippers, anyways, with Workstation Graphics Cares... So, these Consumer parts aren't relevant for a pretty large niche. This is why the Gaming Market has been so Intel dominant, even through Ryzen. The fastest Ryzen chips are only as fast as an i5 when it comes to Single Core. This was also the case in the Ryzen 3 Era, where an i5-9600K had gaming performance better than a Ryzen 7-3700X and an RX 5700 XT was barely cheaper than an RTX 2070 SUPER, which had better gaming performance (and CUDA, DLSS that developers are actually supporting, and usable RT Cores). Intel had the performance crown for over a decade, so really it's not about Intel taking anything. It's about AMD taking what they can and remaining competitive over the long haul. Ryzen 5000 was the first time, in forever, that AMD has been able to overtake Intel (and, really, that was exaggerated due to many reviews being done by content creators - an "advantageous market" for AMD as they stacked those CPUs with Cores/Threads).
  • I will continue to support AMD because, even if Intel can take the performance crown in certain cases, they're only doing it because AMD is pushing them to do so. If there was no AMD, Intel would not be pushing themselves to excel the same way, although they do still have Qualcomm and other ARM competitors to deal with.
  • And you don't think it works the other way with Intel now driving AMD to try harder? Conversely, if there was no Intel, and AMD felt no market pressure, they'd be angels because you believe in them as inherently good or something? An odd view of free markets. What makes this fun is Intel competes against AMD and AMD competes against Intel. The winners are consumers who buy whatever is cheaper and meets their needs. The result? No need to play teams as neither company actually cares about you.
  • Even if the R9 was 10% faster in both Single and MT, it would be out of consideration for most people due to pricing. Intel is the Microsoft of CPUs, and they're utilizing the same tactics that Microsoft utilized in the software market. Not only is their offering better, but it's significantly cheaper. This has huge ramifications for both the Consumer-Buyer side of the market, as well as the OEM side. What OEM is going to put a lower performing part that cost that much more in a machine? There is no way to maintain a similar margin. AMD was able to get support in the Notebook Market by selling CPUs so cheap that OEMs could sell them at lower prices than equivalent Intel Models and still maintain their margins while increasing their market reach. These Intel Processors are going to destroy that - and that's ignoring the ability of BIG.little to basically delete the efficiency disparity between 10nm and 7nm processes. Intel will be heavily favored by gamers, music producers, OEMs, etc. The only thing that is unfortunate about Intel CPUs is that they tend to force MOBO upgrades WAY more often than AMD's, but that is less of an issue considering how long computers hold their own in performance, these days. 3rd Gen Ryzen and 9th Gen Intel CPUs are still more than good enough, and will remain so for a few more years outside of the most demanding market segments.
  • Great review. You guys gonna do an i5 review for those of us w/ smaller wallets?
  • i5 is linked in the performance section, but here's the direct link to its review.
  • I read through Anandtech review. I would say that the conclusion about these new Intel Cores is controversial. They surely are very powerful but are not very efficient and it seems that assignment of a job to P cores rather than to E cores is not particularly effective not even with Windows 11. They, Anandtech, suggest to use sometimes Task manager to manually switch priority among open programs, which is at least weird in 2021. It is as the integration between OS and HW is not optimezed. Apple M1 seems still way ahead.
  • I assume MSFT and Intel engineers will gain more experience with the big/little architecture. As the months move along, the next generation of Intel chips will improve efficiency and performance. MSFT will tweak Windows 11 and software developers will figure out a better way to use the chip's architecture. At what point does AMD change its architecture to take advantage of the changes in Windows 11?
  • AMD is going to repeat history if they cannot improve single core by a decent pace, since Intel still has "room" to move to 7nm and AMD is already there. The Ryzen 9 is still struggling to compete with an i5 for single core, and the i9 has already overtaken AMD in Multi-Thread, which is their historic strength. It looks like the i7 is going to be comparable to a Ryzen 9... And at like half the price. Intel is basically taking AMD's playbook and clobbering them with it. Also, BIG.little is going to be very preferred by OEMs for Laptops, since a lot of tasks can run on the E-Cores, which will be good for power efficiency. Getting an AMD Gaming Laptop is already inoptimal, since the displays on these often do not support G-Sync, have higher response times (lots of screen tearing and motion blur) and the Nvidia Mobile Graphics cards are better, anyways.