Intel launches 12th-gen gaming CPUs based on Alder Lake

Led by the flagship Core i9-12900K, Intel ships its first hybrid chips for desktops.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read

First detailed at its Architecture Day in August, Intel now delivers the actual 12th-gen Core CPUs based on its Alder Lake design, the overclockable K series of desktop processors designed for gaming and creative work. The initial rollout consists of three CPUs -- the Core i9-12900K, i7-12700K and i5-12600K -- with the usual variant for each, KF versions that are identical but don't include the integrated graphics. 

Intel has been shipping the processors to system manufacturers, and you can preorder boxed processors starting today. Some PC companies even anticipated the launch with early announcements of 12th-gen gaming desktops , such as the Acer Predator Orion 7000 in mid-October and the updated Alienware Aurora, which is available starting today.

Intel says it expects to ship hundreds of thousands of K-series CPUs by the end of 2021 and over two million by the end of March 2022. And that's a current estimate, despite rampant chip shortages. Mobile Alder Lake chips will come in early 2022, which likely means we'll hear about them in January around CES 2022. The Intel 7 fab process used in manufacturing the CPUs is just a rebranded iteration of its 10nm Enhanced Superfin, not 7nm.

Alder Lake is the company's hybrid chip layout similar to those in phones and Apple's M1 line, which combines a set of performance-tuned P-cores (its Golden Cove microarchitecture) for high-clock-speed single- or lightly threaded operations with efficiency-tuned E-cores (Gracemont microarchitecture) used for more heavily threaded and background tasks: Think of streaming gameplay, where your system is encoding and transmitting in the background while you're playing in the foreground. 

They're the first chips available to work in tandem with Windows 11's Thread Director for more intelligent allocation of the different cores than that of Windows 10 .

Intel 12th-gen Core K-series CPUs

Cores/threads 8P/8E/248P/4E/206P/4E/16
Base clock 3.2GHz/2.4GHz3.6GHz/2.7GHz3.7GHz/2.8GHz
Boost clock 5.1GHz/3.9GHz4.9GHz/3.8GHz4.9GHz/3.6GHz
Turbo boost cores 1 @ 5.2GHz1 @ 5.0GHzNone
Cache 30MB25MB20MB
Maximum turbo power (watts) 241190150
Price (price without iGPU) $589 ($564)$409 ($384)$289 ($264)

Leaked benchmarks for the mobile versions and Intel's claims for the new PC chips place the performance bump at far beyond the usual generation-over-generation level, with over 30% improvement on imaging-related tasks like rendering and editing, and around 20% to 30% improvement on frame rates for games that rely to some extent on CPU performance. It also claims that the E-cores perform roughly the same as the 10th-gen chips, which were essentially composed of all P-cores.

Though Alder Lake isn't Intel's first hybrid architecture, it's the first to make it up to the high-performance tier. And these are the first desktop chips to incorporate Intel's integrated Xe graphics, dubbed Intel UHD Graphics 770. Intel has redesigned the CPU's overclocking operation, which was necessary given the dual-core types operation, new graphics (Intel's H series of mobile gaming GPUs never incorporated the Xe graphics) and support for new DDR5-4800 memory (with XMP 3.0 and its expanded profile support). 

Access to all the new granular options, as well as one-click overclocking optimized for the dual-core types, is available in the latest version of Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility, XTR 7.5.


12th-gen desktop boxed processors are available for preorder now and flip to standard ordering on Nov. 4.


Although you can use the 12th-gen CPUs with older components, notably DDR4 memory, they're not backward compatible with the older sockets or chipsets; they need the new 600 series chipset and, for the most flexible overclocking options, the Z690. 

The LGA 1700 socket replaces the LGA 1200 and is the first size change since 2004. Other features enabled or supported by the new chip and chipset include up to 16 PCIe 5.0 and four PCIe 4 lanes, a maximum of 128GB RAM (albeit at a slower speed than 64GB or less), 20Gbps USB 3.2, Wi-Fi 6E and 2.5G Ethernet. 

It also adds Intel Volume Management Device for smarter and more seamless management of NVMe SSDs over the PCI bus, technology that trickles down from its server architecture, which can eliminate the need for RAID arraying in some cases.

To match the new processor architecture, Intel has tweaked its spec nomenclature, notably the way it describes power requirements. All of these CPUs will be able to run drawing only 125 watts (now referred to as "processor base power"). But with all cores fully loaded -- which Intel calls "maximum turbo power" and used to be thermal design power, or TDP -- they can spike up to 241, 190 or 150 watts for the i9, i7 and i5, respectively.