Review Intel Core i9-12900K

  • 2021-11-04 08:00
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  • Recompile By Brian - CPU Review
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Starting with the flagship Core i9-12900K CPU, we can finally show you how Intel's new 12th Gen Alder Lake processor architecture performs. The chip is priced at $650, which means Intel has positioned their new flagship desktop CPU between the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X, which will now set you back $520 and $750 respectively. .

Today is all about real-world performance as we've covered the 12900K's specs, for all that good, check out our Alder Lake preview here.

The Core i9-12900K is an interesting monster, packing 8 performance cores along with 8 efficiency cores for a total of 24 threads, which seems like an odd number, and that's because of those efficient "E-cores" that result doesn't support Hyper-Threading.


P-Core clocks up to 5.2 GHz with E-Core limited to 3.9 GHz. There's 30MB of L3 cache, 14MB of L2 cache in total, 16 PCIe 5.0 lanes from the CPU, and four PCIe 4.0 lanes. Another new feature is support for DDR5 memory, although Alder Lake also supports DDR4. You'll have to choose the memory technology you want to pair with the 12th gen processor though, as you can't combine the two.

Memory support in stock includes DDR4-3200 or DDR5-4800 and today we will be testing both, although we will not bother with DDR5-4800 and instead to maximize what the technology is. What this new memory really delivers, we equipped our Alder CPU Lake with G.Skill's Trident Z5 DDR5-6000 CL36 memory.

For the motherboard, we're using the MSI Z690 Unify for DDR5 testing and the MSI Z690 Tomahawk WiFi DDR4 for our DDR4 test system. Both motherboards perform exceptionally well and we appreciate the fact that MSI has perfected their BIOS. All game and application data is collected using Radeon RX 6900 XT graphics card.

Due to Alder Lake's hybrid core design, the 12900K along with most 12th generation processors requires Windows 11 and its improved thread scheduler for optimal performance. Therefore, we tested using a fresh install of Windows 11 and updated all other benchmark data for Ryzen and other CPUs running Microsoft's latest operating system.

The Ryzen test system is running an Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Dark Hero motherboard with the latest BIOS update and of course, all the latest Windows drivers and updates. It's a huge task getting all this data in in time for the Alder Lake launch, and yes, there's more to come as we're working on the Core i7-12700KF reviews. , followed by the Core i5-12600K review and more.


We'll start with Cinebench, and right away, we can tell you the results are impressive. The 12900K manages to make the Ryzen 9 5950X look slower, boosting multi-core performance by 13%.

We're also looking at a 76% performance improvement over the 11900K (!) And that was released just 9 months ago for $550, just $100 less than the 12900K.

We strongly recommend avoiding 11900K like the plague and seeing these results only confirms our initial stance.

The 76% increase is a huge leap of the generation but Intel is charging a 20% lower premium, so the 12900K already looks solid.

It's interesting to note that DDR5 did nothing to improve the performance of the 12900K in this test, but that's not very surprising since we know Cinebench isn't a particularly memory-sensitive test.

For this test, Cinebench R23 uses P-cores and as you can see these big cores are very, very fast. When compared to the Core i9-11900K, we're looking at an 18% increase in single-core performance and a 23% increase over AMD's Zen 3 architecture.

The 7-Zip results were a bit weird, but we went back and retested them just to be sure. Here, we are looking at the huge performance difference of the 12900K using DDR4 and DDR5 memory in the 7-Zip compression test. Using DDR4-3200 memory, the 12900K is comparable to the 10900K, making it slightly slower than the 12- and 16-core Ryzen processors.

However, the use of DDR5-6000 memory increased performance by 50%, allowing the 12900K to go above the 5950X, which is quite unbelievable.

We’re not seeing the same improvement for decompression performance and here the 12900K is quite average, lagging miles behind AMD despite offering a little over 40% more performance when compared to the 11th generation.

We didn't notice the same improvement in decompression performance, and here the 12900K is pretty average, falling several kilometers behind AMD despite offering slightly more than 40% performance over the 11th gen.

Moving on to the Corona benchmark, we found that the 12900K was slightly slower than the 5950X, taking 8 to 12% to complete rendering, depending on memory used, with DDR5-6000 improving performance by 4%. Then when compared to the 5900X, the 12900K has reduced render times by at least 8%, so here it sits well between the two Ryzen CPUs, which is where MSRP puts it.

Performance in Adobe Premiere Pro 2021 is quite strong, almost equivalent to 5950X when combined with DDR4 memory. Then we're looking at a small 5% performance boost with DDR5 memory, and while that's enough to put the 12900K  ahead of the 5950X, it's not nearly enough to justify the current pricey high-end DDR5 memory commands.

That powerful single-core performance is on full display in Photoshop 2022 with a DDR4 12900K configuration that boosts performance by 14% over the Ryzen 9 5950X and 5900X.

Then with DDR5 memory, the score improved by 7%, making the 12900K the dominant desktop processor in this application.

The results of Adobe After Effects 2022 are interesting. Here, the 12900K offers an 11% performance increase over the 5950X when combined with DDR4 memory, while the DDR5-6000 increases performance by 7%, making this configuration almost 20% faster than the 5950X.

Factorio is a new addition to our benchmark battery and this simulation is not included in the rest of the games as we are not measuring frames per second but updates per second. This automated benchmark calculates the time it takes to run 1000 updates. This is a single threaded test that seems to depend heavily on cache size.

As you can see the 12900K performs exceptionally well against the 5950X and especially its predecessor, the 11900K. Upgrading to DDR5 memory only increases performance by 3%, but the 12900K is 22% faster than the 5950X and 30% faster than the 11900K.

When it comes to compile performance, the 12900K is no slouch, delivering the same performance as the 5950X, at least when using uber's expensive DDR5 memory. Using DDR4 memory, the 12900K performance is equivalent to the 3950X because the faster DDR5 memory has increased the performance by 10%. Overall, a good result as the 12900K is once again positioned between the 5900X and the 5950X.

The last application we will look at is Blender, where the 12900K is positioned between the 5900X and the 5950X. That means it's 50% faster than Intel's previous-generation flagship, the 11900K.

As great as the app performance looks, it comes at the expense of huge energy usage. While the 5950X showed a total system consumption of 221 watts with slightly faster performance, the 12900K peaked at over 350 watts. That's a 60% increase in total system energy usage, a big difference.

Power usage with DDR4 or DDR5 memory is the same.

Finally, for those wondering how the 5950X consumes less power than the 5900X, this is not a new thing, it is to be expected and it is due to the higher silicon quality of the 16 core part.

For those wondering about clock speeds, here's a look at the 12900K under all-core load in Cinebench R23. As you can see the P cores are clocked at around 4.9 GHz at 4888 MHz with the E core at 3.7 GHz so both are close to the maximum clock frequency as we are not running with any any execution power limit is now the default behavior.

Then, for single-core loads, the 12900K clocks up to 5.1 GHz for the P-core and 3.9 GHz for the E-core in this workload.

As for operating temperatures, the 12900K is a power-hungry CPU for these types of all-core workloads, and as such I couldn't avoid intermittent throttling with the Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix installed because of the frequent CPU. run at or very close to 100C. These coolers have a pressure issue attached to the 12900K, but I did my best to work around that while also including rich thermal paste, but in the end this kind of setup isn't ideal. to stretch all core loads.

The move to the MSI CoreLiquid S360 helped a lot and the mounting pressure was more consistent across the IHS. This cooler has avoided throttling of any kind, but core temperatures still peaked at 96C, even though the temperatures of most components fluctuated between the mid-to-low 80s.

While we only have time for limited testing, it seems that the 240mm AIO liquid cooler is no longer an issue as 12900K owners will be asking for the larger 360mm version. That means for a good cooler you'll pay well over $100 with most Corsair and MSI models costing $200 or more. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 9 5950X can be kept cool with a half-air cooler.

Starting with F1 2021, we ran into some odd data that should probably be sorted by 1% low results. When sorted by average frame rates like what we see here, the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X are the faster gaming CPUs, breaking the 400 fps barrier.

The 12900K using DDR4 memory is comparable to the 10900K, at least when looking at average frame rates. If we look at the low 1%, we see that the 12900K is actually 28% faster and 15% faster than the Ryzen 9 processor. Interestingly, DDR5 has slightly increased the average frame rate. , but it also slightly reduces the 1% low. So a strong 1% low result can't be due to DDR5 memory usage, as DDR4 is faster.

Next we have Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, where the 12900K combines it with the 5950X and 5900X. It is slightly slower when combined with DDR4 memory, although we are talking about a small 2.5% difference compared to the 5900X. Then, when compared to the 11900K, the 12900K was 22% faster on average and 43% faster for the 1% lows.

Despite using the dial-down quality setting, we found that Horizon Zero Dawn was for the most part still limited in terms of GPU. As a result, the 5900X, 5950X, and 12900K all deliver comparable performance with ~190 fps on average. Needless to say, when the GPU is limited to DDR5 there is no chance to provide any extra performance.

It's a similar story when testing Borderlands 3. These high-end CPUs are more than enough to get the most out of the 6900 XT using medium quality settings. The 12900K is slightly better at 1% less performance and again this is not due to the use of DDR5 memory as we see a lot when using DDR4.

Moving on to Watch Dogs: Legion, we have some eye-catching numbers. This is the first example where DDR5 delivers a significant performance boost, increasing the average frame rate from 142 fps to 164 fps, a significant 15% performance increase.

The 12900K is comparable to the 5900X and 5950X using DDR4 memory, but 15% faster when using DDR5, if only DDR5 is only 15% more expensive.

We're back with GPU-limited results in Marvel's new Guardians of the Galaxy. For those wondering why I included such a title in our game benchmark, it's because this accurately represents the gameplay of most games. That said, they're completely GPU-limited when using high-end CPUs, despite the fact that we dropped the quality settings with the 6900 XT at 1080p.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider can be very CPU demanding and here we are not using the built-in benchmark but using the village part. The 12900K performs very well, taking the top spot on our chart, but rather oddly this uses DDR4 memory.

When combined with DDR5, the 12900K matches the 5950X considering the average frame rate, while the low 1% is 4% faster. But the point here is that we have an example where the 12900K is faster using DDR4 memory and has a significant 9% return.

Moving on to Hitman 3, we again find the 12900K at the top of the graph, this time using either DDR4 or DDR5 memory. We're looking at similar performance to the Ryzen 9 5950X or 5900X, which is good but AMD wasn't blown away in this case.

In Age of Empires 4, we found the 12900K to offer a significant performance improvement, especially when performance is as low as 1%. Interestingly, DDR4 delivers the best performance in this title, increasing the average frame rate by 6%.

The 12900K is 20% faster than the 11900K and 25% faster than AMD's 5950X and 5900X. So some really impressive results for the new 12th generation processor.

Despite being a very CPU-intensive title, Cyberpunk 2077 was still GPU-limited in our testing, even with the image quality settings cranked up a bit. There's not much to learn from these results, although it's interesting to see DDR5 drop slightly above DDR4 by a few frames.

When we tested Blender before we saw how the power claims for the Core i9-12900K compared to parts like the Ryzen 9 5950X. However, while that data is relevant and accurate for high-core workloads like Blender, it's inaccurate when considering the game.

Most games don't make full use of an 8-core processor, let alone a 16-core processor, and while some games like Cyberpunk 2077 can spread the load fairly evenly across multiple cores, they won't. ever fully or even heavily used by even today's most demanding games.

In that case the power usage is not what you might expect and as you can see here the 10900K, 11900K, 12900K and Ryzen 9 5950X are all comparable. Even the 5900X, which uses less power when gaming, is not significantly better in this respect, reducing total system usage by just 7% when compared to the 12900K using DDR5. So for gamers, the whole argument about power consumption is a bit pointless, at least until games make full use of these CPUs, at which point you still want something fast than.

Intel seems to be right to claim once again the world's best gaming performance, even if that margin is on average 2.5% lower if we use the data gathered so far. If we focus on the low 1% data, the Core i9-12900K with DDR5 memory is 7% faster than the 5950X, which is a decent performance boost.

Speaking of DDR5 memory, we're looking at a slight 2% increase over DDR4 performance, seen when looking at the 1% low, and we're using extreme DDR5-6000 CL36 memory which can be expensive than Z690 motherboards.

Truth be told, there's no difference in gaming performance between most of these high-end CPUs as you'll almost be GPU-limited in today's games, even with an RTX 3090 or 6900 XT at 1080p with down-dial quality setting.

Before concluding this review, we wanted to take a quick look at Windows 10 performance to see if there's any difference using Windows 11 with a Core i9-12900K and DDR5-6000 memory. Starting with the Cinebench R23 multi-core test, we found that there was a 5% drop in performance in Windows 10, not a huge drop but it is noticeable.

As you can see by the single-core data that the performance drop seen in the multi-core test is a result of the Windows scheduler also not prioritizing the P-cores. For the single-core test we only used P-Cores so that performance remains the same.

Interestingly, 7-zip compression and decompression performance remained unchanged using Windows 10. We expected to see a small decline, but that's not the case.

DDR5 configuration is slower than DDR4 when tested with Windows 11 in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and that is interesting because here we see better performance in Windows 10 and this result is comparable to Windows 11 using using DDR4. It's also a significant difference, e.g. a low of 1% is 10% higher when using Windows 10.

This doesn't make any sense, so we went back to Windows 11 to double check but all the data is correct. So for whatever reason the 12900K is performing better in this CPU demanding title in Windows 10.

It seems that performance is a bit above all places when comparing Alder Lake on Windows 11 with Windows 10 - this could be worthy of detailed 30-40 game benchmarks against both in the near future . But now we also have some Rainbow Six Siege benchmarks showing stronger performance using Windows 11, which is what Intel recommends. In this test, Windows 11 increased performance by 6% for the average frame rate and 9% for the lowest 1%.

Those are all the Core i9-12900K tests we've run so far, and we can draw some pretty solid conclusions based on them. Of course, we'd love to conduct more tests, and that's for sure in the future, but we don't want to bog down this evaluation process with things like memory expansion, IPC testing, core search , etc We have also skipped overclocking for now as it is extremely inefficient and this CPU is running low on power and is hot enough as it is.

We hope we'll cover these and many more soon, but for now let's focus on the data we have on hand to determine if the Core i9-12900K is worth buying. And if so, who should buy it?

First things first, DDR4 and DDR5. This will help simplify the discussion. DDR5 offers very little extra performance compared to quality DDR4-3200 memory and remember we used DDR5-6000 which is as good as it is now and also expensive.

For gaming, you're looking at a performance gain of a few percent with the best example seen in Watch Dogs improving by up to 20% with DDR5, but this was an outlier in our testing, although although it can be a good indication of how they will compare in the future. How relevant that is in the short term is hard to say, but probably not by much.

But even if we pretend that in CPU-limited scenarios, DDR5 memory will regularly deliver up to 20% more gaming performance, it's still not worth it from a value standpoint. Right now you can buy a quality DDR4-3200 memory like the one we used for $190, with more affordable CL16 versions going for just $100. On the other hand, DDR5 seems to start at $280 for the 5200 CL40 kit, which is much slower than what we used for testing.

Meanwhile, Corsair's Dominator Platinum DDR5-5200 CL38 memory is on sale for $330 and is still slower than what we've used. But if we compare that with DDR4-3200 CL16 memory, that means you are paying 3x more for 20% better performance. However, the reality of the situation is that the average performance improvement is about 2%.

And even that might be considered exaggeration as we're testing at 1080p, with the quality setting dialed down with the 6900 XT. So if you go with this extreme graphics card at 1440p, with the same quality settings, there's hardly a situation where DDR5 will provide any performance improvement, let alone 20%.

Honestly, the only people who should consider DDR5 are those who buy a 6900 XT or an RTX 3090 and mount them on an overkill $700 motherboard. For others, DDR4 makes more sense. In that case, we would recommend all potential Alder Lake buyers to go for DDR4 now and only consider DDR5 when it's already very close to DDR4 in terms of price.

The Core i9-12900K costs $650, 13% cheaper than the Ryzen 9 5950X and 25% cheaper than the 5900X. Taking into account the price of the motherboard, we see that the Intel Z690 board starts at $200 for products like the Gigabyte Z690 UD, followed by the $220 MSI Z690-A. Those are entry level tables though. At minimum, you want to spend close to $300 on something like the $280 Gigabyte Z690 Aero G or the $300 Asus Prime Z690-A to pair it with your flagship Core i9 CPU.

On the AMD side, we know that the $160 Asus TUF Gaming X570-Plus is a great motherboard, and for those looking for a more premium option, the MSI X570 Tomahawk WiFi is great for the price. 260 dollars. There are cheaper B550 options, but we feel those investing in the 5900X or 5950X are better off going for the X570.

Based on this information, it looks like you're only saving $20-$40 on motherboards using AMD, which isn't a big deal in the high-end segment.

Now, if you're just gaming, the 12900K is great, but it's not great as it costs 25% more than the 5900X and we see a 4% increase in performance on average, in a set that's mostly CPU intensive gaming. So if you're looking for premium gaming performance without risking exceeding diminishing returns, the 5900X could be a better deal, or even the 5800X or one of the inferior Alder Lakes (which we will review soon). But if you're looking for ultimate gaming performance, then surely, the Core i9-12900K is just that.

Then, for workstation-class CPU intensive applications, our initial review of DDR5 memory should go with DDR4 for the most part. But if your workload benefits from DDR5 and time is money, it's unquestionable to go with newer and faster memory. For others, DDR4 will make more sense.


The elephant in the room is power consuming, and this is of particular concern for heavy workloads. Productivity performance is quite similar between the Ryzen 9 5950X and the Core i9-12900K, but the AMD chip consumes significantly less power for these workloads. That would be a trade-off, and depending on your specific use case, AMD might be faster anyway. We think the 5950X's 16 performance cores in relative power compared to what we saw from the 12900K is a better bet, but it will depend on the workload. The Ryzen 9 5950X is also much easier to keep cooler as it consumes about 130 watts less.

Still, the Core i9-12900K is an impressively powerful CPU, and it certainly signals Intel's return and once again competition with AMD in the premium desktop segment.

So should we buy Core i9-12900K? If we're in the process of pairing a high-end gaming PC, we think we can. It's not an obvious choice, but assuming motherboard prices are competitive in your area, it's certainly a viable option.

If waiting is an option, we'll probably feel the need to wait and see what AMD's V-Cache brings early next year. AMD's updated platform later next year will also support DDR5, but it could be another year at this point.

Right now we could easily go either way, the Ryzen 9 5900X or the more modern Core i9-12900K, we don't think you can go wrong with either option. This kind of close competition is huge and if a brand wants to secure a sale, they will have to be more aggressive in pricing.

That's all we have to say on the current Core i9-12900K. 

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