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The 12th Gen Intel Alder Lake Architecture

Intel’s 12th Gen core processor Alder Lake architecture (10 nm fabrication process) has hit the market. There will be 6 new models to be released using the 12x00 convention (e.g. Core i9–12900K, Core i7–12700K, and the Core i5–12600K). The architecture uses a hybrid core design using a combination of Performance-cores (P-cores) and Efficient-cores (E-cores).

The design is not your typical CISC microarchitecture, but more similar to RISC-based CPUs used by smartphones. This is characteristic of ARM-based processors. Apple has been using a performance and efficiency core system with their A series “Bionic” SoC that is featured on the iPhone. The performance cores are paired with energy efficient cores to bring a balance to performance and energy use.

It seems you can balance power and efficiency with this hybrid microarchitecture. The only question is what would this type of CPU be suitable for? Will it be a new gaming CPU or ideal for HEDT systems?

Features And Specifications

  • LGA1700 socket
  • Supports either DDR4 or DDR5 (LP4x/LP5, too).
  • Desktop PC supports x16 PCIe Gen 5 and x4 PCIe Gen 4, while mobile supports x12 PCIe Gen 4 and x16 PCIe Gen 3
  • Thunderbolt 4
  • Wi-Fi 6E
  • Processor Overclocking
  • Up to 5.2 GHz clock speed
(Source: Intel)

Performance

When it comes to gaming, Intel claims a 13% generational jump in gaming performance. The 12th Gen beats AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X flagship by up to 30% in gaming, while offering 2x the performance of its predecessor in content creation workloads. That would sound good for gamers and content creators.

There is also the view that efficiency cores are not ideal for gaming. Techspot has reported that the number of cores is not what improves gaming performance, especially E-cores. It is more about the L3 cache on the CPU. The P-cores can only do so much, and when they reach their threshold, that is as far as the maximum performance can handle. E-cores do not further boost performance because that is not its purpose.

According to benchmark testing from Techspot (using Rainbow Six Seige with Core i9–12900K):

“… with two P-cores and two E-cores enabled, performance dropped by 15% which is a fairly significant reduction, and then with just four E-cores enabled performance drops by a further 12% …”

On the energy consumption front, Alder Lake still consumes more power than AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series chips. The good news is that the arrival of the Intel 7 process makes some big improvements. With the Alder Lake chips far less power is consumed than the 11th Gen Rocket Lake chips. Tom’s Hardware measured a peak of 238W with the 12900K, while the 11th Gen 11900K drew nearly 100W more during the same Blender workload.

The 12th Gen has brought the wattage level for energy consumption down to much more acceptable levels of efficiency. With lesser power consumption than its predecessors, it also means less cooling requirements.

Average Watts (Source: Tom’s Hardware)

Processor core and memory overclocking is also supported. Users can overclock both P-cores and E-cores in order to maximize performance. Overclocking system memory is beneficial for gaming. The E-cores can be overclocked in groups of four, while P-Cores can be overclocked individually or in groups.

For higher clock speed, disabling the E-cores allows reaching a higher ring ratio. This gives a bit of a boost in the performance. Disabling E-cores can push the ring up to 4.5 GHz. Choosing to disable the E-cores depends on personal preferences. For most users, keeping both the P-cores and E-cores active offers the best performance.

Conclusion

The 12th Gen obviously has benefits for productivity workloads. When it comes to gaming it is a different story. The E-cores are not used for gaming, since it can reduce frame rates. The P-cores take 37 ns to communicate with one another, while the E-cores take 57 ns. That is what can cripple the performance in games. However, Intel P-cores are optimized for next generation games using the Thread Director. Just don’t rely on the E-cores to take gaming performance higher.

While Intel advertises the 12th Gen as multi-tasking and providing superior performance when you need it, it comes at a hefty price (i.e. the Intel tax). Some of the models also requires a discrete GPU (e.g. i7–12700KF desktop), while others have integrated graphics (e.g. i7–12700K Desktop Processor with UHD Graphics controller).

The line of Alder Lake CPUs brings a new type of design philosophy to Intel’s chips. It is a powerful system that maximizes performance with less power consumption. The 12th Gen line will also be ideal for laptops. The power it can save mobile users helps conserve battery life. That is after all the main purpose for buying a laptop. You have to consider that the market is not all for gamers, and that the 12th Gen will be the type to benefit power users (e.g. editors, developers, producers, etc.) when it comes to productivity.

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