Has the gaming king returned? Intel 12th gen CPU is out now!
Let's see what Intel brings to the table and how does it compare to AMD in the high-end, as well as the golden middle.
Actually, almost everything. While the base performance architecture hasn't changed drastically, Intel went the Apple way, putting high performance cores next to efficiency cores. This was possible in huge part thanks to Microsoft's Windows 11, who's scheduler has been optimised to to spread the tasks to the corresponding cores, sending games to the performance cores and streaming/recording services to the efficiency cores, just as an example.
That's a bit odd, considering one of the first things that went seriously wrong with Windows 11 was that same scheduler, but for the AMD CPUs. Coincidence? Perhaps, but given Intel's checkered history, I won't be surprised if that wasn't a coincidence. I just can't exclude Microsoft's incompetence like it's non-existent . . because it is. More on that checkered history in a separate article sometimes next week.
Credit: Intel Gaming
Anyways, let's focus on the positives now, because there is plenty of those! Starting with support for both DDR4 and DDR5 memories, which would give users a degree of flexibility. DDR4 modules are cheap and obviously inferior to DDR5, but when you're on a budget, this works a treat. DDR5 modules meanwhile have higher MT/s which practically removes the internal bottleneck. They also support per-slot voltage control and XMP profiles, and have up to 128GB capacity per DIMM.
PCI Express also got a bump to version 5.0, meaning double the bandwidth to take full advantage of the next generations of graphic cards. DMI version 4.0 is also a feature, since again doubles the bandwidth, opening the door for some much better networking and peripherals. Finally you have enough to plug everything in every single port without your PC struggling to cope. Not that anyone does it, but still - it's there for the taking.
Building one hot chip
Don't let the "Intel 7" name to fool you - it's just a fancy way of them to say it's an improved 10nm lithography. But hey, for a decade Intel have struggled to get smaller transistors production and they are pretty desperate by this point in time. AMD still has the lead with their Zen 3, which is made in 7nm. So Intel scaled up the architecture without scaling down the nods, which usually means heat. And this is the case, since they went all the way to make the CPU die twice as thin, then they've done the same with the STIM, in order to increase the thickness of the internal heat spreader (the cap).
But heat has to come from somewhere and in this case it's the unrestricted Turbo behaviour of their K-series chips. What in the olden days was a function of the motherboard and considered cheating in the benchmarks is now a built-in firmware in the unlocked 12th gen CPUs. The only Turbo limits are power and heat, proving that those efficiency cores can do some heavy lifting as well. The 12900K for example is drawing between 240 and 250 watts when pushed and that's a lot of heat to spread from a small die. Beefy cooling is an absolute must with these beasts!
Although it's hard to push all the buttons of those CPUs without using a synthetic load. Maybe if you're a serious creator, you'll have a heavy enough workload, but that's about the only use-case I can think of. While gaming, the K-series chips remained within their power parameters and were either on-par or just higher than the AMD's contenders. What is clear is that Intel still struggles on idle power draw, even with their efficiency cores, compared to AMD. And this is surprising, given that those cores are running at very low frequencies most of the time and they don't support hyper-threading at all. Only the performance cores claim that honour.
Core i9-12900K is the FPS king
Yes, the king has returned with a bang! From trailing AMD to taking them down with a noticeable difference, Intel has made 12th gen their biggest upgrade of decades! The gaming performance of the 12900K is anywhere between 7 and 10 percent above AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X. Not just at average fps, but at minimum fps as well. The gains can be attributed not only to the clock speeds or the Turbo behaviour, but also the fact that the efficiency cores can spool some high GHz to support the performance cores and offload some of the strain in heavily threaded gaming scenarios.
As for productivity, the thing is surprisingly good, especially considering that it's trailing on threads, compared to 5950X. While it doesn't beat AMD in every single scenario, it's barely behind on those loads favouring Ryzen's core count. Overall there's a 3 to 5 percent in favour of Intel, but take that with a pinch of salt, because heavily threaded workloads still favour the AMD's top CPU. But there's no denying the jump Intel made with this generation.
Core I5-12600K hits the sweet spot
This is where Intel really holds a winner. The 12600K is not only beating the Ryzen 5 5600X, but it's doing the same in most games with the Ryzen 7 5800X . . and that is a tough pill to swallow for AMD. Now it's not wiping the floor with both, but the fps difference is there. And considering the pricing, the 12600K costs roughly the same as the 5600X, it's faster for gaming than the more expensive 5800X (nearly on-par with 5900X) and the difference between it and 12900K is just 3 to 6 fps. It absolutely nails it!
Well, except for productivity. This is where the threaded loads take a toll and the 12600K doesn't exactly shine. It is still more than capable of bursty, short loads, just don't ask too much of it at the same time. And this SKU remains mostly cool, with the power draw rarely jumping higher than its set parameters. Still, it is a hungry chip, taking twice the watts of 5600X. Remember that last sentence, because it will become an important point at the end.
Credit: PC Gears
Should you leave Team Red
Well, you can and you'll get the gains, described above. But as time goes by, you'll have to deal with the usual . . Intel-ness. Like buying a new motherboard for every new CPU generation, because Intel have gained the notoriety for switching sockets and chipsets, while their base core architecture hasn't moved anywhere for the good part of 11 years. And this is an expensive undertaking to gain . . 6 fps? That's the average jump on the high-end from their 11th gen.
Then we have to look at that power draw again. Granted, Intel's lithography is still a step behind AMD and a higher power draw is to be expected. But running a lower overall core count and only half of Team Red's performance core count for twice the power consumption before any Turbo Boost applied? That's the tale-tale sign that AMD still have something in their sleeve. Maybe they haven't pushed the limits of their Zen 3, having a comfortable IPC lead over Intel? Maybe AMD have left a power headroom to be able to quickly respond to Intel?
Remains to be seen. For now, don't rush your decision to switch, based on raw numbers. Let the hype pass and see if those 7 to 10 percent in gaming are still there two months from now, after more real-world numbers trickle in.