Intel Announces 12th Gen Alder Lake Processors: Our Long 14nm Nightmare Is Over





Intel's first 12th generation desktop processors are coming soon.
Enlarge / Intel’s first 12th generation desktop processors are coming soon.

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The 11th generation Intel desktop processors, named Rocket Lake, didn’t impress us much. They belonged to Intel sixth CPU architecture based on a version of Intel’s 14nm manufacturing process and the first not to use an iteration of the venerable Skylake core from 2015.

They have generally improved performance by backporting functionality from newer and faster processor architectures. But when you add features without improving the manufacturing process, you get exactly what Rocket Lake provided: a slightly faster processor but also a lot hotter, with a much higher power consumption than the Intel processors of 10th. generation that came before them or the AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors with which they compete.

Now Intel is attempting a course correction in the form of its base 12th generation processors, named Alder Lake. The first six processors in the line are available for pre-order now and will be available from November 4.

The new chips are Intel’s first desktop processors (other than servers) to be made on a version of the company’s 10nm manufacturing, but you won’t see “10nm” in any of the marketing materials or pages of. Intel products. The process formerly known as “10nm Enhanced SuperFin” is now called “Intel 7” because the company says its transistor density will be comparable to 7nm processes from competing foundries like TSMC and Samsung. Intel announced its updated manufacturing process naming scheme earlier this year.

A new chapter for Intel desktop processors

Alder Lake reports a significant change in the makeup of Intel processors. The 12th generation Core chips announced today all ship with a combination of “performance” and “efficient” processor cores, also known as P cores and electronic cores. P cores are the successors of cores used in previous desktop processors, with support for hyperthreading, 1.25MB of dedicated L2 cache per core, and fast single-threaded performance. E-cores can step in to help with heavily threaded workloads, but are generally intended to handle background tasks, do not support Hyperthreading, and are organized into quad-core clusters with 2MB of cache. L2 shared by cluster.

The new Alder Lake K and KF series processors from Intel.
Enlarge / The new Alder Lake K and KF series processors from Intel.

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The initial lineup includes three processor options that are offered with and without an integrated graphics card, for a total of six processors. The top-of-the-line i9-12900K features eight P-cores and eight E-cores, along with integrated graphics, for $ 589. The i7-12700K still has eight P cores, but upgrades to four E cores and will set you back $ 409. And the mid-range i5-12600K includes six P cores and four E cores for $ 289. To get the price for one of the KF non-GPU variants of the processors, subtract $ 25.

The core mix means the core to thread ratio is different from what we’re used to with typical Intel and AMD processors. You get two threads per P-core but only one thread per E-core, which is why the 16-core i9-12900K has 24 threads instead of 32, for example.

Single-threaded P- and E-core performance, compared to Intel 10th generation desktop processors.
Enlarge / Single-threaded P- and E-core performance, compared to Intel 10th generation desktop processors.

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The prices of these processors and the higher number of cores will help Intel to better compete with AMD in multithreaded workloads. AMD will sell you a 12-core, 24-threaded Ryzen 9 5900X processor for around $ 560 and a 16-core, 32-thread 5950X for $ 750. Intel’s benchmarks tend to avoid comparing Alder Lake processors to these AMD chips in multithreaded tasks, instead announcing more favorable comparisons with the 8-thread, 16-core thermally challenged i9-11900K. But the improved performance of Alder Lake’s P cores and the number of additional E cores should at least help close the gap.

To put the P and E cores into context, Intel compared the single-threaded performance of the two to 10th Gen Comet Lake cores, Skylake’s latest desktop iteration. When running at the same clock speed, a 12th gen P core has about 28% faster performance than a 10th gen core, while an E core is roughly equivalent to a 10th core. generation. Intel claims that electronic cores can match Skylake’s performance while consuming only 40% of the power.

An overview of the laptop versions of the 12th generation Intel processors, with a 6P / 8E-core laptop version and a 2P / 8E-core ultra-mobile version.
Enlarge / An overview of the laptop versions of the 12th generation Intel processors, with a 6P / 8E-core laptop version and a 2P / 8E-core ultra-mobile version.

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This mix of “big” and “small” cores has been common in phones and tablets for quite some time now, and Apple is also using it in its various M1 chips. But to help the setup work better with desktop operating systems used to treating all cores the same, Intel uses something it calls “thread director,” a hardware-level feature that works with it. the operating system scheduler to direct certain tasks to certain cores based on workload, power limits and heat. Intel specifically mentioned that the feature was designed to work well with Windows 11 and that “the available features and functionality vary by operating system.”




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