Ever since Intel won every race in the universe with the launch of Sandy Bridge back in 2011, they have been slacking. AMD’s tortoise needed six long years, but it overtook the sleeping Intel hare in 2017, leaving behind a lot of room for jokes at Intel’s expense.
But Intel, like all other large tech corporations, does have a solid engineering team tucked away. And the only thing that engineers need is time. Intel has been trailing AMD for four years, but that changed with the Alder Lake CPU launch a few nights ago.
The New CPU Meat and Potatoes
At long last, Intel has launched Alder Lake. New CPUs! With better performance, better prices, higher core counts, a mix of cores, DDR5 support, and more!
This new family of CPUs has quite a lot of things going for it, so let us take a look.
The Good of Intel’s Alder Lake
Alder Lake is launching with 3 CPUs:
These prices are aimed at the AMD set of 5600X/5800X/5900X CPUs, and Intel scores performance wins for all three matchups. That’s right! Gasp out loud with wonder and amazement, as we see reasonable prices AND good performance from Intel!
And while all three new CPUs win their matchups, Intel’s i9-12900K also snatched the “Best Gaming Performance” crown. As such, high-end CPUs are now Intel’s kingdom.
These new CPUs have a mixed core count, with “P” performance cores and “E” efficient cores. In theory, this means that Intel can have its cake and eat it, with a very high thread count when multi-threaded performance is needed, and low power consumption when the workloads are light.
The Meh of Intel’s Alder Lake
Taking back the performance crown is great, but the lead over the competition is not that big. The average lead is between ~5-10%, depending on the workload.
This is excellent if you are buying a new system, or upgrading from a very old one. For those who already own a modern system, particularly if your typical workload is going to get only a minor performance increase, the performance uplift is quite meh.
Alder Lake boasts DDR5 RAM support, but at current speeds and latencies, DDR5 is not worth getting over DDR4. This is not the CPU’s fault, to be sure; the switch from DDR3 to DDR4 was the same at first. But those who are expecting serious RAM-related performance will have to wait for DDR5 to mature. Moreover, DDR5 RAM is hardly in-stock, and is triple (yes, 3X) the price of DDR4.
The Bad of Intel’s Alder Lake
Despite having a subset of “E”fficient cores, Intel seems to have thrown caution to the wind when it comes to power draw. These new CPUs are not power-efficient, and the official “125W TDP” is a cruel joke with no relation to reality.
Extreme power draw means extreme temperatures, and even with a beefy HSF cooling it, these beauties can hit (literal) boiling temperatures. Ouch. To be clear, this extreme power draw is mostly for the i9-12900K, the nuclear thermopylon of this generation. The other two CPUs are much more reasonable in power/temps.
The new CPUs also come with a new socket, which is expected from Intel (snark intended). Unfortunately, the new LGA1700 socket has slightly different mounting bracket dimensions, so your LGA1200-compatible stuff is no longer compatible.
That said, we will be recommending HSFs/AIOs from manufacturers that are giving away 1700 mounting brackets for free, or selling them for very cheap:
Once these CPUs are available in the countries we are covering, we will be adding them to the appropriate tiers of our main chart: Outstanding to Extremist.
We will also be adding:
- Compatible Z690 DDR4 motherboards
- Compatible HSFs (for instance, a swap from the Noctua D15 AM4 to the standard D15)
With DDR5 RAM being so pricey (or outright unavailable) at launch, we will stick with DDR4 for a short while.
It is always excellent when multiple companies offer competing products, and Intel’s newly launched CPUs are fantastic. Let us hope that we will soon be seeing some graphics cards available to pair with them!
Why do all the new motherboard descriptions in our main chart sound like someone was listening to some melancholy music when writing? That is surely a coincidence.
This Reddit megathread is a fantastic way to see all the reviews in one place. Kudos to /r/hardware, and I wish I had more of these “arrow up” points to give.