Intel's decision to adopt a hybrid x86 architecture was risky, but despite the early hiccups with Windows 10, the performance that we've seen today shows it has paid off. The Alder Lake processors mark a massive generational leap forward for Intel in nearly all facets, including gaming, performance in lightly- and heavily-threaded work, power consumption, overclocking, and platform connectivity options.
Intel has coupled Alder Lake's expansive list of advantages with very aggressive pricing that gives them the overall lead against AMD's competing Ryzen 5000 chips. The competitive pricing could also take at least a little of the sting out of the inevitable high platform costs associated with the Z690 motherboards that are currently the only option for Alder Lake systems.
Below, we have the geometric mean of our gaming test suite at 1080p and 1440p and a cumulative measure of performance in single- and multi-threaded applications. Bear in mind that we conducted the gaming tests with an RTX 3090, so performance deltas will shrink with lesser cards and higher resolution and fidelity settings.
Overall, it's easy to recommend an Alder Lake chip for a Windows 11 system, but much like we encountered in our own testing, there could be initial hiccups with Windows 10 systems. As we outlined above, those problems could include performance variability or programs that don't operate to their full potential. If you're averse to working around those types of problems, it might be best to either use Windows 11 or wait for the software ecosystem to adapt to the hybrid architecture. We do expect these problems to be fixed sooner rather than later, though.
Surprisingly, Intel hasn't worked up a piece of software to provide more granular control over scheduling priority for both Windows 10 and 11, but third-party tools can assist with priority management (Process Lasso comes to mind). We'll certainly be experimenting over the coming weeks.
Alder Lake's advantages also include platform connectivity. Leading-edge DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 interfaces will add some cost in the early days, but support for DDR4 can help reduce that overhead. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any flagship DDR4 motherboards yet; the highest-end models appear to be confined to DDR5.
Alder Lake delivers impressive gaming performance in both Windows 10 and 11, though the gains are more substantial in the latter. In either case, the chips outpaced AMD's competing models throughout both of our gaming test suites. It's also clear that enthusiasts won't need to adopt pricey DDR5 memory to unlock the best gaming performance — unless you have a very specific need for DDR5 throughput, it's probably best to skip it until it matures further. That applies doubly so for Windows 10, which appears to favor the more mature DDR4.
Don't believe the hype — overclocking is certainly not dead. After tuning, the Core i9-12900K with DDR4 was 9.7% faster than the stock configuration at 1080p gaming. Meanwhile, the Core i5-12600K was 15% faster, which is more of a gain than we would expect from stepping up to a new chip generation. In fact, it's been a long time since we've seen double-digit overclocking performance gains in gaming from easily-attainable frequencies. Overall, the Alder Lake chips are a boon for enthusiasts. By comparison, the overclocked Ryzen chips were anywhere from 3.7% to 6.6% faster after tuning, so it's clear Intel holds the lead here.
Intel still consumes more power than AMD's competing chips, but the new 'Intel 7' process reduces power consumption by up to a third and nearly doubles power efficiency, reducing AMD's massive advantage in that key area.
For now, Alder Lake is the new gaming champion. AMD's next step is to fire back with its 3D V-Cache processors that will come with up to 192MB of L3 cache per chip, imparting up to 15% more gaming performance. Those chips arrive next year, and while the impact on gaming in a broad spate of titles is unknown, AMD has confirmed that the chips will drop into the AM4 platform. In the meantime, we could see some pricing adjustments on Ryzen 5000 series processors.
The Core i9-12900K delivers incredible levels of threaded performance, often rivaling or beating the Ryzen 9 5950X, but at a much lower price point. That type of performance will pay off in all manner of productivity applications, and if you're looking for snappy performance in lighter fare, it's also the uncontested leader in x86 single-threaded performance.
Alder Lake marks the return of meaningful segmentation between the Core i7 and i9 lineups. With an additional four efficiency cores and class-leading gaming performance, the Core i9-12900K is a good choice for a Windows 11 system, but if you're only interested in gaming, the Core i7-12700K is a far better deal — it provides roughly the same gaming performance as the Core i9-12900K, but at a much lower price point. That makes the Core i9-12900K more suited for those with more expansive needs, such as more heft in multi-threaded productivity workloads.
The $289 Core i5-12600K is also an easy recommendation with up to 38% more threaded performance than the Ryzen 5 5600X and 7% more performance than the Ryzen 7 5800X. Coupled with its pricing, snappy single-threaded performance, and superb gaming performance, the Core i5-12600K is the gaming chip to beat.