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Before you make a decision about which Intel Alder Lake CPU is best for you, it’s a good idea to have in mind the key factors that determine the performance of a processor and the various other features that are key to understanding how it will function, so as to best pick the one that suits your needs. Even if you’re already familiar with how CPUs function, we suggest you have a quick scan through the following points to refresh yourself.

What’s new with 12th Gen Intel Core processors?

Things are very different this time around with Intel’s 12th generation of CPUs, With them comes a brand new CPU socket (LGA 1700). Not only that, Intel’s Alder lake CPUs support DDR4 and DDR5 memory along with supporting PCIe Gen 5 right out of the gate. Even if we can’t fully utilize that yet.

ARM’s LITTLE.big technology is a hybrid architecture and runs rampant throughout the new Alder Lake desktop processors. introducing a new division in CPU cores we’ve never seen before. This technology splits the CPU into P-cores (performance) and E-cores (efficiency). The performance cores are clocked higher than the efficiency cores and have a higher TDP as a result.

Efficiency cores work in the opposite manner and are clocked lower having a lower TDP. Tasks and processes are split here by the Windows kernel scheduler or intel’s thread director and allocated to either a P or E-core depending on the resources required to complete the task. This is again pre-determined by the operating system, all for the sake of CPU efficiency.

This is all available on the high-end Z690 and B660 chipset motherboards, some models of both include both DDR4 and DDR5 versions.

CPU cores and threads

One of the most important features of a CPU is its core and thread count. A core is a physical processor within the CPU which can be seen on the chip itself. A thread, on the other hand, is a virtual core (essentially a partition of the physical core) designed to help the CPU handle multiple tasks.

Generally speaking, a higher core count is important for workstation tasks such as rendering, 3D modelling, and other things which require the simultaneous processing of various computations. If you’re streaming whilst gaming on the same device it can also help run both processes efficiently at the same time. Ultimately it’s useful for any kind of multitasking on your PC. If you’re just a pure gamer not interested in streaming, you can normally get away with fewer cores if the clock speed is fast enough (see below for an explanation of clock speed). 

That being said there is a minimum amount of cores which will be needed to play the most demanding games on the highest settings. As a general rule, the following guidelines are recommended when purchasing a new processor:

  • 4 Cores – General use, light browsing, and very light gaming
  • 8 Cores – Decent for gaming, moderate multi-tasking, and all general-use purposes
  • 12 Cores – The minimum requirement for gaming enthusiasts who want to run the latest games on the highest settings. 
  • 16 Cores +  – Handles pretty much everything you can throw at it. Very good for rendering, multi-tasking, and other CPU intensive processes as well as gaming.

What is big.LITTLE architecture? What are P cores and E cores?

As mentioned above, big/Little architecture also stylised as big.LITTLE architecture or in various other forms, is a CPU architecture developed by ARM Holdings to maximise efficiency in computer processors, which is used in Intel Alder Lake chips. In layman’s terms there are two separate core types within the CPU: P-cores or performance cores (the big), and E-cores or efficiency cores (the little). P-cores tend to come with two threads per core, whereas E-cores usually just have a single thread each.

The P-cores are more powerful, and better able to deal with the heavy lifting of processing tasks (gaming for example) whereas the E-cores deal with smaller, easier and quicker processes, freeing up the P-cores to deal with what they’re good at. E-cores are more energy efficient and take up less space on the silicon, which is what makes this structure advantageous, and the architecture around the cores is designed to most efficiently designate tasks to the cores best suited to deal with them.

The architecture of Alder Lake CPUs has been designed with Windows 11 in mind, and early tests have show that the performance of the 12th Gen big.LITTLE CPUs is significantly improved within Windows 11, as its kernel scheduler is much better able to efficiently designate resources between the core types.

CPU clock speed

Next up is the clock speed, which is the most important factor to consider for gaming performance. Clock speed (or sometimes cycle speed) refers to how many cycles a core will perform every second. It’s the physical speed of your processor and is measured in gigahertz (GHz) – i.e. millions of cycles. So, a CPU that has a 3.6GHz clock speed, performs 3.6 million cycles per second. if we’re talking about the 12900KS specifically, it can handle a 5.5GHz maximum turbo power, something we’ve never before seen. Making it perfect for high capacity content creation workloads.  

A lot of modern-day processors come equipped with two separate clock speeds – a base and boost speed. This means a particular CPU can automatically overclock its core(s) to that particular speed in order to achieve optimal performance. It usually does this when in highly demanding CPU scenarios, such as gaming. 

Another factor to consider when looking at clock speed is overclocking, which only certain CPUs are capable of (and the same with the motherboards they’re paired with). This increases the stock clock speed, usually by tweaking settings within the BIOS of the PC, but great care should be taken when overclocking, as it is not without its risks. Read our How To Overclock your CPU guide if you’re thinking about doing this.

Whether you’re gaming or doing high-intensive workflows, you always want to get the highest clock speed your budget can afford.

What does K mean for Intel CPUs?

The ‘K’ designation at the end of an Intel model CPU signifies that it is possible to overclock it. If a processor doesn’t have a K at the end of its model name, then overclocking is not possible. So, for example, take the 12900 vs the 12900K, these two CPUs will be very similar, except for the fact that the 10900K is overclockable, whereas the 10900 is not.

For Intel 12th Gen CPUs, if you buy a K-series processor you will definitely need to pair it with a Z690 motherboard, as these are the only ones which support overclocking functionality; you will still be able to use the CPU with other 12th gen motherboards, but the extra money you pay for the K model will be wasted.

Intel K vs KF: what does F mean for Intel CPUs?

The ‘F’ designation at the end of an Intel CPUs model name means that it does not have an integrated graphics processing unit (iGPU) built into the processor. If you have a dedicated graphics card, like the majority of gamers or people interested in buying a powerful CPU, then you don’t technically need the onboard graphics that the iGPU provides, so can save a little money by buying the cheaper F option. However, onboard graphics are useful to have as a back up in case your main graphics card fails, or if you are between upgrades. Additionally, we would advise anyone who will be using their PC for workstation applications, particularly within the Adobe suite, to avoid the Intel F CPUs as some of these pieces of software do rely upon integrated graphics to function. Finally, integrated graphics will use up a lot less power than a dedicated graphics card, so if you’re interested in limiting your power consumption when not gaming, an iGPU you can switch to is a good thing to have.

What is the 12th Gen socket type?

All Alder Lake Intel 12th Gen CPUs use the LGA 1700 socket type, the best of which are Z690 boards, which follows Intel’s tradition of introducing a new socket type with each generation. For those who don’t know, the socket is the mounting point on your motherboard that holds the CPU in place. It is one of the most important factors when pairing a CPU with a motherboard, as each socket is unique and will not support other types, so make sure your’s match up!

600 series Intel motherboards.

This time around, we have a few more options at our disposal. We have the higher end B660 and Z690 motherboards offering a plethora of new features, including but not limited to PCIe gen 5, thunderbolt 4 and DDR5 RAM support.

You can often find two versions of LGA 1700 motherboards, one with DDR4 RAM support and one with DDR5. Of course, this all depends on your budget but intel’s 12th Gen CPUs vastly prefer DDR5 ram dies to their improved speed and bandwidth. This configuration is strongly suited to the Z690 chipset. Allowing the full potential of the 12th Generation to be unleashed, perfect for content creators, gamers and video editors alike.

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