Is it really a real innovation from Intel? I tested the Core i9-12900K

With the flagship processor in the Alder Lake series, we were able to test what Intel’s big.LITTLE architecture is capable of.

New seeds with hybrid technology

Intel’s current CEO, Pat Gelsinger, undertook nothing less than to straighten the company’s slightly tumbling ship lately, and it would be a mistake to tie Alder Lake too hard (processor development is not a few months, but rather an annual project), the situation, however, is that for the first time in a long time, the success or failure of a family of processors that actually offer a new architecture will be tied to his name. We’ve covered the basics of twelfth-generation processors before, but we’re still indebted to them in more detail – we’re replacing that with the CPU that we’ve tested.


Testing such a whole new family of processors is never easy – but now we’ve had a double task: while Intel still doesn’t help our work with pre-release test products, documentation, and more. Due to various logistics and production problems, the “test packages” that arrive to us through our partners are also more likely to be on the way, so for now we can only present the top model, the Intel Core i9-12900K.

It can be said that in recent years, Intel has taken full advantage of 14nm manufacturing technology, which has made it difficult for them to compete with AMD, but the company has been constantly talking about a breakthrough over Alder Lake-S. This is based on a 10nm node called Intel 7, meaning the company has finally forgotten the 14nm bandwidth for its desktop product range, which certainly matters a lot, but is not necessarily enough to succeed on its own. For this reason, the new development also brings a change that we have only seen at the ultramobile level before, and it is clearly aimed at improving efficiency and saving energy.

(source: Intel) [+]

The transistor number of the new LGA1700 encapsulated processor has not been specified by Intel, nor has its extent, but the latter is easily measurable, so we can make up for this shortcoming and describe that it is a 215.3 mm² chip. The unique concept behind the system is similar to what the company deployed in the tile codenamed Lakefield, but Alder Lake-S uses more than just an eye, a higher-paced core. A total of 16 seeds can be expected, eight of which are based on Golden Cove and eight on enhanced Gracemont designs. Intel calls the latter kernels E-Core or E-core (Efficient-Core) and the former P-Core (Performance-Core).

All this seems very interesting in the desktop market, as such compromises were previously only made by manufacturers at the mobile level, which made sense in terms of uptime, but in desktop configurations the power supply is constant, meaning there is no point in sacrificing performance for better consumption. Intel didn’t even convey this message about the hybrid design, but brushed out that two P-cores take up roughly as much chip space as eight E-cores, but the latter have much higher performance. So it wasn’t Intel that looked at consumption, but the aggregate pace that could be built per unit of chip space, which is a realistic factor under the Pollack rule.

The problem may arise that there are two types of cores on the tile that have significantly different capabilities. The advantages of E-cores are low power consumption, but modest single-stranded performance is disadvantageous, while the opposite is true for P-cores. So it is very important that a particular process is running at the right core for it. This can be achieved in two ways. The optimal thing is if the application itself can handle this directly, because it can already assign the given process to a core that the developers of the program consider it good for. So it’s clear that in the case of Alder Lake-S, it’s best to have an application directly prepared to encounter two types of cores inside the chip, but that’s not always a realistic expectation, for example, there is no optimization for already released programs. . This is where the Thread Director comes in, which can be described as a kind of data provider hardware.

The scheduling itself is obviously done by the operating system, and in this respect it is also recommended to use Windows 11, whose scheduler has been optimized for Alder Lake. This means that you can interpret the data provided by the Thread Director and make decisions based on it. Roughly speaking, this is done by the system analyzing the running of specific threads on the kernels and giving feedback to the operating system based on the data collected as to which tasks should be run. This operation is transparent, so it does not require special optimization, but it is practical, ie some tasks may run on cores that are not optimal for them for a while. This is a much better way to optimize at the software level what kernels with different performance should run, because in this case the system will know in advance which type of thread to allocate to the kernel, ie not the hardware needs to tell the operating system in real time what is running. or ran in the wrong place.

(source: Intel) [+]

Thread Director itself has not been discussed in such detail by Intel, but all that is known about it is that it classifies processes based on their real-time operation and distinguishes four classes in this regard. Of these, class 1 and class 2 are not exciting, because P-Core is clearly recommended, as program codes using the AVX or VNNI instruction set are classified as such. Sessions marked class 0 are typically computationally intensive, so they are highly recommended to run on P-cores, while class 3 is the level at which E-Core should be considered, as the task is limited by data buses rather than computing power. Of course, the final decision is made by the operating system’s scheduler, so Windows 11, for example, doesn’t have to put a thread running on E-cores on P-cores even if it’s optimal based on the Thread Director. This is because it is possible to manually interfere with the processor affinity of a program, which, being a user decision, overrides the default behavior.

By the way, Alder Lake-S can run on an operating system that cannot interpret data from the Thread Director, but in this case, the operating system scheduler may make erroneous decisions. For this reason, Intel strongly recommends that you install Windows 11 on your new hardware.

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