Intel Alder Lake looks like the paradigm shift the company has needed for the past several generations. Despite suffering numerous delays and setbacks, Intel is finally moving past its 14nm process and introducing the desktop crowd to a hybrid architecture, which has mainly shown up on mobile chips.
The processors are set to launch later in 2021, so they should be arriving soon. And after the disappointing launch of the 11th-generation Rocket Lake processors, Intel has a lot to prove. Still, there are a lot of reasons to get excited about Alder Lake. In addition to the smaller node and unique architecture, Intel is bolstering Alder Lake with features like Thread Director, which could optimize processor tasks like never before.
To get you up to speed, here’s all of the news and rumors about Alder Lake, its release date, how it will perform, new Z690 motherboards, and everything in between.
Pricing and availability
Intel announced that its 12th-gen Alder Lake is slated to debut in late 2021, but has yet to provide a specific release date. Given advancements in Alder Lake — which we’ll dig into a bit later — we expected the platform to launch alongside Windows 11. However, Windows 11 is set for an October 5 launch, and we still don’t have word on Alder Lake.
We expect to hear more at the Intel Innovation event, which starts on October 27. The company says that will offer updates to some upcoming products. Given that we know Alder Lake is coming in 2021 and its deep integration with Windows 11, that seems like the right date. However, Intel hasn’t confirmed anything, so we’re not sure yet.
Although Intel hasn’t confirmed anything, MSI may have. The company sent out a form for a free upgrade kit for its Coreliquid CPU coolers, and the form is set to go live on November 4. Usman Pirzada, senior editor at Wccftech, said that pre-orders will go live on October 27, a week before the street date of November 4.
We’ve heard rumors ranging from October 5 to November 19, so a release date of November 4 is possible. Right now, we’re not sure. Regardless, it seems as if Intel is gearing up to talk about Alder Lake at its upcoming event, so we’ll hopefully know more soon.
Intel hasn’t confirmed pricing yet, but Amazon may have leaked them. Listings went up on several European Amazon sites showcasing some very high prices. Coverting the prices at the current market rate, the Core i9-12900K could cost as much as $1,000 in the U.S. Each listing had a different price, though, even with the same currency. Regional pricing changes apply.
We have some details about the boxes, too. Leaked images show that the boxes are largely unchanged from 11th-gen chips. However, the flagship Core i9-12900K looks to come encased in a golden wafer replica. It isn’t a real wafer, of course, but it’s a nice extra to have if it’s real.
Alder Lake uses a hybrid architecture that brings together two types of processing cores. The first is a performant core that mirrors what you’d typically find in a new processor generation, and the second is an efficient core that’s used to handle background tasks and beef up applications that like a lot of cores.
Intel is designing both cores on Intel 7, which is the new name for the Enhanced 10nm SuperFin process node. Golden Cove cores are the big ones, and they handle the bulk of work you’d do on a computer. Gracemont cores are the little ones, and they’re useful for handling background tasks or conserving battery life when a performant core isn’t needed.
Golden Cove cores are focused on high-frequency, single-threaded performance. Utilizing Intel’s new Matrix engine, the company says that the cores should have higher frequencies across applications. The Matrix engine is a coprocessor that handles matrix multiplication, which can speed up A.I. workloads, in particular.
These cores also feature a new power management controller that offers the processor finer control over frequency given a certain power budget. Intel revealed these details to press and analysts at Architecture Day 2021, but we’ll need to wait for further testing to see these architectural improvements in action.
Gracemont cores handle the other side of the performance spectrum. Intel says they’re all about multi-threaded performance, juggling several lightweight tasks across multiple cores. Although we don’t have a ton of information on Gracemont cores right now, Intel says they can perform about 40% above old Skylake cores at the same wattage.
Bringing the two core designs together is a series of high-bandwidth interconnects. The Compute Fabric ties the two cores together with up to 1,000GBps of bandwidth, the I/O Fabric delivers up to 64GBps of bandwidth between inputs and the memory subsystem, and the Memory Fabric offers up to 204GBps of bandwidth between the memory and the rest of the processor.
We haven’t tested Alder Lake, but we have a decent idea of its improvements based on various leaks. A leaked Intel slide, for example, showed Alder Lake’s architectural change delivering up to 20% single-thread performance improvement, thanks to the Golden Cove cores and the Enhanced 10nm SuperFin design, and up to 2x multi-threaded performance gain with Gracemont cores.
Other changes to Alder Lake include support for PCIe Gen 5 and PCIe Gen 4 as well as DDR5 and DDR4 memory. In terms of memory, though Alder Lake will support both generations of DDR system memory, it will be up to the board manufacturer to decide which standard to support. Users won’t be able to mix DDR4 and DDR5 modules on the same board. Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6E Gig+ will also be supported on Alder Lake.
We don’t have official specs from Intel yet. However, the company says Alder Lake chips can supports up to 16 cores and 24 threads, confirming earlier rumors. Eight of those are Golden Cove with support for hyperthreading, while the other eight are Gracemont cores without support for hyperthreading.
In addition, all Alder Lake products will come with onboard Xe LP graphics, which are available currently in Tiger Lake processors. It’s also important to note that Alder Lake is a scalable architecture. Desktop chips have been the focus so far, but Intel says it can shrink the architecture down to laptops and embedded solutions, as well.
Compared to current Rocket Lake processors, early rumors suggest that we can see a 20% IPC uplift with Alder Lake, thanks to the new Golden Cove cores. And given that Rocket Lake already delivered a 19% IPC boost over the prior-generation Comet Lake design, this should help Intel deliver consistent gains to those looking to upgrade.
Intel has talked up the 10nm process, its heterogeneous architecture, and support for faster memory that will help drive these gains, but there’s still a lot of unknowns about Alder Lake at this time. The company has not released any details about clock speeds, and we don’t know how clock speeds on the different types of cores will affect the CPU’s overall performance across a number of tasks, including productivity, video performance, and gaming.
Initially, there were speculations that the 12th-gen Alder Lake platform may not be as tuned for gaming, given the chipset’s use of mixed core architectures, compared to 11th-gen Rocket Lake. However, a more recent Dota 2 benchmark taken from an early engineering sample of Alder Lake proves that this isn’t the case, and despite early speculations, the platform is well adapted for gaming. Alder Lake scored an impressive peak of 549 frames per second on the game when paired with Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card, with an average frame rate of 120 fps.
We’ve also seen Alder Lake show up in the Ashes of the Singularity: Escalation database. Although the test results are all over the place, they suggest up to a 38% improvement in frame rate over AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X. The tests were run at 1440p, however, so we expect much less of a difference at 4K.
Outside of gaming, we’ve seen numerous leaked productivity benchmarks for Alder Lake. In Geekbench, the Core i7-12700 outperformed the rival Ryzen 7 5800X by about 14% in the multi-core test. The flagship Core i9-12900K only beat the Ryzen 9 5950X by 3.8% in the multi-core test but showcased a massive 8.1% improvement in the single-core score.
Leaked Cinebench results are favorable, too. A leaked result showed the Core i9-12900K earning the highest single-core score out of any consumer CPU in the benchmark. Compared to the Ryzen 9 5950X, which falls just short of the top slot, the Core i9-12900K shows a 21% improvement according to the benchmark.
That lines up with the 20% IPC uplift with Alder Lake. Intel’s current Core i9-11900K holds the top slot in Cinebench single-core performance, and there’s about a 20% increase between Alder Lake and last-gen in the leaked benchmark. Unfortunately, this result doesn’t show the multiplier ratio, so we don’t know if the test was run with an overclocked processor.
It’s not all sunshine and roses for Alder Lake, though. We’ve also seen a Geekbench result with a far lower single-core speed, bringing into question Intel’s hybrid model with Alder Lake. Single-core performance is going to make a big difference in gaming, so this is a critical score to pay attention to.
In addition, a result for the Core i9-12900K showed up in the PugetBench for After Effects database, showing it underperforming compared to the Ryzen 9 5950X. It’s important to note that After Effects stresses the GPU much more than the CPU, which could explain the lower score.
The most recent leaked benchmarks we have come from CPU-Z, where the Core i7-12700K bested AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X by a massive 45%. This is the clearest showcase of Alder Lake’s power yet, lining up with what Intel has been promising for over a year.
Another leaker also posted CPU-Z benchmarks for the Core i5-12400. This processor is rumored to only come with Golden Cove P-cores, but it still managed a 40% lead over the Ryzen 7 2700X in the single-core test. In Cinebench R20, the Core i5-12400 beat out every Ryzen 5000 chip in the single-core test while managing a decent lead over the Ryzen 5 5600X — which has the same number of cores — in the multi-core test.
Intel hasn’t released any first-party benchmarks yet, and as always, we recommend waiting until third-party benchmarks to draw any performance conclusions. The leaked benchmarks suggest that Alder Lake will take the fight back to AMD. This is uncharted territory for Intel, though, so it’s important to wait for further testing.
New socket and Z690 motherboards
With Alder Lake, Intel will be moving on to a new socket design. Alder Lake uses the new LGA1700, which will support DDR5 and DDR4 memory along with PCIe Gen 5. Several Asus boards supporting the LGA 1700 socket and Intel Z690 chipset were shown in HWiNFO, according to Wccftech. In terms of RAM, you won’t be able to mix DDR4 and DDR5 modules on the same board.
With LGA 1700, Wccftech reported that Intel will be switching to a rectangular socket size, so upgraders to Alder Lake-S will need a new board. Additionally, new coolers will be required for socket compatibility, and LGA 1700 may mark the beginning of Intel’s transition to a platform-agnostic design, though this hasn’t been confirmed. If accurate, Intel will be following the lead of smaller rival AMD, and the design could be welcome news for future upgraders as multiple chip generations could reuse the same board and socket.
It seems some existing coolers will work with LGA1700, provided you use a bracket. Noctua, for example, said it would offer owners of its coolers a free LGA1700 bracket starting in mid-October for supported coolers.
Thread Director and Windows 11
Alder Lake will be able to leverage Windows 11 in a way a processor never has before. Thread Director is a new hardware-level feature on Alder Lake processors that helps the operating system — Windows 11, in particular — know how to assign tasks to different cores.
As mentioned, Alder Lake is a hybrid architecture that uses performant and efficient cores. Normally, an OS chooses which tasks go where through a combination of calculations (such as if the task is in the foreground or background) and guessing. The result is inefficient thread scheduling, which is a big deal for a hybrid CPU.
Enter Thread Director. With this feature, Intel is able to offer Windows 11 full visibility into what kind of workload the task is handling. That removes the guesswork from the equation, helping the operating system better assign tasks to appropriate cores.
Thread Director hits on two fronts. Although Alder Lake doesn’t have the first hybrid CPU architecture, most previous versions have focused on battery life and efficiency. Thread Director allows the processor to reach a peak performance state when tasks call for it while conserving battery life when the machine doesn’t have a large workload.
“We didn’t want to sacrifice,” Intel client architect Rajshree Chabukswar told TechToSee. “It’s really about keeping [performance and battery life] in mind.”
This looks like the largest improvement in Alder Lake, as it should speed up any workflow that has multiple sets of instructions running at the same time. We still need to wait to test Alder Lake before drawing conclusions, but Thread Director is one of the largest features for the upcoming platform.
Right now, Windows 11 will see the biggest improvement, but Intel tells us that Windows 10 will see some improvements, too. Down the line, Intel says it hopes to work with more partners to bring Thread Director support to other operating systems. Based on leaked benchmarks, Alder Lake could offer up to an 8.2% improvement in single-threaded workloads on Windows 11.
Alder Lake-P mobile processors
Alder Lake is a platform for Intel. The company is using the same name and architecture across its desktop and mobile releases, breaking from the launch cadence it has established. We don’t know much about Alder Lake-P right now, but a few leaks have offered glimpses at the upcoming range.
Both come from a rumored revision to the Samsung Galaxy Book. This machine will reportedly come with either a 12-core or 14-core Alder Lake-P chip. Both come with eight E-cores, but the 12-core model comes with four P-cores while the 14-core one comes with six.
Keeping with the theme of simplifying naming schemes, Intel is set to use Alder Lake-P as the name for all of its mobile chips. Previous generations featured revisions with higher power limits, but Alder Lake-P chips will reportedly operate anywhere from 12W to 45W. You’ll likely find these everywhere from budget notebooks to high-end gaming machines.
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