Intel’s Alder Lake big.little CPU design, tested: It’s a barn burner

Enlarge / Our take a look at rig marries the Alder Lake i9-12900K (pictured) or the i5-12600K with 64 GB DDR5 SDRAM, an MSI Carbon motherboard, SK Hynix Gold NVMe SSD, and Apex Gaming 850M PSU. Cooling is offered by a Corsair fluid cooler and triple fan radiator.

Jim Salter

After spending a number of days with Intel’s newest consumer CPU designs, we’ve some shocking information: they’re sooner than AMD’s newest Ryzens on each single-threaded and most multithreaded benchmarks.

We suspect this can be particularly shocking to some, since Intel’s latest desktop CPUs characteristic a hybrid “big.little” design just like these present in ARM CPUs. AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950x is a conventional 16 core, 32 thread design, with all cores being “massive” high-performance sorts with symmetric multithreading (SMT, also called “hyperthreading”). In contrast, the i9-12900K provides 16 cores and solely 24 threads—with eight “efficiency” cores that includes SMT and eight lower-performance “effectivity” cores with no SMT.

Though the world largely understands massive.little design in cellular CPUs—the place the worth of getting gradual however environment friendly cores for non-latency-sensitive duties means longer battery life and fewer waste warmth—the worth is not as well-understood in desktop CPUs, the place energy and thermal budgets aren’t such an apparent drawback. However there’s nonetheless good motive for hybrid designs even on the desktop—die area stays sharply restricted in CPUs, and you may match extra of the smaller “effectivity” cores right into a given bundle measurement.

The proof of the pudding, they are saying, is within the tasting—or on this case, the benchmarking. And regardless of having the identical variety of cores and fewer total threads, Intel for the primary time in years beats AMD handily on virtually all multithreaded benchmarks. Sadly, Intel nonetheless requires an influence premium to realize these outcomes; regardless of its theoretically extra environment friendly chip structure, Alder Lake consumes extra energy and runs hotter than Zen 3 does.

We examined Alder Lake on the most recent Home windows 11 under, however our Ryzen outcomes are on Home windows 10—this made sure to keep away from AMD being penalized by the present Home windows 11 regressions in L3 cache and Most well-liked Core choice, whereas giving Alder Lake the massive.little structure assist it wants from Home windows 11 itself.

Multithreaded CPU efficiency

For the primary time in a number of years, the story right here is not simply whether or not or not Intel managed to one-up its personal earlier technology—Intel is definitely beating AMD’s greatest client CPU choices, virtually throughout the board.

Along with almost doubling generation-on-generation efficiency from i9-11900K to i9-12900K, Intel beats the pants off the Ryzen 9 line in each Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R20 multithreaded assessments. Passmark is the one benchmark we ran that also gave the nod to AMD’s Ryzen 9 CPUs—and even there, AMD received solely by a slim margin.

We weren’t too stunned to see the i9-12900K beat the 12c/24t Ryzen 9 5900X—with DDR5 RAM and a four-core benefit, that was Intel’s struggle to win or lose. Seeing i9-12900K outperform the 5950X was a significantly bigger shock, although, for the reason that 5950X has the identical sixteen cores—all of that are high-performance cores with SMT enabled, in comparison with Intel’s eight efficiency cores and eight effectivity cores.

Normally, we would be pointing at Geekbench 5 as a probable Intel-favoring outlier, however this time round Passmark is the odd one out. Cinebench is, as all the time, our gold normal for one-size-fits-all multithreaded CPU testing—and Intel’s excessive leads to each Cinebench and Geekbench match up with our seat-of-the-pants observations of the i9-12900K.

That is an extremely quick CPU, and it feels that approach in motion. For those who had been involved that these effectivity cores may trigger the system to really feel gradual or stutter-y, you possibly can shelve that concern.

Dropping right down to the “worth efficiency” section, Core i5-12600K is the hands-down winner throughout the board. The brand new i5 beats each final 12 months’s i5 and Ryzen 5 5600X by very unsubtle margins of 30 to 50 p.c. We often discover ourselves advising readers to not get too carried away about delicate efficiency variations between CPUs, however these usually are not delicate variations.

A 30 to 50 p.c efficiency benefit is one thing which you could instantly really feel in CPU-bound duties, with none want for stopwatches or particular benchmarks. AMD has its work minimize out for it if it desires to regain the value-performance crown in its subsequent launch cycle.

Single-threaded CPU efficiency

It needs to be a lot much less shocking that Intel got here out on high throughout the board for single-threaded CPU efficiency—in any case, that is the one space it has truly been in a position to compete strongly with AMD for in the previous couple of product cycles. As with the multithreaded assessments, although, Intel wins by a wider margin than it used to.

We nonetheless assume most readers ought to pay extra consideration to multithreaded outcomes than single-threaded outcomes—however with 15 p.c margins throughout the board in Intel’s favor, the single-threaded wins listed here are not less than price speaking about, in contrast to the paltry 2 to five p.c single-threaded victories we’re extra accustomed to seeing.

The only-threaded story with Intel’s i5-12600K is identical because it was with the larger i9-12900K—unusually giant (for single-threaded) victories throughout the board. Geekbench 5 as soon as once more provides Intel the narrowest win of our three main CPU benchmarks, however the 9 p.c margin we see there may be nonetheless lots greater than we’re used to seeing.

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