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Intel's 12th Gen Core K-SKU CPUs: PC building considerations, Memory and Overclocking knobs

By Vijay Anand - 31 Oct 2021

Intel 12th Gen Core DIY matters: CPU, Coolers and Mobo aspects

Note: This article was first published on 28 October 2021.

At a glance, from left to right: Intel Core i9-10900K, Core i9-11900K and the latest and largest Intel Core i9-12900K processor.

Building a new Intel 12th Gen Core DIY machine?

If you haven't yet hopped on to the AMD Ryzen 5000 series processors, the new Intel 12th Gen Core K-SKU processors look to be formidable competitors and a worthy consideration. There are of course other factors like pricing and availability that could sway opinions in taking up one or the other in various markets, but before that becomes the focal point, we take a closer look at other practical aspects of Intel's new offering you might want to take note when trying to make the choice.


Larger package and a new socket

As our lead photo shows, the Intel 12th Gen Core processors are quite a bit larger than many of Intel's past processors. With up to 16 physical processing cores (8 P-cores + 8 E-cores) in a new hybrid architecture, massive amounts of cache, new PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 controllers and speedier interconnect fabric, it's no surprise that the 12th Gen Core processor requires a new LGA 1700 socket to pack the large die and the necessary pinouts to supports its interconnect requirements with the motherboard.

1, 2, 3, ... yes, this is an LGA 1700 package of our Core i9-12900K processor.

It goes without saying, the new processors require a new motherboard (and an updated chipset), but we'll get to that in a moment.

Intel's new processors have also made improvements in the processor packaging to assist the processor core to transfer heat out more efficiently. While the last two Core processor generations have made strides to have thinner processor dies and consequently increase the thickness of the integrated heat spreader, the difference is much more pronounced on the 12th Gen Core processors as the new Intel 7 process in conjunction with the change in die layout has resulted in a much thinner processor die. Additionally, Intel was also able to decrease the thickness of the solder thermal interface material (STIM) interfacing with the processor.

(Image source: Intel)

The result is that the thinner die and thinner STIM has allowed Intel to mount a much thicker integrated heat spreader, thus improving the thermal performance of the processor.

Will you need a new CPU cooler?

While we hear that some cooler brands are getting ready to supply adapters for your existing CPU coolers to make them compatible with the 12th Gen Core processors, it probably isn't a safe option.

The 12th Gen Core processor is quite a bit different in physical size, has a rectangular package rather than the squarish packages of the past, plus not to mention all the improvements made under the hood of the integrated heat spreader which might result in minor height differences between different generations of processors. Simply put, there are too many differences that could contribute to a less than desirable outcome from using older coolers with adapters to pair with the 12th Gen Core processors.

Just days back, Hothardware reported on what WCCFTech came across and while it might be an image to smear one cooling brand over another in times of uncertainty, one can't deny that all of the changes above would result in not having the right pressure applied across your brand new 12th Gen Core processor when re-using older coolers.

Our take? Don't skimp on getting a certified cooler for your new processor. After all, you'll need to invest in several new components to get the best out of the processing platform, so add coolers to the equation.

Another recent development we've noted is some motherboard vendors like ASUS (at least for their Z690 boards), offer LGA 1200 mounting holes in addition to LGA 1700. This makes it easier to consider re-using an LGA 1200 cooler that has passed the manufacturer's certification to be used with an LGA 1700 socket-based processor like the 12th Gen Core CPUs.


The new Intel Z690 motherboard chipset

To accompany the new Intel 12th Gen Core processors, especially the high-end K-SKU variants, Intel has chosen to introduce the Intel Z690 chipset as the first of their Intel 600 series motherboard chipsets. Specifically, the Intel Z690 offers maximum overclocking potential with 12th Gen Core K-SKU processors by according you memory overclocking and base clock tweaking.

Now you know why you need an Intel Z690 motherboard. (Image source: Intel)

We'll get into more about the overclocking knobs offered by the new processor and platform further down, but let's first get acquainted with what else the Intel Z690 brings to the picture.

(Image source: Intel)

Though the new processor's capabilities like DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 necessitate a brand new motherboard, the Intel Z690 extends the unlocked 12th Gen Core processor's capabilities by giving it even more 'legs' through support for up to 12 PCIe Gen 4.0 lanes and 16 PCIe Gen 3.0 lanesdoubling the x8 DMI throughput from Gen 3.0 to 4.0, and increased bandwidth with up to quad USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 (20G) ports

Interestingly and for the first time, Intel is bringing Intel Volume Management Device (VMD) to PC chipsets to simplify storage control by allowing direct control and management of NVMe-based SSDs from the PCIe bus without additional RAID controllers or other hardware adaptors. Initially designed for enterprise-grade management of NVMe SSDs connected to Intel Xeon CPUs, Intel VMD brings enterprise reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS) features to NVMe SSDs, and it's now available on the Intel Z690 for enthusiasts too.

There's also the optional bits that some motherboard vendors might choose to pair to differentiate their offerings, such as Intel 2.5Gbps Ethernet capability, Intel Wi-Fi 6E and Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) to manage PCIe storage and RAID support as well as Intel Optane Memory to augment solid-state storage. These are par for the course since it has been introduced with Intel 10th Gen Core processors and Intel Z490 chipset as optional add-ons too.

Next up, memory configuration matters, and what's new in the realm of memory overclocking.

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