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Intel 12th Gen Core i9-12900K review: The new "best" gaming processor

By Aaron Yip - 13 Nov 2021

All about core power and efficiency

All about core power and efficiency

The 12th Gen Core processors are all about offering both Performance (larger P cores) and Efficiency (smaller E cores) cores, and according to Intel, takes advantage of the new Windows 11’s optimization for Intel Thread Director, which supposedly allows it to better manage tasks across these new CPU cores by offloading background tasks and keeping the performance cores for the more demanding workloads – such as gaming and content creation.

In short, Intel is saying that Alder Lake works better on Windows 11 than on Windows 10. In the interest of time, I will do a comparison of the Core i9-12900K’s performance on both OSes in a separate feature. For now, I will focus purely on the processor’s performance in gaming and content creation.

Here’s how Intel's top 2021 processor for gamers and content creators stack up, along with AMD's and the older Core i9-11900K for comparison:-

Key Specifications
  AMD Ryzen 9 5900X Intel Core 11th Gen i9-11900K Intel 12th Gen Core i9-12900K
Base clock 3.7GHz 3.5GHz 2.4GHz (E) / 3.2GHz (P)
Boost Clock 4.8GHz 5.3GHz 3.9GHz (E) / 5.2GHz (P)
Core 12 8 8 (E) + 8 (P)
Threads 24 16 24
L2 Cache 6MB 4MB 14MB
L3 Cache 64MB 16MB 30MB
PCIe 4 4 5
Default TDP 105W 125W 125W


Performance Benchmarks

What makes the Core i9-12900K processor (and its 12th Gen siblings) so interesting is that the P cores are clocked at 3.2GHz, boosted up to 5.2GHz, while the E cores are clocked at a slower 2.4GHz with 3.9GHz maximum Turbo frequency. This pretty much means that TDP as a reliable value of a processor’s power or thermal characteristics is no longer reliable in Intel’s case. Instead, we now have a more upfront knowledge of the power bands that these new processors operate at. In the case of the Core i9-12900K, the “base power” is 125W and its “maximum boost power” aka its maximum power drawn at boost frequency is 241W.

It’s almost a given expectations that the Core i9-12900K leapfrog its disappointing 11th Gen Core i9-11900K, but will it slay the current reigning CPU of choice for gamers, the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X? Let’s look at the benchmarks here.


Gaming Performance

I've stuck the specifications for each of the three systems as close as possible, and using the best available components. So, while memory count is 32GB across the board, the Core i9-12900K gets the newer DDR5 versus DDR4 for the other two. XMP is turned off for all platforms, and I've also use NVIDIA's gaming flagship - the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti graphics card - so we get to see the best gaming performance from each system.

Benchmarks Components Used
  Ryzen 9 5900X Core i9-11900K Core i9-12900K
Motherboard MSI MEG X570 Godlike ROG Maximus XIII Hero ROG Maximus Z690 Hero
Memory G.Skill Trident 32GB (DDR4) G.Skill Trident 32GB (DDR4) Kingston Fury 32GB (DDR5)
SSD Samsung 980 Pro Samsung 980 Pro Samsung 980 Pro
GPU NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti FE NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti FE NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Ti FE
OS Windows 11 Home Windows 11 Home Windows 11 Home


My game list includes a mixture of old and recent games new test processor performance. The focus will be on CPU performance, where possible, like Ashes of Singularity: Escalation and Horizon Zero Dawn. The list isn’t exhaustive by any measure but there are enough different game engines and APIs variety to give us an idea of broader performance trends. Lastly, I've also turned on ray tracing where possible.

  • Guardians of the Galaxy (ray tracing)
  • Ashes of the Singularity - CPU
  • Horizon Zero Dawn - CPU
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (ray tracing)
  • Metro Exodus: Enhanced Edition (ray tracing)
  • Total War: Three Kingdoms (Battle mode)

1080p benchmarking is a great measure of a CPU’s prowess, no thanks in part to high-performance gaming cards such as the GeForce RTX 3080 Ti used in the benchmarks here. You see, at lower resolutions, the GPU can process and transfer data much quicker than at higher resolutions. A CPU bottleneck happens here because the processor cannot keep up with the processing speed of the graphics card. The CPU, after all, is responsible for processing real-time game actions, physics, UI, audio and other complex CPU-bound processes.

Higher score is better.

Higher score is better.

Higher score is better.

Conversely, the opposite happens at higher resolutions when the GPU takes more time to process the higher data load (more textures, etc..) and becomes the bottleneck. With 1440p, we start to see this happening, where the difference in performances pared down - although the i9-12900K still leads here. Then in the 4K benchmark results, we can see how all four processors achieved performance parity because, at such high-resolution, it’s what graphics card you use that matters.

In short, the results here pretty much speaks for itself. The Core i9-12900K not only crushes the Ryzen 9 5900X, but convincingly too in almost all of the games tested. There are a couple of take-aways from this. Firstly, unlike the i9-11900K, which could only barely catch up to the 5900X at launch, the new Intel processor looks like it will have a lot of mileage left in its tank for the next few years to come. That, and the new technologies that the Z690 chipset (for example, DDR5 and PCIe 5.0) offers also makes the i9-12900K the processor of the moment that you can invest in without having to worry about it becoming obsolete.

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  • Performance 9.5
  • Features 9
  • Value 8.5
The Good
Fantastic gaming performance
Also great at workload productivity
Innovative P-core and E-core hybrid architecture
Companion Z690 chipset offers more tangible benefits unlike previous generations
The Bad
It won't be an upgrade; it will be an overhaul
Unlikely to be easy to find at retail
Requires a good quality AIO cooler
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