At today’s Intel InnovatiON event, the chipmaker revealed nearly all the relevant information consumers need to assess the technology featured in Intel’s 12th generation CPU designs codenamed Alder Lake.
Intel previously disclosed some architectural and technical details during its Intel Architecture Day 2021 in August. We’re now getting commercial information, including the CPU lineup and prices.
This article will present the essential aspects of Intel’s Alder Lake architecture and how it improves next-generation PCs. Not surprisingly, most have to do with computing performance, and Intel is making headways in many directions to ensure that PC systems are balanced.
Intel’s new CPUs are built on a 10nm Enhanced SuperFin semiconductor process, known as “Intel 7”. The company uses a hybrid core approach with high-performance and high-efficiency cores for the first time, like what smartphones do. Intel calls this a “Performance hybrid architecture, combining P-cores and E-cores.” P and E stand for Performance and Efficiency.
Like ARM’s big.LITTLE, this strategy is better because simple tasks (=threads) can be sent to the more power-efficient E-cores, while heavy computing tasks land in the performance-optimized P-cores. Any computer runs dozens or hundreds of threads at all times, so this is a proven way of improving overall power usage and absolute performance at the same time.
At the lowest level, each core’s architecture has been optimized and improved just like Intel does for every new core design. And as usual, memory cache buffers might get larger and faster. To orchestrate how tasks (threads) are distributed, Intel has created the Intel Thread Director that the operating system will rely on to best dispatch workloads.
Intel claims a 19% performance lift from the new P-cores and that the global increase in the total number of cores will also increase multi-threaded performance. All in all, these estimates are believable as it makes complete sense.
Intel says that in some instances, a task could be executed 50% faster for a given power level or at one-quarter of the power when compared to the 11th generation Core processors. The efficiency differential makes the new CPUs more adaptable to any use case (speed vs. battery life) and represents a massive leap for Intel.
For heavy workloads such as content creation (video editing, 3d modeling, etc.), Intel estimates performance increases of 22%-37%, with a peak to 100% in the Adobe After Effects Pulse Benchmark.
Intel’s presentations show a significant average performance increase when compared to the Gen11, of course, but more importantly, when compared to the AMD Ryzen 5950X CPU.
Introducing DDR5 memory
The CPU cores need to be fed with an ever-higher data stream coming from the RAM. The Alder Lake platform introduces DDR5 memory that is significantly faster than the previous DDR4, adding about 1.87X the bandwidth, from 16.8GB/s to 31.4GB/s (in theory).
For overclockers, Intel is adding the Intel XMP 3.0, a technology that makes it easier and more convenient by adding more profiles with easy-to-recognize names. I’m more interested in the Dynamic Memory Boost Technology that automatically switches from the default JEDEC RAM speeds to one of the XMP profiles, depending on the load.
DDR5 is also more efficient, but most people tend to focus on the peak bandwidth, and it’s a good metric to use. If you’re curious about DDR5, watch this neat video from Crucial as they illustrate it well.
I/O, Chipset, and peripherals
PCIe 5.0 support is now available at the processor and the Intel Z690 chipset level. This chipset can handle a lot of I/O, including a ton of USB ports, WiFi 6E. The 2.5G Ethernet has caught my attention, but there’s 10/100/1000 Ethernet as well.
PCIe 5.0 will lift SSD speeds to new levels, with early numbers showing sequential reads reaching 14,000 MB/s and 7,000 MB/s for sequential writes. Even the latency should be noticeably lower than current SSDs, and the IOPS should nearly double as well, making every single operation potentially much faster.
Such performance increase is fascinating since technologies such as Microsoft’s DirectStorage could better utilize the I/O potential of PCIe 5.0 and the upcoming PCIe 5.0 SSD. We’ll see.
SKUs and pricing
At the moment, Intel has announced a couple of processors for each of the i3, i5, and i9 families for a total of 6 SKUs. Prices go from $264 (i5-12600KF) to $589 (i9-12900K), but given these chips’ new architecture and performance profile, I’d rather wait for real-world performance numbers prior to commenting on their value proposition.
You can find the complete specs, models, and pricing table in this official Intel product brief on page 6 (PDF link).
Intel’s 12th generation CPUs are shaking things up and could re-ignite excitement in the CPU market. We will run CPU benchmarks and will report back soon. In the meantime, you can watch today’s event here.