Intel's 12th Gen Alder Lake CPU Party Could Be Exclusive To Power Users In 2021

Intel Processor
At this point, it is common knowledge that Intel will be launching its Alder Lake lineup before the end of the year (barring any last minute hiccups), but what SKUs will those be? Only the decision makers at Intel know for sure. That said, a fresh rumor suggests the first round of Alder Lake processors will be high-end desktop chips (Alder Lake-S), with a fuller stack emerging sometime next year.

This is not surprising, if it turns out to be true. There have been plenty of hardware launches (in various categories) where the best and brightest was shown off first, followed by less expensive models coming out at later dates. We especially see this in the GPU category, but the practice is not exclusive to graphics cards.

According to Igor Wallossek from Igor's Lab, this will be the case for Alder Lake—it's said only enthusiast branded chips will represent Intel's upcoming architecture in 2021, and those will solely be "K" and "KF" models initially.

The "K" designation is reserved for processors with unlocked multipliers, which makes overclocking easier, and the "F" designation means the onboard graphics have been disabled. So a "KF" model is an unlocked chip without an IGP.

If Intel is focusing only on the high end at launch, then we will almost definitely see a Core i9-12900K processor right off the bat. The Core i9-12900K has supposedly made a bunch of appearances in the wild, through benchmarking websites from users who have their hands on a qualification sample (QS), which is a late run engineering sample.

QS chips are typically indicative of the final specifications, and if that is the case, the Core i9-12900K will feature 8 Golden Cove cores (high performance), 8 Gracemont cores (power efficient), and 24 threads. Leaks have also indicated that the big (Golden Cove) cores will have an all-core boost clock of 5GHz, and a 1-2 core boost clock of 5.3GHz, while the small (Gracemont) cores will boost to 3.7GHz (all-core) and 3.9GHz (1-2 cores).

We have also seen leaks pointing to a Core i7-12700K and Core i5-12600K. These along with the Core i9-12900K are likely the three chips that will be out in 2021, assuming the latest rumor is based on reliable information.

As for specifications, the Core i7-12700K is said to feature 8 big cores with 4.7GHz to 5GHz boost clocks, 4 small cores with 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz boost clocks, and 20 threads. Meanwhile, the Core i5-12600K has 6 big cores that boost to 4.5GHz to 4.9Hz, 4 small cores that boost to 3.4GHz to 3.6GHz, and 16 threads.

The oddball core and thread counts come by way of combining big and small cores in the same package. As constructed, the Golden Cove cores support Hyper Threading while the Gracemont cores do not. So in the case of the Core i9-12900K, we're looking at this formula: 8 big cores + 8 threads + 8 small cores = 24 threads.

Wallossek also says Alder Lake could launch anywhere from October 25 to November 19. We've heard rumors of an October launch before, to coincide with the release of Windows 11. This is important, because as we found out in our own tests (with Lakefield), Windows 11 handles hybrid designs better than Windows 10, when it comes to performance.

On the motherboard side, it's said Alder Lake will launch alongside Intel's Z690 chipset in 2021, followed by a wider portfolio next year consisting of H670, B660, and H610 chipsets. And of course Alder Lake will introduce support for DDR5 memory and PCI Express 5.0.

Summed up, Intel is looking to end 2021 with a bang, and then expand on its Alder Lake lineup in 2022. And with AMD on track to launch Zen 4 next year as well, we could be in store for a fun shootout between the best of what Intel and AMD have to offer.