Intel counters AMD’s big-cache PC chip with 5.5GHz 16-core rival

CPU clock versus cache


The CPU horse race continues between Intel and AMD, this time with the impending availability of Intel's Core i9-12900KS, which is said to be able to hit 5.5GHz on two cores.

Intel announced on Monday it will expand its 12th-generation line of PC-grade microprocessors with the "special edition" 16-core chip, which the US giant said is the "world's fastest desktop processor," due to its 5.5GHz max turbo frequency. Intel said the component will be available from retailers and system builders starting April 5.

This means Intel's premium gaming processor will arrive two weeks earlier than AMD's latest top offering, the eight-core Ryzen 7 5800X3D, which has been heralded as the "ultimate gaming processor" by its designer. While Intel is pushing the envelope for frequency with the Core i9-12900KS by using the best silicon from its fabs, AMD is relying on 3D die-stacking technology to significantly expand the cache in its processor family, to 100MB of L2 and L3, for a performance boost.

With a recommended customer price of $739, the Core i9-12900KS will cost more than the regular 16-core Core i9-12900K, which is priced by Intel at $599 maximum, and the company is not saying how much extra performance it will provide in exchange for the premium. The K in the part number means it is unlocked for overclocking; S means special edition.

AMD's upcoming 5800X3D, on other hand, is priced at $449, the same price as a less powerful Ryzen 7 CPU from 2020, and AMD has promised an average 15 percent performance boost for various games over the 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X from two years ago.

Despite Intel calling the Core i9-12900KS the "world's fastest desktop processor," the company did not provide any competitive comparisons with AMD's fastest Ryzen that is currently available.

It is important to note that Intel has previously said that the Core i9-12900K can outperform AMD's fastest CPU in the market, the 16-core Ryzen 5950X, across a variety of games, without saying how it would compare for multi-threaded applications. So it's likely the higher-frequency Core i9-12900KS provides even better gaming performance against the Ryzen 5950X, but we don't know by how much.

Interestingly, it appears that Intel was prepared to show off how the Core i9-12900KS compared to AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X in a demo during the company's investor meeting in February but ended up not doing so. On Intel's website, a list of performance claims it made during the meeting mentions a match-up between the two processors, which wasn't actually shown during the meeting.

Reviewers and users will inevitably publish their own performance results of the Core i9-12900KS, but until then, here is what Intel is saying about the new processor:

  • The processor's 16 cores consist of eight performance cores and eight efficiency cores as part of the Alder Lake hybrid architecture that has defined 12th-generation Intel CPUs. These cores provide a total of 24 hardware threads for multi-threaded applications.
  • The processor's 5.5GHz max turbo frequency, which can happen across one or two cores, comes courtesy of the Intel Thermal Velocity Boost technology.
  • The processor also uses Intel Adaptive Boost Technology to boost performance "opportunistically" by increasing the turbo frequencies across multiple cores.
  • The processor supports DDR5 bandwidths of up to 4,800 MegaTransfers per second and DDR4 bandwidths of up to 3,200 MegaTransfers per second.
  • The processor is compatible with Intel's existing Z690 chipsets for motherboards, though the company recommends keeping the BIOS updated for the best performance.
  • The processor has 30MB of Intel Smart Cache (L3), a base power of 150 watts, and support for PCIe Gen 5 and Gen 4 connectivity.

Next we'll see what AMD has up its sleeve. ®

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