Core i9-12900KS: a processor that consumes like a GeForce RTX 3080

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, portal publishing news and current affairs. He holds an M.B.A in International Business from the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa, USA. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

Intel has strengthened the Alder Lake processor series with a 16-core model with increased frequencies. However, to say that Intel’s flagship processor has become even better may not be true as, along with the growth in performance, the price and power consumption has grown, and the verified balance of characteristics has gone out of whack.

Special Edition series processors are far from new, and both AMD and Intel have released such products from time to time. However, only Intel has used this option in the past few years. Under this brand, it offers overclocked variants of flagships that solve specific marketing tasks, for example, giving it formal grounds to proclaim itself a leader. So, the last “special processor”, Core i9-9900KS, appeared on the market at the end of 2019, and its tasks included something to answer the 12- and 16-core Ryzen. This answer turned out to be asymmetrical since Intel countered the superiority of AMD in multi-threaded performance with an additional increase in gaming performance. However, the Core i9-9900KS still found its audience.

Among 10th and 11th generation Core processors, no special models were released, but this does not mean that Intel has forgotten the old practice. With the advent of the Alder Lake family, the company had a progressive processor design in its hands, which allowed it to seize the initiative in the performance race. However, AMD’s desire to introduce processors with 3D V-Cache technology with a significantly increased gaming potential made Intel worry that the leadership gained so hard could slip out of their hands again. Therefore, the company decided to return to old tricks and developed the Core i9-12900KS Special Edition, an unscheduled processor with legal overclocking to 5.2-5.5 GHz, designed to refute AMD’s claims that the Ryzen 7 5800X3D with 96MB L3 cache, the new king of gaming CPUs.

However, all this is more like some kind of unproductive marketing activity provoked by hurt pride because the appearance of the Core i9-12900KS is unlikely to change anything in the market situation fundamentally. Firstly, this processor differs too little from the Core i9-12900K in terms of frequency characteristics, but it varies significantly in price. Secondly, the Special Edition prefix again means that in the name of an ephemeral performance boost, Intel organized the selection of the most successful semiconductor crystals and sacrificed thermal and energy characteristics to a relatively large extent. And this can easily lead to the fact that few people want to use such a processor.

Nevertheless, Intel seems confident that the Core i9-12900KS will still be bought. The last “special” processor was produced in a limited edition, but the Core i9-12900KS is built into the existing model range, and to find it on sale, you do not need to make any special efforts. Another thing, it is not entirely clear whether the new flagship should be preferred to the usual Core i9-12900K? Let’s look at that.

Core i9-12900KS in detail

In short, the Core i9-12900KS is an accelerated version of the Core i9-12900K with the same core composition (8 productive Golden Cove cores and eight energy-efficient Gracemont cores) but with slightly higher frequencies: the new P-cores can take 5.2- 5.5 GHz and E-cores – 4.0 GHz.

The Core i9-12900KS differs from the Core i9-12900K in frequencies and the value of PBP (Processor Base Power), that is, the thermal package. It is assumed that, in general, it heats up 20% more, even though its maximum consumption should be entered into the same MTP (Maximum Turbo Power) value as before, equal to 241 watts. However, all these declarations have no practical value and are purely formal, as motherboard manufacturers have not used the PBP and MTP values ​​for a long time, altogether cancelling any consumption limits for Intel’s flagship processors.

When the Core i9-12900KS was announced, Intel did not talk about any of its technological differences from the regular Core i9-12900K, focusing only on the increased clock frequency, which in turbo mode can reach 5.5 GHz. However, this processor is not just the most overclocked version of the flagship Alder Lake. In addition to selecting the most successful semiconductor crystals and expanding the scope of the thermal package, another trick was used. The Core i9-12900KS brings back the broadest set of auto-overclocking tools already used in previous generations of Intel processors but were absent in Alder Lake.

So, the Core i9-12900KS for its P-cores supports the Thermal Velocity Boost (TVB), and Adaptive Boost Technology (ABT) functions that Intel used last time in the Core i9-11900K. When loaded with one or two P-cores, TVB allows the processor to increase the clock frequency by up to 300 MHz if its operating temperature is below some limit set by the manufacturer. On the other hand, ABT situationally raises the frequency under multi-threaded loads based on the temperature, consumption, and quality of a particular silicon crystal. In general, the operation of these technologies is similar to how they were in the Core i9-11900K, but since the Core i9-12900KS is among the representatives of the Special Edition class, they are even more aggressive in it.

Core >Core i9-12900KCore i9-12900KS
Kernel16 (8P + 8E)16 (8P + 8E)
Streams2424
P-core frequencies, GHz3,2-5,23,4-5,5
E-core frequencies, GHz2,4-3,92,5-4,0
PBP, Wt125150
MTP, Tue.241241
L3 cache, MB3030
Integrated Graphics
MemoryDDR4-3200
DDR5-4800
DDR4-3200
DDR5-4800
PCIeUHD 770UHD 770
Price$589$739
Core comparison

Unfortunately, Intel didn’t provide specific details on keeping the Core i9-12900KS temperature within limits for maximum performance. Keeping the temperatures of the Core i9-12900KS within reasonable limits is a much more pressing task than one might think at first. Processors aimed at the highest possible frequencies are based on semiconductor chips with high leakage currents. Therefore, their supply voltage and heat dissipation are higher than conventional CPUs. This is fully manifested in the case of the Core i9-12900KS – it is noticeably hotter than the regular Core i9-12900K. 

The difference in the frequency of the P-cores of the two flagships is from 200 to 400 MHz, which is quite a bit against the background that the older Alder Lake can keep the frequency above 4.9 GHz. Moreover, the gap may be smaller, and the point may be not only in heating but also in the fact that the correct operation of the Core i9-12900KS also requires a BIOS with integrated microcode 0x1F. Only this version has correctly implemented support for TVB and ABT technologies, through which the auto-overclocking of Core i9-12900KS P-cores up to 5.2-5.5 GHz is enabled.

The Core i9-12900KS outperforms the Core i9-12900K in terms of the frequency of not only productive but also energy-efficient cores. The e-cores of the Core i9-12900KS also received a higher frequency, but in this case, the difference compared to the Core i9-12900K is only 100-300 MHz.

The price of the new flagship deserves special mention. The previous Special Edition processor, the Core i9-9900KS, was sold by Intel for only 5% more than the regular variant. Now the company has decided that the premium should be much more significant and set the official price for the Core i9-12900KS at $739, which is an impressive 25% higher than the cost of the usual flagship Alder Lake. At the same time, in reality, a “special” CPU is sold even more expensive, and as a result, a slight advantage in clock speed turns into a rather significant markup.

Power consumption and temperatures

As noted above, the Core i9-12900KS is not just a hot but a very hot processor. Intel releases products under the Special Edition brand are almost always like this, but now the situation has worsened. The Core i9-12900KS with default settings (which assume the abolition of consumption limits) cannot be used normally, even with a very powerful cooling system. 

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