Upgrading to Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake: Everything You Need

Intel just released its 12th-generation Alder Lake CPUs, but you’ll need more than a processor if you want to upgrade. The new generation also brings a new motherboard chipset and ushers in DDR5 on desktop. To get you up to speed, we rounded up everything you need to upgrade to Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake platform.

Because there are so many new components this generation, you may have a hard time tracking down everything you need. Motherboard makers only have a select number of models available, for example, and there are precious few budget DDR5 kits. Within the weeks following launch, however, we expect to see a greater variety of options.

A 12th-gen Alder Lake processor

In chorus: “Duh.” You need a 12th-gen Alder Lake processor to upgrade, but you shouldn’t just pick up a processor with 12th-gen on the box. At the time of publication, Intel only has six Alder Lake processors available — three models with two variations each. And knowing the differences between them is important.

Cores Base frequency Max boost frequency Intel Smart Cache (L3) Integrated graphics Base power Max turbo power Suggested price
Core i9-12900K 16 (8P + 8E) 3.2GHz (P-core), 2.4GHz (E-core) Up to 5.2GHz 30MB Intel UHD 770 125W 241W $589
Core i9-12900KF 16 (8P + 8E) 3.2GHz (P-core), 2.4GHz (E-core) Up to 5.2GHz 30MB N/A 125W 241W $564
Core i7-12700K 12 (8P + 4E) 3.6GHz (P-core), 2.7GHz (E-core Up to 5.0GHz 25MB Intel UHD 770 125W 190W $409
Core i7-12700KF 12 (8P + 4E) 3.6GHz (P-core), 2.7GHz (E-core) Up to 5.0GHz 25MB N/A 125W 190W $384
Core i5-12600K 10 (6P + 4E) 3.7GHz (P-core), 2.8GHz (E-core) Up to 4.9GHz 20MB Intel UHD 770 125W 150W $289
Core i5-12600KF 10 (6P + 4E) 3.7GHz (P-core), 2.8GHz (E-core) Up to 4.9GHz 20MB N/A 125W 150W $264

For performance, you have three options: The Core i9-12900K, Core i7-12700K, or Core i5-12600K. They scale down in performance and price, with the top chip sporting 16 cores for around $600 and the bottom 10 cores for around $300. All three chips are unlocked for overclocking, so you can push them beyond the rated clock speed.

The KF-series processors are identical to their K-series counterparts. They come with the same number of cores, same boost clock, and same power limit. The only difference is that KF-series processors don’t include integrated graphics. All of these processors pair best with a discrete graphics card, so you can save a little bit of money by going with the KF-series model.

If you’re focused on gaming, we recommend the Core i5-12600K most. It’s the best gaming processor you can buy right now, sporting a massive core count and solid clock speeds for a reasonable price. The Core i9-12900K is overkill for gaming, but its extra cores are excellent for content creation, as you can read in our Core i9-12900K review.

The Core i7-12700K sits in a strange middle ground. The two extra performance cores will bring performance more in-line with the Core i9-12900K, but with only four efficient cores, it’s not as useful for multitasking. If you need just a little extra power, the Core i7-12700K is a good option, but otherwise, it’s best to stick with the Core i5 or Core i9 models.

A Z690 motherboard

A lineup of Z690 motherboards.

Alder Lake marks the launch of the new LGA1700 socket, which means you’ll need a new motherboard. Currently, the only chipset available with an LGA1700 socket is Z690, but we expect Intel to introduce budget-oriented chipsets in the future. Z690 comes with all of the bells and whistles, including support for overclocking.

Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, ASRock, Biostar, and Colorful have Z690 options available. The MSI Z690 Carbon Wi-Fi is tricked out with some RGB flair and comes with Wi-Fi 6E onboard, while the Asus ROG Strix Z690-A Gaming Wi-Fi offers a mini ITX form factor for smaller builds. Because Alder Lake is new, most motherboard manufacturers have only released their flagship boards. Over time, cheaper options will become available.

It’s important to pay close attention to the motherboard you’re picking up. Alder Lake supports DDR4 and DDR5 memory, but they’re not interchangeable. In most cases, motherboard makers have separate DDR4 models available, though we recommend checking the spec sheet to make sure your memory is compatible regardless.

DDR5 or DDR4 memory (and a compatible motherboard)

Intel Alder Lake box with DDR5 memory.

As mentioned, 12th-gen Alder Lake supports DDR4 and DDR5 memory. However, the two standards aren’t interchangeable. Although DDR4 and DDR5 feature the same number of pins, they have different layouts. A DDR4 module won’t fit in a DDR5 slot or vice versa.

DDR5 is the latest and greatest, and based on our testing, it offers a small improvement over DDR4 across applications. The differences are minor, though. DDR4 is still powerful enough for most applications, so you don’t need to upgrade to DDR5 right away. Rumors suggest Intel will continue supporting DDR4 on its 13th-gen Raptor Lake processors, too.

It’s important to keep DDR4 in mind for Alder Lake because DDR5 is really expensive right now. A 32GB kit of Corsair Dominator Platinum DDR5-5200 RAM is around $330, for example, while the same DDR4-3200 kit is only $240. The DDR5 kit is faster, sure, but it’s nearly $100 more expensive, too.

A supported CPU cooler

CPU block on the Origin Neuron.

LGA1700 is larger than LGA1200, so you’ll need a new cooler to upgrade to the 12th-gen Alder Lake. The cooler you already have may work with Alder Lake, though. Several companies, including Cooler Master, Noctua, and EK, offer upgrade kits so you can mount your existing cooler to the new socket.

Although we can’t list every cooler available, most major brands have upgrade kits available for free or for a small fee. As time goes on, more of these coolers will likely come with the mounting hardware in the box, so we recommend looking at the compatibility list if you’re picking up a new cooler.

Here are all of the brands offering LGA1700 upgrades right now:

A decent power supply

Someone screwing in a power supply.

Like previous generations, Alder Lake uses a lot of power. Z690 motherboard comes with two 8-pin CPU connectors, so you’ll need one of the best power supplies if you want to use the new chips. The top Core i9-12900K can draw as much as 241W of power, and it can go up to 300W if you delve into overclocking.

Although you don’t necessarily need a high wattage power supply, you’ll need one with at least two 8-pin CPU connectors. If you plan on using one of these chips with a powerful graphics card, you’ll need enough wattage to support both your GPU, CPU, and all of the other components in your machine. We recommend using a power supply calculator and choosing a power supply 200W or so higher.

A little bit of patience

Intel Core i9-12900K box.

12th-gen Alder Lake processors use a hybrid architecture. Instead of one core type, the processors feature two — performant (P) cores and efficient (E) cores. It’s a great solution for multitasking, but the unique architecture has caused some problems with select video games.

At launch, Intel has confirmed that 51 games have problems with Alder Lake processors. The issue comes down to DRM, or Digital Rights Management, services, which don’t play nicely with the hybrid architecture. The list includes titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order, and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. 

It’s not clear who dropped the ball here — Intel, game publishers, or DRM platform Denuvo — but regardless, there’s a good chunk of games that don’t work with Alder Lake right now. Fixes should be coming soon, but we recommend keeping Intel’s list of unsupported games handy for any updates.

Editors’ Choice

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Is upgrading a laptop’s SSD and RAM worth it? We try it in the Dell Inspiron 15 7000

Is it worth it to upgrade a laptop’s RAM or storage? We had a chance to find out when Dell asked us to test the upgradability of its Inspiron 15 7000.

I admit that as I faced this challenge, I started sweating. Panic-sweating. In my experience, upgrading a laptop is never a fun time. Cracking the case open feels borderline illegal, and once you’re inside you find a maze of tiny screws, tiny parts, tiny wires—like disarming a bomb built for ants. Many laptops don’t want to be opened, hiding the screws or voiding the warranty if you dare. 

Imagine my surprise when I found the Inspiron 15 7000 almost…friendly? Getting inside still feels a bit illicit, but it was pretty easy to do. Was it worth it? We ran benchmarks to find out. 

Building a better laptop

The Inspiron 15 7000 is a good candidate for upgrades, because no single configuration is perfect. The model Dell sent over is the top-of-the-line Inspiron 15 7000 Model 7591 (currently $1,050 on, a humble little machine that packs an Intel Core i7-9750H, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050, a 512GB M.2 SSD, and 8GB of DDR4 RAM.

It’s a strange machine, for sure. At just over $1,000, the Inspiron 15 7000 still feels a bit overpriced—blame the Core i7 processor and that generous 512GB of storage. But only 8GB of RAM? Meanwhile, the cheaper $900 model touts a Core i5-9300H and Intel UHD 630 graphics, but 16GB of RAM.

What’s an enterprising buyer to do if they want a Core i7-9750H and 16GB of RAM to go with it? You do it yourself, of course.

Cracking the case

The Inspiron 15 7000 is held together by eight screws, all very visible on the bottom of the machine. The three along the hinge side are “captive,” meaning they’re not meant to come out of the lid. After turning them a bit, you’ll hear a pop as the threads snap back into place. Stop turning! They’re “out,” even if it’s difficult to tell.

Dell Inspiron 15 7000 - Unscrew Bottom IDG / Hayden Dingman

Captive screws help separate the bottom panel from the rest of the chassis. Once you’ve loosened all three, you should notice the side with the hinges has already begun separating. All that’s left is to loosen the five remaining screws. Keep a coffee cup nearby to stash them so they don’t get lost.

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Tech News

Upgrading to a 5G phone: When’s the right time?

Update 11/22/19: This article has been updated to reflect new coverage from Verizon and AT&T.

If you’ve even glanced at a tech blog this year, you’ve surely seen the term 5G. Hailed as the next big advancement in mobility, 5G will be an enormous breakthrough for smartphones and other connected devices, letting us download movies in a blink of an eye, while eliminating frustrating slowdowns once and for all.

But just because you can buy a 5G phone right now doesn’t mean you should. Like all new tech, the earliest 5G phones are expensive and underwhelming, with soon-to-be-outdated parts and a vague promise of future-proofing.

But all that’s going to change very soon. 

In 2020, the 5G vision will begin to take shape in a real way, and if you’re interested in getting on board, you’ll want to make sure you upgrade to the right handset at the right time. Here’s what to look for, so don’t pull the trigger too early…

The right modem

X55 5G modem

Most people don’t give much thought to modems when they buy a phone, but you’ll want to check the spec sheet before buying your first 5G phone. Since Intel dropped out of the race and U.S. companies are forbidden from doing business with Huawei, Qualcomm is the only game in town when it comes to modems, and the first-generation X50 modem that’s in the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G and other phones is truly a freshman effort.

But fret not! The first phones equipped with Qualcomm’s second-generation X55 5G modem will start hitting shelves in 2020, and it’s a massive improvement over the X50 modem that powers first-generation 5G phones.

galaxy s10 5g compare Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Galaxy S10 5G (left) uses the X50 modem.

Here’s how Qualcomm explains it: “Snapdragon X55 is a 7-nanometer single-chip integrated 5G to 2G multimode modem that supports 5G NR mmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum bands with up to 7 gigabits per second (Gbps) download speeds and 3 Gbps upload speeds over 5G, and Category 22 LTE with up to 2.5 Gbps LTE download speeds.”

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