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Intel 12th Gen CPUs: Everything you need to know

Intel 12th Gen CPUs: Everything you need to know
Intel 12th Gen Alder Lake H-Series mobile chip (Image credit: Intel)

At Intel’s October 2021 Innovation event,  the company revealed new information about Intel12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs for desktops and at CES 2022 it debuted the 12th Gen laptop CPUs. Using Intel’s new 7-nanometer process, these are also the first Intel processors to feature a hybrid design of performance-based and efficiency-based cores, similar to what we’ve seen from AMD and Apple’s processors in recent years. 

In the CPU arms race, Intel is betting the next steps will be more about how intelligently the processor can assign its workloads rather than raw power to get to the next generation of performance.

Alder Lake 12th Gen overview

The Alder Lake Core series comes in the by-now-familiar breakdown of Core i9, i7, i5 and i3 groupings, which denote performance and core count. There’s also the product line suffix indicated by the letter at the end of the name: H, P or U, going in order of performance from highest to lowest. Lower performance U-series CPUs will be found in ultra-thin and fanless laptops while the H-series will be seen in the highest performing laptops of the current generation. P-Series chips will be found in performance-focused lightweight laptops that offer a balance between the H-Series and U-Series.

(Image credit: Intel)

i9 processors will come with 14 total cores, 6 “P-Cores” and 8 “E-Cores.” The i7’s will range between 14 and 10 cores depending on the model, i5’s will range between 12 and 10 cores and i3’s will range between 10 and 6 total cores.

Alder Lake hybrid design: what it means for laptops and power draw

All 12th Gen Intel CPUs will use a microarchitecture scheme that combines Performance-Cores (P-Cores) and Efficient-Cores (E-Cores) using two new core designs, Golden Cove and Gracemont. According to Intel, the Golden Cove P-Cores get an uplift over their previous generations with an instructions-per-clock (IPC) boost of up to 19%. Gracemont E-Cores will see a 40% performance boost at the same power draw as previous generation Skylake processors.

This new design also fundamentally changes how Intel expresses power consumption. Formerly expressed as a single Thermal Design Power (TDP) number that indicates the average wattage the processor would require, it is now split into a Processor Base Power (PBP) and Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) number to better indicate power draw from this hybrid design. What this means for laptops, where battery life is a factor, 12th Gen Intel chips will be smarter about how they draw power during low-impact workloads.

Thread Director: Only on Windows 11

Exclusive (for now) to Intel 12th gen CPUs running on Windows 11 is a feature developed by Intel called Thread Director. It takes advantage of Alder Lake’s hybrid design to intelligently route certain workloads (threads) between the P and E Cores of the hybrid CPU. Thread Director works together with the operating system to provide increased information on how to route these workloads. Previously, the job was done using a more rudimentary and thus less power- and performance-efficient method. This ultimately promises to translate into more efficient power consumption and performance from Windows 11 Alder Lake laptops.

DDR5 memory support, next gen Iris Xe Graphics, Wi-Fi 6E support and Thunderbolt 4 

Alder Lake processors will come with a raft of improvements over previous 11th Gen CPUs. Intel finally added DDR5 memory support, catching up to AMD processors in that regard. Intel equipped laptops will support both DDR4 and 5 memory options. Another upgrade to Alder Lake CPUs is Wi-Fi 6E support, which provides laptops access to the 6GHz signal range for faster data transfer speeds and reduced latency.

Iris Xe Max (Image credit: Intel)

On the graphical side of things, Intel’s 12th Gen includes full support for Intel’s Iris Xe Graphics integrated GPU. Some 11th Gen-equivalent processors only supported the older UHD GPUs. The overall performance lift isn’t profound, but you can see modest Execution Unit and Max Frequency gains on Intel’s spec sheets when comparing certain 12th Gen CPUs to equivalent 11th Gen chips. A stronger integrated graphics component is always nice in any system, but anyone looking to seriously push their hardware will rely on a discrete GPU from the likes of Nvidia or AMD.

Also of note is Thunderbolt 4 support which has a lot of applications in the laptop space, such as in docking stations to pass increasingly large amounts of data through to wired networks, peripherals and high-res monitors all on a single cable. Long-gone are the days of clunky, seated docking stations, today laptops use a single USB-C passthrough cable and that’s where Thunderbolt 4 comes in to provide high data transfer speeds and high resolution support.

Upcoming Intel 12th Gen laptops

Thanks to CES 2022, we got a peek at some Intel 12th Gen laptops.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Dell XPS 13 Plus
The next in Dell’s high-end XPS line of laptops sports a cleaner minimalistic design, 1TB of storage, 32GB of memory and options for an OLED display. Early impressions are promising, but after our hands-on, we can’t wait to really put this laptop through its paces when it launches this spring.

ASUS Zenbook 14 and 14x
The Intel 12th Gen-equipped Zenbook 14 that recently demoed at CES will come with 1TB of storage and 16 GB of memory. It’ll also sport two Thunderbolt 4 ports. This one is also not yet to market, but look for more info as we get closer to its Q2 2022 release.

There’s also the limited edition 14x version that comes with 32GB of RAM and an ultra durable frame literally specced to perform in outer space. Neat!

Lenovo Thinkbook 13, 14, 16 and Thinkbook Plus Gen 3
Some more CES sneak peeks equipped with 12th Gen Intel chips are the latest Lenovo Thinkbook laptops. The Thinkbook Plus Gen 3 will come with a second display panel mounted in the base next to the keyboard, a high performance H-series 12th Gen Intel CPU, up to 32GB of RAM and up to 2TB of solid state storage. No price range has been announced yet, but the whole two-screen package weighs in at only 4.4 pounds. Meanwhile Thinkbook 13 and 14 refreshes, and the new Thinkbook 16 will offer Alder Lake processors in a more traditional form factor (and a more affordable price range).

ASUS ROG Flow Z13
Fitted with the top-of-the-line Core i9 12900H, up to 16GB of DDR5 memory, a 1TB SSD and up to a Nvidia 3080 RTX GPU, the Z13 also features a detachable touchscreen display alongside its similarly specced X13 AMD counterpart. Both are set to release sometime in Q1/Q2 2022.