HomeGamingIntel Core i9-12900KS review: Intel's fastest gaming processor yet

Intel Core i9-12900KS review: Intel’s fastest gaming processor yet

If Intel’s recent takeover of the guide to the best RPS gaming processors wasn’t indication enough, their latest 12th Gen Alder Lake chips are the real deal, especially on pure gaming performance. That should make the newly launched Core i9-12900KS, in a way, the real deal of them all: it’s structurally identical to the Core i9-12900K, originally the high-end processor in the series, but made with an even more demanding binning process. A component of the highest quality components, if you will, and as such can exceed the Core i9-12900K’s maximum boost clock speed of 5.2 GHz to a blistering 5.5 GHz.

Higher per-core speeds are generally good news for gaming, and it’s not just at the top end that the Core i9-12900KS makes improvements: its eight larger performance cores (P-cores) and worse get a 200MHz base clock boost up to 3.4GHz, and its eight smaller efficiency cores (E-cores) boost 100MHz up to 2.5GHz. The end results very often back up Intel’s claims that it’s the “world’s fastest desktop processor”, although it’s also some sort of CPU version of the RTX 3090 graphics card. Ti: technically better, but perhaps not by a large enough margin to justify more affordable alternatives.

Unfortunately, due to sampling delays, I was unable to test the Core i9-12900KS alongside the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D, which the red team also claims is the fastest gaming processor on the planet. (although leveraging a very different method: load to cache instead of maximizing core speeds). What I box tell you is that the Core i9-12900KS smokes every other known Ryzen and, indeed, Intel Core processors as a desktop multitasker. In the Cinebench R20 benchmark, its single-core score of 811 and multi-core of 11,019 puts it well ahead of the Core i9-12900K (756 and 10,519 respectively) and the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X (639 and 10,189).

They also perfectly demonstrate the two great strengths of the new Intel chip: the higher core clock speeds are responsible for the single-core’s monstrous performance, while its multi-core prowess comes from Alder Lake’s signature combination of P and of E cores. As with most of its 12th-gen stablemates, the Core i9-12900KS can more efficiently direct small chunks of workload to the cores that suit them best – demanding jobs go to P cores, lighter jobs go to E-cores. If you also need your gaming PC to juggle media editing or heavy coding, the benefits are obvious.

A bar graph showing Intel Core i9-12900KS gaming benchmark results, alongside those of competing processors.

A bar graph showing Intel Core i9-12900KS gaming benchmark results, alongside those of competing processors.

When it comes to gaming specifically, the Core i9-12900KS comes out on top most often. Take a look at these benchmark results, recorded with an RTX 2080 Ti GPU: you can see for yourself that it consistently outperforms the Core i9-12900K and Ryzen 9 5950X. The latter was tested with DDR4 RAM, not DDR5 like Intel’s four 12th Gen CPUs, but I found that DDR5 is not significantly better or worse than DDR4 on hardware and gaming current.

Other than an incredibly good Assassin’s Creed Valhalla performance by the Intel Core i5-12400F (I’ve retested this many times and yes, it’s legit), the Core i9-12900KS leads or equals its rivals in every game. It’s definitely the fastest gaming processor Intel has ever made; fastest in the world? It depends on the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, but I’d say the Core has a really good shot.

There’s a difference, mind, between being the fastest and being the best. As was the case with the RTX 3090 Ti, the underlying fun-killer is money: when the Core i9-12900KS costs £720/$750, around £120/$150 more than the Core i9- 12900K, you’d expect the gaming performance gap to reflect that difference.

An Intel Core i9-12900KS processor held between a finger and a thumb.

This is not the case. It’s fine averaging 10fps more than the non-S model in Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but at 160fps and above you can barely see the difference. And in almost every other game, there’s either a negligible 2-3fps difference, or none. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla extends the Core i9-12900KS lead a bit, but 6 extra fps just isn’t worth the extra £120.

And that’s just comparing it to the other Core i9. Yes, technically they tend to have a bit more FPS behind, but the relatively inexpensive Core i5-12600K and Core i5-12400F are competitive with the Core i9-12900KS in anything but Forza Horizon 4. And, perhaps, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, although in both cases the high frame rates mean the 10-20 fps deviations aren’t as noticeable as they would be at lower levels. . Elsewhere, it’s another bunch of single-digit differences, making the Core i9-12900KS’ value proposition even worse.

In addition to paying more than necessary, choosing the Core i9-12900KS would also mean using more power than necessary. Its base power consumption – not even the maximum consumption – is 150W, 25W more than the Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K and a gluttonous 85W more than the Core i5-12400F. The Core i9-12900KS is unlocked for overclocking, unlike the Core i5-12400F, but that would also put you in a hot spot.

An Intel Core i9-12900KS processor installed in a motherboard.

I tested the Core i9-12900KS with an Asus ROG Ryujin II 360, a fairly expensive (but effective) AIO watercooler. When playing, it doesn’t get dangerously hot, with the hottest P cores most often staying in the 44-60°C range. But that’s up to 10°c warmer than the Core i9-12900K, and the P cores’ 71°c peak was also higher. So the cheaper chip will be easier to overclock on liquid cooling, although both CPUs can also easily hit 100°C (what I like to call uh-oh temperature) during Cinebench R20 runs. At stock speeds!

I’d say it’s not too bad if you’re just building a gaming PC, rather than an all-purpose workstation, although if that’s the case you’d better forget the Core i9s and just get a Core i5-12600K (or Core i5-12400F) instead. The Core i5-12900KS’ appeal as a carefully crafted record maker isn’t quite as strong as the satisfaction you’ll get from saving hundreds on a processor with essentially identical performance.

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