Intel’s 12th Generation Core CPUs Mark an Inflection Point in
Alder Lake signals a departure for Intel in more than one way, as 12th Generation technology, performance, and market positioning all shift substantially from previous Core generations.
Intel’s introduction of its 12th Generation Core processors represents one of the more meaningful events — with far broader implications than first meets the eye — in the evolution of workstation CPUs for CAD and other professional computing segments. The simple generational increment from 11 to 12 belies the significance of Alder Lake’s shift not only in technology but in Intel’s change in tack with respect to features, branding, and market positioning.
Judging this generation of CPU isn’t limited to the usual assessment of how much incremental performance it can yield over its predecessor. Rather, it’s worth considering how performance may now scale differently for your highly threaded workloads and how the Core brand has been tweaked specifically to better serve high demand, high reliability professional applications like CAD.
A Novel Hybrid Architecture Allowing Custom Configuration of Different CPU SKUs for Different Applications
As covered in detail in a previous column here, Alder Lake’s hybrid multi-core architecture will help unify the base processor technology for a wide range of performance and power levels in Intel’s portfolio. A single CPU is built on a mix of heterogenous cores, with one focused on performance (a P-core) and another on efficiency (an E-core). Intel can now shape one CPU product for lower-power mobile applications and a second for max-performance, power-hungry work, tapping the same architectural foundation. Go a bit heavier on E-cores for those sockets that want to constrain watts, and choose more P-cores when throughput is the overwhelming priority.
What Performance Can CAD Users Expect?
In its marketing collateral, Intel promised a general 19% IPC improvement across workloads, a figure that worth noting exactly matches the advertised figure for both Intel’s previous Rocket Lake S microarchitecture as well as AMD’s Ryzen 5000 family, introduced last year. But as I often emphasize, such figures need to be taken with a grain of salt for two reasons. One, while vendors rarely intentionally deceive, they will of course want to put their best foot forward, sometimes highlighting benchmarks that — while legitimate — tend to show their better results, while giving less-flattering scores short shrift. Two, performance varies greatly by workload, with any one user unlikely to stress his or her system in precisely the same way any benchmark does. And three, that user’s system may see bottlenecks in other areas — like memory, storage, or graphics — that the vendor’s testing specifically avoids.
To mitigate — but of course not eliminate — such performance claim caveats, I did my own testing of an Alder Lake CPU, specifically focusing attention on common workloads for professional computing use, particularly for CAD.
This month, we’ll benchmark HP’s Z2 Mini workstation’s 12th Generation Core i9-12900K CPU against its predecessor, the Rocket Lake i9-11900K and the Xeon W-2265. Watch for more about this mini form factor next month. Image source: HP.
HP’s Z2 Mini Workstation as Alder Lake Test System
As luck would have it, HP made available a just-refreshed G9 version of their diminutive — but very capable — Z2 Mini workstation. There’s a lot more to cover about the Z2 Mini — and comparable ultra-small form factor workstations — than its CPU. Check out next month’s column for a closer look at what the Z2 Mini can offer those looking to reduce their system footprint but want to stick with a fixed, line-powered workstation over a mobile.
This month, though, I’m going to focus on Alder Lake, taking advantage of the chance to benchmark the Z2 Mini’s 12th Generation Core i9-12900K CPU. The top of the 12th Generation Core line, the i9-12900K implements a balanced mix of P-cores and E-cores, eight of each. Firmly positioned to spread across mainstream price points for high-performance desktop/deskside systems — gaming PCs and workstations, primarily — the i9-12900K is by no means some niche boutique SKU, but it would sit a tad north of the workstation market’s sweet spot. And in that spot, it looks to serve buyers who previously might opt for a lower-end Xeon W CPU and an upper-end 11th Generation Core CPU (the Rocket Lake generation previously covered here).
So how does the new Alder Lake Core i9-12900K compare to its predecessor, the Rocket Lake i9-11900K, and the (now aged) Xeon W-2265, with 12 cores perhaps the most relevant comparison from the Xeon W line? Below are the test results from the very CAD-oriented and multi-threaded (MT) Product Development test suite in SPECworkstation, run on comparably outfitted (i.e., a very fast GPU and similar storage drives) workstations. Each outfitted with GPUs that should never represent the bottleneck, along with essentially identical I/O subsystems, scores should predominantly reflect the performance limitations of the CPU, rather than any other link in the system’s performance chain.
Continue reading to find out how the new Alder Lake core stacks up against current cores and how it performs on standard benchmarks.Read more >>
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