Intel was one of the most active companies at CES 2021, announcing no fewer than four new families of processors. Among them was 12th-gen desktop chips, codenamed 'Alder Lake'.

It was an unusual move from Intel, given that 11th-gen the 11th-gen 'Rocket Lake' chips hadn't launched at the time. However, the inclusion of mobile chips means Alder Lake can be seen more as the true successor to 2020's Tiger Lake. Here's what you can expect from the next generation of Intel silicon. 

Intel Alder Lake (12th-gen) release date

At the company's CES press conference and in an official newsroom post, Intel revealed that the Alder Lake chips will be due "in (the) second half of 2021". That's anytime from July onwards, but a more specific release date isn't yet known. 

However, during a webcast, the company has since confirmed that its 'Intel Innovation' event will take place on 27-28 October. CEO Pat Gelsinger used the phrase 'fully hybrid' when talking about the event - that's probably referring to Alder Lake's hybrid technology. On 6 October, Intel Executive VP Gregory M Bryant hinted that 12th-gen chips were "coming soon" in a tweet.

Of course, you might not able to buy the new CPUs straight away - VideoCardz is suggesting they won't be available to buy until December 2021. Wccftech is suggesting slightly earlier, so they may go on sale in November 2021 instead. A subsequent Wccftech article suggests that desktop chips will go on sale from 19 November 2021.

However, there's a chance we'll have to wait until CES 2022 (scheduled for January) for the regular CPUs. An article from German tech site Igor's Lab suggests that only the enthusiast-focused K and KF processors will arrive in 2021, alongside the Z690 chip for motherboards. That means we'll have to wait a bit longer for everyday Alder Lake CPUs, with the delayed development of PCIe 5.0 believed to be the reason for the hold-up.

Intel Alder Lake (12th-gen) price

Price is usually one of the last things to be revealed, so it's no surprise that there's not much news in this area. The recommended pricing of the current 'Comet Lake' CPUs give a rough indication of how much you can expect to pay:

  • Core i7-10710U – US$443 (approx. £325)
  • Core i7-10510U – US$409 (approx. £300)
  • Core i5-10210U – US$297 (approx. £220)
  • Core i3-10110U – US$281 (approx. £205)

Intel also the Alder Lake CPUs as "a significant breakthrough", suggesting there may be a price increase. We're expecting Alder Lake mobile chips, too, but these are designed to be integrated into devices and so dependent on manufacturer pricing.

However, a Reddit post from user Seby9123 shows what looks very much like the top-spec Core i9-12900K - it's priced at US$610 (approx. £440), up from US$539 for the equivalent Rocket Lake chip. 

How will Alder Lake and Rocket Lake desktop chips differ?

The key difference will be target market, which shapes how the chips are designed. As Intel itself says, Rocket Lake chips will be primarily aimed at gamers and PC enthusiasts who want the absolute best performance on offer - but it'll likely have a price to match.

Alder Lake looks like it'll take a different approach, in order to appeal more to everyday consumers. Unlike Rocket Lake, it looks to focus just as much on power efficiency as performance, "combining high-performance cores and high-efficiency cores into a single product". The latter should lead to big improvements in battery life, so long as there aren't wholesale changes to the rest of the chip. 

Sound familiar? ARM-based processors have historically sacrificed slightly on performance in order to maximise power efficiency, although Apple's M1 chip suggests it may be possible to have the best of both worlds.

With AMD and Microsoft both exploring ARM-based CPUs too, it's no surprise that Intel wants a piece of the action. Alder Lake doesn't quite fall into the same category, but it's clear the company sees a future in this type of chip.

Will there be Alder Lake laptop chips?

Yes, and all signs point to them being a direct successor to 2020's Tiger Lake. Known as Alder Lake-P, these will be designed to power the next generation of Windows laptops and tablets. Unlike the desktop chips, Intel is aiming to make these processors the most capable you can find in any laptop, although it looks set to face stiff competition from AMD once again.

Intel Alder Lake (12th-gen) spec news

Despite it being quite a few months before the expected release date, we already have plenty of news about Alder Lake, including from Intel itself

As mentioned above, Intel says the system-on-a-chip (SoC) will combine high-performance and high-efficiency cores into one product. The company also speaks of "a significant breakthrough in x86 architecture", suggesting it will be able to overcome some of the compatibility issues suffered by existing ARM-based CPUs. 

It will still be based on the 10nm process, although this will be an improved version of Intel's existing SuperFin technology. Intel is expected to move to 7nm from 2022 onwards. Alder Lake wasn't the company's announcement at CES, so the only other official news is that there will be "faster transistors".

We now have our first official look at Alder Lake CPUs, courtesy of VP Gregory M Bryant:

The biggest leak so far then comes from VideoCardz, which has revealed a host of key Alder Lake specs. Interestingly, this appears to have come from a leaked internal presentation. 

A shift to new Golden Core Cove design looks set to bring big performance gains. Intel says this will be an improvement of up to 20% in single-core and up to 2x for multi-thread. However, it's not clear whether the reference baseline here is Rocket Lake or Tiger Lake.

Despite not being ARM-based chips per se, Alder Lake will use ARM's big.LITTLE architecture. This includes both performance and power efficiency cores on the same chip, as is the case on Apple's M1 chip. In addition to performance gains, this should help extend the battery life of Alder Lake-powered PCs.

Elsewhere, we also have 'confirmation' that Alder Lake will support both Gen 4 and Gen 5 PCIe Express, as well as Thunderbolt 4 and DDR4/DDR5 memory. As Wccftech goes on to say, PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 will therefore be making their debut on Intel silicon. That article suggests the new LGA 1700 socket will be very different to its predecessors, meaning Alder Lake will require new coolers.

Here's the summary slide that VideoCardz has obtained:

Intel Alder Lake

Before the event in Las Vegas, there were a few rumours swirling around about what Alder Lake would bring to the table. A Geekbench listing appearing to be a new Alder Lake chip leaked, with the processor sporting 16 cores and 24 threads. It also has a maximum frequency of 17.6GHz, but as NotebookCheck reported this is likely to only be an engineering sample:

Another popular component Twitter leaker has also got in the act, with @momomo_us suggesting Alder Lake will come with DDR5 support:

Intel is yet to confirm or deny this information, but moving to the latest RAM standard would enable double the bandwidth and so much faster speeds. The image above also hinted that Alder Lake will hit a maximum frequency of 4.0GHz. That's a bit lower than the 5.3GHz Intel says Rocket Lake will be capable of, but we have to remember that these chips are designed to balance performance with power efficiency. As a result, we're excited to see the battery life figures Alder Lake is capable of. 

The SiSoftware Sandra software detailed above has since been updated to support three different types of Alder Lake processor. As KitGuru reports, Alder Lake-S will be for desktops, Alder Lake-P for laptops and Alder Lake-M for lower-powered devices. This development is potentially significant, as it's the first time the entries have been free of typos. The article goes on to say that the M and P series will both likely be based on the x86 architecture.

A recent benchmark leak goes a step further, suggesting the P series will include a new high-end chip with 14 cores and 20 threads:

Given the fact that the core count on Intel chips usually goes up by the power of 2 (2, 4, 8, 16), this seems unusual.

That same chip makes an appearance in another Geekbench 5 benchmark result spotted by Tom's Hardware. This suggests the base clock speed will be 1.4GHz and the boost clock speed 27.1GHz. However, the latter is almost certainly inaccurate - 2.71GHz is a more likely figure.

It's one of a number of Alder Lake chips that have popped up recently. However, one of the others yields significantly lower scores, despite being recorded only a day later.

The chips above look set to be just two of the many processors that look set to complete the Alder Lake lineup. Twitter leaker @9550pro posted what looks like an official guide to the mobile range:

The key takeaway here is the sheer diversity of Alder Lake's mobile chips, with everything from the tablet-focused 5W M5 to the 55W 'muscle' H55. Those and the performance-focused U28 are all new to the range.

It might not have been officially announced yet, but Reddit user Seby9123 has supposedly been able to buy the top-spec Core i9-12900K. The associated images suggest it's the real thing:

Intel Core i9-12900K
Image: Seby9123/Reddit

It seems like one retailer has started selling Alder Lake desktop CPUs ahead of time, although the Reddit user acknowledges that the motherboard to support it isn't available. Asus' Z690 is expected to be the motherboard in question.

Another tweet from @9550pro in October 2021 reveals more about the mid-range Core i5-12400, likely to be one of the most popular processors in the range:

The chip in question will supposedly feature 6 cores and 12 threads. According to Notebookcheck, the Cinebench R20 scored of 4784 put it anywhere from 4.75% to 9.6% faster than AMD's equivalent Ryzen 7 5600X, suggesting Intel has a slight upper hand when it comes to mid-range CPUs. However, we should be wary of reading too much into one-off results, and AMD looks set to respond soon with the Ryzen 6000 Series.

A subsequent Geekbench result reported by Videocardz suggests the high-end 16 core, 24 thread chip is already outperforming the current i9-9900K processor. The base frequency of 2.2GHz is the highest we've seen so far in benchmarks. However, as the article goes on to say, the 27.2GHz figure for maximum frequency is clearly an error, with the figure likely to be somewhere between 2.7 and 3.4GHz.

There are also some encouraging signs from Alder Lake's first true gaming test, even if the CPU was paired with the latest Nvidia RTX GPUs and DDR5 memory to maximise performance. As German tech site Computerbase spotted, a CapFrameX test of online strategy game Dota suggests Alder Lake can hit a maximum FPS of over 549, averaging over 120fps. However, we don't know which resolution or settings were used when recording these figures.

If you're a desktop PC user considering high-end CPUs, the latest Alder Lake benchmarks compare favourably with the equivalent AMD chips. According to Twitter leaker @OneRaichu, an early model of the top-spec Core i9-12900K excels in tests using the Cinebench R20 software:

The processor in question here has been placed in a water cooler to prevent overheating, with a subsequent tweet acknowledging the additional 'S' is a mistake. According to Guru3D, it performs significantly better than the Ryzen 9 5950X (AMD's current flagship CPU) across both single-thread (26%) and multi-thread (11%). Plenty might change between now and the final product, but it's interesting nonetheless.

We'll update this article once we know more about Alder Lake. In the meantime, check out our guide to the recently-launched 11th-gen Rocket Lake desktop CPUs. We're also already looking ahead to 13th-gen Raptor Lake processors, expected to launch in 2022.