Should you upgrade to Intel Alder Lake-S in 2021?

Literally on October 27, there was an announcement of a new Intel platform with Alder Lake-S processors. The 12th generation Core processors (Alder Lake-S) and motherboards for them, along with sets of DDR5 RAM, should go on sale on November 4. Many users now face a dilemma – should they upgrade now or not?

Let’s analyze the abundant information that is available at the moment. When deciding on such an upgrade, the future owner should be aware that he will have to completely update most of the components of his computer.

Updating hardware for the platform
In addition to the processor itself with an increased number of contacts to 1700 pieces, the cooling system will also have to be changed.

An old cooler or AIO may not be suitable for physical limitations. The fact is that Intel has changed the physical dimensions of the new LGA1700 socket, which is now 37.5 x 45 mm compared to the LGA1200 socket for Rocket Lake-S processors, which measures 37.5 x 37.5 mm. Having grown in size, Alder Lake-S processors have decreased in thickness due to a new heat distribution cover, which is 1 mm thinner.

Due to the reduced thickness of the processor, it is possible that the cover of old cooling systems does not fit snugly. Well-known manufacturers, such as Noctua, have already begun to produce adaptive mounts for their popular coolers to give them a second chance, but for the most part, buying a new cooler or AIO is a mandatory step when migrating to a new platform, and, accordingly, additional financial costs.

The new socket will also offer a new standard for DDR-SDRAM RAM, which will be introduced in its fifth generation. From generation to generation, the amount of RAM increases, the clock speeds rise and the operating voltage decreases. But there are also negative indicators of such progress. As the clock frequency rises, the memory timings increase, which negatively affects its performance due to the increased latency. According to the specification of the JEDEC committee, the new memory briskly starts from the 4800 MHz mark, but the timings have the following formula: 40-40-40-77. For comparison, ordinary memory modules with the same clock speed of the previous generation have timings that are two times lower in value – 20-30-30-50. And the fastest DDR4 kits do work according to the 17-19-19-39 formula at 4800 MHz.

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The second significant disadvantage of the new standard memory is its cost. Some foreign stores have already managed to “light up” the cost of some sets. So, a set from TeamGroup with a total volume of 32 GB (16 GB x2) will cost the user $ 310.99. A similar set from GeIL is already estimated at 350 US dollars, which is equivalent to 25,000 rubles.

However, this order of prices is typical for any new products. Memory manufacturers and retailers want to maximize their profits at the start of sales. Over time, with the expansion of the assortment, prices will begin to decrease slightly.

It is also worth mentioning one distinguishing feature of the new standard memory, which was absent in all previous generations. This is the built-in power converter (VRM), which migrated from the motherboard directly to the textolite of the new standard RAM. If you think that this will make motherboards cheaper, you are wrong. But the fact that RAM will become even more expensive in production is a fact.


So far this issue has not been thoroughly studied, but “charged” overclocking kits with high clock frequencies will have a “pumped-over” VRM, and now the overclocking potential of the RAM will directly depend on the quality characteristics of the integrated power converter.

Many manufacturers have already announced their motherboard lines with the new Intel Z690 chipset. If we take one of the popular manufacturers, Asus, as a basis, then the cost of motherboards with the new LGA1700 socket is somewhat more expensive than similar representatives from similar lines of the previous generation.


For comparison, the flagship model ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 HERO retails for $ 625. Whereas, the current generation model ASUS ROG Maximus XIII HERO Z590 retails for $ 678.

So, if you are counting on certain functionality and corresponding options, look at how much the motherboard you are interested in now costs, and add another 50-60 dollars to be sure that you have enough money to buy.

Platform capabilities
If you are not afraid of financial difficulties, and desire outweighs everything else, let’s figure out what the new Intel platform offers in return to the user.


The new desktop flagship of the platform will be the Intel Core i9-12900K processor with the Golden Cove microarchitecture with 16 physical cores and 24 threads. The total amount of cache memory is 30 MB, which is almost double that of the previous flagship Intel Core i9-11900K with 16 MB. The processor will include 8 efficient P-cores (16 threads) and 8 energy-efficient E-cores (8 threads).

New processors are already being manufactured using a more sophisticated process technology. If the previous generation was manufactured according to 14 nm standards, then for the new Alder Lake-S the chipmaker changed the naming system for the technical process, and now you can see just the number “seven”, although in fact it is a 10 nm process technology with some improvements. Alder Lake-S processors usher in a new era in processor design with a hybrid approach to big.LITTLE cores.


Now, along with the productive cores with the Golden Cove microarchitecture, small cores with the Gracemont microarchitecture will also coexist, the roots of which go back to the energy-efficient Lakefield processors.

According to Intel’s logic, large productive cores will handle the most high-priority and resource-intensive tasks, while small and energy efficient cores will be busy with numerous background processes. In addition, it is possible to combine all types of cores to solve one heavy task, which will achieve the maximum level of performance. But here it should be borne in mind that small cores lack support for Hyper Threading technology.

All elements of the processor, including heterogeneous cores, 3D graphics, L3 cache, memory and system bus controllers, as well as all other blocks are combined into a single device through a bidirectional ring bus, which in the new implementation reaches a throughput of 1000 GB / s.


The integrated graphics core hasn’t undergone any radical changes, but now the new memory controller with support for the new DDR5-4800 memory standard will be able to raise the level of 3D performance in games and related applications where it is used.

Alder Lake-S processors will receive a new generation of the PCI Express interface block, the fifth generation of which contains serious innovations and finally the leadership in this direction from AMD will pass to Intel.

PCIe version 5 provides double the bandwidth of the previous generation. It will provide the PCIe x16 graphics slot with a bandwidth of 128 GB / s. At the same time, the controller allocates only four fourth-generation PCIe lanes to connect an NVMe SSD drive, so the new PCIe 5.0 SSD can be connected exclusively to free PCIe slots, if the need arises.

Intel itself estimates the performance gain of the new processors at 19% in relation to the Cypress Cove cores used in the 11th generation processors of the Rocket Lake-S processors. At the same time, in some tasks, the gain can be higher and reach 60%.


An important factor in the new processors is their energy efficiency. After all, it is because of this that the heterogeneous design of the processor core was developed. But, in a spoonful of honey, as always, there was also a fly in the ointment. Energy efficiency is present, but only if the processor is not overclocked. If the user wants to increase performance and disables all power consumption limits in the BIOS, then at a frequency of up to 5.2 GHz the processor will consume more than 330 W of energy, and this is already the level of a good SVO, therefore, serious financial expenses cannot be avoided here either.


Software and OS compatibility
And the last question concerns software and operating system compatibility. Not all programs will work normally on processors with the new architecture. Alder Lake processors have a compatibility issue with DRM protection, which is used, for example, by Denuvo to protect PC games.

Old versions of games with such protection simply do not work on new processors, but Intel, together with software developers, is working in this direction. Old versions of operating systems also do not know anything about heterogeneous kernels, so immediately tune in to the installation of Windows 11. But remember, if you are using specific software that does not have a declared compatibility with the new operating system, it is better to check this question with the developer and postpone the upgrade.


As a result, what can you say about the new Intel platform? On the one hand, this is innovation and the use of new technologies, standards and interfaces, on the other hand, the increased cost of migration to a new platform. Energy efficiency is possible only if the processor operates within the strictly defined TDP limits, but if you remove all restrictions in the BIOS and indulge in overclocking – get ready for high temperatures and increased power consumption.

On the software side, there are also a number of questions, because, you see, I don’t want to feel like a beta tester and think about possible incompatibilities. But, such is the retribution for the progress and those advantages that we will be additionally told about after the announcement, after which everyone will independently make a final decision on the need to change the platform.