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Intel’s Core i9-12900K arrived last year as the fastest gaming CPU we’ve ever tested, but the new Special Edition Core i9-12900KS pushes the Alder Lake family up to a blistering 5.5 GHz, a record high for PCs, making it the fastest desktop PC chip in all categories. The 12900KS comes to market on April 5, but we snagged a chip to put it to the test ahead of the final launch.

But that isn’t the final word yet: AMD has its $449 Ryzen 7 5800X3D waiting in the wings. The 5800X3D comes with the first 3D-stacked SRAM for desktop PCs, granting the chip a whopping 96MB of L3 cache that AMD says will take back the crown of the best CPU for gaming when it arrives on April 20.

Make no mistake, Intel’s goal with the 12900KS is to cement itself atop the performance charts to cut off the 5800X3D before it even arrives on the market. Intel aims to accomplish this feat by leveraging the 12900K’s existing 16-core 24-thread design, but with a higher binning that supports speeds up to 5.5 GHz on two cores and up to 5.2 GHz for all-core boosts, both enabled by adding in Intel’s most advanced boosting tech.  

U.S. Price Cores | Threads P-Core Base/Boost E-Core Base/Boost TDP / PBP / MTP DDR4-3200 L3 Cache
Core i9-12900KS $739 8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads 3.4 / 5.5 GHz 2.5 / 4.0 GHz 150W / 241W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 30MB
Core i9-12900K / KF $589 (K) – $564 (KF) 8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads 3.2 / 5.2 GHz 2.4 / 3.9 GHz 125W / 241W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 30MB
Core i7-12700K / KF $409 (K) – $384 (KF) 8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 threads 3.6 / 5.0 GHz 2.7 / 3.8 GHz 125W / 190W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 25MB
Core i5-12600K / KF $289 (K) – $264 (KF) 6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 threads 3.7 / 4.9 GHz 2.8 / 3.6 GHz 125W / 150W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 16MB

That comes at the cost of extra power, though: The Core i9-12900KS comes with a 150W processor base power (PBP), a record for a mainstream desktop processor. As we’ll show below, it’s an understatement to say the 12900KS runs hot, so it requires the beefiest of cooling solutions. However, as we’ll detail, some of that tendency to run hot is by design to enable a new level of performance for desktop PCs.

The speedy 12900KS is sure to satisfy deep-pocketed performance addicts, and it comes with the same overall feature set as the 12900K, like support for DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 on the desktop. AMD can’t match that type of connectivity until its 5nm Ryzen 7000 ‘Raphael’ Zen 4 CPUs arrive later this year. The 12900KS also comes with Alder Lake’s new hybrid x86 design that combines eight big and fast Performance cores (P-cores) with two four-core clusters of small and powerful Efficiency cores (E-cores) that chew through background processes.

Intel’s Core i9-12900K catapulted the company back to the top of the performance and value charts after the beating it took at the hands of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 family, but AMD is finally firing back with seven new chips of its own that will come to market this month. Intel’s Core i9-12900KS is Intel’s brazen ‘power and price be damned’ attempt at keeping the performance crown at all costs, just like we saw with Intel’s only other ‘Special Edition’ chip, the Core i9-9900KS.

All of this means that while Intel’s 12900KS delivers strong performance that leads our CPU benchmark hierarchy, its hefty $739 premium might not be as good of a buy for gaming as AMD’s $449 5800X3D. However, the eight-core 5800X3D won’t be able to keep pace in any other type of work, as the 16-core Core i9-12900KS has a core count and frequency advantage. Here’s how Intel’s latest Special Edition stacks up. 

Intel Alder Lake-S Core i9-12900KS Specifications and Pricing