While the release of Intel 11th Gen feels like it was just the other day, Intel and Gigabyte have graced us with their 12th Gen lineup of products, the Intel Alder Lake Core family of CPUs and their Z690 chipset. We were able to get hold of a Gigabyte Z690 AERO G motherboard to test out the platform, and further acquired an Intel Core i9 12900K and 32GB Kingston Fury Beast DDR5 (yes five) 5200MHz CL40 memory. To test it out, we utilized the same bench from our testing of the Aorus Waterforce X 240 AIO, which consisted of a Core i9 11900K, Z590 Aorus Pro, 32GB DDR4 3733 MHz, a 750W PSU and Cooler Master ATX Chassis.
The Z690 AERO G is an upper mid-ranged motherboard which can be picked up for R6399 at the time of writing. It features most of the same specifications of it’s higher tiered siblings, seeing DDR5 support, a single PCIe 5.0 slot, accompanied by two PCIe 3.0, 4x PCIe 4.0 M.2 NVMe slots, 2.5GB Ethernet and Intel® Wi-Fi 6 AX201. The back of the board features plentiful I/O with all the connectors you’d require for daily PC usage, and there’s even two USB-C ports (more on these later).
Installing the CPU on our system was mostly the same as previous builds, where after placing the CPU in its socket, you clamp it down with the bracket, but installing memory was slightly different to what we’ve experienced in the past. The DDR5 dimms seem to need a bit more force applied to them in order to get the “click” to secure them in place. We removed the middle M.2 shroud on the board and installed both a PCIe 3.0 boot drive, and PCIe 4.0 Games drive. This was the first place we noticed a “cost down” where the M.2 slots don’t have thermal pads on both sides to cool down larger capacity NVMes that may feature memory on both sides. While this may be nitpicking, we feel like it may cause users who have 2TB or larger PCIe 4.0 drives to have some slow down, but thankfully our 1TB Sabrent Rocket drive ran like a dream in this system. A strange sight to be seen was that the Intel Wi-Fi M.2 also shared the same location as the NVMe drives, where it’s usually located under the I/O Cover/Shroud. While some might see it as being negative, it’s a pretty great sight to see considering you can quite easily upgrade your Wi-Fi in future by just swapping out the M.2. We recently upgraded an AC motherboard to AX by changing this, and after some time when Wi-Fi 6E add-in cards drop in price this board could easily be upgraded without needing to populate one of the PCIe 3.0 slots.
The unique feature of the AERO lineup of Z690 boards isn’t only the AERO moniker or gorgeous White/Silver aesthetic, the Z690 AERO G supports Gigabyte’s VisionLINK which allows you to power external devices up to 60W through the USB-C port on the back. The port also allows for display passthrough which can be used on external monitors or pen-displays, this feature is clearly targeted towards Content Creators and is likely the reason Gigabyte chose to put “Creator Series” on the board.
The Z690 AERO G has an easy to use and attractive BIOS, which showcases the most important information at first glance. Moving to Advanced Mode we found three really great features that anyone could enable to enhance their experience. The first is the CPU Upgrade feature, which immediately pushes your CPU up by 100MHz to allow for free extra performance. It’s worth noting that on the i9 12900K when equipped with a 240mm AIO and running 100% in a multithreaded workload, the CPU is able to reach a temperature in the mid 90s. We highly recommend you only enable CPU Upgrade if you have adequate cooling such as a 280 or 360mm AIO. The second great feature we found is the DDR5 XMP Booster, which allowed us to push our 5200MHz CL40 Memory to 5400MHz while keeping the same latency. Changing between the different XMP memory profiles is quite easy as Gigabyte conveniently shows the different memory manufacturers XMP profiles, in our case we were able to see that our Kingston dimms were made by Micron and thus applied the Micron 5400MHz option. We only recommend you choose a value that is one higher than your default as long term effects of overclocking DDR5 memory is mostly untested at this stage.
The final setting that we really want to talk about, we found under the Advanced CPU Settings -> Legacy Game Compatibility Mode. The 12th Gen Intel Core CPUs feature both P (Performance) and E (Efficiency) cores, which are the biggest advancement to this generation of processors. While this in theory allows the E cores to handle the background tasks of your system, leaving the P cores to handle more demanding workloads such as games; the unfortunate reality is that some DRM solutions of the past see the E cores as being a different CPU and think that you are trying to bypass their systems, leading to some games and potentially other applications not being able to run until patched. The Legacy Game Compatibility Mode is a feature that allows you to temporarily park (disable) or un-park the Efficiency cores on the 12th Gen CPUs allowing your CPU to just show up as a single 8 Core 16 Thread CPU consisting of P cores only, thus allowing older applications to work flawlessly.
This wouldn’t be a review if we didn’t test the performance of our system, and so we ran Cinebench R23 in both Single-Threaded and Multi-Threaded to see how the 12900K compared to the 11900K which released back in March of this year. Both systems were left at stock settings (no CPU upgrade) with their respective memory frequencies of 3733MHz and 5400MHz running in Gear 2. The 11900K achieved a Multi-Threaded score of 15522 while the 12900K managed 27637. This is a 78% increase in multi-threaded performance from only one generational jump, impressive to say the least – though it’s worth mentioning the 11900K pulled around 220W and maintained a temp in the mid 70s, while the 12900K pulled 250W and sat in the 90s, again, we highly recommend you get decent cooling to make the most of this generation. For Single-Threaded performance the 11900K got 1650 points, with the 12900K absolutely crushing it with a 17% lead of 1937 points. While the intel of the past decade might have been happy with small single digit performance increases per upgrade cycle, it’s clear that the pressure that AMD brought with Ryzen has led Intel to push back with all their force. The Alder lake 12900K is by far the fastest CPU we have tested to date, and our only concern here is the power draw when compared to AMD sitting around 100W lower.
The Gigabyte Z690 AERO G is an attractive solution to any user who is looking for a clean looking board, while not being too focused on features such as overkill VRM design for Extreme Overclocking which generally drive the price up. Preliminary benchmarking of the 12th Gen Processors has suggested that while the CPU itself is a major leap forward from 11th Gen, the leap from DDR4 to DDR5 can only be seen in very specific use cases such as file compression and video encoding. If like many people you’re not able to upgrade your CPU, RAM and Motherboard all at once, Gigabyte does sell a DDR4 version of the AERO G which has the same great features of the unit we tested, albeit with DDR4. This should help users who still want to hold onto their DDR4 for one more generation, while still getting most of the advancements of 12th Gen. We highly recommend you make the jump if you’re still on a system that pre-dates Ryzen 5th Gen or Intel 11th Gen as the performance leap is phenomenal, and features such as PCIe 5.0 for GPUs and PCIe 4.0 for NVMes are about to become the standard in years to come.
Gigabyte Z690 AERO G (DDR5)
A feature packed motherboard, allowing you to gain entrance to a new generation of computing.