Before we detail what you'll need overclock a Core i9-12900K, or talk about the thermal and overheating issues you've no doubt heard about for this chip, it is highly recommended you understand the risks & rewards in equal measure. Not only are you going to need a solid motherboard as a starting point, you'll also need an adequate cooling solution for the CPU and, potentially, cooling for the motherboard as well.
You are undertaking an upgrade that COULD end in problems, issues or outright failure of your hardware & components - so it is vitally important that you not only read the information below, but also refer to Intel's official statements on overclocking the Core i9-12900K using the Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU).
Intel® Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel® XTU) is aimed at intermediate-level users that have some basic knowledge about overclocking and how it works. If you don’t, we recommend that you check out our guide to overclocking before proceeding. - Intel
Altering clock frequency or voltage may void any product warranties and reduce stability, security, performance, and life of the processor and other components. - Intel
Having sufficient education in overclocking is vital to ensure you do not brick your shiny new Alder Lake CPU, so we highly recommend reading about the fundamental aspects of overclocking an unlocked processor here and here.
But here is the main takeaway that you should really consider: OVERCLOCKING THE 12900K WILL NOT RESULT IN MASSIVE GAINS. You should expect around 5% increase in performance for your troubles. This guide will outline the initial process of overclocking the i9-12900K, but also why you might want to forget the idea of manually overclocking altogether, and go with a hybrid manual/AI method.
Overclock The i9-12900K - Getting Started
Before you get started and into XTU, you will need a few things that are absolutely essential, though some are optional.
There are two motherboards recommended for overclocking the Socket LGA 1700 12900K. Both boards are DDR5, and both perform equally well with thermals and XTU software compatibility. There are others at similar price leves, though most of the benchmarks we've seen for overclocking use the ASUS ROG Maximus or a non-RGB board like the MSI MEG Z690, so there is some evidence to suggest good compatibility when tweaking the CPU & memory.
ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Intel Motherboard
- Socket 1700
- Intel Z690 Chipset
- 6 x SATA & 9 x USB Ports
- DDR5 (max 128GB, 4 slots)
- eATX Form Factor
MSI MPG Z690 EDGE WIFI Intel Motherboard
- Socket 1700
- Intel Z690 Chipset
- 6 x SATA & 8 x USB Ports
- DDR5 (max 128GB, 4 slots)
- HDMI and Display Port
- ATX Form Factor
Adequate Cooling (Essential)
For gaming scenarios under normal, non-overclocked cirmstances, the Core i9-12900K load will typically be at around 150W maximum, and air cooling will suffice - but using intensive applications such as Cinebench can take you up to almost double the load. Here a 360mm AIO Cooling system or custom cooling will be needed to keep everything chill, and you won't hit thermal limit. Again, this is under normal circumstances.
However, when you are overclocking the Core i9-12900K will automatically take you up to the thermal limit, so an AIO or custom cooling system is paramount before you start tweaking.
Best Cooling For Overclocking
One of the best AIO coolers that comes highly recommended in terms of performance, is the Arctic Liquid Freezer II 360, benchmarked by Gamers Nexus and other experts with the i9-12900K, and being a stand-out AIO for extreme cooling.
XMP RAM Speeds (Essential)
Having your memory running at the absolute best clock speeds is essential when overclocking, so you will need to enable your XMP profile. It is also essential to do this before you start overclocking, because changing the clock speeds has an effect on the CPU memory controller, and you will need to balance the CPU clock speeds along with the new XMP profile.
It is NOT recommended to change your XMP profile after you tweak the CPU, but rather start from scratch with XMP then overclock the CPU to accomodate the new memory speeds.
Windows 11 (Optional)
Windows 11 allows HWMonitor to accurately view the utilisation and clock speeds of performance cores (P-Cores) and efficient cores (E-Cores). You can find out more about HWMonitor in our previous post about free hardware monitoring software and other essential apps. Windows 10 will display core information, but may be limited depending on your build or any number of factors. Windows 11 does, however, show this information much better for monitoring purposes in HWMonitor.
When you run HWMonitor before or after overclocking, you will see that Cores 0 -7 are the P-Cores and Cores 8 - 15 are the E-Core readings.
As above, HWMonitor will enable you to monitor what's going on with core temperature, voltage and performance.
To accurately monitor the hardware responses to overclocking, you will need a benchmark that applies pressure on the thermal side as well as performance, and does not benchmark GPU - only CPU. For this, Cinebench is ideal.
"Cinebench is a real-world cross-platform test suite that evaluates your computer's hardware capabilities. Improvements to Cinebench Release 23 reflect the overall advancements to CPU and rendering technology in recent years, providing a more accurate measurement of Cinema 4D's ability to take advantage of multiple CPU cores and modern processor features available to the average user."
Hardware afficianado and YouTuber, JayzTwoCents, recommends using Cinebench, saying "Because it's an AVX instruction set, specifically with Intel, too, makes a lot of heat, so I usually find if it's stable in Cinebench on a looping run, then we're good to go."
> Download Cinebench R23 here
Why You Shouldn't Overclock The i9-12900K
It's no secret that IT experts are not seeing significant enough gains with manually overclocking the 12900K - at least enough to recommend novices doing it - having benchmarked the chip at stock and at the limits of the overclock tests. It seems manually overclocking is potentially something we'll see less and less of, with the new improvements in AI overlocking technology.
AI Overclocking Wins
As we know from Gamers Nexus, and other benchmarks, the Core i9-12900K already ranks up there with Threadripper performance by using the efficient and performance cores to expertly and intelligently handle workload. When it comes to overclocking, the Alder Lake flagship actually gets uncomfortably closer to the Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, scoring within 1000pts on Cinebench. Food for thought: that is a HEDT 64 thread CPU vs 24 thread CPU with the Intel Core i9-12900K.
JayzTwoCents manually overclocked the 12900K (Cinebench baseline score of 27,269), and scored an impressive benchmark of 29,292 (+7.4%) - albeit with lots of tinkering with voltage and load line calibration to get the magic number & keep temperatures low.
By utilising AI overclocking in the ASUS BIOS, Jay achieved 28,750 with Cinebench by simply using XMP memory settings, select AI Optimised overclocking, and added a -70mV offset for Adaptive Voltage.
AI Optimised overclocking produced 28,669 (+5.1%) - which is pretty close to where you'd want to be, anyway.
JayzTwoCents said: "It's so becoming less and less necessary, with how good the built in overclocking features are with motherboards & stuff," and went on to add "...let the AI optimisation do its thing, then adjust voltage from there,".
Sage words, considering the amount of time & tinkering it will save, and the 5% increase in performance it yields.
Why You Should Overclock The i9-12900K
There are some situations where overclocking the Core i-12900K will make sense.
Some games are CPU intensive, and will benefit from utilising AI overclocking, then tweaking the frequency and voltages to suit your specific needs. YouTuber, der8auer summed this up extremely well, stating that gamers have no need to benchmark the stability of the processors with Cinebench or other load testing software, but rather testing overclocking settings during regular gameplay would suffice.
In essence: it makes no sense tweaking settings in XTU for a load test you will never actually use in reality. By changing settings, playing your chosen game, tweaking, playing and repeating the process incrementally in XTU, you will see the actual gains for your use case. Of course, that tweaking will be at a minimum if you start with AI overclocking first.
Subsequently, der8auer also went on to demonstrate a table that shows estimated clock speeds & voltages depending on cooling situations:
der8auer - Intel 12900K Clocks, Voltages and Overclocking explained
This comes back to the adequate cooling warning: you need to ensure your cooler of choice can cope with the amount of strain you're putting on the processor.
It's worth mentioning that Civilization VI, using the turn time benchmark, puts the Intel i9-12900K at a disadvantage against older chips; the Core i9-10900K and i9-9900KS both scored much higher with the benchmark, so it is fair to say you win some & you lose some with the Alder Lake chips. Again - testing specifically for your game preference is highly recommended.
Civilization VI Turn Time Benchmark i9-12900K - Credit: PCTestBench
How To Overclock The Core i9-12900K
If you're ready to take on overclocking the Core i9-12900K, and you have checked you've got the above prerequisites, the best guide we recommend is JayzTwoCents. This guide will assume you have adequate cooling, XMP profiles enabled, and have an intermediate knowledge of overclocking to start with. That said, the video is very novice-friendly.
This guide uses the AI overclocking to great effect, highlighting the difference between fully manual or semi-manually overclocking the chip.
To get the most out of overclocking the Core i9-12900K, you will be best served using smart technologies developed by a motherboard manufacturer like ASUS, and tweaking incrementally to suit your needs - whether that is 24/7 gaming or workstation workload.
In our view, the ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero Intel Motherboard is recommended, with proven AI that works extremely well with the 12900K.