Ctrl+Alt+Del-42 Alder Lake over GPU

OPINION: When it comes to gaming, a GPU upgrade has always been more important than buying a new CPU. But in 2021, I genuinely believe you’re better off with an Intel Alder Lake upgrade than any of the latest graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia. 

That’s not because Intel’s new processor will provide a greater boost to your frame rate performance though, as that’s simply not the case. According to our benchmark tests for Horizon Zero Dawn, upgrading from a Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti graphics card to an RTX 3080 will provide a massive 50fps improvement when played at a 4K resolution with max graphics settings. 

For comparison, upgrading from the Intel Core i9-11900K CPU to the new Core i9-12900K only results in 1fps boost in the same test – it’s abundantly clear that graphics cards are more important for gaming performance. 

Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (4K)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Quad HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Full HD)

But it’s important to remember that we’re currently in the middle of a GPU shortage, leaving retailers low on stock for graphics cards, and inflating the cost of remaining components to astronomical figures. Nvidia’s founders edition of the RTX 3080 graphics card launched with a £649 price, and that same card is now available on eBay for around £1495.

Of course, you could just leave your savings in your bank account and wait for the GPU shortage to come to an end, despite early forecasts indicating it could continue well into 2022. But after reviewing Intel’s new Alder Lake processors, I’m of the opinion that it’s the perfect opportunity to refresh your CPU instead.

Intel Core i9-12900K (2)

Both the Intel Core i9-12900K and i5-12600K chips seriously impressed me during testing, offering some of the very best single-core speeds I’ve ever seen from a processor, which is vitally important for improving gaming performance. 

However, it’s Alder Lake’s support for PCIe 5.0 that’s really got me excited, raising the performance ceiling for compatible SSDs so games can speed through loading screens at an all-new pace. But what kind of speeds can you expect from PCIe 5.0 SSDs?

Japanese manufacturer Kioxia has already revealed a PCIe 5.0 SSD with sequential read and write speeds up to 14,000 MB/s and 7000 MB/s. For comparison, the Seagate FireCuda 530 is one of the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSDs currently available, but only offers sequential read and write speeds of 7300 MB/s and 6000 MB/s.

The PS5’s SSD speeds are no match for the upcoming PCIe 5.0 SSDs

If you’re not clued up on what these figures mean, I’ll provide additional context. Sony launched the PS5 back in 2020 and heralded the new console for its lightning quick load times. However, the PS5’s default SSD is only capable of read speeds up to 5500 MB/s. That figure seemed very competitive when PC gamers were still limited to PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 4.0, but the new PCIe 5.0 standard blows away the competition.

It’s worth pointing out that you can’t actually buy a PCIe 5.0 SSD right now, with the likes of Samsung teasing a 2022 launch. But I’d argue it’s still worth getting a compatible CPU and motherboard now, allowing you to upgrade without obstacles at a later date. 

Plus, it’s arguably advisable to update your system gradually rather than in one fell swoop. The Intel Core i5-12600K is currently available for around £279.99, while the necessary motherboard with a Z690 chipset will set you back an extra £200 at the very least. Throw a PCIe 5.0 SSD and DDR5 RAM on top of that, and you’ve got a total cost that will have even Father Christmas weeping. 

Intel Alder Lake processors are currently the only chips that support PCIe 5.0. However, AMD is expected to launch its own range of PCIe 5.0-supported desktops processors in early 2022. It may well be worth waiting to see what kind of performance the upcoming Ryzen desktop chips will offer, but either choice makes more sense than a GPU upgrade right now.

Sure, buying a new CPU won’t boost your game’s frame rate to all-new heights or enable jaw-dropping visuals courtesy of ray tracing like a new GPU, but it will still improve your PC’s overall performance while opening up the avenue for more exciting upgrades in the future. And with the GPU shortage showing no sign of ending soon, there’s no better time to put a CPU down on your Christmas list. 

Ctrl+Alt+Delete is our weekly computing-focussed opinion column where we delve deeper into the world of computers, laptops, components, peripherals and more. Find it on Trusted Reviews every Saturday afternoon. 

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