Intel’s latest CPUs are the ‘Alder Lake’ 12th Generation, and they’re a sea-change in design and implementation. In this article we’ll discuss some of the factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a motherboard, and show you our current choices for the best options across a range of budgets and purposes for the i5-12900K.
The Alder Lake CPUs mark Intels first wholly new architecture in years, and also a move to a more efficient 10nm production process. High-end Alder Lake CPUs use two distinct kinds of cores: high performance ‘P’ Cores alongside more efficient ‘E’ Cores, to allow background or system workloads to be appropriately handled without impacting the performance of primary tasks. They’ve combined these advantages with a shift to DDR5 RAM compatibility to make a platform that moves CPUs on a generation.
With these improvements comes a raft of complexity if you’re just looking to build the best PC for your money right now. Is DDR4 RAM adequate or do you need DDR5 RAM to properly benefit from a 12th Gen CPU? What properties of a motherboard are vital, and which don’t matter? We’re here to guide you through that.
The 12900K should be paired with a Z690 motherboard.
Alder Lake CPUs use the new LGA 1700 Socket from intel, which is slightly larger than existing sockets. You’ll find these sockets on the newly released Z690 motherboards, as well as upcoming B660 and H670 motherboards. Because the K series 12900K CPU is overclockable and has both P and e cores, you’ll want to pair it with a Z690 motherboard to ensure you are able to extract the maximum potential from this high-performance CPU. They’re also the only motherboards currently available, so if you want to get your Alder lake System off the ground now, you’ll need to choose Z690.
DDR4 vs DDR5
DDR4 is the sensible option but DDR5 may offer higher ultimate performance.
One of the first considerations when choosing a Z690 motherboard is whether you will use DDR4 RAM or DDR5. Alder Lake 12th Gen CPUs can use either, but the motherboard dictates which you will use and they are not cross-compatible. DDR5 is the latest specification and boasts impressive headline speeds but in fact, there’s a lot more to RAM performance than advertised Speed in MHz. Whilst DDR5 has the edge in bandwidth, good DDR4 kits still perform better particularly in games due to lower latencies. DDR5 is also very hard to find, and currently expensive. Whilst we expect DDR5 to develop into the standard option over the next year or so, particularly with AMD’s next-generation Ryzen CPUs using it as well, right now DDR4 is the sensible option for building a 12th generation Intel-based PC. If cost is no object and you want to use RAM with the best possible performance particularly in memory heavy tasks, thenDDR5 may be the better option for you, but we expect the situation to improve as more DDR5 kits become available, and speeds and specification increase.
We’ll develop and deliver more content on this as we’re able to test more but independent reviewers such as Gamers Nexus and Techpowerup have verified the performance of DDR4 except in certain specific non-gaming tasks where the bandwidth of DDR5 is an advantage. You’ll need to check the name or the specification of the board you’re buying to verify that it’s compatible with the RAM type you’ve chosen.
When choosing a motherboard, there’s a number of features you’ll want to consider to ensure it provides a good basis for your PC. Voltage Delivery is an important factor for Intel CPUs which remain relatively power-hungry. However, for Z690 manufacturers have largely provided good solutions that are capable of running even a 16 core 12900K to full potential. We’d just caution against entry-level motherboards for the i9-12900K that lack basic heat sinks on the VRM, as that’s a sign that cost-cutting has taken precedence.
After that, it’s just a case of finding a board with the right number of input and output options for you, as the base specifications across all Z690 motherboards are very similar. Consider if you want WiFi Inbuilt, how many USB ports you’re likely to need and what speed they should be, and how many M.2 and PCIe slots you require.
All of our recommended motherboards below combine rock-solid specifications with a feature set that will get the best out of your flagship powered PC, so let’s dig in and find some motherboards that will give you the very best i9-12900K PC possible!
Best Motherboards for Intel Core i9-12900K- Our Recommendations
1. Best All-Round Motherboard for i9-12900K
MSI has launched a strong lineup for Z690 and the MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi (DDR5) represents their mainstream enthusiast motherboard. The core features of the board include VRMs with 18 Phase CPU power delivery, extensive heatsinking and a VRM heat pipe to dissipate heat effectively. There are five M.2 slots and 6 SATA ports providing versatile Storage options. All M.2 slots also have heatsinking. The Rear IO is also a strong point, with 9 USB A ports, 5 of them high-speed 10Gb/s, plus USB C at 20Gb/s. WiFi 6E is included, as well as 2.5Gbe. Audio is handled by a high-quality ALC 4080 Codec, and there’s a full suite of rear 3.5mm and an optical SPDIF output. As you’d expect there are plenty of fan connectors with 6 system fan headers, one CPU fan header, and an AIO pump header too. RGB is tasteful with branding highlights on the Chipset heatsink, and good connectivity and control of other RGB components via numerous headers. Overall this is a great looking and full-featured motherboard that will push a 12900K to the limit, without breaking the bank. Just be sure you can source DDR5 RAM before taking the plunge, as it’s only compatible with the newest RAM specification.
2. Best DDR4 Motherboard for i9-12900K
If you want to get your system up and running as soon as possible, you can opt for a DDR4 motherboard and avoid the early adoption minefield of sourcing DDR5 RAM kits. The AORUS Elite DDR4 from Gigabyte provides a solid foundation for your i9-12900K whilst keeping costs and compatibility issues down.
This motherboard is available in both WiFi (AX) and non-WiFi versions. The core specification includes a strong VRM with 16 phases and 70A chokes as well as good full coverage heat sinking: It will have no problem supplying power to the 12900K. The 3 full-length PCIe Slots are sensibly spaced, and there’s 4 PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots covered by extensive heatsinking. Rear IO is good, with 9 USB A slots as well as 2.5Gbe LAN connectivity on both models, and WiFi 6 on the AX model. Be aware that Gigabyte has opted for a cut down rear audio panel for most of their Z690 boards, so there’s just optical, Mic-in, and line out connectors. The audio itself is handled by the mid-range ALC 1220 codec providing good quality and features. It’s worth noting that Gigabyte boards initially shipped with BIOSs that required an update. This board has a Q-Flash button to facilitate this process, but do be sure you update the BIOS to gain important functionality and improved RAM compatibility with this Z690 motherboard.
This is a cost-effective, full-featured and well-specified motherboard to help you get the most from an i9-12900K without system costs spiralling out of control.
3. Best White Motherboard for i9-12900K
If you’re planning a white build, MSI has transposed the MPG Carbon’s specification into the Force, giving it a white makeover with the MSI MPG Z690 Force WiFi. This Z690 motherboard also features VRMs with 18 Phase CPU power delivery, extensive heatsinking which has been painted white/silver and covers nearly the entire board surface. A VRM heat pipe helps to dissipate heat effectively. There are five M.2 slots and 6 SATA ports providing versatile Storage options. All M.2 slots also have heatsinking. The Rear IO is again a strong point, with 9 USB A ports, 5 of them high-speed 10Gb/s, plus USB C at 20Gb/s. WiFi 6E is included, as well as 2.5Gbe. Audio is handled by a high-quality ALC 4080 Codec, and there’s a full suite of rear 3.5mm and an optical SPDIF output. As you’d expect there are plenty of fan connectors with 6 system fan headers, one CPU fan header, and an AIO pump header too. RGB is tasteful with branding highlighted on the Chipset heatsink, and good connectivity and control of other RGB components via numerous headers.
Overall this is a great looking and full-featured motherboard that happily support an i9-12900K whilst blending in with a white or silver themed build. Just be sure you can source DDR5 RAM before taking the plunge, as it’s only compatible with the newest RAM specification.
4. Best High-End Motherboard for i9-12900K
The Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Master combines great overall spec with some useful overclocking features to bring you a well balanced high-end Z690 motherboard with everything you could want to get the most from the i9-12900K in daily use. The power delivery is massively over-specified, with a 19-phase 105 Amp design to the CPU core. Heavy finned heatsinking ensures rapid dissipation of heat – not that even an overclocked 12900K will make this VRM break a sweat. There’s 10 fan and pump headers in total for diverse and complex cooling solutions. Memory OC potential is increased with an 8 layer PCB, thicker Copper traces and shielded memory routing. There’s also a POST code display and a handy clear CMOS button to assist you in finding the best settings for your particular system. Q-Flash facilitates painless BIOS upgrades. Storage is handled with 5 PCIe M.2 slots, of which one 4 are PCI-E 4.0 and 6 SATA ports. Connectivity takes the form of a Marvell AQC113C 10GbE LAN adaptor, and a WIfi 6E Module. Audio is handled by the ever-capable ALC 1220-VB Codec Chip and there’s a full suite of audio outputs on the rear panel. Speaking of which it has 9 USB A ports, 2 USB C ports, LAN and WiFi as well as Clear CMOS and Q-flash buttons, as well as a full collection of audio out jacks making this one of the most complete I/O panels around.
Overall this is a slick-looking and high performing motherboard, with the features you need to get the best out of Intel’s new flagship CPU on a daily basis.
5. Best Extreme Overclocking Motherboard for i9-12900K
What if you want a Z690 motherboard that will allow you to get the absolute best from your i9-12900K? If you’re considering exotic cooling, an open-air test bench, and getting as close to the top of overclocking leaderboards as you dare, the Asus Z690 Apex is the i9-12900K motherboard for you. The Z690 Apex has been designed to deliver every tool to the serious overclocker. The VRM’s and power filtering Capacitors are amongst the highest end ever seen on a consumer motherboard. This is a 24 (?!) phase 105 Amp capable VRM, combined with high-quality metallic capacitors.
There are just 2 DDR5 DIMM slots for the cleanest signal path possible, allowing memory overclocking in the best possible environment. Overclockers are well served with features such as a POST code display, power and reset buttons, Dual BIOS switches, LN2 ‘Cold boot’ mode, but the attention to deal runs deeper than that: there’s also direct voltage monitoring for more accurate voltage readings, Onboard BCLCK adjustment, Slow mode, probing points, a pause button, even condensation detection… in short every tool you could need to tune and run a benchmarking system or overclock using LN2 or other exotic sub-ambient methods.
The more ‘normal specifications are all present and correct, and there’s nothing to stop you from running this motherboard in a daily system. It has dual PCIe 5.0 x16 slots, (Four) M.2 Slots and 6 SATA connectors. The rear IO is comprehensive, with 9 USB A ports total, one USB c, PS/2 mouse and Keyboard connectors for very low latency input, and WiFi and 2.5GbE LAN connectors. Audio is via Asus’s own implementation of the high-end ALC 4080 Codec. And let’s not overlook that with slick ROG styling, extensive heatsinking, and plus integrated RGB, this board looks truly badass as well.
This is really the ‘Apex’ of Z690 motherboards, more than ready for your overclocking experimentation on Alder Lake.
6. Best Budget Motherboard for i9-12900K
If you’re looking for a motherboard for the i9-12900K that ‘just works’ and aren’t worried about bells and whistles, the MSI Pro Z690-A is a strong option. This ATX motherboard boasts a strong feature set and good connectivity. There are 4 M.2 slots including three that support PCIe 4.0, 6 SATA ports and 3 PCIe x16 Slots with the primary slot supporting PCIe 5.0. Networking options include a 2.5Gbe LAN port and there’s a version with inbuilt Wifi 6 and Bluetooth. The VRM is strong with a 14 phase design and good heatsinking, and this motherboard will happily support the power demands of an i9-12900K. There’s a good range of Fan headers including AIO pump headers, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Front panel headers and some troubleshooting LED’s to help guide set up.
What this board lacks is largely aesthetic, with MSIs PRO lineup focussing on business-like functionality. There’s no RGB although it has the standard 5V and 12V RGB headers to connect RGB devices to. It has a relatively basic ACL 897 Realtek Codec chip, which works but won’t shine infidelity or features.
Overall, it’s hard to imagine any normal usage that this motherboard doesn’t cater to, and with keen pricing and DDR5 and Wifi enabled options it covers all bases in a great value package.
7. Best Creator Motherboard for i9-12900K
If you want to take advantage of the i9-12900K’s prodigious capability in creative applications, this motherboard, the Gigabyte Z690 Aero D, is the perfect basis for it. Whether you’re rendering 3D Art or creating high-quality audio or visual content, this motherboard has several unique features that make it stand out.
First, it’s one of few motherboards to include integrated Thunderbolt 4 connectivity. With 2 Thunderbolt connectors on the rear panel, you can hook up very high-speed drives for rapid data ingest, or monitors for flexible and high-quality display output. This versatile high bandwidth connection means you spend less time waiting and more time creating.
Secondly, this is one of few boards that allows both main PCIe slots to operate in PCIe 5.0 x8 mode, meaning no limitations on bandwidth for even the highest performing multi-GPU setups.
There’s also a 10GbE LAN onboard, so you can hook this system into a high-speed network and move large files with ease.
The rest of the specification is rock solid. The VRM is high end, with extensive heat sinking, to support a 12900K even under extended high load situations. Audio is provided by the high-end ALC 4080 codec (but on the rear panel, note the front-panel output is driven by a standard ALC897 Codec). The rear panel comprises of high-speed WiFi, Two LAN sockets, 2.5GbE and 10GBE Lan connector, 6 USB 3.2 Type-A connectors and the two Thunderbolt 4 ports. Audio out is just a Lineout and Mic input, so ensure that meets your needs or you have a plan for alternative audio interfaces.
This Z690 motherboard represents the best option for a high-end creators PC, with its unique feature set, slick looks and wide-ranging functionality.