Hardware blogger YuuKi_AnS has revealed that qualification samples of Intel's as yet unreleased Alder Lake chips are being sold in China (via Tom's Hardware.) The top of the Intel Alder Lake pile, the Core i9 12900K is apparently commanding asking prices of over $1,000, although this is no indication of the MSRP, and is more down to what the market can stomach for unreleased hardware.
The fact that these chips are being sold isn't particularly surprising—this kind of thing has happened before, and it certainly won't be the last time it happens either. It's more the fact that these qualification samples (QS) are already out there, indicating that Alder Lake is further along its development life span than some have suspected.
The reason Alder Lake is garnering so much interest is because it's a very different kind of chip for desktop computing, featuring a so-called big.LITTLE hybrid design that Arm has made so popular in smartphones. Essentially Alder Lake packs two different types of cores—large Golden Cove cores are extensions of what we currently use, while the smaller, more-efficient Gracemont cores draw from Intel's Atom lineage.
The top-end Core i9-12900K has eight of each type, although only the traditional cores have HyperThreading, so expect some unusual core and thread counts, such as 16-core, 24-thread chips. That trailing K indicates this is an unlocked CPU as well, although those two different types of core could make for some interesting overclocking shenanigans as well.
The key part for Alder Lake is actually the Windows scheduler, which dictates which cores should be used for which tasks. This probably explains why there are samples like this are doing the rounds, as developers need access to the hardware to make sure that the chips work optimally.
Alder Lake is generally expected to be released before the end of the year, although when exactly is anyone's guess. We've had some rumours pointing at an October release, while others say November is pretty firm. Officially, all we know is that Intel is aiming for the second half of the year.