Intel was one of the most active companies at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2021. The chip manufacturer announced four new families of processors. The most eagerly awaited among them was the 12th Gen Alder Lake desktop chips.
As of November of 2021, the chips are available worldwide. You still have to wait a while longer for the laptop-focused varieties. But if you use a desktop PC, and want the best Intel 12th Gen CPU, then you're in luck. As with other Intel CPUs, the Alder Lake Processors come in various specs and with different consumers and needs in mind.
The processors have been designed with Windows 11 in mind, so you might want to factor in the new Window OS when purchasing the new Alder Lake series to get the most out of it. Before getting into the best 12th Gen CPUs you can buy for your gaming PC, here's a quick overview of the new processors in case you missed it.
Best Intel 12th Gen CPUs
As mentioned earlier, Intel has designed its range of Alder Lake CPUs to match the needs of different consumers and performance needs. As such, it’s hard to find a single CPU that will excel in all fields. But you can find options that perform better in certain applications than others.
Intel CPU for gaming (Core i5-12600K)
There is no better place to start than gaming. Keep in mind that the requirements for gaming CPUs vary depending on the type of game and settings of the game.
Core i5-12600K is the best value gaming CPU on the market moment. It provides a significant performance difference compared to its 11th Gen counterpart. This new processor has an impressive array of features, including future-proof support for DDR RAM and PCle 5.0. You can find these features on AMD at the moment, which makes the new line of Intel processors an outright winner in this aspect.
In the past, Intel has fallen behind in terms of multi-core performance compared to AMD chips. But the i5-12600K offers decent multi-core performance giving Intel an opportunity to put its best foot forward.
The most impressive thing about the i5-12600K processors is that it benefits from the same upgrades as its more powerful brother, the i9-12900K. It has the same hybrid architecture, so the chip features two different types of cores and features 6 P-cores and 4 E-cores. The P-cores focus on single-core workloads like gaming, while the E-cores handle sustained tasks to boost multi-threading performance.
The i5-12600K has a total of 10 cores and 16 threads. It has a base clock of 3.70GHz and a boost clock of 4.90GHz. The frequency speeds aren’t that different from the 11th Gen Core i5 processor. But this one has more cores and is better equipped to handle different workloads. The overall efficiency of the process is much better courtesy of the Intel Thread Director which does a superb job of assigning workloads to the various cores.
The core i5-12600K supports DDR5 and PCle 5.0, which raises the performance ceiling of the chip. DDR5 memory brings with it a huge advantage in terms of memory speeds, while PCle 5.0 doubles the bandwidth for the supported components like SSDs. Although DDR5 is still relatively new and expensive, its potential is remarkable.
For the i5-12600K processor, you will need a Z690 motherboard to get the chip up and running to its full potential. The overall cost for this setup might be a little steep. But if your budget allows, you can’t go wrong with the i5-12600K CPU. It is more practical and affordable for gaming compared to the i9-12900K, which is overkill.
The i5-12600K processor handles most workloads effortlessly. It's almost future-proof because of its unique features. The CPU has overclocking features that give you better performance when you need it.
- Solid performance with impressive features
- Competitive pricing for a 12th Gen CPU
- Supports overclocking
- It doesn’t come with a bundled cooler
- You have to buy a new motherboard to use all the features of the processor
The best high-performance CPU (Core i9-12900K)
For gaming enthusiasts and workstations that require high-performance CPUs, the Core i9-12900K chip is the best option in the market at the moment. However, before you get excited, you should know the impressive performance comes at a high cost.
The Core i9-12900K not only represents the best of Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs for desktops, but it has all the muscle to flex against anything its competitors throw at it. The i9-12900K processor has the new Alder Lake architecture from Intel in its most potent form. It has more cores, more bandwidth, and more speed. It's better on every front you can think of.
Like the i5-12600K, the i9-12900K also has the hybrid architecture that Intel is using in the 12th Gen processors. It has 8 P-cores that can hit clock speeds of up to 5.2GHz and 8 E-cores. The chip also has 1.25MB of L2 cache, and the P-cores share 30MB of Intel Smart Cache with the iGPU and the E-cores.
The E-cores primarily handle the low-performance processes and have low power consumption. Together, the 16 cores and 24 threads come together to provide reliable performance that extends to various tasks other than just gaming. For enthusiast builders looking for a rig that can handle a bit of everything and the most demanding tasks, you can go wrong with the i9-12900K processor.
The massive selection of cores and threads on this chip means Intel has finally caught up with AMD’s halo mainstream PC chips. The i9-12900K easily tops the equally impressive Ryzen 9 5950X in multi-threaded applications too.
Considering AMD has been holding the fort in terms of multi-threading for a while now, Intel seems to have caught up with the i9-12900K.
The i9-12900K CPU works well on both Windows 10 and 11. However, for the best performance and experience, Windows 11 is a better platform because it supports the Intel Thread Director technology.
The Intel Thread Director tells the OS which tasks to assign to which cores. This way, the processor delivers the best possible performance for the task at hand.
Expect to pay a premium price for the i9-12900K. But all factors considered the price is still competitively priced. With future-proof features like DDR5 memory and PCle 5.0 support, you won’t need to make any upgrades into the foreseeable future.
For the i9-12900K, you will also need a new motherboard. The Z690 chipset-based motherboards are your only option if you’re looking to maximise the performance of the cheap – at least for now. Even if you settle for a DDR4 motherboard, you will still need a new one because of the LGA 1700 socket that comes with the Alder Lake CPUs.
The performance of the i9-12900K is reliable and definitely overkill for most users. But if you don't want to settle for anything less and you have the budget, this chip easily sits at the top of the food chain as far as Intel's 12th Gen processors go.
- It is the most powerful CPU on the Alder Lake line-up
- Competitive pricing with impressive features that future-proof the CPU when paired with the right hardware.
- Supports overclocking
- It doesn't come bundled with a cooler
- Not practical for gaming purposes only. It is a high-performance, enthusiast processor
Intel has also launched the i7-12700K, which is an excellent middle ground between the i5-12600K and the i9-12900K. Although this chip has largely remained in the shadows, it is worth considering if you want an Intel-based build. It is an excellent option that balances the performance and price and works for those looking for slightly more powerful than the 12600K. It almost brushes shoulders with the 12900K but isn’t quite there. Nonetheless, it makes a good alternative if the price of the 12900K is out of reach.
The i7-12700K uses the same hybrid architectures as the 12600K and the 12900K. It blends P and E-cores to enhance performance and efficiency. The processor has 6 P-cores and 4 E-cores, which sets it right between 12600K and the 12900K processors. The total L3 cache on the 12700K has been reduced to 25MB from 30MB on the 12900K. But that is still more than enough to tackle most tasks.
The core i7-12700K has a base frequency of 2.7GHz and a turbo frequency of 3.8GHz. The P-cores on i7-12700K has a base frequency of 3.6Ghz and a turbo frequency of 4.9GHz. The base power for this chip is about 125W, and the Turbo power is 190W. Most of the base frequencies on the 12700K processor are higher than those of the 12900K, but the turbo frequencies are lower.
Although i7-12700K has a relatively lower turbo frequency, that is not necessarily bad because the chip finds a middle-ground between performance and power consumption.
The i7-12700K chip is matched with the Ryzen 7 5800X – another chip with a solid performance. But the i7-12700K is better because of its price. It carries the same number of P-cores and has the same Thread Director technology that you get on the i9-12900K at a lower price. The i7-12700K surely deserves more attention than it is getting. It is just as amazing and with a more affordable price tag. You still have to pair it up with the Z690 motherboard with an LGA 1700 socket which ramps up the cost but considering that you won't be making any additional upgrades for a long time, it could be a worthy price to pay.
Value Pick (Core i7-12700KF)
Choosing a value CPU isn’t the easiest thing. You have to balance price and performance, and that is what the i7-12700KF has to offer. Although this CPU doesn't get most of press coverage as the other flagship processors, it is an equally impressive CPU best suited for most pure gamers, especially if you prefer to purchase a more powerful graphic card and then go all out on the CPU.
The i7-12700KF offers game enthusiasts up to 12 cores. Eight are P-cores, and 4 are E-cores with a total of 20 threads.
The boost clock speed of the 12700KF is 5.0GHz, slightly higher than that of the AMD 5800X, which is around 4.9GHz.
It is unclear how this translates into gaming, and workstation performance hasn't yet been seen, but everything is very encouraging on paper.
The 12700K has overclocking features, which is quite impressive and a big attraction for most hardcore gamers. Offering the best gaming experience, the i7-12700KF is an excellent option for gamers with a limited budget. However, you have to forego the benefits of having an integrated graphics card.
- Provides powerful single-core performance
- Decent price range
- It doesn't come with an integrated GPU
Budget Pick (Core i5-12600KF)
For gamers with a limited budget but who are hungry for performance, the i5-12600KF is an excellent fit. It has amazing features, including overclocking capacity and it is the cheapest Intel 12th Gen CPU on the market at the moment. There’s a possibility Intel will release other more affordable options later on in the year. If you’re not willing to wait, the i5-12600KF is the best option you can buy right now.
It comes with 6 P-cores and 4 E-cores. It packs a boost clock speed of 4.9GHz and up to 20MB of L3 cache. There are no benchmarks on this processor yet. It is yet to be seen whether it will compete with AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X in terms of performance. For the price, the features it offers are exceptional and come at a lower price than its AMD CPU compact.
- Affordable price range
- Exceptional features including overclocking for a budget CPU
- Hybrid core architecture
- Doesn’t come with an integrated GPU.
12th Gen CPU Release Date
The Alder Lake-S CPU series has already been released and is available in the market. But this is only for desktop. The Alder Lake-P variety for laptops and Alder Lake-M for mobile devices are still in the making, so the wait for these two varieties continues. Unfortunately, there's been no mention of the release date of these two varieties, so it's all speculation.
The Alder Lake technology is relatively new. With that, you can expect the costs to skyrocket because of high demand and low supply. If you're seriously considering buying the Alder Lake desktop CPU, here's a breakdown of the prices you should expect to pay. These prices might go down over time as the prices stabilise.
- Core i5-12600KF - £190
- Core i5-12600K - £210
- Core i7-12100KF - £280
- Core i7-12700K - £300
- Core i9-12900KF - £410
- Core19-12900L - £430
Depending on the location and time of the purchase, you may end up paying more or less. It helps to shop from different retailers to get the best possible pricing.
Specs and Features
The 12th Gen range of CPUs will feature over 60 processors. So far, only about six have been launched and released. These are all standalone CPUs for desktops. In line with Intel's history, each processor is designed for different consumers with different needs. As such, the needs vary slightly.
This line of processors features 16 cores, 24 threads, has a max clock speed of 5.2GHz and consumes up to 241W of power. Of the 16 cores, 8 are for performance and the other 8 for efficiency.
These processors have more or less the same features featuring 16 cores split evenly for performance and efficiency, 24 threads, 5.2GHz max clock speed and 241W power rating.
The core i7 Alder lake range has 12 cores (8 for performance and 4 for efficiency), 20 threads, 5GHz max clock speed, and a 190W power rating.
10 cores (6 performance, 4 efficiencies), 16 threads, a max clock speed of 4.9GHz and 150W of power consumption.
All the core chips offer 20 PCle lanes. 16 are 5.0 lanes, and 4 are 4.0. The CPUs have a DDR5 memory capacity of up to 4,800MT/S and pack L3 and L2 cache sizes.
Besides the CPU, you will also need a new motherboard to support the new CPU. There are different DDR5 Motherboards already in the market that will also support the 12th Gen CPUs.
Although these figures don’t show it, the Alder Lake series brings massive changes to gaming and workstation PCs.
This line of processors is the first one to cross the 14nm process that has been in use since 2015. Intel has also changed the structure of the CPU to make it more compatible with ARM-based chips, which include Apple's M1 chips.
The new 12th Gen CPUs mix performance and power efficiency instead of just making the chips as powerful as possible. This new hybrid approach ensures the devices can sustain performance over an extended period and maintain battery life longer. This is a highly welcomed change given how power-hungry the 11th Gen CPUs were.
Intel claims the new Alder Lake 12th Gen CPUs have a performance increase of about 19% compared to the previous generation at the same clock speed. Unfortunately, there are no verifiable, third-party benchmarks available at the moment.
However, you can still find some performance and gaming performance that have been leaked associated with the i9-12900K 12th Gen CPU. These benchmarks indicate that the CPU delivers 1.4x the framerate of AMD’s Ryzen 5950X when paired with the RTX 3080.
There are also some benchmark ratings for the i5-12600K, which is quite impressive although not as powerful as the i9 variety. It outperforms the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X in CPU-Z benchmarks. But, these performance results are also questionable because they are not verified. But they do give you an idea of what to expect with the new 12th Gen CPUs.
What You Should Consider When Buying 12th Gen CPUs
Choosing the right Alder Lake CPU for you requires careful consideration of various factors that determine the power and performance of the processor. You need to understand the various features and how they will impact the functioning of the CPU and the PC in general. Although this might take some time, it will help you pick the CPU that best suits your needs and budget.
CPU cores and threads
The first place to check is the CPU cores and threads. The core is the physical processor within the CPU. It can be seen on the chip itself. A thread is a virtual core. It is a partition of the physical core, designed to help the CPU handle multiple tasks simultaneously.
A higher core count means a more powerful and better-performance CPU. Higher core accounts are ideal for workstation tasks such as 3D modelling, and rendering among other applications that require multiple computations at the same time.
Having a high core count is also essential for gamers who also stream. But for pure gamers who are not interested in streaming, you can work with fewer cores if the clock speed is fast enough.
Running the most demanding games at the highest settings requires a minimum number of cores. This varies depending on the game:
- 4 Cores – Ideal for general use, light browsing and light gaming.
- 8 Cores – Intermediate gaming, moderate multi-tasking and other general-use purposes.
- 12 cores – This is the minimum requirement for gaming enthusiasts running the latest games at the highest settings.
- 16+ cores – Should handle just about everything. The CPU is perfect for rendering, 3D modelling and other CPU-intensive processes, including gaming and streaming simultaneously.
More about cores
While reviewing Alder Lake 12th Gen CPUs, you will come across P and E cores. This architecture, also known as Big/Little or big.LITTLE was developed by ARM Holdings. It maximises the efficiency of computer processors and is used in Intel's Alder Lake SPU series.
The architecture has two separate core types within the CPU. The P-cores are the performance cores (also the big cores), and the E-Cores are the efficiency cores (also the little cores). The P-cores come with two threads per core, whereas the E-cores will only have one thread.
The P-cores are more powerful and deal with heavy performance processes like the processing of data. E-cores deal with smaller, easier and quicker processes. They allow the P-cores to focus on processes they are good at. Because the E-cores don't have the same brute power as the P-cores, they are more energy-efficient and don't take up as much space on the silicon.
The architecture around the cores is designed to designate the tasks efficiently to the most suitable cores. This structure is extremely advantageous in both performance and power consumption.
CPU clock speed
After the cores and threads, the next feature to consider is the CPU clock speed. This is the most important factor to consider for gaming performance. Clock speed, which is also called Cycle speed, is the number of cycles a core will perform every second. It is the speed of the processor, which is indicated in gigahertz (GHz). A CPU with a 3.6GHz clock speed performs 3.6 million cycles per second.
Most modern processors have two clock speeds – the base speed and the boost speed. These processors can automatically overclock the cores to the boosted speed to achieve optimal performance. Most CPUs will do this when the PC is running highly demanding programs like gaming.
Still, under CPU clock speed, you also need to consider overclocking. Not all CPUs have this feature, and if you're considering it, you also have to ensure the motherboard also has overclocking features.
Overclocking increases the stock clock speed. This is usually done by tweaking settings within the BIOS of the PC. However. Overclocking should only be done by experienced gamers who know what they are doing because it is not without risks.
When considering which clock speed is best for you, always go for the highest possible clock speed for your budget regardless of whether the PC is for gaming or for work.
Which 12th Gen CPUs can overclock?
Identifying CPUs that can overclock is simple because they have a designation. The Intel 12th Gen CPUs that can overclock have the designation ‘K; at the end of the model of the CPU.
If the processor doesn't have a K at the end of its model name, then overclocking is impossible. For the 12th Gen series, if you buy an overclockable processor, you have to pair it with the Z690 motherboard, which is the only one at the moment that supports the overclocking feature. It's possible to use the CPU with other motherboards. But the extra price you pay for the overclocking feature will be wasted.
K vs. KF
While browsing through the Alder Lake processor, you will note that most have designations 'K' or 'KF' at the end of the model number.
The ‘F’ in the ‘KF’ means the CPU does not have an integrated GPU built into the processor. A majority of gamers prefer to have a dedicated GPU for gaming which means you don’t need an onboard graphics card. That allows you to save some money by buying a processor with the ‘F’ option.
It's, however, important to have the onboard graphics card in case the main one fails or when you're in-between upgrades. Before choosing the designation, it is also important to consider the type of software you will be using with the CPU. Some like Adobe suite rely on the integrated graphics function, allowing the software to run more smoothly.
Another advantage of having integrated graphics cars is they use less power. If you're not gaming, you can always switch to iGPU to lower power consumption.
12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs use an LGA 1700 socket. It is in line with Intel’s history of introducing a new socket type with each generation. You will need to consider the socket type when pairing the CPU with the motherboard. You have to ensure the CPU and the motherboard have the same socket type; otherwise, they won't be compatible.
Finally, you might need to consider the price. Your budget could be the most constricting factor and could easily determine which CPU you buy. However, considering the features first will give you a better chance of making the right choice.
There’s no doubt the much-anticipated Alder Lake line of Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs has taken the tech world by storm. There is a lot of chatter surrounding the chips and a lot of interest. If you’re thinking of jumping on the bandwagon, it helps to do some research before spending on a new CPU. In this review, we have looked at all the leading 12th Gen CPUs in the market and the best ones in each category. However, Intel intends to release about 60 processors for this line, and only 6 have been released so far. Waiting to see what comes next might be a better idea allowing you to find better processors that are best suited to your needs.