The Best Intel 12th Gen CPU: premium, mid-range, and budget picks

The Best Alder Lake CPUs: Intel 12900K vs 12700K vs 12600K

BEST INTEL 12TH GEN CPU

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Intel 12th gen CPUs launch today worldwide, you can read our guide below on the best Intel 12th gen CPUs and also check out our guide for Z690 motherboards and DDR5 ram.

If you’re looking for the best Intel 12th Gen CPU for your needs, then look no further. The release date of the Intel 12th gen CPUs will soon be upon us, and we’ve compiled a list of the best Alder Lake processors with each kind of consumer in mind with all the information currently available: taking into account budget, gaming performance, and workstation performance.

Be advised that Intel 12th Gen CPUs have been designed alongside Windows 11, and the new Windows operating system is required to get the most out of their performance. Also be aware that if you’re considering buying an Intel 12th Gen CPU capable of overclocking for this very purpose, you’ll need to buy a Z690 motherboard in order to unlock this functionality.

Make sure you read our Things to Consider when buying an Intel 12th gen CPU section below for more information on the above and other considerations you should bear in mind before buying an Alder Lake processor.

Intel 12th gen gaming performance

Even though Intel has faced stiff competition of late from AMD for the title of best gaming CPU, it’s an area where they’ve traditionally managed to prevail due to the superior overclocking potential of their processors. The latest leaks indicated that Intel may have succeeded in reasserting their dominance in the field of gaming performance, though we’ll have to wait for more thorough independent benchmarking following the 12th gen release date to learn more.

Intel 12th gen workstation performance

Early indications from leaked performance data seem to indicate the flagship 12900K CPU has vastly improved multi-core performance, the area in which AMD has dominated for years now, at least at the higher end SKUs. The AMD Ryzen 5950X has offered a multi-core intermediary between flagship gaming CPUs and the professional-grade workstation/server CPUs like the AMD Threadrippers and Intel Xeons, and it seems like Intel might be trying to compete at this level now with the Intel Core i9-12900.

Our Top Picks

01
The premium pick
The most powerful 12th gen CPU for gaming and workstation tasks
02
The value pick
The best value choice 12th gen CPU for enthusiast gamers
03
Also consider
The best upper-mid range 12th gen CPU for gaming and light workstation use

The Best Intel 12th Gen CPU: First Look

01
The premium pick
The most powerful 12th gen CPU for gaming and workstation tasks
Intel Core i9 12900K

Intel Core i9-12900K

0 /5
Editor's Rating

The most powerful of the new Alder Lake Intel 12th gen range, and indeed possibly the most powerful CPU on the retail market, regardless of brand; the Intel Core i9-12900K is our top pick for those who can afford it. The creme de la creme when it comes to both gaming and multicore heavy workflows.

02
The value pick
The best value choice 12th gen CPU for enthusiast gamers
Intel Core i7 12700KF

Intel Core i7-12700KF

0 /5
Editor's Rating

The Intel Core i7-12700KF may not win the award for the most powerful Intel 12th Gen CPU, but it’s the one we’d recommend for the majority of gamers. This KF version of the Intel Core i7-12700 offers the overclocking enthusiast gamers will want to get the most out of their games, but saves money through going without an iGPU, meaning it lists for the same MSRP as the closest AMD processor that it aims to outperform.

03
Also consider
The best upper-mid range 12th gen CPU for gaming and light workstation use
Intel Core i7 12700KF

Intel Core i7-12700K

0 /5
Editor's Rating

The Intel Core i7-12700K offers both overclocking capability and also comes with its own integrated GPU for slightly more money than the Intel Core i7-12700KF, but you can use it as a backup to your dedicated graphics card and to power certain workstation processes that require one. As with the Intel Core i7-12700KF, it will provide a hefty punch that should be more than adequate for the majority of gamers.

04
The budget pick
A solid mid-tier gaming CPU with overclocking capability
Intel Core i7 12700KF

Intel Core i5-12600KF

0 /5
Editor's Rating

A not especially cheap, mid-tier CPU that nevertheless represents the cheapest 12th Gen CPU at the time of writing, the Intel Core i5-12600KF is the option we’d recommend if you want the cheapest Alder Lake CPU right now and can’t wait for the arrival of the Intel Core i5-12600 or the presumed Intel Core i5-12400 later in 2022.

Things to Consider when buying an Intel 12th gen CPU

Before you make a decision about which Intel Alder Lake CPU is best for you, it’s a good idea to have in mind the key factors that determine the performance of a processor and the various other features that are key to understanding how it will function, so as to best pick the one that suits your needs. Even if you’re already familiar with how CPUs function, we suggest you have a quick scan through the following points to refresh yourself.

CPU cores and threads

One of the most important features of a CPU is its core and thread count. A core is a physical processor within the CPU which can be seen on the chip itself. A thread, on the other hand, is a virtual core (essentially a partition of the physical core) designed to help the CPU handle multiple tasks.

Generally speaking, a higher core count is important for workstation tasks such as rendering, 3D modelling, and other things which require the simultaneous processing of various computations. If you’re streaming whilst gaming on the same device it can also help run both processes efficiently at the same time. Ultimately it’s useful for any kind of multitasking on your PC. If you’re just a pure gamer not interested in streaming, you can normally get away with fewer cores if the clock speed is fast enough (see below for an explanation of clock speed). 

That being said there is a minimum amount of cores which will be needed to play the most demanding games on the highest settings. As a general rule, the following guidelines are recommended when purchasing a new processor:

  • 4 Cores – General use, light browsing, and very light gaming
  • 8 Cores – Decent for gaming, moderate multi-tasking, and all general-use purposes
  • 12 Cores – The minimum requirement for gaming enthusiasts who want to run the latest games on the highest settings. 
  • 16 Cores +  – Handles pretty much everything you can throw at it. Very good for rendering, multi-tasking, and other CPU intensive processes as well as gaming.

What is big.LITTLE architecture? What are P cores and E cores?

Big/Little architecture, also stylised as big.LITTLE architecture or in various other forms, is a CPU architecture developed by ARM Holdings to maximise efficiency in computer processors, which is used in Intel Alder Lake CPUs. In layman’s terms there are two separate core types within the CPU: P-cores or performance cores (the big), and E-cores or efficiency cores (the little). P-cores tend to come with two threads per core, whereas E-cores usually just have a single thread each.

The P-cores are more powerful, and better able to deal with the heavy lifting of processing tasks (gaming for example) whereas the E-cores deal with smaller, easier and quicker processes, freeing up the P-cores to deal with what they’re good at. E-cores are more energy efficient and take up less space on the silicon, which is what makes this structure advantageous, and the architecture around the cores is designed to most efficiently designate tasks to the cores best suited to deal with them.

The architecture of Alder Lake CPUs has been designed with Windows 11 in mind, and early tests have show that the performance of the 12th Gen big.LITTLE CPUs is significantly improved within Windows 11, as its kernel scheduler is much better able to efficiently designate resources between the core types.

CPU clock speed

Next up is the clock speed, which is the most important factor to consider for gaming performance. Clock speed (or sometimes cycle speed) refers to how many cycles a core will perform every second. It’s the physical speed of your processor and is measured in gigahertz (GHz) – i.e. millions of cycles. So, a CPU that has a 3.6GHz clock speed, performs 3.6 million cycles per second.

A lot of modern-day processors come equipped with two separate clock speeds – a base and boost speed. This means a particular CPU can automatically overclock its core(s) to that particular speed in order to achieve optimal performance. It usually does this when in highly demanding CPU scenarios, such as gaming. 

Another factor to consider when looking at clock speed is overclocking, which only certain CPUs are capable of (and the same with the motherboards they’re paired with). This increases the stock clock speed, usually by tweaking settings within the BIOS of the PC, but great care should be taken when overclocking, as it is not without its risks. Read our How To Overclock your CPU guide if you’re thinking about doing this.

Whether you’re gaming or doing high-intensive workflows, you always want to get the highest clock speed your budget can afford.

What does K mean for Intel CPUs?

The ‘K’ designation at the end of an Intel model CPU signifies that it is possible to overclock it. If a processor doesn’t have a K at the end of its model name, then overclocking is not possible. So, for example, take the 12900 vs the 12900K, these two CPUs will be very similar, except for the fact that the 10900K is overclockable, whereas the 10900 is not.

For Intel 12th Gen CPUs, if you buy a K-series processor you will definitely need to pair it with a Z690 motherboard, as these are the only ones which support overclocking functionality; you will still be able to use the CPU with other 12th gen motherboards, but the extra money you pay for the K model will be wasted.

Intel K vs KF: what does F mean for Intel CPUs?

The ‘F’ designation at the end of an Intel CPUs model name means that it does not have an integrated graphics processing unit (iGPU) built into the processor. If you have a dedicated graphics card, like the majority of gamers or people interested in buying a powerful CPU, then you don’t technically need the onboard graphics that the iGPU provides, so can save a little money by buying the cheaper F option. However, onboard graphics are useful to have as a back up in case your main graphics card fails, or if you are between upgrades. Additionally, we would advise anyone who will be using their PC for workstation applications, particularly within the Adobe suite, to avoid the Intel F CPUs as some of these pieces of software do rely upon integrated graphics to function. Finally, integrated graphics will use up a lot less power than a dedicated graphics card, so if you’re interested in limiting your power consumption when not gaming, an iGPU you can switch to is a good thing to have.

What is the 12th Gen socket type?

All Alder Lake Intel 12th Gen CPUs use the LGA 1700 socket type, which follows Intel’s tradition of introducing a new socket type with each generation. For those who don’t know, the socket is the mounting point on your motherboard that holds the CPU in place. It is one of the most important factors when pairing a CPU with a motherboard, as each socket is unique and will not support other types, so make sure your’s match up!

The Best Intel Alder Lake 12th Gen CPUs

01
The premium pick
Intel Core i9 12900K

Intel Core i9-12900K

Boost clock speed (single core)

5.3 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

16/24

P-cores

8

E-cores

8

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

02
The value pick
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i7-12700KF

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

12/20

P-cores

8

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

03
Also consider
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i7-12700K

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

12/20

P-cores

8

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

04
The budget pick
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i5-12600KF

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

10/16

P-cores

6

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

In-depth Review

01
The premium pick
Intel Core i9 12900K

Intel Core i9-12900K

Boost clock speed (single core)

5.3 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

16/24

P-cores

8

E-cores

8

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

Pros

Powerful single core performance

Powerful multi-core performance

Overclockable

Cons

The i9-12900K is a concerted effort by Intel (more so even than previously) to really go for the jugular of AMD for the crown of best gaming CPU. According to Intel’s press releases (backed up by some early leaks) the Intel Core i9-12900K performs between 0-30% better than the Ryzen 9 5950X in gaming, but for the very reasonable MSRP of $589 compared to the slightly cheaper AMD Ryzen 9 5900X at $549, and the $800 5950X. 36% cheaper for and up to a 30% performance increase sounds good to us, if these figures are to be believed. The i9-12900KF model (without integrated graphics) promises to be $25 cheaper, though personally we’d spend a little extra and go with the iGPU option, purely for its use in GPU failure scenarios.

It should be kept in mind that these performance figures are based on the standard 5.3GHz boost clock that the Intel Core i9-12900K comes with out the box (compared to the 4.9GHz 5950X and 4.8GHz 5900X). One area that Intel CPUs traditionally excel in is overclocking, so this may give the i9-12900K an even greater edge over the competition when paired with a Z690 motherboard.

It also seems that with the Intel Core i9-12900K, the blue team aren’t just aiming at trying to take on AMD in the sphere of gaming, but also take them on in multi-core workstation tasks, traditionally the area in which AMD have dominated. The core and thread count of the 12900K has doubled from that the 11900K came with, up to 16/24, which means it matches up to the AMD Ryzen 5950X in the number of cores (with thread count being lower due to half of these cores being ‘little’ E-cores). Of course these competing CPUs have completely different architecture, the AMD Ryzen 9 coming with a smaller 7nm process size compared to the 10nm of the Alder Lake CPUs, so there’s no way of knowing how this actually works out until thorough benchmarking takes place.

The previous generation Intel flagship saw a reduction in the size of the L3 cache to 16MB, but the latest news indicate the 12900K will come with a whopping 30 MB L3 cache, 14MB of L2 cache, and 1.4MB of L1 cache. How this translates to actual performance in gaming and workstation use remains to be seen, especially as we don’t know how the kernel scheduler within the OS will interact with the big & little architecture of the 12th gen CPUs with regards to cache: perhaps it will allocate it differently between the core types? Overall though, this would indicate a CPU which is perhaps better at handling many simultaneous multi-tasking workloads, perhaps meaning a smoother experience doing workstation tasks, as opposed to just heavy duty processing such as in gaming.

All-in-all, the Intel Core i9-12900K is shaping up to be the most powerful gaming CPU on the market, not just the best of the Intel 12th gen range.

02
The value pick
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i7-12700KF

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

12/20

P-cores

8

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

Pros

Powerful single core performance

Overclockable

Cons

Whilst the flagship Alder Lake CPU may get most of the press coverage, it’s the next biggest CPU in the rankings that will be of more interest to most pure gamers, who’d be better off spending more money on a more powerful graphics card then going all out on the CPU.

The Core i7-12700KF offers gaming enthusiasts the same number of performance cores as the competing AMD Ryzen 7 5800X (eight cores specifically), but with an additional four efficiency cores for the same $384 MSRP (translating to 12 cores with 20 threads in total). At 5.0GHz the boost clock speed of the 12700KF is slightly larger than the 4.9GHz of the 5800X. How all this translates into both gaming and workstation performance remains to be seen, but early signs from the earliest leaks are encouraging. Once again the overclocking potential of the Intel K-series should prove a big draw for the most hardcore gamers, an area that will likely let it extend the lead over the Ryzen 7 5800X further.

We’ve chosen the KF version of this CPU, primarily because it offers the best value for pure gamers who don’t really use their computer for much else other than web browsing, word processing, and gaming; it competes directly on price with the AMD competition. Although having integrated graphics has its merits, for gamers who fit this description dedicated GPUs it’s more of a luxury / backup feature they can do without.

We’ll have to wait for independent third-party benchmarking to really test what the Intel Core i7-12700KF is capable of post release, but it’s fair to say that it will be the best upper mid-range pick of the 12th gen range.

03
Also consider
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i7-12700K

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

12/20

P-cores

8

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

Pros

Powerful single core performance

Overclockable

Cons

Although we selected the Intel Core i7-12700KF as our mid-range pick as it offers the best value for gamers, for some the Intel Core i7-12700K may be the better choice.

To reiterate, the Intel Core i7-12700K is functionally identical to the Intel Core i7-12700KF other than it comes with its own integrated graphics (iGPU) which can be used in place of a dedicated graphics card for slightly more money. As mentioned in our ‘Things to consider’ section, your average gamer won’t need to use this iGPU, relying entirely on the separate dedicated graphics card, however in certain scenarios it can be useful to have one.

If you intend to use your machine for creative purposes and workstation applications, be aware that certain pieces of Adobe software for instance use features like QuickSync which rely on an iGPU to work.

Besides this, if you’re ever in a scenario where your main GPU fails (God forbid) then it can be very useful to have a backup until your replacement arrives, particularly as, in these days of silicon shortages, this could take some time. For an additional $25 MSRP it could be worth it just for your piece of mind.

04
The budget pick
Intel Core i7 12700KF
Intel Logo

Intel Core i5-12600KF

Boost clock speed (single core)

4.9 GHz

Total Cores / Threads

10/16

P-cores

6

E-cores

4

Socket

LGA 1700

Overclockable

Yes

Pros

Good single core performance for the price

Overclockable

Cons

The Intel Core i5-12600KF isn’t really a budget offering, being more of a lower mid-range CPU, and one which is capable of overclocking at that, but at the time of writing it is the cheapest Intel 12th Gen processor you can buy. The Intel Core i5-12600F is expected to arrive in early 2022, which will be the same basic CPU, without iGPU, but incapable of overclocking and therefore cheaper. Later still in 2022 we expect to see the Intel Core i3-12400F which, although its existence hasn’t been officially confirmed, we expect to see take up the true budget slot in the range. If saving money is your priority then we’d consider either waiting for one of these to arrive, or alternatively look at buying an Intel 11th Gen CPU, the Intel Core i5-11600F for instance.

Still though, if you truly must have an Intel 12th gen CPU right away, and want the cheapest one available, then the Intel Core i5-12600KF is the pick for you. It comes with 6 P-cores and 4 E-cores with a boost clock speed of 4.9GHz, and 20MB of L3 cache.

We’ll be interested to see when independent benchmarking comes out whether it can compete with AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X in terms of performance, especially seeing as its MSRP is markedly cheaper at $264 compared to the $300 AMD CPU.

Final Word

So this has been our guide to the best Intel 12th Gen CPU. We hope it has been useful to you in determining which is the best Alder Lake CPU for your needs. The top pick, unsurprisingly, is the Intel Core i9 12900K which comes with the greatest single-core and multicore performance, but the Core i7 12700KF is also a great selection for gamers who’d be better spending their money on a superior graphics card.

See our where to buy Intel 12th gen page for the latest listings of 1200 series CPUs from different retailers worldwide. Also, make sure to pick yourself up a Z690 motherboard if you are planning on going with one of the K versions of the Intel 12th gen.

If you’re thinking of going with another CPU outside of the Intel 12th Gen, check out our best gaming CPU page.

The Author Who Worked On This Article

Technology Writer
at
WePC
From halcyon days playing Sonic 2 on the Megadrive, to trying to work out how to make the ‘TOASTY!’ man appear on Mortal Kombat 3, many of Aaron’s fondest childhood memories are associated with gaming. He regrets nothing. First getting into PC gaming through exposure to text game Drug Lord 2.0 and then the original Half Life, Aaron has been a PC gamer ever since. A practical need to squeeze the most out of his machine turned into a genuine interest in the technology of PC hardware, a passion which fuels his desire to always be up to date on the latest tech news.

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