Incredible productivity performance
Problems with gaming performance
Requires other hardware upgrades
The 12th-gen chips also face added complications: they don’t play nice with a few games on Windows 10 and 11, and the physical size of the chip has grown, so many gamers will need a brand new motherboard and a kit to adapt their CPU coolers to fit on the new motherboard. Depending on which motherboard you get, you may need to buy new RAM as well, since some 12th-gen compatible motherboards only support the new DDR5 RAM.
While the new chips could be a good option for non-gamers looking for high performance, all of that is a massive investment to build a new gaming rig that isn’t significantly more powerful than the previous generation.
About the Intel Core i9-12900K / Core i5-12600K
While the majority of this review will focus on the higher-end Core i9-12900K processor, we also tested the more affordable Core i5-12600K.
Here are the specs of both processors we tested, with the i9 numbers listed first:
- Total Cores: 16 / 10
- Performance Cores: 8 / 6
- Efficiency Cores: 8 / 4
- Total Threads: 24 / 16
- Max Turbo Frequency: 5.20GHz / 4.90GHz
- Performance-core Base Frequency: 3.20GHz / 3.70GHz
- Efficient-core Base Frequency: 2.40GHz / 2.80GHz
- Maximum Turbo Power: 241W / 150W
- Processor Base Power: 125W / 125W
- Cache: 30MB Intel Smart Cache / 20MB Intel Smart Cache
- Total L2 Cache: 14MB / 9.5MB
Unlike Apple’s M1 chips, Intel’s 12th-gen processors feature hyperthreading, which helps boost their processing power. Intel’s chips are also an x86 type, whereas Apple’s chips are ARM-based, meaning that they process information in different ways. You can learn more about how here.
For our tests, we used the following PC configurations:
- Processor: Intel Core i9-12900K, Core i5-12600K / Intel Core i9-11900K, Core i5-11600K / AMD Ryzen 5950X
- Graphics card: Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 / AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT
- Motherboard: Asus ROG Strix Z690-E Gaming W-Fi / Asus ROG Maximus XIII Hero Z590 / Asus ROG Maximus Extreme XII X570
- Memory: Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 32GB (16 x 2) 5200-DDR5 / Corsair Dominator Platinum RGB 32GB (16 x 2) 3200-DDR4
- Storage: Samsung 970 NVMe M.2 500GB SSD
- Power: Seasonic Focus GX-1000
- Cooling: Corsair H150i Pro RGB
What we like
Incredible productivity performance
AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X has been the consumer processor to beat with regards to multicore performance, which many photographers and filmmakers need to batch-edit or transcode their work as fast as possible. AMD consistently beat Intel in this area over the last few chip generations, but Intel’s new hybrid architecture has helped it pull ahead of AMD in this race.
In our 3D rendering test, Intel’s Core i9-12900K rendered an image of a car in a mere one minute and 33 seconds, a full minute faster than the 11th-gen Core i9-11900K. Not only that, but the 12th-gen Core i9 was also five seconds faster than AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X in the same test. (The Core i5-12600K was about 50 seconds behind its more powerful sibling.)
Intel’s newest chips also excelled in our video transcoding test, in which we convert a 12-minute 4K film to 1080p. AMD has traditionally surpassed Intel in this test as well, with the 11th-gen Core i9 falling 45 seconds behind the Ryzen 9 5950X (five minutes versus four minutes and fifteen seconds)—but the Core i9-12900K transcoded the same file in three minutes and 20 seconds.
Even better, the new Core i5-12600K was practically even with AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X (which costs about $520 more MSRP), clocking in at four minutes and 22 seconds. This is quite remarkable considering the Core i5-12600K scored much lower than the AMD chip in all our synthetic benchmark tests. But like Apple’s M1 chips, Intel proves that a hybrid chip architecture can not only stand toe-to-toe with a traditional processor but can even beat it in practical applications.
Our synthetic CPU benchmark tests further illustrate the raw processing power of Intel’s Core i9-12900K, which cranked out the highest numbers we have ever seen in a consumer processor. In our Cinebench R23 test, Intel’s chip scored a massive 26793 in the multicore performance test, while AMD’s high-end equivalent came in below that at 25173. Intel maintains the lead over AMD in single-core performance as well, scoring 1997 versus AMD’s 1614. While those numbers may not mean much in a vacuum, for content creators looking to get the fastest chip possible to shave off a minute or two of processing time, Intel is the clear pick.
The CPU performance gap between Intel’s 12th-gen chips and its 11th-gen chips is even larger, with the Core i9-11900K only reaching a score of 1663 in single-core and 15264 in multi-core performance.
What we don’t like
The new chip socket adds complications
Intel’s 12th-gen processors are physically larger than Intel’s previous generations, which means any Intel 500 series or earlier motherboard released prior to March 2021 will not be compatible with Intel’s new processors. Whether you’re upgrading your current rig or building your first PC from the ground up, you will need a 600 series motherboard.
That’s not so bad if you’ve been waiting to upgrade since Intel’s 8th or 9th-gen processor, as it would likely be time to get a new motherboard anyway. But if you have a 10th or 11th-gen Intel processor in a PC that you built within the last two years, you’ll have to drop a few extra hundred bucks for a new motherboard you otherwise wouldn’t need.
The chips’ larger size also means you’ll need to get either a new CPU cooler or request a mounting kit from the manufacturer of your current one. The standoff screws that attach to both the motherboard and mounting bracket for earlier generations of Intel CPUs are too short for a cooler to be mounted properly on top of the 12th-gen processors. (I had to request a mounting kit for our Corsair cooler.) These mounting kits are for the LGA1200 or LGA115x socket—basically, any Intel desktop CPU that’s been made from 8th-gen to now.
To make a complicated compatibility situation even worse, your existing cooler might not even be compatible with the new motherboard you’ve picked out. The motherboard we used in our test bench has a hefty heatsink above the CPU socket, so that means beefy air coolers like Noctua’s NH-D15 will not fit since the heatsink on the motherboard doesn’t leave space for the air cooler to sit properly over the CPU socket. This is more of a motherboard issue than an Intel CPU issue, but if you’re going to get one of Intel’s new chips, just remember to make sure all your components are compatible.
Speaking of compatible parts, Intel’s 12th-gen chips support both DDR4 and DDR5 memory (DDR5 is a new RAM standard that reaches faster speeds, albeit with higher latency), but if you’re planning on swapping your current DDR4 memory to a new rig, make sure the 600 series motherboard you buy also supports DDR4. RAM is not interchangeable nor forward/backward compatible. If you buy a new motherboard for your new 12th-gen Intel chip that supports DDR5, but you only have DDR4, then you’ll need to buy new RAM—and DDR5 isn’t exactly cheap. (The motherboard we used in our test bench only supports DDR5.)
All of that said, the socket change that comes with Intel’s new processors doesn’t make building a PC on a tight budget easy—whereas Intel’s main competitor, AMD, has kept the same socket for several years now and has been offering its users excellent backward compatibility when it comes to newer CPUs and older motherboards.
Problems with gaming performance
If all that stuff about motherboard, RAM, and cooler compatibility hasn’t scared you off yet, maybe the gaming performance will. To be clear, the gaming performance is good. It’s very good, and it’s especially remarkable that Intel made a processor with hybrid architecture work with gaming. (Apple’s M1 isn’t the only cool big.LITTLE kid on the block now.)
However, not only do some games like Assassins Creed Valhalla have issues with Intel’s new chips on Windows 11 we were also surprised by how similar gaming performance was to Intel’s 11th-gen processors and how frame rates sometimes didn’t improve between the much cheaper Core i5-12600K and the Core i9-12900K depending on the graphics card we tested.
(Note: Early December 2021, Microsoft released Windows 10 and 11 operating system updates that fixed many games’ compatibility issues with Intel 12th-gen chips. The majority of those games have been removed from Intel’s list, however, the problems we encountered below still existed even after applying the Windows 11 update on our test rig.)
Starting with the latter, across all of our usual gaming benchmarks the Core i5-12600K and Core i9-12900K output the exact same frame rates—but only when paired with an Nvidia graphics card. At 1080p and on the highest graphics preset, Far Cry 5, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and even Control and Cyberpunk 2077 performed the same regardless of which CPU was paired with the RTX 3080 GPU.
We expected around a 10 fps drop from the Core i9 to the Core i5 based on our previous testing so it was confusing when that wasn’t the case here. We ran the same benchmarks again but with Nvidia’s RTX 3060 Ti and got the same result.
Oddly, when we paired the same CPUs with AMD’s Radeon RX 6800 XT, the Core i9 combo always had about a 10-15 frame lead over the Core i5 combo. (We reached out to Intel to try to troubleshoot the cause, but have yet to reach a conclusion.)
We ran the same benchmarks again with Intel’s Core i9-11900K and Core i5-11600K (11th-gen chips) paired with the RTX 3080 and then the RX 6800 XT, and the fps improvement was apparent with both GPUs; the 11th-gen Core i9 had an average of a 5-10 fps lead over the 11th-gen Core i5.
Should you buy it?
No, not unless you fit a very specific demographic
For productivity and creative tasks, Intel’s latest CPUs are more than capable of helping you speed your products along. It’s clear Intel’s mix of high-performance and high-efficiency cores have put its 12th-generation desktop processors in stiff competition with AMD and Apple. If we look at both raw performance and real-world performance, Intel sweeps the deck.
However, considering DDR5 memory is not only expensive but also hard to find, there’s greater value in building a PC with either an 11th-gen Intel or 5000-series AMD processor. Both are compatible with the more abundant and cheaper DDR4 RAM, there are fewer compatibility issues with hardware like CPU coolers and motherboards, and you'll save money by buying a slightly older chip.
On top of that, with all the CPU/GPU combinations we tested, there’s not much difference in gaming performance compared to Intel’s 11th-gen and AMD’s 5000-series CPUs. There’s also the added complication of the Core i9 and Core i5 12th-gen chips spitting out the same frame rates when paired with an Nvidia graphics card but not an AMD graphics card (which we’re still looking into). If you’re building a gaming rig PC from scratch to replace the one you built five or more years ago, the Core i5 could save you some money. But most folks will be better off skipping Intel’s 12th-generation of desktop processors.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Senior Editor, Electronics@JLNwrites
Joanna specializes in anything and everything gaming-related and loves nerding out over graphics cards, processors, and chip architecture. Previously she was a staff writer for Gizmodo, PC Gamer, and Maximum PC.
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