Skip to main content

Intel Core i7-12700K Review: Taking the Shine Off Core i9

The high-performance gaming champ

Intel Alder Lake
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Tom's Hardware Verdict

The Core i7-12700K comes with all of the gaming performance of its higher-priced i9 counterpart while beating competing Ryzen chips, but it's significantly less expensive. That makes the Core i7-12700K the go-to chip for gamers looking for the highest performance at a forgiving price point.

Pros

  • +

    + Price

  • +

    + Matches 12900K gaming performance

  • +

    + Single- and Multi-threaded performance

  • +

    + Class-leading gaming performance

  • +

    + PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 memory

  • +

    + Overclockable

  • +

    + Power efficiency improved

Cons

  • -

    Only Z690 motherboards for now

  • -

    No bundled cooler

  • -

    Platform pricing

  • -

    Draws more power than Ryzen

Alder Lake's arrival heralded the opening salvo of Intel's brutal price war on AMD's Ryzen 5000 chips, and the Core i7-12700K is the perfect example of Intel's new bare-knuckle approach to pricing. At $409, the 12700K thoroughly beats the $390 Ryzen 7 5800X and even unseats the pricey $550 Ryzen 9 5900X, all while delivering essentially the same gaming performance as the fastest gaming chip on the planet, Intel's own $589 flagship Core i9-12900K — but for $180 less. Alder Lake also provides the biggest gains in overclocking performance that we've seen in the last several chip generations. As a result, the Core i7-12700K  joins our list of the best CPUs for gaming. It's also exceedingly competitive in applications, assuring a top ranking in our CPU Benchmark hierarchy.

The 12700K comes on the heels of Intel's other surprising victories against much pricier chips, like the $589 Core i9-12900K vs $799 Ryzen 9 5950X and the $289 Core i5-12600K vs $390 Ryzen 7 5800X (click the links for the full rundown), proving that Alder Lake truly punches above its pricing weight class.

Surprisingly, the majority of these gains come even without the advantages of Alder Lake's new next-gen connectivity technologies that bring big increases in throughput via DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interfaces. You can use standard DDR4 memory and PCIe devices to unlock superior performance over AMD's aging AM4 platform, but DDR5 will give you an extra performance kicker in some applications. Intel's platform is also prepared for the inevitable transition to PCIe 5.0, but that brings higher motherboard pricing. That reduces (but doesn't eliminate) Intel's chip pricing advantage, at least until B- and H-series boards arrive in the coming months.

Intel is the first to support DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 on the desktop, and the company combines that tech with another first for desktop PCs — Alder's new hybrid x86 design represents the company's most disruptive architectural shift in a decade. Alder Lake combines big and fast Performance cores (P-cores) with clusters of small and powerful Efficiency cores (E-cores) that chew through background processes. The Golden Cove architecture powers the 'big' P-cores while the 'little' E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture, with both providing much-needed IPC improvements to Intel's core designs.

The 'Intel 7' process debuts with Alder Lake, finally ending Intel's misery on the 14nm node after six long years that ultimately cost the company its performance crown to AMD. We previously knew this 'Intel 7' manufacturing tech as 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, but Intel recently renamed its process nodes to match industry nomenclature. Technically, this is the second generation of Intel's 10nm process, but it's a first for desktop PCs.

U.S. PriceCores | ThreadsP-Core Base/BoostE-Core Base/BoostTDP / PBP / MTPDDR4-3200L3 Cache
Core i9-12900K / KF$589 (K) - $564 (KF)8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads3.2 / 5.2 GHz2.4 / 3.9 GHz125W / 241WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480030MB
Core i7-12700K / KF$409 (K) - $384 (KF)8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 threads3.6 / 5.0 GHz2.7 / 3.8 GHz125W / 190WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480025MB
Core i5-12600K / KF$289 (K) - $264 (KF)6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 threads3.7 / 4.9 GHz2.8 / 3.6 GHz125W / 150WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480016MB

For now, Alder Lake consists of three high-end overclockable K-series models, along with their graphics-less KF counterparts that are slightly less expensive, with more models to come in the future. The P-cores are hyper-threaded, while the E-cores only have a single thread, leading to what we would normally consider as non-standard thread counts. The Core i7-12700K comes with eight P-cores and 4 E-cores, for a total of 20 threads, slotting in between the 16-core 24-thread Core i9-12900K and the 10-core 16-thread Core i5-12600K.

There is a catch, though. Alder Lake's new heterogeneous design requires special accommodations to unlock the best performance: Performance-sensitive work executes best on the P-cores, while the E-cores are best for background and threaded workloads, but ensuring that the right workloads land on the correct cores requires operating system intervention.

The Alder Lake chips work with both newer and older versions of Windows, but Windows 11 unlocks the best performance because it supports Intel's new Thread Director. The tech provides the operating system with information that assists in assigning work to the correct cores. Alder Lake's performance is still competitive in Windows 10, but you might encounter wayward performance and/or variability, meaning some workloads will be slower at times due to unoptimized thread scheduling. However, you can rectify those issues in Windows 10 with various utilities, like the always-popular Process Lasso.

Conversely, Alder Lake is incredibly impressive in Windows 11 and takes the lead over AMD in gaming and most workloads, and by large margins. In other words, for worry-free class-leading performance, go with Windows 11 and Alder Lake. You'll get similarly impressive performance with Windows 10, but it will require a bit more manual intervention in a few applications.

Intel's previous-gen Rocket Lake chips came with the same number of cores for both the Core i7 and i9 models, leaving little difference between the two models. However, the Core i7 12700K has four fewer E-cores than the Core i9-12900K and a 200 MHz lower boost clock, marking the return of meaningful segmentation between the Core i7 and i9 lineups.

That segmentation is apparent in lightly- and heavily-threaded productivity applications, with the 12900K earning its higher price tag in those areas. But as you'll see in our benchmarks below, the 12700K offers essentially the same performance in gaming, making it the new high-end champion for performance addicts, while the Core i5-12600K remains the best mid-range CPU for gaming. Speaking of the performance-obsessed, we've also included in-depth overclocking testing, which unearthed the biggest gains we've seen from recent Intel chips — we certainly haven't seen double-digit percentage increases in gaming performance from overclocking in several chip generations. 

Intel Alder Lake-S Core i7-12700K Specifications and Pricing

Intel is only bringing its most expensive chips from the Core i9, i7, and i5 families to the retail market for now, but it is also shipping 28 more models to OEMs for prebuilt systems that arrive early next year. Intel isn't sharing details yet, but those models will eventually come to retail at an unspecified time.

We have deep-dive coverage of the Alder Lake SoC design and core microarchitectures here, along with a broader overview in our Alder Lake all we know article. Additionally, Intel has removed its 'TDP' (Thermal Design Point) nomenclature from the spec sheets, and now assigns a Processor Base Power (PBP) value in its place. The company also added a secondary Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) value to the spec sheets to represent the highest power level during boost activity. You can read more about that change here

U.S. PriceCores | ThreadsP-Core Base/BoostE-Core Base/BoostTDP / PBP / MTPDDR4-3200L3 Cache
Ryzen 9 5950X$79916P | 32 threads3.4 / 4.9 GHz-105WDDR4-320064MB (2x32)
Core i9-12900K / KF$589 (K) - $564 (KF)8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads3.2 / 5.2 GHz2.4 / 3.9 GHz125W / 241WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480030MB
Ryzen 9 5900X$54912P | 24 threads3.7 / 4.8 GHz-105WDDR4-320032MB (1x32)
Core i9-11900K$5498P | 16 threads3.5 / 5.3 GHz-125WDDR4-320016MB
Core i7-12700K / KF$409 (K) - $384 (KF)8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 threads3.6 / 5.0 GHz2.7 / 3.8 GHz125W / 190WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480025MB
Core i7-11700K$4098P | 16 threads3.6 / 5.0 GHz-125WDDR4-320016MB
Ryzen 7 5800X$4498P | 16 threads3.8 / 4.7 GHz-105WDDR4-320032MB
Core i5-12600K / KF$289 (K) - $264 (KF)6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 threads3.7 / 4.9 GHz2.8 / 3.6 GHz125W / 150WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480016MB
Core i5-11600K$2726P | 12 threads3.9 / 4.9 GHz-95WDDR4-320012MB
Ryzen 5 5600X$2996P | 12 threads3.7 / 4.6 GHz-65WDDR4-320032MB

All Alder Lake chips support DDR4-3200 or up to DDR5-4800 memory, but caveats apply. Alder Lake chips expose up to 16 lanes of PCIe 5.0 (technically for storage and graphics only, no networking devices) and an additional four lanes of PCIe 4.0 from the chip for M.2 storage.

The Core i7-12700K lands with the same $409 pricing as the previous-gen Core i7-11700K, but it comes with 33% more threads. The Core i7-12700K has eight P-cores and four E-cores, for a total of 20 threads. The P-cores run at a 3.6 / 5.0 GHz base/boost, but that isn't too important given the entirely new hybrid architecture — the P-cores process roughly 19% more instructions per cycle and the SoC realizes performance gains from using different core types for different tasks. Meanwhile, the E-cores weigh in at 2.7 / 3.8 GHz. The chip is fed by 25MB of L3 cache and 12MB of L2.

Based on price alone, the 12700K competes with the Ryzen 7 5800X. The 5800X carries a $449 suggested price tag but is commonly found for about $390 at retail. The Ryzen 7 5800X comes with eight cores and 16 threads that are easily outweighed by the 12700K's hybrid architecture with 20 threads. This chip has a 3.8 / 4.7 GHz base/boost clock, but that isn't directly comparable to the 12700K given the different architectures in play.

Based on performance, the Ryzen 9 5900X is more of a natural competitor for the 12700K. The $549 Ryzen 9 5900X comes with 12 cores and 24 threads that run at a 3.7 / 4.8 GHz base/boost clock. Both competing Ryzen chips have a 105W TDP.

In contrast, the 12700K comes with a 125W PBP (base) and 190W MTP (peak) power rating, but be aware that Intel has also changed its default boost duration for all K-series chips from the 56-second duration with Rocket Lake to an unlimited value. This means the chip will effectively always operate at the 190W MTP when it is under load. However, most enthusiast motherboards will effectively lift all of the power limits.

If you're looking to save some coin, the graphics-less $384 Core i7-12700KF comes with a $25 price reduction and has the exact same specs as the 12700K, which is incredibly attractive if you plan on using a discrete graphics card. Notably, you will lose Quick Sync capabilities and the iGPU fallback that you can use for troubleshooting in the event of an issue with a discrete GPU. However, those same conditions exist with all of AMD's competing chips (there is no option for graphics on the 5800X and 5900X), so this is a comparable option. Speaking of which, the standard Core i7-12700K comes with the UHD Graphics 770 with 32 EUs that run at a 300 / 1500 MHz base/boost.

The 12700K is bookended by the Core i9-12900K and the Core i5-12600K. The $589 16-core Core i9-12900K comes with eight P-cores that support hyper-threading, and eight single-threaded E-cores for a total of 24 threads. The P-cores have a 3.2 GHz base, and peak frequencies reach 5.2 GHz. The E-cores have a 2.4 GHz base and stretch up to 3.9 GHz. The chip is equipped with 30MB of L3 cache and 14MB of L2.

The $289 Core i5-12600K comes with six threaded P-cores that operate at 3.7 / 4.9 GHz and four E-cores that run at 2.8 / 3.6 GHz, for a total of 16 threads. That's paired with 20MB of L3 and 9.5MB of L2 cache. 

Intel Alder Lake

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • The Alder Lake SoC will span from desktop PCs to ultramobile devices with TDP ratings from 9W to 125W, all built on the Intel 7 process. The desktop PC comes with up to eight Performance (P) cores and eight Efficient (E) cores for a total of 16 cores and 24 threads and up to 30 MB of L3 cache for a single chip.
  • Alder Lake supports either DDR4 or DDR5 (LP4x/LP5, too). Desktop PC supports x16 PCIe Gen 5 and x4 PCIe Gen 4.
  • Intel's new hyper-threaded Performance (P) core, which comes with the Golden Cove microarchitecture designed for low-latency single-threaded performance, comes with an average of 19% more IPC than the Cypress Cove architecture in Rocket Lake
  • Intel's new single-threaded Efficiency (E) core comes with the Gracemont microarchitecture to improve multi-threaded performance and provide exceptional area efficiency (small footprint) and performance-per-watt. Four small cores fit in roughly the same area as a Skylake core and deliver 80% more performance in threaded work (at the same power). A single E core also delivers 40% more performance than a single-threaded Skylake core (at the same power) in single-threaded work (caveats apply to both).
  • Intel's Thread Director is a hardware-based technology that assures threads are assigned to either the P or E cores in an optimized manner. This is the sleeper tech that enables the hybrid architecture. 

Intel Z690 Motherboards for Intel Core i7-12700K

Intel's Alder Lake drops into Socket 1700 motherboards with the Z690 chipset. You can read about the chipset and some of the first 60+ motherboards in our Z690 motherboard roundup here.

The new LGA1700 socket is physically larger and has a lower Z-height than current sockets, so most existing air and water coolers for LGA1200 and LGA115x motherboards won't work with 600-series motherboards. As a result, upgraders will need to acquire a conversion kit or buy a new cooler.

Just like Z590, the Z690 chipset sports 16 lanes of PCIe 3.0, but Intel also added 12 lanes of PCIe 4.0. Intel also doubled the throughput of the DMI connection between the chip and chipset from an x8 DMI 3.0 pipe, which clocks in at 7.88 GBps, to an x8 DMI 4.0 connection that delivers 15.66 GBps. This much-needed bandwidth improvement allows for more throughput from attached RAID arrays. The increased DMI throughput is also beneficial for Z690's bolstered connectivity options, like the new second USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 20 Gbps connection. You can read more about the Z690 chipset here

DDR4 and DDR5 Support with Intel Core i7-12700K

Alder Lake chips support both DDR4 and DDR5 memory, but there are several caveats tied to DDR5. As a default, DDR5 runs in Gear 2 mode, resulting in higher latency. Additionally, standard motherboards only support DDR5-4800 if the motherboard has only two physical slots. Therefore, at stock settings, Alder Lake only supports DDR5-4400 on any motherboard with four slots — even if only two slots are populated. Support drops as low as DDR5-3600 if four slots are filled with dual-rank memory DIMMs. Here are the population rules for DDR5:

(Image credit: Intel)

In contrast, Alder Lake supports DDR4-3200 in Gear 1 mode for all processors. That can yield latency and performance advantages for the tried-and-true memory.

A wide selection of DDR5 motherboards are available in all price bands, but it appears that you'll only find DDR4 support on lower-end Z690 boards. Also, unlike previous generations, no motherboard supports both DDR4 and DDR5, which is probably due to DDR5's much tighter signal integrity requirements and onboard power control circuitry. Additionally, unlike DDR4, DDR5 DIMMs come with PMIC (Power Management ICs) chips that control three on-DIMM voltage rails – VDD, VDDQ, and VPP.

DDR5 supports the new XMP 3.0 standard that supports up to five memory profiles (SPDs) to define unique frequency, voltage, and latency parameters, and XMP 3.0 also lets you write and name two of the profiles.The new XMP profiles can also control the PMICs now present on DDR5 DIMMs. Naturally, there are variances in PMIC designs and quality, adding yet another variable to watch out for when selecting the Best RAM for overclocking.

Intel has also posted a new certification page on its website to help assure that each kit is compatible with certain motherboards and firmware revisions. You can read more about DDR5's new features here. We expect pricing for DDR5 to be substantially higher than DDR4, currently projected to be a 50 to 60% markup, for some time.

Paul Alcorn
Deputy Managing Editor

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • Soaptrail
    I like that the summary under the graph for the games average says 12% faster than the AMD 5800 but no one is going to be using a 12700K to play at 1080p. If we go to 1440p the Intel still wins but only by 4% and even then any of these CPU's are all solid choices for gaming. I will give Intel the win but we are splitting hairs on saying it is 12% better at 1080p.
    Reply