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)

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Intel Core i7-12700K Overclocking, Power and Thermals

The Alder Lake chips are easily the best overclocking chips we've seen from Intel in several generations. As you'll see on our gaming page, that results in up to double-digit performance increases in gaming performance in our test suite.

Unless stated otherwise, our overclocking settings are always geared to emulate what we expect a standard enthusiast can achieve with a reasonable type of conventional cooling for 24/7 use (we use a 280mm Corsair H115i AIO as our default cooler). As such, you can tune more aggressively or employ better cooling solutions to attain even higher results, but as always with overclocking, your mileage may vary.

We tuned the Core i7-12700K's P-Cores to 5.0 GHz and set the E-Cores to 3.9 GHz (all-core on both), which is 100 MHz below the P-core overclock and the same as the E-core overclock we achieved with the Core i9-12900K. 

Like we encountered with the Core i9-12900K, we could tune a few bins higher on both core clusters while remaining perfectly stable, but the chip overwhelmed our 280mm Corsair H115i under certain heavy loads. We feel that a 360mm AIO water cooler, or a custom loop, could handle the thermal output of a 5.1 GHz overclock. There could also be slightly more frequency headroom as well: As we've seen with the 12900K, thermals, not silicon quality or ability, are the limiting factor with this chip.

To keep temperatures in check, we dialed in a 5.0 GHz P-Core and 3.9 GHz E-Core overclock with a 1.29V CPU vCore, which is identical to what we dialed in for our 12900K overclock. We also assigned a -3 GHz AVX offset to align with the same all-core AVX clock speeds we observed with the chip at stock settings. This means the chip runs at 4.8 GHz when it encounters AVX workloads, allowing us to reach higher with other, more common types of work (like gaming) while staying within a comfortable thermal envelope during taxing AVX-heavy work.

We also dialed in a 4.2 GHz fabric clock, which is a whopping 1.6 GHz above the stock setting of 2.6 GHz. This is also 200 MHz beyond what we've been able to achieve with Intel's prior-gen chips, marking a big improvement to fabric capabilities. Finally, we assigned memory to DDR4-3800 with 14-14-14-34 timings in Gear 1 mode. Experience has taught us that staying in Gear 1 mode provides the best overall performance in most applications. It is noteworthy that we've seen several results with DDR4-4000 in Gear 1 for everyday usage, which is a significant improvement over the Rocket Lake chips that tapped out at DDR4-3800 in Gear 1. You might have to adjust the VccIn (or equivalent) to enable this slightly higher level of performance, but we stuck with DDR4-3800 to emulate a bog-standard overclock. 

It is noteworthy that we purchased this chip at retail, yet had an almost-identical overclocking experience, even down to the voltages, compared to the Core i9-12900K that Intel sampled us directly. 

Core i7-12700K Thermals overclocking power

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The 12700K ran a 5.0 GHz all-core overclock while staying under 90C threshold through a series of Handbrake, POV-Ray, Y-cruncher, and Blender runs (these are our most stressful real-world applications, and all but Blender employ heavy AVX workloads). Notably, the 12700K runs at 5.0 GHz on two 'preferred' cores during normal operation, so we've matched the single-core frequency with our all-core overclock. 

The 12900K peaked at 241 Watts, but we only saw those peaks during the multi-threaded y-cruncher tests that heavily employ taxing AVX instructions. Temperatures peaked at 90C for a few brief moments, but largely hovered in the low-80's and 70's during the most stressful workloads, which is quite impressive. Again, thermals are the limiting factor if you choose to push higher, but you can do more complicated overclocks that prioritize a few cores with higher peak frequencies or step up to a beefier cooler to unlock higher overclocking potential. 

Test Setup

Alder Lake's Thread Director technology works best with Windows 11, so we tested with a fresh install. We have updated to newer versions of our benchmarks for Windows 11, where applicable, and also added a few new application and gaming benchmarks.

Alder Lake will also be used with the less-than-optimal Windows 10, too, so it's important that you know that these chips can suffer in some multi-threaded workloads in Windows 10 due to difficulties with code with certain prioritization settings. You can correct those issues either via command-line utilities or third-party software, like Process Lasso, and receive the full expected performance. We expect the industry to correct many of those issues over time.

Still, it is important to know that Windows 10 could require additional handholding to extract the utmost performance from the Alder Lake processors. We have a deeper dive into what that looks like in our initial Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K review, but aside from a few errant programs, the overall performance trends between Windows 10 and 11 are similar. As such, we're not going to post the redundant Windows 10 benchmarks in this article.

In accordance with AMD's official guidance, we assured that our clean-install Windows 11 test system had all patches for a recent AMD L3 cache bug that impacted AMD processors. AMD says the patches resolve the L3 issues, and our own in-depth testing has also confirmed that the patches are successful.

We also tested with secure boot, virtualization support, and fTPM/PTT active to reflect a properly configured Windows 11 install. We also measure the difference between DDR4 and DDR5 performance. We used the MSI Z690 Carbon WiFi as our DDR5 platform and the decidedly lower-end MSI Z690-A WiFi for DDR4 testing.

We're sticking with our standard policy of allowing the motherboard to exceed Intel's recommended power limits, provided the chip remains within warrantied operating conditions. Our tests use the default lifted PL1 and PL2 restrictions. Almost all enthusiast-class motherboards come with similar settings, so this reflects the out-of-box experience with a high-end motherboard. Naturally, these lifted power limits equate to more power consumption, and thus more heat, as we'll cover in detail later in the review. We also have a full breakdown of the test system configurations at the end of the article.

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Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K Test System Configurations
Intel Socket 1700 DDR5 (Z690)Core i9-12900K, Core i7-12700K, Core i5-12600K
Row 1 - Cell 0 MSI Z690 Carbon WiFi
Row 2 - Cell 0 2 x16GB G.Skill Ripjaws S5, DDR5-5200 @ DDR5-4400 36-36-36-72
Intel Socket 1700 DDR4 (Z690)Core i9-12900K, Core i5-12600K
Row 4 - Cell 0 MSI Z690A WiFi DDR4
Row 5 - Cell 0 2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock: DDR4-3200 14-14-14-36
Intel Socket 1200 (Z590)Core i9-11900K, Core i7-11700K, Core i5-10600K
Row 7 - Cell 0 MSI Z590 Godlike
Row 8 - Cell 0 2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock DDR4-3200/2933 Gear 1
AMD Socket AM4 (X570)AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, Ryzen 9 5900X, Ryzen 7 5800X, Ryzen 5 5600X

MSI MEG X570 Godlike
Row 11 - Cell 0 2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock: DDR4-3200 14-14-14-36
All SystemsGigabyte GeForce RTX 3090 Eagle - Gaming and ProViz applications
Row 13 - Cell 0 Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE - Application tests

2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus

Silverstone ST1100-TI
Row 16 - Cell 0 Open Benchtable
Row 17 - Cell 0 Arctic MX-4 TIM
Row 18 - Cell 0 Windows 11 Pro
CoolingCorsair H115i, Custom loop
Paul Alcorn
Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech

Paul Alcorn is the Managing Editor: News and Emerging Tech for Tom's Hardware US. He also 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.