The Core i5-12600K finds itself sandwiched into a string of flawless mid-range CPU launches from AMD over the past year, but there’s no denying the Core i5-12600K’s prowess on display here. It comes within close range of matching content creation results to previous massive beasts like the $989 Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition and the $499 AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. So she managed to beats 10-core, $449 Core i9-10900K in some of the same tests. However, its integrated graphics performance still dwarfs the Editors Choice award-winning Ryzen 7 5700G and the six-core Ryzen 5 5600G, providing a much stronger value proposition for gamers looking to build their next device around a system-on-chip ( SoC), without a graphics card.
If you want serious power to create content from a chipset that has historically been known for mid-range gaming, the Core i5-12600K is definitely equipped for the task. Just be prepared to pay a penny to get what you want, thanks to the new (and precious) Z690 motherboard platform that takes tickets at the door.
Core i5-12600K: 12th Generation Intel Ace in the Hole
Based on Intel’s new “7 Process,” the company’s 12th-generation desktop CPUs are built on 10nm lithography and employ a new motherboard socket (LGA 1700), and the company is finally emerging from its half-decade love/hate relationship. During the 14 nm process and the iterations that followed for years after. You can read more about how Intel defines its “7 processes” in depth(Opens in a new window) at ExtremeTech.
In the spec chart below, you’ll notice some of the new CPU-core types being thrown around, things like “P-cores” and “E-cores”. To find out everything you need to know about these terms and more, check out the full analysis of Intel’s hybrid performance architecture in our in-depth review of the Intel Core i9-12900K processor, essential reading for understanding what’s new in Alder Lake. We will not repeat all these details here.
(Photo: Chris Stubing)
Although the Ryzen 5 5600X, at first, looks like an obvious AMD chip for a direct comparison with the Intel Core i5-12600K, in practice the Core i5-12600KF would be a more suitable opponent, since neither it runs nor an AMD-GPU chip. central. (Intel offers “KF” versions of its initial Core i9, i7, and i5 Alder Lake chips, making a total of six chips at launch.) Instead of focusing on that chip, we’ll turn our attention to how the Intel Core i5-12600K stacks up against two of the best The moderately priced Ryzen chips we’ve tested so far—and those AMD’s recently released in the desktop gaming space—are the Ryzen 5 5600G and Ryzen 7 5700G.
These two laptops carry a Core i5-12600K, priced at $239 and $329, respectively. (These are current street prices; list prices are $259.99 and $359.99.) Both have integrated AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics which, as we’ll explain in more detail below, are often able to park a discrete graphics card when the calls of the moment.
Intel Core i5-12600K Specifications Comparison
With that brief introduction left out, let’s move on to some specs…
As a 12th-generation Intel Core processor, the Core i5-12600K is just like the rest of its Alder Lake relatives, carrying two different cores on the board: in this case, six performance cores (the “P-cores” we mentioned earlier), and four “P-cores” that we mentioned earlier. Electronic” with the letter “E” for efficiency. These add up to a maximum concurrent thread count of 16, with only P cores getting binary threading support per core this time.
In terms of cost, the Intel Core i5-12600K processor doesn’t break any major barriers in terms of price creep to the stack, and remains sandwiched between many members of AMD’s Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 family, squarely in the mid-range.
The Intel Core i5-12600K processor comes with the same integrated graphics as the rest of the 12th-generation “K” series CPUs — the company’s new Silicon Iris Xe UHD Graphics 770 — although the “new” is a little deceptive. The main changes from UHD Graphics 750 are a slight decrease in the base clock speed (300MHz, down from 350MHz), and an increase in the dynamic peak frequency (up to 1.55GHz, from 1GHz).
(Photo: Chris Stubing)
Now that we know what’s in store for Intel’s latest mid-range offering, how did it go in testing? Let’s move on to the results and see what surprises Intel has in store…
Core i5-12600K test: A generational leap, with AMD always behind
We tested the Core i5-12600K on an MSI MPG Z690 Carbon WiFi motherboard, with 32GB of DDR5 Corsair Dominator(Opens in a new window) Up to 4800MHz memory, 4TB Sabrent Rocket Q4 PCI Express 4.0 SSD that also serves as our gaming drive.
All of this was packed into the Corsair iCue 7000D Airflow chassis, which is fitted with the Corsair iCue H150i Elite Capellix chassis.(Opens in a new window) 360 mm Liquid Cooler, 1000 Watt Power Jug RM1000X(Opens in a new window) power supply. For our gaming tests, we used an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Ti, in the Founders Edition watches, as we did in all recent mainstream and high-end CPU ratings.
We test CPUs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks that deliver proprietary results, as well as real-world testing with consumer apps like 7-Zip, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere (Adobe apps are tested with workloads via workstation maker Puget Systems(Opens in a new window)PugetBench Extensions). We also test multiplayer games like Rainbow Six Siege and 3D AAA games like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
First, the CPU tests. It ran on a variety of Windows 10 test rules that were newly designed for the advent of the 12th generation. We benchmarked the performance of all of our listed AMD processors as well as Intel processors back tested on Windows 10; Due to time constraints, we haven’t gotten to Windows 11 yet, with some additional testing to be done on Win 11 for Alder Lake chips. (Our Windows 11 test will be running Intel’s Thread Director. For more information on why this is important, check back in our Core i9-12900K review.)
One note here: Since Intel had a platform handicap with the advent of the Z690, we tested the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, AMD’s top mainstream Ryzen, on our most tricky liquid cooling system, the Maingear Turbo (2021). While the graphics tests won’t be directly comparable (the RTX 3080 Ti we’re using, and Maingear’s RTX 3090, separated by a few percentage points in most games), the Maingear’s throughput tests, combined with excessive liquid cooling, should achieve Slightly more parity between AMD’s 16-core Core i9 chip and Intel’s latest 16-core offerings. But that’s only for context, and a side view of the Core i5 we’re discussing here.
Well this is Certainly A surprise, to say the least! Again: keep in mind that these are mostly the results of Windows 10. Even without the Thread Director action that calls for behind-the-scenes action, Intel’s latest mid-range processor still posts an impressive display consistently across nearly every benchmark we run. The exception, 7-Zip, acts as a more direct representation of the power of the cores on its own, while the big gains in both our Adobe runs with Photoshop and Premiere show what a little tuning can do to lift the Core i5-12600K to some impressive heights.
Also remember: This is a Core i5 chip! Compare it to Core i9-11900K. The Core i9-11900K didn’t match the Core i5-12600K in some tests, such as Blender and Adobe Photoshop/Premiere tests, although the 11900K’s lower core count compared to the i9-10900K (eight cores versus 10) actually kept it at a disadvantage to create Content vs. other modern Core i9s.
The two tests that seemed to challenge the slide were POV-Ray and HandBrake. Here the 12th-gen i5 and i9 limp to the finish line, an issue that warrants all-future testing, given the strong showing in the rest of our benchmarks, particularly Adobe in the real world.
Mid-range gaming: Intel Core i5-12600K frame rates with discrete GPU
That’s what we saw in our game test bank with a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition card that runs the display, under Windows 10. This consumer graphics card is the key arbiter of 4K performance with all of our CPUs shown below. At 1080p though, the card goes out of the way a bit more and lets the differences in the CPU really shine through. (We tested 3DMark Time Spy and three games.)
As expected, the same issue we encountered during our Core i9-12900K review raised its head during our gaming testing of the i5-12600K: Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla cannot be thrown on 12th Gen Intel Core chips. As we’ve outlined in this review, this is an issue that could be broader than that, among the many titles that use Denuvo DRM, or isolated to just a few. (Intel acknowledged such a thing in our briefings, and more about it in our Core i9 review.) We didn’t have time to test anything else on this Denuvo list.(Opens in a new window), but as with the Thread Director’s extensive testing, we’ll be looking deeper over the coming weeks at what can (or can’t) run an Intel Core 12th Gen stack in late 2021. In short: With this issue, Denovo confuses Alder is basically two Lake variants for two separate devices, triggering DRM and game-breaking. Again, more on this issue in our Core i9-12900K review.
[Editor’s Note: Intel has released a statement regarding Denuvo functionality on Intel 12th Gen processors. Workarounds are coming, but no determinate figure on when just yet.)
The chip recovered a bit with some pace-setting frame rates on Rainbow Six Siege, though at 1080p it’s also blowing well past the fastest refresh rates on monitors today. So if you wanted to step down to something like the Ryzen 5 5600G, in this instance it could be the better choice. And speaking of Ryzen 5000G Series chips being the better choice…
Intel Core i5-12600K Frame Rates With Integrated Graphics
As a midrange CPU with integrated graphics processing (IGP) on the chip proper, the Intel Core i5-12600K sits on the high end (of the midrange, stick with us) of CPUs that gamers might consider if they’re going to build a new gaming system without a discrete graphics card. In today’s GPU-starved market, having an IGP that can dutifully stand in for a video card in a pinch is a big selling point. It could make or break the purchase in many gamers’ minds. So, with that, how did the company’s UHD Graphics 770 (Iris Xe Graphics) fare? Let’s find out.
Note: These multiplayer results are a combination of our recent testing piece Can You Game Without a Graphics Card? We Tested 11 Desktop CPUs to Find Out in comparable games, along with the most recent results collected from the Intel Core i5-12600K during our testing for this review. Also note: “WNR” means “would not run.”
Despite refreshing the onboard graphics of both its latest 12th Gen stack (UHD Graphics 770), as well as 11th Gen (UHD Graphics 750) earlier this year, Intel’s IGP platform still can’t hold a candle to AMD’s aging Radeon RX Vega IGPs. The results are so skewed in favor of AMD and chips like the Ryzen 7 5700G that the value proposition of the Intel Core i5-12600K as a viable SoC for PC gaming without a video card just isn’t there.
In normal graphics-card stock conditions, we wouldn’t hold Intel’s feet so close to the fire on this. But this is 2021, in which GPUs are hyper-inflated in price. And given that AMD has Ryzen G-Series CPUs that can clearly stand in for a low-end GPU, all on their own, the value proposition of the i5-12600K takes an inevitable hit if you want to do casual PC gaming off an IGP.
That, and the sheer volume of would-not-runs (WNRs) we hit during IGP testing of the i5. Intel’s latest graphics drivers provided to us for the Intel Core i5-12600K review were seemingly not quite there yet. We did manage to get a couple runs in F1 2021 to complete, but the full suite is still dominated by AMD’s numbers due to so many disqualifications on Intel’s end. We’ll update this story if a more reliable driver set is released in the next several weeks.
A Look at Overclocking and Thermals
A quick note: Due to the increased complexity that’s been added to the Z690 platform for overclockers, we’ll be publishing a separate article soon that takes a deeper dive into everything that’s on offer. In the meantime, for the sake of this review, we chose to run with Intel’s latest version of its Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) and its simple sliders to see what we could get done on a time budget.
In those runs on the Core i5-12600K, we were able to achieve a “good enough for a one-touch slider” result of just under 10% over boost clock, which translated to around 6% more performance in F1 2021 and the Adobe Photoshop/PugetBench for Photoshop test run.
Last up, we tried to push the Intel Core i5-12600K to its thermal limits in a 10-minute run through Cinebench R23 in CoreTemp(Opens in a new window). We found the CPU posted a maximum temperature of just 66 degrees C in our testing on a new Corsair iCue 360mm closed-loop liquid cooler. (Remember, though, that’s a 360mm liquid cooler on an i5. Grain of salt and all; an air cooler makes much more sense paired with a CPU of this price.)
So with all those tantalizing results in content creation and gaming stacked up on the board, sans some concerning issues with Denuvo DRM, is the Intel Core i5-12600K a slam-dunk for Intel in the midrange? A worthy contender to AMD’s onslaught of affordable gaming engines in the Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 Series?
Not quite yet. We say that because unlike some previous launches, this time around Intel is offering up only a single, premium-level chipset to install your new processor alongside: Z690. That means pricey motherboards, plus new DDR5 RAM (some boards do DDR4, some DDR5; we tested with DDR5) if you want to go that route, plus possibly a new LGA 1700 CPU cooler. The Core i5-12600K doesn’t come with a cooler.
Go ahead and scroll through our massive Z690 motherboard mega-guide if you like, but to save you the finger strength we’ll spoil the ending: The cheapest board you’ll find on there starts at $179.99, and to get on-par performance with our results here, you’ll also need to spring for that DDR5 memory to boot.
What will all that run you? Here’s an estimate…
For the same price as a barebones 10-core Core i5-12600K system, you could get a similarly outfitted 12-core/24-thread Ryzen 9 5900X build started, and still have just under $80 left over for a gaming mouse or keyboard of your choosing. The Intel Core i5-12600K is shockingly good at content creation in many instances, and if you’re looking for a processor that can handle hobbyist workloads for not a ton of money, it’s awesome…in isolation. But the Ryzen 9 5900X is still a better bigger-picture deal, due to that overall cost of adoption of Alder Lake.
(Photo: Chris Stobing)
Insult to injury? The Intel UHD XeLP graphics platform continues to trail AMD’s Radeon RX Vega graphics in the Ryzen 5 5600G and Ryzen 7 5700G by a lot on IGP-gaming testing. If Intel wants to remain competitive in the eyes of budget PC builders relying on integrated graphics (a fast-growing segment, in today’s GPU desert), its XeLP graphics silicon will need significant upgrading in the near future. (Hopefully before AMD’s Zen 4 debuts, however unlikely that may be.)
Due to the cost of adopting a whole new platform around your CPU, it’s rare that a Core i5 chip can stand up as the best value when Intel debuts a new chip stack and platform. Intel just changes its sockets too often, usually every other generation. That goes doubly so for launches like this Alder Lake one, in which only premium Z-series motherboards will be available for at least the next several months. So as a value-centric option, today, the Intel Core i5-12600K needs too much pricey supporting hardware to make it worth it over AMD’s relentlessly competitive series of 7nm chiplet-based desktop gaming CPUs.
Put aside the overall cost to get in the room with Alder Lake, though, and the Core i5-12600K has a lot going for it, and shows a lot of promise for what’s to come for Intel’s 7 Process. If you’re willing to play the wait-and-see game for less-expensive motherboard platforms in the future, the Intel Core i5-12600K is a strong contender for one of the best midrange processors that the company has launched in years. (As long as it eventually plays AC: Valhalla. Get on that patching, people!)
The Bottom Line
For PC gamers and budget-constrained creative types, Intel’s “Alder Lake” Core i5-12600K punches well above its weight in gaming and content creation alike. Just know that the cost of adoption (memory, motherboard, cooler) may make waiting a bit to upgrade a better bet.
Like what you read?
sign for lab report Get the latest reviews and top product tips delivered straight to your inbox.