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REVIEW: Is Intel Core i5-12600K Worth It? (Is It Good For Games?)

The Intel Core i5-12600K is a mid-range 12th generation Intel Core processor (this gen is known as Alder Lake-S). A balance between configuration and cost makes it a strong option for gamers who want a high-performance machine but without the costs of the Core i9 and i7 models.

This processor features a set of six performance cores, the Golden Cove, and four performance cores, the Gracemont. As only Core cores have Hyperthreading, there are 10 cores and 16 threads available on this processor.

The Alder Lake-S finally represents a significant change in Intel’s architecture. The 12th generation Intel Core moves on multiple fronts, updating the platform to more modern technologies. It brings DDR5 memories, PCI Express 5.0, and, above all, a new bet with a hybrid processing architecture.

Here we will review general features of the CPU to help you determine whether it fits your needs. For full specs, check the official page.

Microarchitecture

The Alder Lake-S microarchitecture is one of the most significant changes Intel has ever made to its desktop processors. The company now uses a hybrid architecture in its processors, mixing cores with different characteristics. That is an attempt to extract the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of each one.

Focused on performance are the P-Cores, based on Golden Cove, an evolution of the 11th generation desktop Cypress Cove, with a 19% improvement in IPC compared to its predecessor operating at the same clock.

This resulted from modifications to various frameworks, increasing the decode from 4-wide to 6-wide. The reorder buffer (ROB) increased from 352 to 512 inputs. The execution rose from 10 to 12 ports.

These changes represent the most significant change in decades to the Core architecture, equivalent to what the company brought with the introduction of Skylake.

But the big news is the presence of efficiency cores, the E-Cores, based on Gracemont microarchitecture, an evolution of the Tremont present in products such as low voltage CPUs.

Intel claims that these cores can deliver 40% more performance than a Skylake core while consuming 40% less energy despite the focus on low power and heat.

They also scale to 80% more performance with 80% less consumption when compared to two cores and 4 threads. Skylake versus 4 cores and 4 threads Gracemont.

To deal with this variation in cores and their different capacities, Intel needed to develop a new solution to more efficiently distribute the various operations demanded by the system.

This is how the Intel Thread Director comes into play, delivering more information to the operating system about the performance it can extract from each core. In this way, the system will prioritize high-performance cores, then high-efficiency ones, and enable Hyperthreading on P-Cores.

So Alder Lake processors can use any core for an operation. The system will intelligently choose the best core to direct all the work to.

But for that, it was necessary to bring the two architectures closer together and make them capable of handling the same functions, which makes the Gracemont cores receive an upgrade to support AVX2.

Still, on the other hand, a downgrade occurred in Golden Cove, which abandoned the AVX-512 support. Instead, they use a structure similar to the server cores codenamed Sapphire Rapid.

Another meaningful change on the codenamed Alder Lake-S processors is the upgrade of technologies, putting Intel back at the forefront of competition. The 12th generation Intel Core introduces the new memories, DDR5 and LPDDR5 while maintaining support for DDR4/LPDDR4 simultaneously.

It is up to the mainboard to define which memories will be supported. The processors have controllers capable of handling both formats.

In addition, the PCI Express slot introduces version 5.0 technology, doubling the bandwidth compared to PCIe 4.0. Here, the thing is more relaxed. After all, we are talking about a technology backward compatible with previous versions, which involves fewer mandatory updates than DDR.

Are you wondering whether it is time to upgrade your Intel CPU? We help you decide.

Overclock

The new Intel platform continues to offer overclocking capabilities in the K line. However, it is now possible to choose if you want to overclock only the performance cores, only efficiency cores, or even all of them, but with specific settings.

Gaming performance

Can the new i5 12600k handle gaming? Well, it can! The most hyped game of 2022 is Elden Ring, and you can find videos of people playing it on the CPU. Sure, some are running it with high-end GPUs because the game is very demanding, but still, it is excellent news that the CPU can handle such a game. Plus, this means it will run anything else very smoothly.

Final thoughts

Finally, Intel delivers something to revive the dispute with AMD in this mid-range segment. After the Ryzen 5 5600X dominated nominations for a high-performance gaming computer processor, the Core i5-12600K brings Intel a strong contender into the fray.

Starting with gaming performance, this processor comes close to the Core i9-12900K and Core i7-12700K. That makes it a much more apparent cost-effective option for those who want to play at high performance. The 12600K and 5600X are excellent for games, with differences of 5% in most scenarios, except in Rainbow Six Siege, where the AMD CPU beats with 25%, and Cyberpunk 2077, where it’s Intel’s beats with 20%.

But undoubtedly, the most impressive thing is to see the performance of this processor in professional applications, and here the tie with the 5600X stops happening. Instead, a surprising margin appears in favor of the Intel Core. In our tests with professional applications, the difference ranges from 20 to an impressive 50% in favor of the 12600K.

Speaking of other aspects such as heating and consumption, the Core i5-12600K was not far from the Ryzen 5 5600X in terms of heating and consumption. Again, shows an evolution of Intel’s technology in the efficiency criterion, unlike the few relevant gains on this front in the 11th Core generation. 

Pros

  • PCIe 5.0, DDR5, and hybrid architecture
  •  Similar performance to Core i9 and i7 in games but at a more affordable price
  • Relevant advantage versus 5600X in professional applications
  •  Lots of multithreaded performance
  •  High single-thread performance

Cons

  • Availability and cost of DDR5
  •  The motherboard needs a new socket
  •  Coolers need adapters from manufacturers for compatibility
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