Intel Core i7-12700K Review: Flagship i9 Gaming Performance at i7 Pricing

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. 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. Price Cores | Threads P-Core Base/Boost E-Core Base/Boost TDP / PBP / MTP DDR4-3200 L3 Cache
Core i9-12900K / KF $589 (K) – $564 (KF) 8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 threads 3.2 / 5.2 GHz 2.4 / 3.9 GHz 125W / 241W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 30MB
Core i7-12700K / KF $409 (K) – $384 (KF) 8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 threads 3.6 / 4.9 GHz 2.7 / 3.8 GHz 125W / 190W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 25MB
Core i5-12600K / KF $289 (K) – $264 (KF) 6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 threads 3.7 / 4.9 GHz 2.8 / 3.6 GHz 125W / 150W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 16MB

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 300 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. 

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