Intel Core i7-12700K Review - Almost as Fast as the i9-12900K 52

Intel Core i7-12700K Review - Almost as Fast as the i9-12900K


Value and Conclusion

  • The Intel Core i7-12700K will sell for around $420.
  • Performance very close to Core i9-12900K
  • Huge gains in low-threaded applications
  • Much better price/performance than Core i9-12900K, Ryzen 5800X, and Ryzen 5900X
  • Good energy efficiency
  • Integrated graphics
  • Multiplier unlocked
  • Support for DDR5 and PCI-Express 5.0
  • 10 nanometer production process
  • New LGA1700 motherboards required
  • Some workloads get scheduled onto wrong cores
  • Energy efficiency worse than AMD Zen 3
  • No CPU cooler included
  • Manual overclocking not worth it
Mission accomplished! Intel has achieved what many have doubted. Their new Alder Lake architecture is a huge improvement over previous generations. Intel not only said bye-bye to "Skylake" with 12th Gen, they also introduced a number of technological improvements, like big.LITTLE cores, DDR5 memory, and PCI-Express 5.0. With these changes came the requirement for a new socket, yet again. However, this time around, we understand that there's an actual reason for the change beyond "hey let's change up things so we and our motherboard vendor friends can sell more stuff." Earlier today we posted a huge comparison article that goes into details on all announced Z690 motherboards.

Besides this processor review, we have more content for you today: Core i9-12900K, Core i7-12700K, Core i5-12600K, ASUS ROG Maximum Z690 Hero, Intel Z690 Motherboard Comparison

Overall performance of the Core i7-12700K is very impressive given its positioning. The new processor is 15% faster than the previous-generation i7-11700K, 10% faster than AMD Ryzen 7 5800X and just 5% behind the more expensive Ryzen 9 5900X. Today's flagship, the Core i9-12900K, is 10% faster on average. While the Core i9-12900K comes with an 8+8 core configuration and runs at up to 5.2 GHz, the 12700K is 8+4 with up to 5.0 GHz, so the biggest difference is the loss of four E-cores. You still get eight P-cores, and HyperThreading.

Not everything ran perfectly, though. In several of our tests, the workload got scheduled onto the wrong cores. We did use Windows 11 for all our testing, which has proper support for the big.LITTLE architecture of Alder Lake and includes the AMD L3 cache fix, too. Intel allocated extra silicon estate for "Thread Director," an AI-powered network in the CPU optimized to tell the OS where to place threads. However, several of our tests still showed very low performance. While wPrime might not be a big deal, being an old synthetic benchmark, I'm puzzled by the highly popular MySQL database server not getting placed into the P-cores. Maybe the logic is "but it's a server background process"? In that case, that logic is flawed. If a process is bottlenecked by around half (!) and the only process on the machine using a vast majority of processor resources, doesn't it deserve to go onto the high-performance cores instead? I would say so. Higher performance would not only achieve higher throughput, and faster answers to user requests, but would also reduce power consumption because queries would be completed much faster. Other reviewers I've talked to have seen similar (few) placement issues with other software, so it seems Intel and Microsoft still have to work to do. On the other hand, for gaming, Thread Director works pretty much perfectly. We didn't have time to test Alder Lake on Windows 10 yet, but that article is coming next week.

Just like the other Alder Lake processors released today, gaming performance of the Core i7-12700K is very good. The new processors consistently beat AMD's Zen 3 lineup—the gaming performance kings until today. While the differences at lower resolutions are quite big, especially at the academically important resolution of 720p, where the differences between CPUs are more pronounced. As we move up through resolutions, differences become smaller because the GPU becomes more and more of a limiting factor in how many FPS can be achieved. I don't think Alder Lake is a game changer for gaming mostly because gaming performance depends on GPU performance first and foremost, but it achieves an important psychological victory over AMD—Intel is back! Compared to the other 12th Gen processors tested today, I don't see much of a lead for the Core i7-12900K in terms of gaming performance, so definitely save your money. Even the Core i5-12600K looks very tempting as it offers the gaming performance boost of Alder Lake at much lower pricing. Trading a low single-digit amount of FPS to save $100 makes a lot of sense and gives you more money to spend on the graphics card, which is where it make more sense if you're a pure gamer.

Alder Lake is the first desktop processor fabricated on Intel's 10 nanometer production process, which the company renamed "Intel 7" to reach parity with TSMC's 7 nanometer node used for the AMD Zen 3 Ryzens. While a lot can and has been argued about the naming, what I think matters more is energy-efficiency. Unlike the Core i9-12900K, which runs at a power limit of 241 W, the Core i7-12700K comes at a much more reasonable default of 150 W for both PL1 and PL2, which rewards you with better energy efficiency. While the Core i9-12900K couldn't even get close to the efficiency of AMD's Zen 3 offerings, the i7-12700K can beat the Ryzen 7 5800X (!) and matches the Ryzen 5 5600X when both energy usage and performance are taking into account. AMD's Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X are still considerably more energy efficient, though. It still shows that Intel is on the right path.

Given a multi-threaded power draw of 221 W, the i7-12700K is also MUCH easier to cool than the i9-12900K. With our Noctua NH-U12S, we reached temperatures in the mid-60s, which is comparable to what AMD's Ryzens achieve. We did test whether removing the power limits makes any significant difference. I'm happy to report that on average, there's little performance to be gained, and it just lowers energy efficiency. The same goes for manual overclocking. I was able to hit 5.0 GHz all-core, which matches the CPU's highest single-threaded boost frequency. While certainly not impressive, it at least means there's no potential loss in performance for low-threaded tasks. Looking at power and heat, I still think manual overclocking is not worth it. The takeaway here is that buying an unlocked K processor seems to be a waste of money on Alder Lake. Rather, go for the more affordable non-K or even -KF SKUs when they are released next year.

Unlike my 11th Gen Rocket Lake experience, where I felt the platform was full of bugs and rushed, I had zero issues with Alder Lake. The BIOS of my ASUS motherboard feels stable and feature-complete. DDR5 memory just worked; click XMP and be done. I also didn't encounter any crashes or unexpected issues while testing in Windows 11; like for many, my biggest issue is still with the Start Menu and other UI annoyances.

With a price point of $420, the Core i7-12700K is priced quite competitively, especially when you take its performance into account. While the Ryzen 7 5800X is slightly cheaper at $400 and an 8-core processor, too, the Core i7-12700K is considerably faster in nearly all tasks. As mentioned before, our average is +10%, and that even includes two terribly slow test results when Thread Director failed placement. That's why I feel AMD will have to lower the price point of the Ryzen 7 5800X to stay competitive. Intel's new competitiveness will be good for all of us because prices will have to come down and companies will be forced to innovate even more. If price/performance is more important to you than absolute raw performance, maybe do consider the Core i5-12600K, which comes at pricing that's near the top of our Performance per Dollar charts.
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May 28th, 2022 09:21 EDT change timezone

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