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Intel K vs KF: What’s the Difference?

Intel K vs KF - What Is the Difference?

Navigating manufacturers’ naming conventions can sometimes be overwhelming, and this is certainly true for Intel’s processors.

If you’re considering Intel K vs KF processors and are wondering what the difference between the two is, the answer is quite simple.

Intel K processors are ‘unlocked’, meaning they can be overclocked on motherboards that allow it, and they also have integrated graphics. Intel KF processors are the same as their K counterparts in all respects except that they lack integrated graphics.

Because they lack integrated graphics, Intel KF CPUs are usually cheaper than their corresponding K CPUs. The downside is that to display anything on-screen with an Intel KF CPU you need a dedicated graphics card.

There are pros and cons to both Intel K and KF CPUs, so let’s take a closer look.

Intel K Meaning

Intel Core processors sometimes have a ‘K’ at the end of their names—such as, for example, Intel’s Core i5-12600K, which is one of the best gaming CPUs from Intel’s current processor generation.

This ‘K’ means that the CPU is unlocked for overclocking. A CPU’s base clock (BCLK) is multiplied by its clock multiplier to give us its speed in megahertz (MHz) or gigahertz (GHz). An Intel K CPU is one that allows you to change its clock multiplier on supported motherboards.

For example, if your CPU’s BCLK is 100MHz and its multiplier is 43, then its overall speed is 4,300MHz (4.3GHz). If this is an Intel K CPU then you could raise its multiplier to 45, making its overall speed 4,500MHz (4.5GHz).

Intel K vs Non-K Processors

Intel K processors are unlocked for overclocking whereas non-K processors are locked. The only way to overclock a non-K processor is by overclocking its BCLK, which is always tricky and risky, and is impossible on many chipsets. Intel K processors, on the other hand, can be overclocked easily on any supported chipset (such as ones on ‘Z’ motherboards).

But the differences don’t end there.

Intel Core K processors are usually clocked higher than their non-K counterparts by default. For instance, here are the clock speeds of four CPUs from the current Intel ‘Alder Lake’ CPU generation:

Boost Clock (P-Core / E-Core) Base Clock (P-Core / E-Core)
Intel Core i5-12600 4.8GHz 3.3GHz
Intel Core i5-12600K 4.9GHz / 3.6GHz 3.7GHz / 2.8GHz
Intel Core i7-12700 4.9GHz / 3.6GHz 2.1GHz / 1.6GHz
Intel Core i7-12700K 5GHz / 3.8GHz 3.6GHz / 2.7GHz

The boost clocks of Intel’s Core i5-12600K and Core i7-12700K CPUs are 100MHz higher than those of the Core i5-12600 and Core i7-12700. Their base clocks are significantly higher, too. Also notice that the Intel Core i5-12600 lacks E-Cores (‘Efficient Cores’) entirely, whereas the Core i5-12600K has four of them.

These differences are mostly down to Intel K CPUs being better-binned versions of the same chips. An Intel Core i7-12700K is, in most respects, the same chip as an Intel Core i7-12700. But, during manufacturing, Intel selects chips that perform exceptionally well, raises their clock speeds, and designates them as K CPUs.

Current-gen K chips don’t come bundled with a CPU cooler, but non-K chips do. However, if you’re gaming, you’ll probably want to use a third-party cooler in place of a stock one anyway.

Intel F Meaning

Intel F processors are usually the same as their non-F counterparts, but they lack integrated graphics, meaning they lack the internal GPUs that non-F Intel CPUs have.

Many Intel CPUs have F models available. Apart from lacking integrated graphics, these are typically the same chips as their non-F siblings. Chips that are binned as having defective or underperforming graphics often have their internal GPUs disabled and are designated as F CPUs.

Because they lack integrated graphics, Intel usually sells F chips for less money than non-F chips.

Intel K vs KF for Gaming

If you’re a PC gamer, you likely use a discrete graphics card. Even if it’s not one of the very best graphics cards, a modern discrete GPU should perform much better than any integrated graphics. And if you’re using integrated graphics, chances are you’re using a CPU with more powerful integrated graphics than the integrated graphics of Intel’s standard K processors.

So, for a gamer, the integrated graphics on an Intel K CPU might seem redundant, and there’s some truth to this.

If you’re using a dedicated graphics card you likely won’t ever need to use your CPU’s integrated graphics, meaning a cheaper Intel KF CPU should serve you just as well as an Intel K CPU. And if you’re going for integrated graphics, you’re likely going for one with a powerful GPU than an Intel K CPU’s GPU.

Both K and KF CPUs should have the same core count and clock speed, and both should be unlocked for overclocking. But you’ll likely have more peace of mind if you own an Intel K CPU, because you never know when you might need integrated graphics.

For instance, if you have an Intel KF CPU and your graphics card dies you won’t be able to use your PC for much until you replace it. This possibility might be enough to justify the slight extra cost of an Intel K CPU.

On the other hand, if you’re comfortable taking that risk—perhaps you have a backup graphics card handy—then opting for a KF processor is a great way to save some money on your CPU.

Intel K vs KF: Which should you Buy?

If they have the same name apart from an ‘F’ at the end, then an Intel K CPU and its respective KF CPU should both have the same core count and cock speed, and both should support overclocking. The only difference is that the KF CPU will lack integrated graphics.

If you’re confident in the stability of your graphics card and are sure it won’t die and leave you without a GPU to feed your monitor those game frames, or if you have a backup graphics card handy, then you can save some money by opting for an Intel KF CPU over its K counterpart.

On the other hand, if you want the peace of mind that comes with knowing you can always run off integrated graphics for a while if your graphics card fails, then you should opt for an Intel K CPU over its KF counterpart.

Finally, you should consider whether you’re likely to use any professional software that requires Intel’s integrated graphics. Some Adobe software, for example, can use Intel Quick Sync for encoding, which requires Intel’s integrated graphics.

If you want to use Quick Sync, you should opt for an Intel K CPU. But if you have an NVIDIA graphics card you could opt to use NVIDIA’s NVENC encoder instead, which should outperform Quick Sync.

This aside, for the average PC gamer, deciding whether to buy an Intel K or KF CPU usually comes down to deciding between peace of mind or a lower cost.

Jacob's been tinkering with computer hardware for over a decade, and he's written hardware articles for various PC gaming websites. Outside of the wonderful world of PC hardware, he's currently undertaking a PhD in philosophy, with a focus on topics surrounding the meaning of life.

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