An article about switching from AMD to Intel might have seemed like blasphemy only a year or two ago, but times have changed. Intel’s 12th Gen processor lineup has shown what the future of the best gaming CPUs will look like, and the Intel Core i5-12600K is spearheading the charge.
Yes, I was an AMD fanboy—and rightly so, given the lacklustre calibre of Intel CPU lineups that we’ve seen over the past few years—but no more. Intel’s back on form, and the PC gaming market is better for it. The CPU market space is now genuinely competitive, which comes as welcome news amidst all the doom and gloom of the ongoing global chip shortage.
What makes Intel’s Core i5-12600K so exciting isn’t just its stellar specs, performance, and value offering, rather it’s what it promises for the future of affordable ‘bleeding edge’ CPU technology. It’s not so much in the realm of price-performance value and bog-standard benchmarking that Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs work wonders—though it does work wonders in these respects, too—rather it’s in the elusive realms of ‘overall performance’ and ‘next gen’ design.
Intel vs AMD History
The past few years of Intel vs AMD history was quite decidedly in AMD’s favour. In 2015 intel released a lineup of 6000-series CPUs based on its Skylake architecture, utilising a 14nm process node. With each successive generation, Intel merely updated this Skylake architecture and stuck to what was essentially the same 14nm manufacturing process, with some small improvements.
Because the design and process node remained mostly the same, improvements to Intel CPUs came primarily from increased clock speeds and subtle architectural optimisations. These improvements often allowed Intel CPUs to remain the fastest gaming processors with each successive generation, but only by pushing this 14nm design to its limits—which increased power consumption and lessened efficiency in comparison to rising competition from AMD.
AMD’s Ryzen CPU lineup launched in 2017 with its 1000-series processors. Successive Ryzen generations have offered not only new architectures but also significantly improved production processes. Generation-upon-generation improvements gave us Ryzen processors that could almost match Intel’s CPUs in gaming performance, and which were also more efficient, better value for the money, and, thanks to process improvements, crammed with more cores than a gamer would know what to do with. AMD was not only the value and efficiency king, but also the multi-core champion.
In the first quarter of 2021, Intel’s 11th Gen ‘Rocket Lake-S’ CPUs gave a spark of hope because their ‘Cypress Cove’ cores were not based on the familiar Skylake architecture, but instead used cores that were essentially the same as ‘Sunny Cove’ ones, these having been used in Intel’s 10th Gen laptop CPUs. They were still made on a 14nm process node, but there was hope for more significant improvements. And, as it turned out, these processors lived up to hopeful expectations. They kept up with the latest and greatest Ryzen processors, and, while they were still relatively inefficient and power hungry, they competed very well on price.
It was a promising development. But now Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs have hit the market, and all the hope that’s been accruing for Intel processors is finally vindicated. Intel’s 12th Gen kicks ass, which is why I took the plunge and bought an Intel Core i5-12600KF, ditching AMD for Intel.
Intel Core i5-12600K specs
|Cores (P-Core / E-Core)||10 (6 / 4)|
|Base clock (P-Core / E-Core)||3.7GHz / 2.8GHz|
|Boost clock (P-Core / E-Core)||4.9GHz / 3.6GHz|
|PBP / TBP||125W / 150W|
|Memory||DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800|
|Graphics||Intel UHD Graphics 770|
Intel’s Core i5-12600K could be described as a 10-core processor that boosts up to 4.9GHz, but, while this would be impressive, it would miss out on what really makes 12th Gen so special. What makes Intel’s 12th Gen processors special is the fact that they mix together ‘big’ Performance Cores (P-Cores) and ‘little’ Efficient Cores (E-Cores), taking after ARM’s big.LITTLE design. The idea is that less powerful E-Cores handle lower priority multi-core tasks while the beefier P-Cores handle heavy single-threaded workloads.
Despite this innovative design choice, the Core i5-12600K still manages to boast impressive ‘traditional’ specs—its 4.9GHz boost clock, for example. And because of those additional E-Cores, we can technically call it a 10-core CPU, because even though four of those cores aren’t 4.9GHz-capable powerhouses, they’re still worth their salt as physical cores. Add to this a very competitive price tag and future-proof tech like DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 capability, and you start to see why the Core i5-12600K is so special. I opted for the Core i5-12600KF—a version that lacks integrated graphics—which made the price tag even more alluring. But of course, none of these specs matter if the CPU isn’t up to scratch in real-world performance.
Intel Core i5-12600K Performance
On top of its innovative architectural design, Intel’s Core i5-12600K doesn’t fail to deliver on real-world performance. The long story short is that it performs ahead of its main rival—AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X—in many games and in multithreaded productivity tasks (with some exceptions) thanks to its increased core count.
It loses out slightly to the 5600X in some single-threaded games and in some productivity applications like 7-Zip, but overall, it edges its competition by a definite margin across the board. It even bests the much more expensive AMD Ryzen 7 5800X in many single- and multi-threaded tasks, meaning it’s not too much of a stretch to call the Core i5-12600K a high-end—rather than a midrange—CPU for productivity tasks. Intel’s E-Core strategy seems to have paid off in spades.
In my own testing I found the performance jump from an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 to an Intel Core i5-12600K to be significant, especially in productivity benchmarks like Cinebench R20, Cinebench R23, and RealBench. The increase in gaming performance was minimal, but that’s because I’m bottlenecked by my ageing NVIDIA GTX 1070 graphics card. Where I really noticed the performance increase, though, was in my general desktop experience—especially when paired with a Windows 11 install. Windows 11 manages Intel 12th Gen task scheduling exceptionally well, and the difference in responsiveness and snappiness is night and day.
Intel’s Core i5-12600K, in my opinion, is now the processor to beat, as it sits where a high-end CPU should sit for both gaming and productivity, and yet shares a midrange price tag with its bewildered competitors.
Intel’s Core i5-12600K: The Return of the King
There are several things that make Intel’s Core i5-12600K the most exciting CPU release of the past few Intel and AMD CPU generations.
Most obviously, it signals Intel’s return to competitiveness not only in terms of raw performance, but more importantly in terms of efficiency, pricing, and innovative design. The hardware market needs more than piecemeal, iterative generational improvements, and Intel has delivered innovative and significant improvements at just the right time.
Moreover, it signals a strong return to the midrange market for Intel, which was where its processors were most sought after for gaming. Before the Core i5-12600K, long gone were the days of Intel Core i5 CPUs being supreme value propositions for gaming. Now, we can safely say that a Core i5 CPU is once again a brilliant choice for gaming, hitting the price-performance value spot right before diminishing returns kick in. A true return to form for Intel.
Over and above all this, though, the Core i5-12600K demonstrates a resounding success for Intel’s big.LITTLE design gamble. Its E-Cores turned out to be more powerful than many anticipated, and with Windows 11’s task scheduling they make for a buttery smooth desktop, productivity, and gaming experience. It’s seriously impressive and will surely be the way forward with CPU architectural design.
Ultimately, Intel’s 12th Gen CPUs have shown what’s in store for us with the future of gaming CPUs. And with the Core i5-12600K, it’s delivered this in a midrange package that pips the competition on the price-performance scale, all while being more than powerful enough to prevent bottlenecking even the best graphics cards.
What Intel’s given us with the Core i5-12600K is a triple-whammy of excellent performance, unparalleled midrange value, and futureproofing with support for next-gen tech. Crucially, this has come after years of lacklustre Intel releases which had let AMD take the reins. With its 12th Gen processors, Intel can finally grab hold of the reins again. For now, at least.