Intel Core i5-12600Ok Overview: 5600X Defeated

The new Core i5-12600K is the only Alder Lake CPU that we still have to test after testing both the flagship 12900K and the almost equally fast (but cheaper) Core i7-12700KF a week earlier. At $ 320, this latest-generation Core i5 is a direct competitor to AMD's Ryzen 5 5600X, which is currently selling for $ 310, or slightly above its MSRP of $ 300.

The AMD chip packs 6 cores with 12 threads, while the 12600K contains 6 P-cores and 4 E-cores for a total of 16 threads. The P cores can clock up to 4.9 GHz, while the E cores are limited to 3.6 GHz. It stays the same.

The L3 cache capacity has also been reduced to 20 MB. Otherwise, these new Core i5 and Core i7 processors are very similar. Given that the 12600K is almost 30% cheaper, it will be a tough bargain.

Other specifications are also retained, so 20 PCIe lanes from the CPU, 16 of which are the new PCI Express 5.0 specification and support both DDR4 and DDR5 memory, but not at the same time and not from the same motherboard, so you'll have to yourself select which storage type you want to use.

Intel Core i9 12900K Intel Core i7 12700K Intel Core i5 12600K Intel Core i9 11900K Intel Core i7 11700K
MSRP $ $ 650 $ 450 $ 320 $ 540 $ 400
Release date November 2021 March 2021
Cores / threads 16/24 12/20 10/16 8/16
Base frequency 2.4 / 3.4 GHz 2.7 / 3.6 GHz 2.8 / 3.7 GHz 3.5 GHz 3.6 GHz
Maximum turbo 3.9 / 5.2 GHz 3.8 / 5.0 GHz 3.6 / 4.9 GHz 5.3 GHz 5.0 GHz
L3 cache 30 MB 25 MB 20 MB 20 MB 16 MB
Storage DDR5-4800 / DDR4-3200 DDR4-3200
power outlet LGA 1700 LGA 1200

Standard memory support includes DDR4-3200 or DDR5-4800, but we tested with even faster DDR5-6000 memory that we used to test the Core i9-12900K. However, we have found that this high-speed memory in conjunction with an Alder Lake CPU usually offers very little additional performance. This led to the conclusion that most potential 12th generation customers should ignore DDR5 and just use DDR4.

As a result, we won't be spending time running benchmarks on DDR5 to test the 12600K. If you want to know what it's all about, take a look at the 12900K review where we compared both storage technologies.

As far as the motherboards are concerned, we decided to test with the MSI Z690 Tomahawk Wi-Fi DDR4. Because of Alder Lake's hybrid core design, the 12600K and all other 12th generation processors work best with Windows 11 and its improved thread scheduler for optimal performance. So we tested all CPUs, new and old, with a clean install of Windows 11.

In a recent Windows 11 performance test, we also found that Ryzen gaming performance is usually slightly faster with the more modern operating system. The Ryzen test system used the Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Dark Hero motherboard with the latest BIOS update and all the latest Windows updates and drivers. Finally, all application and game data was collected using the Radeon RX 6900 XT graphics card.

Application benchmarks

Starting with Cinebench R23, we find that the 12600K is in a completely different league than the 5600X, delivering a whopping 63% more power to even beat the 5800X. We're also seeing a 61% improvement over the 11600K, which is mighty impressive even when you factor in the 23% increase in price.

Single-core performance was also exceptional, outperforming the 5600X and 11600K by 26%, a massive generational boost. It also means the 12600K should comfortably beat the 5600X in both multi and single core workloads.

That said, the 12600K and 5600X do equally well on the 7-zip file manager compression test, although this was one of the weaker results we saw at 12700KF and 12900K for the 12th generation, so it's no surprise.

In terms of decompression performance, the 12600K and 5600X are also on par, meaning the new Core i5 processor was 23% slower than the 12700KF.

The 12600K proves that it is in a completely different league and offers 48% more performance than the Ryzen 5 5600X as it only took 86 seconds to render, just like the 5800X. As mentioned earlier, you really get the next level of performance with the 12600K.

For content creators, the 12600K offers exceptional value by delivering nearly 40% more power than the 5600X and even outperforming the 5800X by 16%. We're also only talking about a 13% drop in performance compared to the 12700K, which is exceptional value from Intel's newest Core i5 part.

Next up we have Adobe Photoshop and here the 12600K was 11% faster than the 5600X and could keep up with the 5800X. The Intel Core i5 part was also only 7% slower than the 12700KF, making the 12600K the best spot for Intel's 12th generation lineup in terms of value for money.

We see the 12600K remain dominant over the 5600X in After Effects, providing 17% more performance, and that was enough to beat the 5800X by 5%. We're looking at 12700K performance levels, which makes the 12600K one of the fastest desktop CPUs for this workload.

Factorio is a simulation game that we place next to applications because we don't measure frames per second, but updates per second. This automated benchmark calculates the time it takes to run 1000 updates. This is a single-threaded test that seems to be heavily dependent on cache capacity.

The new Core i5 performs excellently here in comparison to the 5600X, the 5800X and especially the predecessor 11600K, which is beaten by 27%. It was also only 6% slower than the 12700KF.

The 12600K is also a beast when it comes to code compilation performance. It beats the 5600X by a massive 57%, making it 19% slower than the more expensive 12700KF. We're also looking at a 43% generational improvement over the 11600K, so it kind of sucks if you've bought one of these in the past 9 months.

The last application benchmark we'll look at is Blender, and once again the 12600K proves it's on a completely different level, outperforming the 5600X by a massive 44% lead. The new Core i5 processor is once again comparable to the 5800X and 11700K of the last generation.

A massive problem for the upper Alder Lake part, the Core i9-12900K, was power consumption, although we found that was far less of a concern on the 12700K. Well, with the 12600K that's no problem at all as the 12600K increased overall system utilization 46% more than the 5600X, but also delivered 44% more power, so they're about the same in terms of efficiency.

The 12600K also achieved the performance of the 5800X in this test, and we see the overall system utilization roughly the same. So Alder Lake's energy efficiency is better than we initially thought.

In terms of cooling, we used the Corsair iCUE H115i Elite Capellix for our temperature results rather than the larger 360mm MSI model that was used to cool the 12700K and 12900K. With this more humble 240mm AIO, the 12600K peaked at 71 ° C for the case and 72 ° C for the cores, and those temperatures were reported in a closed Corsair Obsidian 500D case in a 21 ° C room after he had examined the Cinebench R23 Multi-Core exam for 30 minutes.

That's a reasonable temperature that makes the 12600K comparable to the 11600K or 5800X. That also means that with the 240mm AIO we have some thermal headroom for overclocking, and that is something we will look into in the future.

Gaming performance

Time for the important gaming benchmarks and we're starting with F1 2021. We use the Radeon RX 6900 XT with the quality settings reduced to 1080p for all gaming tests. In this racing simulation, the 12600K enabled an average of 373 fps with a 1% low value of 260 fps. Compared to the 5600X, we find that the 12600K is a mixed bag that offers 5% more 1% lower performance with a 5% slower average frame rate performance. Overall, however, the performance of these two processors is similar to that of the 5800X and 12700KF.

At Rainbow Six Siege, the 12600K is less impressive, though it hits almost 400 fps at all times with an average frame rate of 511 fps. The 5600X is 10% faster, but to what extent that matters in the first place is difficult to say as all of the CPUs tested here were able to achieve extreme frame rates.

The 5600X and 12600K delivered essentially identical performance in Borderlands 3, with no more than 2 fps apart. Both were close to getting the maximum amount of fps possible from the 6900 XT under these test conditions, so the performance was of course excellent.

Moving on to Watch Dogs: Legion, we find again that the 5600X and the 12600K are on par when gaming, this time the Intel processor was almost 3% faster.

With these high-end CPUs, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is severely GPU-limited, although we are testing at 1080p with an extremely fast graphics card. But we think results like these are important because, despite the unrealistic testing conditions aimed at highlighting CPU performance, we find that the game is still very severely GPU limited and this is important since the vast majority of the games out there are GPU-limited if a relatively powerful CPU is used. Given that the 5600X and 12600K are both capable of maximizing the GPU, performance on both CPUs is essentially the same.

The results of Shadow of the Tomb Raider are far more interesting as this is a very CPU intensive title and like F1 2021 the results are mixed. The 12600K was 4% faster than the 5600X in measuring the average frame rate, but 5% slower for the 1% low reading. Even so, the performance was pretty much the same and you certainly won't notice any difference between these two CPUs.

Hitman 3 is also very CPU-heavy, but even here, if you have a 6-core / 12-thread processor from the last generations, you have more than enough processing power to handle every image jerk at well over 100 fps for the 1st. to avoid% low. In this case, the 12600K crashed at 166 fps for the 1% low and 192 fps on average, making it 4% faster than the 5600X.

Where the Core i5-12600K really outperforms is at Age of Empires 4, where it's nearly 20% faster than the 5600X, and that's a huge performance advantage. This also meant the new Core i5 part was a fair bit faster than the 5800X and 11700K.

Previously, we made the mistake of claiming that this title might indicate future performance margins between Zen 3 and Alder Lake, but unfortunately I was completely wrong. Upon closer inspection, we found that Age of Empires 4 was a single-threaded game, so these results are more indicative of the performance of older games such as StarCraft 2.

Essentially, we're looking at Alder Lake's strong single-core performance here. The 12600K was 26% faster than the 5600X when measuring single-core performance in Cinebench R23, and we can see that that translates into a nearly 20% gain here.

However, at least for now, most of the games look like we see it here in Horizon Zero Dawn, and that is, the difference in gaming performance between the 12600K and the 5600X is nonexistent. The 5600X was 5% faster when comparing the average frame rate, but 3% slower for the 1% low rate, so performance is indistinguishable here too.

Cyberpunk 2077 is another game where the results are mostly GPU limited and use the latest generation CPUs from AMD and Intel. In fact, you can go back a few generations with Intel for 6-core / 12-thread processors or better. That means the 12600K and 5600X are comparable in terms of performance, even though the Core i5 offered 8% more 1% lower performance.

When it comes to power consumption for gaming, there is very little difference between the 12600K and the 5600X as the Core i5 processor only increased overall system utilization by 4%, which is a negligible difference.

10 games average

Here is the average of 10 games and overall the 12600K and 5600X are evenly faster with the Intel CPU up to only 3%. So when it comes to gaming at least, it doesn't matter which processor you are using, and both offer the best value for gamers from their respective lineups.

A Ryzen 5 killer?

Here's how the Core i5-12600K fares, and dammit, Alder Lake just keeps getting better the further we get in the product stack. The Core i9-12900K was decent, trading punches with the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X, but wasn't a clear option either. The Core i7-12700K is a great alternative to the 5800X and my preferred choice given the often significantly stronger application performance with typically better results for games.

The Core i5-12600K continues this trend, but does even better than its closest competitor, the 5600X. In the worst case scenario, the 12600K was only marginally faster than the 5600X on single and multi-core workloads, but it was often much faster and the performance improvement made up for the extra power consumption, so power consumption is not an issue for the 12600K. Any cooler that is able to keep the 11600K or 5800X at bay will work fine on the 12600K.

When it comes to gaming, the 12600K and 5600X are a match, especially in modern games that use a lot of cores. Where the 12600K has an advantage are older games or games like Age of Empires 4 that take up a single core – this is where Alder Lake's superior single-core performance is fully exploited and frame rates increased by around 20%.

If we just look at the CPUs, the Core i5-12600K for $ 320 or the Ryzen 5 5600X for $ 310, we have to say that there is no way we would go with AMD if we were to build a brand new system or update my platform. Of course, if you have a Zen + or Zen-2 CPU and want to increase performance, the 5600X is a decent drop-in replacement option, just before the 5800X or 5900X, for example. But for those new to the start, we would personally ignore Zen 3 at current prices.

Perhaps the only problem for the 12600K right now is the motherboard pricing. That could swing the equation of value in AMD's favor, at least until cheaper 600-series chipsets hit the market. Right now, the cheapest Z690 board we'd consider is the $ 200 Gigabyte Z690 UD DDR4, and with no real testing, it's still an unknown size.

For the 5600X, which of course has been on the market for a full year, there are a number of cheaper motherboard options, such as the X570 TUF Gaming Wi-Fi, which can be had for $ 190, or the cheaper B550 options. Assuming you're looking to drop PCIe 4.0 support for 3.0 from the chipset, there are a good number of high quality B550 boards priced between $ 110 and $ 150, like the MSI B550-A Pro, MSI B550M Bazooka, Asus TUF Gaming B550M -Plus, MSI B550 Gaming Plus, MSI B550M Mortar and MSI B550 Tomahawk. That's quite a bunch of MSI boards, not sure what's going on with Asus and Gigabyte's price and availability, but we know firsthand that these MSI boards are very good.

The $ 130 MSI B550M Bazooka is probably one of the better quality options, but we also like the $ 150 MSI B550 Tomahawk and think it's worth the extra $ 20. It's also a better match with the Gigabyte Z690 UD DDR4. In this example, AMD is $ 50 cheaper on the motherboard side, and that means the 5600X + B550 package is $ 60 cheaper overall.

This could be seen as a tip for AMD when it comes to value … kind of. Before the Alder Lake release, I didn't even recommend the 5600X as it isn't particularly cheap at $ 300. In our opinion, it needs to be closer to $ 250 or less as Intel now faces much stronger competition and there are already indications of price cuts.

The reason is that if you want the ultimate value, buying the Core i5-10400F for just $ 180 is the way to go. Throw it at the $ 100 MSI B560M Bazooka and you have a great gaming combo for less than the price of the 5600X. So if you're on a tight budget this is as good as it gets right now, but if you want to spend another $ 200 on the combo we'd use the 12600K on an entry-level Z690 board, or for the cheaper chipsets on the Hold B and H series.

Intel put AMD in a tight position with the launch of Alder Lake, so it will be interesting to see how the Red Team reacts. For now, however, the Core i5-12600K is our preferred CPU in the $ 300 price range.

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