INTEL CORE i5 12600K
PC Gamer|February 2022
This impressive bit of hardware shows how a little architecture can make a big difference.
Jacob Ridley
THE REAL STAR OF THE 12TH GEN SHOW

SPECS

EXPECT TO PAY: £290

THREADS: 16

L3 CACHE (SMART CACHE): 20MB

L2 CACHE: 9.5MB

GRAPHICS: UHD Graphics 770

MEMORY SUPPORT (UP TO): DDR5 4800MT/s, DDR4 3200MT/s

The humble Core i5 is the CPU that matters most for gamers. It’s cheaper than a Core i7 or Core i9, but it still offers the fundamentals of what makes those chips great for gaming. With the Core i5 12600K that’s no different, though that may be understating what this chip can really do.

That’s because the Core i5 12600K isn’t the modest CPU you expect: it’s the equivalent of the top previous-gen chip in a package that’s almost half the price, at around £290. That means it only took one generation, and less than 12 months, for Intel to take its Core i9 performance and deliver it inside a far cheaper Core i5 package. Since it’s not pushing to the very limit of what Alder Lake can deliver in a single die, either, it’s also a more power-savvy design than the Core i9 12900K. That makes for a more well-rounded processor for mid-to-high-end builds.

The Core i5 12600K really is shockingly good, and the deeper you dive into this chip’s performance, the more you realise it’s the real star of the 12th Gen show.

DEEP DIVE

To understand why the Core i5 12600K is so impressive, you have to first know how it’s pieced together. That’s because there’s something fundamentally different about Alder Lake to all chips that came before it: it’s a hybrid. That means it comes with two different types of processing cores: Performance cores (P-cores) and Efficient cores (E-cores).

What this means is there are two different architectures powering most 12th Gen processors: Golden Cove and Gracemont. The Golden Cove architecture aims to be something close to your traditional CPU core, built to excel at single-threaded performance and deliver high clock speeds. These are the P-cores. The Gracemont architecture is something Alder Lake borrows from the Atom lineup of low-power chips. These are built to be power-efficient, and you can fit more of them onto a chip without taking up too much space. These are the E-cores.

That’s dramatically underselling both architectures’ intricacies, but it helps explain the Core i5 12600K’s obscure specs. This chip comes with six P-cores and four E-cores, in what’s known as a 6+4 design. That makes for a slight increase in overall core count over its predecessor, the Core i5 11600K, and more physical cores than even a Core i9 11900K.

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