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How to pick the right 12th Gen Intel CPU for your PC

Intel Core i9-12900K
Intel Core i9-12900K (Image credit: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Intel uses a similar model-naming scheme and SKU family setup like AMD for its processors. The company uses Core 3, Core 5, Core 7, and Core 9 to separate its best CPUs into different brands. The higher the brand number, the more powerful the processor. For instance, an Intel Core i7 would be more powerful than an Intel Core i3.

Here's a quick breakdown of the different Intel Core processor brackets:

  • Core i5 Up to 10-core processors
  • Core i7 Up to 12-core processors
  • Core i9 Up to 16-core processors

You'll find a few processors in each family bracket. As aforementioned, the higher the number the more powerful the processor. The first number after the brand denotes generation, 12900K being a 12th Gen processor. The 12900K is the model number or SKU, and the 12900K is the suffix, which can mean the following for desktop-classic processors:

  • G1-G7: Graphics level
  • E: Embedded
  • F: Requires discrete graphics
  • G: Includes discrete graphics on package
  • K: Unlocked

For instance, should you be looking to build an enthusiast PC, we would recommend choosing an Intel Core i9-12900K CPU over an older and less capable Intel Core i5-11600K.

Choosing the correct motherboard

ASUS ROG Maximus Z690 Hero

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

Not all motherboards are built the same, nor do they all have the same socket and chipset. A socket is what the CPU is installed on to create a connection between the chip and motherboard. These are physically different and you won't be able to install an incompatible CPU into a socket without problems. The latest socket for 12th Gen Intel processors is LGA 1700.

Then there's the chipset, which simply denotes what features will be available to you. The flagship chipset from Intel is the Z690, which you'll find on all mid to top-range motherboards that will work with 12th Gen processors. You can save money by choosing a more affordable chipset, but you'll sacrifice a few features, like available USB ports.

We rounded up the best motherboards for Core i5-12600K, best motherboards for Core i7-12700K, and best motherboards for Core i9-12900K to help you make the right choice.

Picking the right CPU for your PC

Intel Core i9-11900K review

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda / Windows Central)

Core i5

Intel's Core i5 processors are mid-range offerings that have 10 cores with Hyper-threading. These CPUs are designed for use in most PCs, ranging from budget builds to impressive gaming rigs. It's even possible to get away with some video editing thanks to the multi-core performance.

CategoryCore i5-12600KFCore i5-12600K
Cores1010
Threads1616
BaseP: 3.7GHz
E: 2.8GHz
P: 3.7GHz
E: 2.8GHz
TurboP: 4.9GHz
E: 3.6GHz
P: 4.9GHz
E: 3.6GHz
Intel Turbo Boost Max
CacheL2: 9.5MB
L3: 20MB
L2: 9.5MB
L3: 20MB
GPUIntel UHD Graphics 770
TDP (boost)125W
(150W)
125W
(150W)
Price$264 (opens in new tab)$320 (opens in new tab)

Core i7

If you need a little more performance, the Core i7 range is where magic can truly occur. With 12 cores and Hyper-threading, these CPUs are an excellent choice for gamers and content creators alike.

CategoryCore i7-12700KFCore i7-12700K
Cores1212
Threads2020
BaseP: 3.6GHz
E: 2.7GHz
P: 3.6GHz
E: 2.7GHz
TurboP: 4.9GHz
E: 3.8GHz
P: 4.9GHz
E: 3.8GHz
Intel Turbo Boost Max5.0GHz5.0GHz
CacheL2: 12MB
L3: 25MB
L2: 12MB
L3: 25MB
GPUIntel UHD Graphics 770
TDP (boost)125W
(190W)
125W
(190W)
Price$384 (opens in new tab)$450 (opens in new tab)

Core i9

This is where we enter enthusiast territory. Intel's Core i9 processors are impressive with high clock speeds for better overall throughput. They're overkill for most PC builds, but if you can utilize the available performance, they'll be an excellent addition to your list of components.

CategoryCore i9-12900KFCore i9-12900K
Cores1616
Threads2424
BaseP: 3.2GHz
E: 2.4GHz
P: 3.2GHz
E: 2.4GHz
TurboP: 5.1GHz
E: 3.9GHz
P: 5.1GHz
E: 3.9GHz
Intel Turbo Boost Max5.2GHz5.2GHz
CacheL2: 14MB
L3: 30MB
L2: 14MB
L3: 30MB
GPUIntel UHD Graphics 770
TDP (boost)125W
(241W)
125W
(241W)
Price$564 (opens in new tab)$650 (opens in new tab)

The choice is yours

Which processor is perfect for your build depends on what you'll need the PC to do, as well as how much money is available. We rounded up the best processors for building a PC on different budgets.

The best CPUs for your desktop PC

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Rich Edmonds / Windows Central)

When looking for a new CPU, it's easy to automatically go for the more expensive options expecting a return in performance, and you'd be correct in that assumption. However, the question is whether or not you need that kind of power and whether or not you really need to pay that much. See our collection of the best options based on several performance and price points.

Best CPUs for your next PC build

Other than that, the rule of thumb is to spend as much as you can, within reason. It's better to purchase a Core i7 instead of a Core i5 and then have to upgrade sooner, which will cost more in the long run.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds is Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him over on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

2 Comments
  • Sad there no lock cpu. I’m no fan of water cooling. So I’m glad my pc has a 11th gen. Likely the last gen to ever having air cooling. 😔
  • Alder Lake supports air cooling. Even one of the big videos recommending using liquid cooling acknowledges that air cooling will still work, just not quite as well as liquid (which has always been the case). Why did you think that air cooling is not an option with Alder Lake?