Intel Core i5-12600K vs. i5-11600K: Should you upgrade?

Intel 12th Gen Corei5 Chip
Intel 12th Gen Corei5 Chip (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

The Intel Core i5-12600K is the best CPU choice here, even if you're looking to get the best value. At full MSRP, there's no questioning the performance on offer, not to mention DDR5 support in the future if you want to stay with DDR4 right now. The only time you'll want to consider the Core i5-11600K is when you're sticking with a 500-series chipset motherboard.

Intel Core i5-12600K vs. i5-11600K: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryIntel Core i5-12600KIntel Core i5-11600K
Base frequencyP: 3.7GHz
E: 2.8GHz
BoostP: 4.9GHz
E: 3.6GHz
Turbo Boost Max 3.0
Up to 128GB
Up to 128GB
L3 cache20MB12MB
Integrated graphicsIntel UHD Graphics 770Intel UHD Graphics 750
PCIePCIe Gen 5.0 x 20PCIe Gen 4.0 x 20
Manufacturing node10nm14nm

Intel's 12600K is the new gaming CPU king

Intel 12th Gen Corei5 Chip

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Alder Lake is what Intel pushed forward with for its 12th generation of processors. Utilizing the company's Intel 7 (10nm) manufacturing process and following the "big.LITTLE" hybrid design principle we've seen with ARM chips like the M1 from Apple, Intel is bringing the hybrid design to the desktop PC market.

Inside the Intel Core i5-12600K, you'll find a healthy mix of both high-performance Golden Cove and more power-efficient Gracemont cores. The goal is to bring together very power-efficient single-threaded cores that handle low-priority tasks with more traditional PC-grade multi-thread, high-performance cores that can handle everything else.

Golden Cove cores will handle all the main tasks like important processes, games, in-use apps, and other tasks while other, lower-priority apps and tasks get pushed off onto the Gracemont cores, freeing up resources. The end result is a core and thread configuration that seems out of place in 2021.

The Core i5-12600K has 10 physical cores (eight performance and two efficient) and 16 threads. This is a substantial improvement on the last-gen CPU that only had six cores and 12 threads. Clock speeds are about the same with the 12600K starting at 2.8GHz and 3.7GHz for the efficient and performance cores, respectively.

12th Gen Intel CPUs not only add PCIe 5.0 support but also DDR5 too. This allows the 12600K to go up to DDR5-4800, though you could push it higher with more expensive RAM kits. Other improvements to the newer Core i5 include considerably more cache and better integrated graphics.

The result is considerable gains in games and general computing. To put the above charts into perspective, the Core i5-12600K was beating the Core i9-11900K, which is incredible and shows how much of a boost this is compared to the outgoing Core i5-11600K. If you want the best performer for your buck, the newer chip is for you.

12600K is the latest and greatest

Intel is back in the game with the 12600K, moving from a 14nm manufacturing process to 10nm. This allows the company to cram more onto the same-sized chip and have it run more efficiently. But Intel didn't stop there. 12th Gen processors come with efficient and power cores, which unlocks new levels of efficiency and performance. Just make sure to buy the best motherboards for Intel Core i5-12600K.

You can find the 11600K discounted

The Core i5-11600K may not be the best from Intel, and compared to the newer 12600K, it's not even in the same league, but you can find one of these mid-range processors at a discount. Even outside of promotions like Amazon Prime and Black Friday, the 11600K is almost $70 more affordable.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a 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 on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.