Intel Core i7-12700K vs. i7-11700K: Should you upgrade?

Intel Core i9-11900K review
Intel Core i9-11900K review (Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Windows Central)

The newer Intel Core i7-12700K brings with it a whole host of changes. For the first time, we're seeing a hybrid core design with Alder Lake desktop-class processors. This CPU is one of the best CPUs for gaming and serious workloads, but one shouldn't overlook the older Core i7-11700K, especially if you're on a tighter budget and are seeking a good deal.

Intel Core i7-12700K vs. i5-11700K: Specs

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CategoryIntel Core i7-12700KIntel Core i7-11700K
Base frequencyP: 3.6GHzE: 2.7GHz3.6GHz
BoostP: 4.9GHzE: 3.8GHz4.9GHz
Turbo Boost Max 3.05GHz5GHz
MemoryDDR4-3200/DDR5-4800Up to 128GBDDR4-3200Up to 128GB
L3 cache25MB16MB
Integrated graphicsIntel UHD Graphics 770Intel UHD Graphics 750
PCIePCIe Gen 5.0 x 20PCIe Gen 4.0 x 20
Manufacturing node10nm14nm

Intel Alder Lake is a huge upgrade

Intel Core i9-12900K

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

With Alder Lake, Intel finally managed to ditch its 14nm manufacturing process that was used for previous generation processors. The new 10nm (Intel 7) process allows for better performance and efficiency, but Intel didn't just stop there. 12th Gen Intel processors are also the first desktop-class CPUs to sport a new hybrid core design.

It follows the same "big.LITTLE" hybrid design principle we've seen with ARM chips like the M1 from Apple. Instead of having 12 powerful cores that all ramp up clock speeds when under load, Intel installed eight performance cores onto the Core i7-12700K with Hyperthreading, as well as four efficiency cores.

This mix of high-performance Golden Cove and more power-efficient Gracemont cores brings 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.

You can think of the Golden Cove cores handling 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 a little out of place in 2021 (12 cores and 16 threads).

Msi Mpg Z690 Carbon Wifi

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

Compared to the older Core i7-11700K, we're looking at a four-core improvement with the same number of threads. Intel has managed to throw on the four efficient cores, as well as improve the performance of the high-power cores to create a processor that would decimate its predecessor in benchmarks.

The clock speeds between the two are exactly the same, starting at 3.6GHz and boosting to 4.9GHZ and 5GHz with Turbo Boost Max 3.0. The Core i7-12700K does have a slight advantage here as its four efficient cores run at 2.7GHz and can boost to 3.8GHz, allowing the full eight performance cores to be freed up and dedicated to gaming and other tasks.

There's also full support for DDR5 RAM (we rounded up the best RAM for 12th Gen Intel CPUs) and PCIe 5.0, both of which bring notable improvements to bandwidth and speeds. Finally, the cache has been bumped from 16MB to 25MB and the integrated graphics have been upgraded from the UHD Graphics 750 to the newer Intel UHD Graphics 770.

12th Gen offers impressive performance gains

Even compared to 11th Gen processors, we're seeing considerable gains with 12th Gen Intel CPUs. Even the new Core i5-12600K can beat the outgoing Core i9-11900K in some benchmarks. That's how much of a performance boost we're seeing with Alder Lake. The Core i7-12700K is the CPU to pick if your budget can cover the processor and Z690 motherboard.

You can find the Core i7-11700K at a discount

Like all previous generation products, you'll be able to find the Core i7-11700K at a discount. Right now we're seeing the CPU listed at retailers for around $350, which is a full $100 more affordable than current Core i7-12700K listings. If you're sticking to DDR4 RAM and already own a motherboard, you can save some serious money here.

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.