Intel’s Core i7-12700 tested: Top speeds or power efficiency—pick one This CPU performs well, but its peak speeds mean high power draw and extra heat.
Intel’s K-series desktop CPUs always get the most attention from enthusiasts because they represent the best performance that new Intel processors are capable of when money, heat, and power are no object. But more people will end up using the cheaper, non-overclockable versions of these processors, whether it’s in an office desktop PC, a budget gaming desktop, or a price-conscious home video editing workstation.
Today, we’re taking a look at the Core i7-12700, a 12-core, 20-thread CPU that retails for around $340 (or $315 without integrated graphics). That’s anywhere from $75 to $100 cheaper than the overclockable Core i7-12700K, plus whatever money you save by buying a cheaper H670 or B660 motherboard rather than a pricey Z690 model.
We came away impressed with the i7-12700’s performance but mixed on its power efficiency, as was the case when we reviewed some K-series CPUs last year. The good news is that home PC builders can usually decide for themselves whether they want to maximize performance or prioritize power efficiency and heat output. Using Intel’s recommended power settings, the i7-12700 can actually be quite well-behaved. Just know that most motherboard makers’ default power settings prioritize performance even if it makes your desktop hotter and more power-hungry.
Intel CPU power settings explained
Much of this review will discuss how Intel’s CPU power limits work, so let’s start by laying out the terminology. This will be especially relevant to anyone who hasn’t built a computer in a few years.
Intel and AMD have both fought over the last half-decade to cram an ever-increasing number of cores into their mainstream desktop processors. Taking Intel as an example, its i7 processors went from four to six to eight cores between the seventh and ninth generations, and a new i9 tier with 10 cores was also introduced above those. These chips were all made using lightly tweaked iterations of the same Skylake CPU architecture and lightly tweaked iterations of the same 14 nm manufacturing technology.
The result is that power budgets have gone way up, and when chips are running at full-tilt, actual CPU power consumption is substantially above the 65 W TDP that Intel has listed on its desktop CPU product pages for years.
To its credit, with its 12th-generation chips, Intel has thrown out “TDP” in favor of a Processor Base Power (PL1) number and a Maximum Turbo Power (PL2) number. PL1 is more or less what TDP used to be—the amount of power and cooling capacity a CPU is expected to require to operate at its rated specs when under sustained load for more than a couple of minutes at a time. The PL2 number is the true maximum power consumption number, the one you’ll see when running tasks for short periods or for apps like web browsers and games that don’t require 100 percent of your CPU’s performance 100 percent of the time.
The wrinkle is that those PL1 and PL2 ratings are suggestions rather than hard-and-fast requirements, allowing motherboard makers to set different limits if they really want to. For enthusiast-y boards, this usually means boosting both numbers into the stratosphere or removing the limits entirely in the name of increased performance. The Gigabyte Z690 board I used for some tests has default power limits set at over 4,000 W. A CPU actually drawing that much power would, of course, melt a hole deep into the Earth’s mantle, but the point is that the processor can use as much power as it and the motherboard can physically handle unless it’s hitting its thermal limits.
The upside of flexible, user-configurable PL1 and PL2 limits is that they effectively enable a sort of “overclocking” for non-K-series CPUs running in non-Z-series motherboards. Our benchmark results show clear benefits to upping the default power limits of the i7-12700K, moving its performance from “competitive with AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X” to “stomping the 5800X.”
The problem is that more power generates more heat, which requires either better cooling or letting your CPU run at higher temperatures, which can shorten its useful life. In some cases, you might actually lose a bit of performance because the extra heat leads to thermal throttling. And the performance benefits that you get aren’t really commensurate with the extra power you’re using. In our tests, when thermal throttling isn’t an issue, the i7-12700 used roughly twice the power to deliver somewhere between 25 and 40 percent better performance.
This is a meaningful speed improvement, but it comes at a cost.
Testing the i7-12700
Here are the exact hardware configurations of the systems we used for performance testing:
- Intel Core i7-12700 (eight P-cores, four E-cores) in an Asus Prime B660-Plus D4 motherboard, with 64GB of 3200 MHz DDR4 RAM provided by Crucial and a GeForce RTX 3070 FTW3 provided by EVGA. Tests were run at Intel’s stock power settings and with Asus’ performance boost feature enabled.
- The same system, with a Core i5-12400 CPU (six P-cores) installed instead.
- An AMD Ryzen 5800X (eight P-cores) in an Asus TUF Gaming B550M-Plus motherboard, with 16GB of 3200MHz DDR4 RAM. All tests run at AMD’s stock power settings.
- An AMD Ryzen 5700G (eight P-cores) in a ROG Crosshair VIII Dark Hero motherboard provided by Asus, with the same 64GB of Crucial DDR4 RAM and EVGA GeForce RTX 3070 as our Intel test system.
And a few testing notes before we dive into the results:
- All systems use the same Supernova 850 P6 power supply provided by EVGA and the same tower-style Vetroo V5 air cooler. We did run tests using the stock Intel Laminar CPU cooler, but we’ll report those in another article.
- Because I was borrowing the Ryzen 5800X system, I wasn’t able to install the same GPU in it or run the same power consumption tests. But the numbers here should accurately reflect its performance.
- For the 12th-gen Intel chips, I also ran all the same tests in a Z690 Aorus Pro board provided by Gigabyte, with 64GB of 4800 MHz DDR5 provided by Crucial. But for the sake of chart readability, I’ve excluded those results here. For the tests we run, I wasn’t seeing much of a difference between DDR4 and DDR5 RAM. This small gap is generally reflected in other reviews, too, though this breakdown from Tom’s Hardware goes into more detail about exactly when DDR5 can deliver a noticeable performance benefit.
We compared the $330-ish i7-12700 to the $200-ish Core i5-12400, a significantly cheaper but good-enough-for-a-gaming-PC CPU option, as well as two competitors from AMD: the Ryzen 7 5800X and the Ryzen 7 5700G. The eight-core, 16-thread 5800X ($450 usually, but available for $350 as of this writing) is AMD’s most direct competitor for the i7-12700.
The eight-core, 16-thread 5700G is a bit cheaper (usually $359, but around $300 as of this writing) and a little slower than the 5800X, but it has the benefit of coming with the best integrated GPU you can currently get in a desktop processor. Amid the current GPU shortage, if you’re building something from scratch, there’s a strong argument to be made in favor of using the 5700G’s integrated Radeon graphics for a while and dropping in a dedicated GPU when you can actually find/afford one. Most games will be playable on the iGPU, and when you don’t need the iGPU anymore, you still have a decent processor to pair with your graphics card.
In our testing, we did our best to capture how the processor performs when confined to its default Intel-defined power limits and how well it does when its power isn’t being limited and thermal throttling isn’t a concern (we’ll look more at thermal throttling in a separate article about the Laminar CPU coolers that Intel ships with Alder Lake chips). In its motherboards, Asus’ automatic BIOS-based power-boosting settings for the i7-12700 set PL1 to 165 W and PL2 to 241 W, which was good enough to max out the CPU’s performance in our test. For consistency’s sake, we used the same PL1 and PL2 values in the non-Asus motherboards we tested as well.
First, let’s look at the Intel-to-Intel comparisons. In single-threaded benchmarks and games, the i7-12700 gets you a modest 7 to 10 percent performance bump compared to the i5-12400. That the i5 can provide 90 percent of the performance in these tests at two-thirds (or less) of the cost is one reason why it has proven popular with PC-building YouTubers.
The gap between the i5 and i7 widens to a chasm in multi-threaded tests like Cinebench or our Handbrake video-encoding test. The Core i7 has two extra P-cores, a bit of extra clock speed, and a cluster of four E-cores compared to the i5, and with its power limits lifted, it can come very close to doubling the Core i5’s performance.
Speaking of power limits, if you’re using the i7-12700 mainly for gaming or streaming, it makes the most sense to run the processor with its stock 65 W PL1 value intact. Single-threaded and 3D benchmarks barely move at all, staying mostly within the margin of error. You’ll get a chip that runs cooler and consumes less power while still feeling plenty fast, and even when fully loaded, its temperatures will stay low enough that Intel’s included Laminar CPU cooler can handle the job, no extra expenditure required.
Only if you are constantly hitting all your CPU cores with multi-threaded encoding, transcoding, or rendering workloads should you consider raising those power limits. In our testing so far, Intel’s four- and six-core Alder Lake chips don’t benefit a ton from changing these power limits, since they’re able to stretch their legs pretty adequately in Intel’s default power envelope. But the i7-12700 gets a tangible boost, with 25 to 40 percent better performance (depending on the test) in exchange for the higher power consumption we mentioned earlier.
While encoding in Handbrake, the system pulled just above 130 W at the wall over the course of the test while at its default power limits. Lifting those limits raised that power draw to somewhere between 260 and 270 W. You’ll also want a tower-style air cooler, even one like our $30 Vetroo model, or a decent AiO watercooler to keep the system from thermal throttling.
Moving on to the AMD comparisons, the 5800X falls just a bit short of the i7-12700 across the board, particularly once the 12700’s power limits are lifted. The Ryzen chip was able to keep up in our Handbrake video encoding test when the 12700 was set to its default power level, but it was left in the dust when that power level was raised. The 5700G, on the other hand, remains faster than a six-core chip like the i5-12400, but it can’t keep up with the 5800X and falls far short of the i7-12700. Again, it’s best to consider a 5700G if you intend to use its integrated graphics for a while and add a GPU later.
A good, flexible CPU (if you can get one)
The Core i7-12700, like most chips in the Alder Lake desktop lineup, finally breaks Intel out of its desktop doldrums. After many years of modest performance bumps from Skylake-derived CPUs—followed by the company’s performant but power-guzzling 11th-gen desktop chips—it’s great to see an Intel CPU that can deliver good performance within its default power envelope (even if you still need to lift its power limits to get the most out of it).
The main problem with the processor is that it’s hard to actually find one to buy, especially at an attractive price. Amazon currently sells the graphics-less i7-12700F for $313, which is worth looking into, and if you have a MicroCenter within driving distance, the i7-12700 is a steal at $300. But the closer you get to $400, the more sense it makes to wait for a decent sale on the i7-12700KF ($351 at this writing) or the i7-12700K ($395). If you want the best performance you can get regardless of power consumption, you might as well buy one of those unlocked processors and take advantage of their slightly higher base frequencies.
But if you want a processor that can game well without running too hot or using too much power, the i7-12700 is an impressive CPU, and its extra cores give you plenty of headroom for encoding some streaming video while you play or chewing through CPU-heavy rendering jobs. The chip is easily preferable to AMD’s current eight-core offerings, but AMD also has a revised version of the 5800X coming out soon and an all-new Zen 4-based lineup releasing later in the year. Intel’s performance advantage could prove to be short-lived, especially if the company can’t move past its recent manufacturing woes.
- A fast CPU with lots of cores for a good price (when you can find one)
- DDR4 or DDR5 compatibility can ease your upgrade path if you have RAM you want to re-use
- Possible to get great performance even with midrange B660 motherboards—no need to splash out for an expensive Z690 model
- Faster than the nearest Ryzen-based competition
- Getting the best performance out of the CPU means a big increase in power usage and heat (and you’ll also need a better CPU cooler than the one it comes with)
- Overkill for a lot of gaming systems, especially price-conscious ones
- Mix of P-cores and E-cores means running Windows 11 (or newer Linux versions) to get optimal performance, whether you’re ready or not
- Hard to find and buy