Intel Core i5-12400 Review: Alder Lake’s Gaming Coup De Grace

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Intel hasn’t officially announced the ~$185 Core i5-12400 and the chips aren’t supposed to be available at retail yet, but that didn’t stop us from snagging a chip and putting it to the test. We found that the Alder Lake Core i5-12400 delivers a stunning level of performance in our CPU benchmarks, beating all comparable Ryzen chips and even several of the more expensive models. Furthermore, with the right tuning, it’s even faster at gaming than the previous-gen $549 Core i9-11900K flagship, raising the bar for budget gaming chips as it joins our list of the Best CPUs for gaming.

Intel’s 65W Core i5 SKUs have long been the company’s best budget chips for gamers. The Core i5-12400, though currently not officially announced, is expected to land with a similar $185 recommended price as its predecessor. The six-core i5-12400’s potent combination of price and performance, not to mention a reportedly vastly-improved stock cooler, will dominate the $170 to $200 price range.

AMD abandoned the sub-$200 market when it launched its Ryzen 5000 processors, leaving its older processors to hold the line. Oddly enough, the aging Ryzen 5 3600X and 3600 will remain the go-to competitors for the 12400 even though they debuted nearly two and a half years ago. Sure, AMD released the Ryzen 5 3600XT a year later, but the overpriced XT chips barely brought any meaningful performance improvements and remain hard to find.

For now, AMD’s lowest point of entry into its Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 series comes in the form of the $259 Ryzen 5 5600G. This APU is the best value on the market if you’re looking to game at lower resolutions without a discrete GPU. But aside from gaming on the iGPU, it can’t compete with the Core i5-12400 and comes at a far higher price point. 

Price Cores | Threads P-Core Base/Boost E-Core Base/Boost TDP / PBP / MTP DDR4-3200 L3 Cache
Core i9-12900K / KF $589 (K) – $564 (KF) 8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 Threads 3.2 / 5.2 GHz 2.4 / 3.9 GHz 125W / 241W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 30MB
Core i7-12700K / KF $409 (K) – $384 (KF) 8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 Threads 3.6 / 5.0 GHz 2.7 / 3.8 GHz 125W / 190W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 25MB
Core i5-12600K / KF $289 (K) – $264 (KF) 6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 Threads 3.7 / 4.9 GHz 2.8 / 3.6 GHz 125W / 150W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 16MB
Core i5-12400 / F Estimated ~ $185 – $160 6P + 0E | 6 Cores / 12 Threads 4.4 / ~2.5 GHz n/a 65W / 117W DDR4-3200 / DDR5-4800 18MB

That leaves Intel unchecked in the value segment, adding to the company’s newfound dominance with the Alder Lake chips that even outperform more expensive Ryzen 5000 chips. As we can see with the $589 Core i9-12900K vs $799 Ryzen 9 5950X, the $408 Core i7-12700K vs $549 Ryzen 9 5900X, and the $289 Core i5-12600K vs $390 Ryzen 7 5800X (click the links for the full rundown), Alder Lake truly punches above its pricing weight class.

However, platform pricing has been a sore point for the Alder Lake family. While Intel’s chips are less expensive than AMD’s, the company currently only has its expensive Z690 motherboards on offer, reducing its value proposition for the lower-end processors. However, that’s rumored to change later this week when B600 motherboards come to market, providing a great pairing for the Core i5-12400 and easing platform pricing concerns.

Surprisingly, Alder Lake’s performance advantages come even without its support for DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interfaces (both of which Intel brought to market first). You can use standard DDR4 memory and PCIe 4.0 devices to unlock superior performance over AMD’s aging AM4 platform. We suspect that most B- and H-series boards will leverage less-expensive DDR4 memory due to ongoing DDR5 shortages. Fortunately, most B- and H-series motherboards will also probably come without PCIe 5.0 as a cost-reducing measure. All of this means that a Core i5 system paired with a B660 motherboard could be the killer value combo.

Alder Lake also brings another innovation — the hybrid x86 design represents the company’s most disruptive architectural shift in a decade. The higher-end Alder Lake chips combine big and fast Performance cores (P-cores) with clusters of small and powerful Efficiency cores (E-cores) that chew through background processes. The Golden Cove architecture powers the ‘big’ P-cores, while the ‘little’ E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture.

However, the Core i5-12400 doesn’t have a hybrid architecture. Instead, it comes with a more traditional design and only has six P-Cores active, so it doesn’t use Gracemont-based cores for background tasks. That means this six-core 12-thread processor doesn’t need Intel’s new Windows 11-exclusive Thread Director technology to place workloads on the correct cores. As a result, unlike Intel’s hybrid models, the 12400 is just as potent in Windows 10 as it is in Windows 11.

As you’ll see in our benchmarks below, the 65W Core i5-12400 is a stellar gaming chip that easily outperforms all of AMD’s competing chips. In fact, the $185 Core i5-12400 is faster than the $299 Ryzen 5 5600X in gaming. After tuning, the 12400 is also faster than the Core i9-11900K at gaming, courtesy of Intel’s memory overclocking support on B- and H-series motherboards. Overall, the Core i5-12400 is the uncontested new budget gaming champ.
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