Intel Core i3-12100 and i5-12400 Processor Review: Fast, Affordable, and Hard to Criticize

An Intel Core i3-12100F processor in a motherboard.
Enlarge / 12th Gen Intel Core i3 and i5 processors are good options if you want good performance but need to save some cash.

Andrew Cunningham

Now is not a good time to build a computer on a budget. Part of that is due to ongoing supply issues and a particularly nasty GPU shortage (although it may be very gradually easing). And that’s partly because the products on offer haven’t improved much lately – Intel’s best budget and mid-range processors were stuck with an aging architecture due to manufacturing issues, and AMD has instead chosen to focus on high-end products.

In anticipation of new AMD CPUs under $200, today we’re looking at a pair of the best Intel CPUs under $200 in years. The Core i5-12400 ($210 with a GPU, $180 without one) is a six-core processor that offers great performance for budget-conscious gaming PCs and anyone who wants to do light editing work. photo and video without spending tons of money. . And the Core i3-12100 (about $150 with a GPU or $120 without) is a quad-core chip that can handle gaming when paired with a GPU, but is great for browsing, office and school work, to video calls and anything else you could want from a basic office in a home office setup.

Performance and energy efficiency

We mainly compare the Core i3-12100 and Core i5-12400 to their immediate predecessors: the Core i3-10100, Core i5-10400 and Core i5-11400. We’ve also added the Ryzen 5 3600 as a point of comparison, which previously retailed for $200 but hasn’t been widely available at that price for some time; comparisons to the new Ryzen 5 5500 and 5600 processors will follow after these chips are released.

Some details about our test systems:

We chose to use a B660-based DDR4 motherboard to do all of our testing on these CPUs, because that’s the kind of board you’d pair these chips with if you were actually building a budget PC. You could Always choose to put a Core i3 or i5 chip in an expensive Z690 motherboard with DDR5 RAM, but you’d be paying a lot more money for little or no return on that investment. For consistency, all processors have also been paired with a Vetroo V5 CPU fan, a cost-effective air cooler that offers an improvement over the built-in fan included with these processors.

Alder Lake’s single-core performance is impressive no matter what CPU you buy; the new chips easily outpace their 10th and 11th Gen counterparts and the Ryzen 5 3600. This is important to keep overall performance (and most games) buoyant.

As for multi-core performance, note that the quad-core Core i3-12100 beats or comes close to beating the six-core Core i5-10400 in our Cinebench and Handbrake tests – there are fewer cores, but they are much faster. The Core i5-12400 also easily beats previous generation Intel processors and the Ryzen 5 3600 in these tests. But if you do a lot of CPU-bound video rendering or editing, note that there is a big gap between the i5-12400 and the i7-12700, especially when you increase the power limits of the i7. Two additional P cores and four E cores make it much more capable when using all of those cores at the same time.

When comparing power efficiency, it should be noted that when using Intel’s original power settings, the full system power consumption in our Handbrake encoding test is only not this different when using one of these processors. This means that the system that can get the job done the fastest is usually the most efficient. The only time this curve gets disturbed is when you increase the power limits of high-end processors, which gets work done quickly at the expense of efficiency.

You’ll also note, as we did in our Mac Studio review, the relative inefficiency of Intel’s midrange processors compared to Apple’s M1 chips. Intel’s processors are fast (the M1 traded blows with the Core i3 throughout our tests), but Apple’s chips consume far less power. Granted, if you’re buying a PC primarily to play games, it doesn’t matter how good the M1 is because it can’t run Windows or games that require Windows. But it’s worth keeping the comparison in mind when considering Intel’s overall position in the market and its recent loss to Apple as a customer.