The new Alder Lake CPUs from Intel are here. Out of the three K series CPUs, the Core i5-12600K looks like the best of the bunch, by far. Competitive pricing, superb gaming performance, and incredible multithreading performance at this price point combined with relatively modest power consumption – at stock and when compared to the 12th gen i7 and i9 – make the 12600K an excellent purchase at the moment. If you’re interested in buying this CPU, let’s get you covered regarding the best motherboards for the Core i5-12600K. But before that, let’s talk about the CPU itself and whether you should go with DDR4 or DDR5.
1. Gigabyte Z690 UD: Best budget motherboard for i5-12600K
Let’s start with the budget section. The Gigabyte Z690 UD DDR4 isn’t the cheapest Z690 motherboard, but it is the cheapest we recommend getting. The main reason for our recommendation is a capable VRM (sixteen 60A CPU phases) coupled with decent VRM heatsinks. In other words, you should have no issues running an overclocked 12600k on this board.
Aside from powerful VRM, the Z690 UD supports DDR4 up to DDR4 5133. It has three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots and six SATA III ports. The audio codec used isn’t clearly labeled (only mentioned as Realtek audio codec), so it’s safe to say that we’re talking about a budget audio solution here. At least you get 2.5Gb LAN. And if you need wireless connectivity, the AC version of this board comes with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2.
Expansion options include one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, two PCIe x1 slots, and two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working at x4 and x1. Rear I/O hosts ten USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 1xUSB 3.2 10Gbps; 4xUSB 3.2 5Gbps, 4xUSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port, PS/2 port, three audio jacks, and an HDMI 2.1+DisplayPort combo. Finally, the board also comes with BIOS flash and CMOS reset buttons. You can locate both buttons on the lower right side of the PCB.
2. MSI Z690 Tomahawk: Best mind-range motherboard for 12600K
Moving on upwards to the mid-range market, we have the MSI Z690 Tomawahk, a well-rounded Z690 board that’s a perfect combination for the 12600K. First of all, we love the design. All-black with lots of heatsinks, pre-installed I/O shield, and without flashy RGB. The brushed metal effect on the heatsinks is our personal favorite. The VRM is superb; sixteen 70A CPU phases are more than enough for running OCed 12900K, let alone stock 12600K. Next, this is a DDR4 board with support for up to DDR4 5200 memory.
When it comes to storage, you have four M.2 slots, all PCIe 4.0, along with six SATA III ports. More than enough unless you’re planning on building a pricey NAS. Expansion options are also more than solid. You get one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot, one PCIe 3.0 x1 slot, and two PCIe 3.0 x16 slots working at x4 and x1. The audio solution is the new Realtek ALC4080 Codec, similar to the good old ALC1220. As for the LAN, the board uses a 2.5Gbps LAN controller from Intel.
The Z690 Tomahawk comes with Wi-Fi 6 card that also has Bluetooth 5.2 support. The good news is that the card is using a separate M.2 (Key-E) module, allowing you to replace it with a faster solution if the need arises in the future. Rear I/O hosts eight USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 3xUSB 10Gbps; 2xUSB 3.2 5Gbps; 2xYSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port, six audio jacks, Wi-Fi antennas, HDMI 2.1+DisplayPort combo, and a Flash BIOS button. Extra features include debug LEDs, a clear CMOS jumper, and an internal Thunderbolt connector.
3. ASUS ROG Strix Z690-F: Best high-end motherboard for i5-12600K
When it comes to high-end boards, there sure are several obscenely priced Z690 boards around. But if you’re getting the 12600K, the ASUS ROG Strix Z690-F has, more or less, everything you might need. First of all, there’s DDR4 support (up to DDR5 6400). Next, the VRM is superb. It includes sixteen CPU power stages with undisclosed amperage, but we reckon they’re in the 70A-90A range. In other words, complete overkill for the 12600K.
The board has four PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots, all covered with heatsinks and six SATA III ports. As for the expansion slots, you get one PCIe 5.0 x16, one PCIe 3.0 x16 working at x4, and one PCIe 3.0 x1 slot. Next, we have a 2.5Gbps Intel LAN chip and a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E support along with Bluetooth 5.2. We love to see 2×2 Wi-Fi 6E, which allows for super-fast connection speeds if you have fast enough internet access.
The audio section revolves around the Realtek ALC4080 and Savitech SV3H712 AMP, providing an outstanding audio experience. The rear I/O hosts ten USB ports (1xUSB 20Gbps; 1xUSB-C 10Gbps; 2xUSB 3.2 10Gbps; 4xUSB 3.2 5Gbps; 2xUSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port, Wi-Fi antennas, six audio jacks, clear CMOS and BIOS flash buttons, and a HDMI 2.1+DisplayPort combo. Other features include debug LEDs and an internal Thunderbolt 4 header. Now, if you want a DDR4 version of this board, the ROG Strix Z690-A is more or less it. You lose on the optical audio port – but get an internal S/PDIF Out header – and get 2×2 Wi-Fi 6 instead of 6E. Also, the A version features a silver design. Everything else is the same.
4. Gigabyte Z690M Aorus Elite AX: Best mATX motherboard for i5-12600K
4× DDR4 DIMM max. 128 GB
3× M.2 6× SATA
2× PCIe x16
There are four mATX Z690 boards in total, and the Gigabyte Z690M Aorus Elite looks like the best combination between price and features included. First of all, we have twelve 60A CPU power phases with decent-looking heatsinks. This setup should run an overclocked 12600K without thermal issues. Next, there’s DDR4 support for up to DDR4 5333. The board comes with three PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots, which is nice to see considering its compact form factor. There are also six SATA III ports.
Expansion options include one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot and one PCIe 3.0 slot running at x4. The main connectivity option is 2.5Gbps LAN. The wireless module supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2. As for the audio, the situation’s the same as on the Z690 UD. You should expect a budget-tier solution considering that Gigabyte lists the codec used only as “Realtek audio codec,” without any specific info on the codec used.
On the rear, you can find ten USB ports (1xUSB-C 20Gbps; 1xUSB 10Gbps; 4xUSB 5Gbps; 4xUSB 2.0), three audio jacks (Line Out, Mic, S/PDIF Out), an RJ-45 port, wireless antennas, and an HDMI 2.1+DisplayPort combo. Finally, the PCB houses a Flash BIOS button and a reset CMOS jumper.
5. Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Ultra: Best mini-ITX motherboard for i5-12600K
The situation with Mini-ITX Z690 selection is better. And again, we have a board from Gigabyte that offers the best price-to-performance ratio. The Gigabyte Z690 Aorus Ultra should run the 12600K without issues thanks to its beefy (for an mITX form factor) VRM consisting of ten 105A CPU power phases. Next, we have DDR4 support for up to DDR4 5333 (there’s also a DDR5 version of the board).
Storage options include two PCIe 4.0 M.2 slots combined with 4 SATA III connectors, a regular combo found on an mITX motherboard. Expansion options include one PCIe 5.0 x16 slot. Connectivity-wise, the Z690 Aorus Ultra comes with 2.5Gbps LAN and a Wi-Fi 6 module that also supports Bluetooth 5.2
The rear I/O hosts eight USB ports (1xUSB-C 20gbps; 3xUSB 10Gbps; 2xUSB 5Gbps; 2xUSB 2.0), an RJ-45 port, wireless antennas, HDMI 2.1+DisplayPort, two audio jacks (Line Out and Mic), and a BIOS Flash button. Do note that you can find a Clear CMOS jumper on the PCB.
6. ASUS ProArt Z690-Creator: Best Thunderbolt 4 motherboard for 12600K
Last but not least, we have the best motherboard for all of you who want ultimate connectivity. The ASUS ProArt Z690-Creator Wi-Fi is a motherboard for power users who need a ton of USB ports, DisplayPort input ports, fast Wi-Fi and LAN, and Thunderbolt 4 ports. First of all, the VRM is pretty solid. It includes sixteen 70A CPU power stages covered with slick-looking but substantial heatsinks. Next, the board comes with DDR5 support (up to DDR5 6000).
When it comes to storage, you have four PCIe 4.0 M.2 connectors along with eight SATA III ports, which should be more than enough for most power users. Expansion slots include two PCIe 5.0 x16 slots that can work in x8/x8 mode when used simultaneously. The third PCIe x16 slot is PCIe 3.0 compliant and works in x4 mode. Connection options are superb; there’s a 2.5Gbps LAN chip coupled with a 10Gbps LAN chip, but that’s not all. You also get a 2×2 Wi-Fi 6e module that also supports Bluetooth 5.2.
The Realtek S1220A audio codec augmented with an internal audio Amp is powering the audio section. The rear I/O panel hosts six USB 10Gbps ports, two Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports, two RJ-45 ports (10Gbps+2.5Gbps), five audio jacks, one HDMI 2.1 port, two DisplayPort input ports that work with Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi antennas, and a BIOS flash button. Other interesting features include one M.2 Key E slot allowing users to upgrade the included Wi-Fi module in the future. Also debug LEDs, and an internal USB 3.2 gen 2×2 front header that comes with 60W power delivery and QuickCharge 4+ support.
Why buy the i5-12600K
The Core i5-12600K has lots in its favor. First of all, if the most intense thing you use your PC for is gaming, you don’t need anything more powerful. Gaming performance is in line with the flagship Core i9-12900K. The four efficiency cores support six performance cores, allowing for maximum gaming performance even when you keep your browser open in the background, along with stuff like Twitch, Discord, and any other app.
Next, if you need a capable CPU for work in the $300 price range, the 12600K is the best choice, by far. Six performance cores coupled with four efficiency cores allow the 12600K to destroy the last-gen 11600K and 5600X and be faster in multithreaded workloads than the Ryzen 7 5800X. For creators on a budget, the 12600K is a superb choice.
Finally, the CPU doesn’t require a beast of a motherboard along with a large AIO for cooling since its power consumption is just a tad higher than on the 5600X when gaming. When sweating the CPU with Cinebench or Blender, it can go north of 100W. Even then, the CPU keeps its power consumption modest enough for a budget to mid-range dual tower cooler to have no issues with cooling it. The only scenario where you might need an NH-D15 or a capable AIO is if you decide to OC the CPU. But, considering the minimal gains OC brings to the table while pushing power consumption to the moon, we recommend against this.
DDR4 vs. DDR5
Now, Alder Lake CPUs come with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support. PCIe 5.0 is a future-proof feature that cannot be utilized right now. PCIe 5.0 compliant GPUs should come in early 2022, while PCIe 5.0 SSDs are still in development. DDR5 kits, on the other hand, are available for purchase so, the question arises, is DDR5 worth it?
The short answer is no, especially if you’re interested in 12600K. Performance gains are nonexistent to minimal, and there’s just a few workloads that can give you a performance boost big enough not to be written off as a measurement error. All that for about double the price compared to DDR4 memory kits. And even when faster DDR5 modules arrive, bringing greater performance jumps, current boards probably won’t support those speeds.
DDR5 might make sense in specific, limited scenarios. If all you do is encode videos or compile code, DDR5 can cut encoding/compiling times substantially. Next, if you need a Z690 board with Thunderbolt 4, you’re pretty much limited to DDR5 boards. Finally, if you plan on getting a high-end Z690 motherboard and aren’t ready to make any compromise again, all high-end Z690 motherboards support DDR5 only. At the end of the day, the 12600K doesn’t demand a high-end board. And considering its price, performance, and negligible benefits DDR5 brings to the table, our advice is to stick with DDR4.
With that said, we have listed a couple of DDR5 boards if you really want to embrace the new memory standard. Because remember, Z690 boards support either DDR4 or DDR5, not both. Also, while we’ve limited our choices to six models, there are almost ninety different Z690 motherboards out there. In other words, many quality Z690 boards didn’t find their place on this list.
We also want to mention that certain boards come with unique features/quirks. Every ASUS board, for instance, includes both LGA 1200 (11th gen) and LGA 1700 (12th gen) mounting holes. On the flip side, some ASUS Z690 boards aren’t compatible with Noctua coolers. Next, many Gigabyte boards come only with two audio jacks (Line Out and Mic) instead of regular 3/6 jack arrays. Some of the models include two jacks and an optical (S/PDIF) port, but it looks like you cannot use both simultaneously. If you have an advanced (surround, etc.) audio setup, chances are it won’t work on some Gigabyte boards. Do your research in case you’re interested in Gigabyte boards.
Finally, the Core i5-12600K has modest power requirements when it comes to gaming. Users who don’t plan on using this CPU for heavy multi-threaded workloads are happy to keep it at stock and don’t plan on getting the CPU right away, should think about getting a B660 motherboard instead of a Z690. The first B660 boards should appear in early 2022. You won’t be able to overclock the CPU, and you’ll probably lose some USB ports and M.2 slots if you get a B660 board. On the flip side, you’ll save some cash and achieve almost the same performance with a quality B660 board as you’d get with a Z690 motherboard.