Intel’s latest CPUs are the ‘Alder Lake’ 12th Generation, and they’re a sea-change in design and implementation. In this article we’ll discuss some of the factors you’ll need to consider when choosing a motherboard, and show you our current choices for the best options across a range of budgets and purposes for the i5-12600K.
The Alder Lake CPUs mark Intels first wholly new architecture in years, and also a move to a more efficient 10nm production process. Some Alder Lake CPUs use two distinct kinds of cores: high performance ‘P’ Cores alongside more efficient ‘E’ Cores, to allow background or system workloads to be appropriately handled without impacting the performance of primary tasks. They’ve combined these advantages with a shift to DDR5 RAM compatibility to make a platform that moves CPUs on a generation.
With these improvements comes a raft of complexity if you’re just looking to build the best PC for your money right now. Is DDR4 RAM adequate or do you need DDR5 RAM to properly benefit from a 12th Gen CPU? What properties of a motherboard are vital, and which don’t matter? We’re here to guide you through that.
Chipset – The i5-12600K should be paired with a Z690 motherboard.
Alder Lake CPUs use the new LGA 1700 Socket from intel, which is slightly larger than existing sockets. You’ll find these sockets on the newly released Z690 Motherboards, as well as upcoming B660 and H670 motherboards. Because the K series 12600K CPU is overclockable and has both P and e cores, you’ll want to pair it with a Z690 motherboard to ensure you are able to extract the maximum potential from this high-performance CPU. They’re also the only motherboards currently available, so if you want to get your Alder lake System off the ground now, you’ll need to choose Z690.
DDR4 vs DDR5 – DDR4 is the Sensible option.
One of the first considerations when choosing a Z690 motherboard is whether you will use DDR4 RAM or DDR5. Alder lake 12th GEN CPUs can use either, but the motherboard dictates which you will use and they are not cross-compatible. DDR5 is the latest specification and boasts impressive headline speeds but in fact, there’s a lot more to RAM performance than advertised Speed in MHz. Whilst DDR5 has the edge in bandwidth, good DDR4 kits still perform better particularly in games due to lower latencies. DDR5 is also very hard to find, and currently expensive. Whilst we expect DDR5 to develop into the standard option over the next year or so, particularly with AMD’s next-generation Ryzen CPUs using it as well, right now DDR4 is the sensible option for building a 12th generation Intel-based PC. This is particularly the case with 12600K based systems that excel in gaming and where cost is a priority.
We’ll develop and deliver more content on this as we’re able to test more but independent reviewers such as Gamers Nexus and Techpowerup have verified the performance of DDR4 except in certain specific non-gaming tasks where the bandwidth of DDR5 is an advantage. You’ll need to check the name or the specification of the board you’re buying to verify that it’s compatible with the RAM type you’ve chosen.
When choosing a motherboard, there’s a number of features you’ll want to consider to ensure it provides a good basis for your PC. Voltage Delivery is an important factor for Intel CPUs which remain relatively power-hungry. However, for Z690 Manufacturers have largely provided good solutions that are more than capable of running a 12600K to full potential. We’d just caution against motherboards that lack basic heat sinks on the VRM, as that’s a sign that cost-cutting has taken precedence.
After that, it’s just a case of finding a motherboard with the right number of input and output options for you, as the base specifications across all Z690 motherboards are very similar. Consider if you want WiFi Inbuilt, how many USB ports you’re likely to need and what speed they should be, and how many M.2 and PCIe slots you require.
All of our recommended motherboards below combine rock-solid basics with a feature set that offers the best value at their price point, so let’s dig in and find some motherboards that will give you a rock-solid basis for your new i5-12600K PC!
Best Motherboards for i5-12600K – Our Recommendations
Best All-Round Motherboard for 12600K
If you’re looking for a board that ‘just works’ and aren’t worried about bells and whistles, the MSI Z690-A DDR4 / WiFi is a strong option. This ATX board boasts a strong feature set and good connectivity. There are 4 M.2 slots including three that support PCIe 4.0, 6 SATA ports and 3 PCIe x16 Slots with the primary slot supporting PCIe 5.0. Networking options include a 2.5Gbe LAN port and there’s a version with inbuilt WiFi 6 and Bluetooth. The VRM is strong with a 14 phase design and good heatsinking, and this board will happily support even the most demanding Alder Lake CPUs. There’s a good range of fan headers including AIO pump headers, USB 3.2 Gen 2 Front panel header and some troubleshooting LEDs to help guide set up.
What this board lacks is largely aesthetic, with MSI’s PRO lineup focussing on business-like functionality. There’s no RGB although it has the standard 5V and 12V RGB headers to connect RGB devices to. It has a relatively basic ACL 897 Realtek Codec chip, which works but won’t shine infidelity or features.
Overall, it’s hard to imagine any normal usage that this board doesn’t cater to, and with keen pricing and DDR5 and WiFi-enabled options, it covers all bases in a great value package.
Best Micro-ATX Motherboard for i5-12600K
There isn’t much choice at present in the mATX segment, and we think that’s a shame as this form factor has a lot to offer gamers and users who don’t need a vast range of expansion options and would prefer a more compact PC. Nonetheless, the Gigabyte Z690M Aorus Elite AX DDR4 covers all your needs well. It’s full-featured with 3 M.2 slots, 6 SATA slots and two well-spaced full-length PCIe x16 slots. It takes DDR4 meaning you can obtain affordable RAM for it and keep system costs down without impacting performance. Networking is provided with the now updated Intel I225V LAN 2.5Gbe Ethernet adaptor, and there’s a WiFi Equipped model available well. Be sure to pick that one if you know or think you want WiFi, as this board takes the strange step of omitting all PCIe 1x Slots. There’s a good range of other connectivity in the I/O with USB Gen2 3.2 front panel header, 9 USB ports at the rear of varying speeds, and an additional USB C port back there too, as well as enough fan headers (4+AIO) for most builds. The Audio solution is pretty basic but functional, and the VRMs are more than capable of running even the most demanding alder Lake chips. Overall this good looking and well-balanced Z690 motherboard represent a great option for a MATX build around the i5-12600K processor.
Best Gaming Motherboard for i5-12600K
This ATX board from ASUS continues their TUF lineup with mid-range options aimed squarely at gamers. This Z690 motherboard, the Asus TUF Gaming Z690-Plus WiFi D4, has everything you could want at a reasonable price. There’s a strong power delivery set up with 14 Phase VRM to the CPU core, and hefty heatsinking. There’s 7 fan and AIO pump headers in total allowing for extensive cooling setups. The DDR4 Model means you can get gaming straight away without over-spending on hard to find DDR5 RAM. 4 PCIe 4.0 M.2 Slots allow you to take advantage of affordable high capacity NVMe Drives for reduced loading times, whilst 4 SATA ports provide extended storage options. USB connectivity is good with 8 Rear USB ports, 7 USB-A and one USB-C. Also on the Rear panel is WiFi, 2.5Gb Ethernet LAN, and a full set of audio outputs including Optical SPDIF. The aesthetics are a strong point with striking heatsink design and attractive RGB highlights. This board represents a great option for Gamers looking to get the most from an i5-12600K without taking too much budget away from other important components.
Best ITX Motherboard for 12600K – Wait and see
At present, the Z690 ITX offerings are limited, with MSI having yet to announce any Motherboards for Z690. The Asus ROG version is very expensive and uses a strange daughterboard set up for vital front panel and SATA connectors that we could see interfering with very compact builds. The Gigabyte board appears to have firmware issues that prevent us from recommending it at this time. So if you are planning an Alder Lake ITX build, please wait until MSi boards are announced, and then we’ll round them up in a separate article!
Best Budget White Motherboard for i5-12600K
If you’re looking for the best board to fit a white or silver themed build then a couple of options for 12600K builds that stand out.
The ASRock Z690 Steel Legend is the more budget-friendly option at $250, with silver highlighted heatsinks and a decent but unremarkable feature list. It has a strong 13 Phase Dr.MOS power VRM configuration, three full-length PCIe slots, and three M.2 slots. There are 8 SATA ports for Storage. There’s an additional M.2 E-key slot to fit a WiFi Card without using a PCIe slot if you require that functionality and 2.5Gbe LAN onboard. The rear I.O only has 5 Type-A USB connectors, but there is an internal USB 3.2 Gen 2 header as well for front panel connectivity.
Alternatively at $280 the Gigabyte Z690 AERO G is one of their ‘creator’ focussed boards but you may find the angular silver aluminium aesthetic fits well with your perfect looking build. There are DDR4 and DDR5 versions of the board available. All have a strong VRM arrangement, Great connectivity with built-in WiFi 6, numerous fast USB Ports at the rear IO, 2.5Gb LAN and a very high-quality ALC 4080 Codec. It also has 4 M.2 Slots. Overall this is a great looking board with plenty of functionality and it’s our pick of the best balance of looks and features for white or silver highlighted builds.
Best Budget Motherboard for i5-12600K
If you’re looking to really strip back the budget to get a high-performance CPU at minimum cost, the Asus Prime Z690-M Plus 4D is a DDR4 option with all the basic features you need, and it’s available at just $140. This board has 10 Phase VRMs with heat sinking, and three M.2 slots for storage as well as an additional M.2 E key slot for a Wifi Card. There are two full-length X16 PCIe slots at a sensible spacing, so large GPUs need not intrude on the other full-length slot. The cost-cutting comes from limited Fan headers, a basic audio implementation, and more basic aesthetics. However, it’s a good choice to get the performance of a 12600K without breaking the bank.