It’s a tough time to build a PC. Graphics cards remain the biggest headache when trying to assemble a computer, as they have done all year round: the supply is low and the prices are stratospheric. But it was especially difficult when trying to put together a PC on a budget, both because “budget graphics cards” have essentially ceased to exist and because neither Intel nor AMD have released a compelling CPU for it since early 2020. less than $150.
That streak may end soon, according to a retail leak spotted by Tom’s Hardware. DirectDial, a Canadian retailer of PCs and components, has listed model numbers and prices for four lower-end 12th-generation Intel Core processors this weekend. These prices have not been confirmed (and have been converted from CAD to USD), but they closely follow the sales prices of previous generations:
|Expected number of cores||USD prices (converted)|
|Core i7-12700F||8 P cores, 4 E cores||$366|
|Core i5-12400||6 P cores||$231|
|Core i5-12400F||6 P cores||$200|
|Core i3-12100F||4 P cores||$119|
The most interesting of those chips for budget builders is the i3-12100F, a quad-core, 8-thread processor listed for about $120. Entry-level quad-core desktop CPUs are an excellent choice for budget desktops: fast enough for all kinds of basic browsing and productivity apps, but can also handle games and heavier apps like Photoshop or Lightroom in no time. It’s only been a few years since quad-core processors were the best most people could get, and most software still runs well on them.
But it’s also a market segment that has been largely ignored for years, as chip shortages and other delivery issues have pushed prices up and AMD has shifted its focus to more expensive, higher-margin chips with the Ryzen 5000 series. The 12100F would be the first quad-core desktop CPU in at least 18 months.
Intel never released a quad-core version of its 11th-generation desktop chips, opting to refresh the April 2020 Core i3-10100 in March 2021 with the barely faster i3-10105. And while those two processors are a great value, Hyperthreading added to 2019’s Core i3-9100, while continuing to use the same underlying Skylake-based processor architecture that Intel had been working on since late 2015.
On AMD’s side, the most recent budget quad-core processors were the Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X, released in April 2020 for $99 and $129 respectively. But these chips have always been hard to find at those prices (if at all), and AMD hasn’t followed them up with similarly cheap Ryzen 5000 series replacements. AMD sells budget Ryzen 3 APUs (that’s a CPU with an integrated GPU) to the PC companies, but chips like the Ryzen 3 5300G have yet to be offered to home builders.
With four of Alder Lake’s performance cores (or P-cores), the i3-12100F should offer a significant single- and multithreaded performance bump over the 10th-gen Core i3 chips, although this will most likely come at the cost of increased power consumption. These cheaper desktop chips don’t include Intel’s efficiency cores (or E-cores), which offer a nice multithreaded performance boost to the top-tier Core i9 and Core i7 Alder Lake chips. But E-cores only come in clusters of four, and the extra manufacturing costs and complexity make less sense for a budget or regular desktop processor than it would for a laptop CPU or more expensive desktop chip.
Whether you’ll actually be able to find and buy the i3-12100F once it’s released is questionable, though. Reviewers and YouTubers quickly jumped on Intel’s i5-11400F as the first decent sub-$200 6-core CPU released in a while earlier this year, but it was and remains essentially impossible to find at its suggested price of $157. supply situation remains as it is, most low-cost processors from Intel can make will most likely be targeted at PC companies, and Intel will continue to focus on more expensive, higher-margin parts for PC builders. We expect to get official news on release dates and pricing for more Alder Lake CPUs in the coming months.