It’s a tough time to build a PC. Graphics cards remain the biggest headache when you’re trying to put together a computer, as they have been all year—supply is low and prices are stratospheric. But it’s been particularly tough if you’re 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 has released a compelling CPU for under $150 since early 2020.
That streak may end soon, according to a retail leak spotted by Tom’s Hardware. DirectDial, a Canadian retailer of PCs and components, listed model numbers and pricing for four lower-end 12th-generation Intel Core processors over the weekend. These prices haven’t been confirmed (and have been converted from CAD to USD), but they track closely with retail pricing for previous generations:
|Expected core count||USD pricing (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 that was listed for around $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 also able to handle games and heavier apps like Photoshop or Lightroom in a pinch. It was just a few years ago that quad-core processors were the best that most people could get, and most software still runs well on them.
But it’s also a segment of the market that has gone mostly ignored for years as chip shortages and other supply problems have driven prices up and AMD has shifted its focus to higher-end, higher-margin chips with the Ryzen 5000 series. The 12100F would be the first quad-core desktop CPU of note in at least 18 months.
Intel never released a quad-core version of its 11th-generation desktop chips, opting instead to refresh April 2020’s Core i3-10100 with the barely faster i3-10105 in March of 2021. And while those two processors present a great value, they merely added Hyperthreading to 2019’s Core i3-9100 while continuing to use the same underlying Skylake-based processor architecture Intel had been riffing 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 of 2020 for $99 and $129, respectively. But these chips have always been difficult to find at those prices (or at all), and AMD has not followed them up with similarly inexpensive Ryzen 5000-series replacements. AMD does sell 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 PC builders.
With four of Alder Lake’s performance cores (or P-cores), the i3-12100F should provide a substantial single- and multithreaded performance bump over the 10th-generation Core i3 chips, though most likely at the cost of higher power consumption. These cheaper desktop chips won’t include any of Intel’s efficiency cores (or E-cores), which provide 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 added manufacturing cost and complexity makes less sense for a budget or mainstream desktop processor than it does for a laptop CPU or a higher-end desktop chip.
Whether you’ll actually be able to find and buy the i3-12100F once it’s released is anyone’s guess, though. Reviewers and YouTubers quickly jumped on Intel’s i5-11400F earlier this year as the first decent sub-$200 six-core CPU that had been released in a while, but it was and remains essentially impossible to find for its suggested $157 listing price. If the supply situation remains as it is, most of the cheap processors Intel can make will most likely be earmarked for the PC companies, and Intel will continue to focus on higher-end, higher-margin parts for PC builders. We expect to get official news on release dates and pricing for more Alder Lake CPUs in the next few months.