This is what you should get
With new Intel CPUs in the horizon, we could hold off a few more weeks to update this guide, however AMD has solified its position after launching 2nd-gen Ryzen, and so we see no point in delaying any further. Today we're talking best CPUs with the latest available CPUs and platforms at play. It's safe to buy unless you're a pure gamer, in such case holding off for the 9700K makes sense.
It should be noted that we've made 'Best Of' recommendations for both Intel and AMD motherboards, including AMD's latest X470 platform. With Zen-based processors now a year in the market, they've brought more competition in the desktop CPU scene that we'd seen in years, it's an exciting time to be a PC enthusiast. After all the extensive testing you are familiar with, we've come up with this concise guide on the best CPU choices available right now.
- Best Budget CPU
- Best All-Round Value CPU
- Best Value CPU for Productivity
- Best Gaming CPU
- Best Extreme Desktop CPU
Best Budget CPU
The best budget CPU not only is relatively inexpensive but offers great lasting value. For less than $100, the Ryzen 3 2200G is a true quad-core CPU with an integrated Vega 8 GPU that is many times more powerful than the usual Intel integrated graphics, for those who are holding off on buying a discrete graphics card.
The most direct competitor for the 2200G comes from the Core i3-8100 which costs around $20 more. For productivity workloads and general usage they are evenly matched, though once overclocked the 2200G generally comes out on top. Without a discrete graphics card, the Intel chip gets smoked, while with a GTX 1060 or RX 580 they both offer a similar gaming experience. With years of life still ahead for the AM4 platform, we feel the 2200G is a considerably better investment.
The Ryzen 3 2200G is an unlocked part that can be overclocked on affordable motherboards, can take advantage of higher clocked memory, packs a powerful integrated GPU, and is slightly cheaper than the Core i3-8100, making it our #1 of budget CPU pick.
For less money, the Pentium Gold G5400 can be had, but we won't favor it over the 2200G. AMD didn't use to have anything to compete against the Pentium in the bottom $50-70 market, but we were caught by surprise when the Zen-based Athlon 200GE was announced. Equipped with 2 cores and 4 threads (with SMT enabled), it runs at 3.2 GHz and packs basic graphics. For just $55, this new Athlon will be interesting to watch, but for enthusiasts reading this, the 2200G remains the chip to have.
With the release of the Ryzen 3 2200G at just $100, this quad-core processor offers a ton of power for not a whole lot of money. As a bonus you also get entry-level like discrete GPU performance with the integrated Vega 8 GPU. Previously the Pentium G4560 claimed the best budget gaming CPU category for less than $100, but the Ryzen is widely superior.
Other alternatives in this price range include the Ryzen 3 1200 (which is basically inferior to the 2200G in every way) and the Core i3-8100. The Intel i3 processor is very similar when it comes to gaming performance and depending on conditions can hit the lead. That said, it also costs $20 more and with years of life still ahead for the AM4 platform, we feel for budget gamers the 2200G is a considerably better investment.
Best All-Round Value CPU
If you’ve got $200 to spend on a new CPU and you want something that can handle any and all tasks you throw at it with maximum efficiency, then the Ryzen 5 2600 or 2600X is a must. It should be noted that Intel's Core i5-8400 is an attractive alternative, it’s a little cheaper as well, and arguably provides better gaming performance in today's titles. But while the R5 2600 might not be quite as good for gaming, when it comes to productivity workloads it’s in a different league.
It’s fair to say that the superior multi-threaded performance offsets the slightly weaker gaming performance. Of course, when it comes to gaming I'm generalizing because in some titles the 2nd-gen Ryzen CPU can be faster.
The 2600 and 2600X are also unlocked CPUs and can be overclocked on inexpensive B350 motherboards. As we've discussed before, we also like that AMD has pledged to support the AM4 platform at least until 2020, making it a wise investment.
Best Value CPU for Productivity
For $300 to $330 the Ryzen 7 2700 series is hard to beat when it comes to productivity workloads. The Core i7-8700 series still holds an advantage for lightly threaded workloads thanks to a clock speed advantage, but for the seriously taxing and time-consuming stuff, the R7 2700 and 2700X offer noteworthy gains.
The 2nd-gen Ryzen CPUs also took a decent step forwards when it comes to gaming performance and here the 2700X is very respectable, especially when paired with the right memory.
As applications continue to make better use of Ryzen 7’s many threads, such as Adobe Premiere Pro CC, we’re going to continue to see Ryzen walk away with the prize. Add to that the longer-term AM4 platform support, we feel like the Ryzen 7 series offers shoppers the most bang for their buck in the $300 price range.
Best Gaming CPU
Intel's mainstream flagship Core i7 processor is a beast. The i7-8700K has incredible out of the box performance, remarkable overclockability, and power consumption that is impressive for a CPU running at over 4GHz by default. With that said, depending on your budget we could write an entire guide dedicated to choosing the right CPU for gaming... so we did just that.
If you’re running a powerful GPU like the GTX 1080 Ti or plan to go all RTX, then you’re after the very best gaming CPU the market has to offer. It’s the Core i7-8700K that you seek, however do note that an update to Intel's top mainstream line is set to arrive soon.
Rumors are strong that Intel will ditch support for the 8th-gen Core series early, and while the inevitable will come, let’s be honest, you might die of old age before a 5 GHz 6-core/12-thread CPU is noticeably slower in games than whatever the future might hold. Nearly confirmed to arrive very soon is a direct follow up to our top pick. The Core i7-9700K will drop HyperThreading and instead pack 8 cores and 8 threads running at higher frequencies, which should make up for the losses in total number of threads.
Intel’s low latency Ring Bus architecture has proven to be the best solution for gaming, couple that with a CPU that can comfortably run all cores at 4.7 GHz, and at least 5 GHz once manually overclocked... well, you’ve got yourself a winner. All the more reason why we believe the 9700K won't dissapoint.
At ~$350 the 8700K (and eventually, the 9700K) makes the most sense for folks seeking extreme frame rates with the latest and greatest GPUs, not those playing CS:GO on a GTX 1060. So if money's no object and you simply want the best for gaming, it's the Core i7 8700K hands down, you can’t argue with the facts.
If you’ve got a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or better and you’re after the very best gaming CPU the market has to offer, then it’s the Core i7-8700K that you seek. At ~$350, the 8700K is not even that expensive, however do note that an update to Intel's top mainstream line is set to arrive soon.
Intel’s low latency Ring Bus architecture has proven to be the best solution for gaming. Couple that with a CPU that can comfortably run all cores at 4.7 GHz and at least 5 GHz once manually overclocked, well you’ve got yourself a winner.
There’s simply nothing that can touch the 8700K right now, the nearest competitor when it comes to pure gaming performance is Intel’s own Core i5-8600K. This pick should come as no surprise as we’ve had this same opinion since the 8700K was released and the 2nd-gen Ryzen series didn’t change anything. Perhaps AMD can take the gaming crown away from Intel next year, many believe they will, but for now Intel holds on to top spot.
Best Extreme Desktop CPU
Although the beastly ThreadRipper 2990WX has been receiving all the attention, the TR 2950X is the real hero of AMD's workstation lineup in what basically is a refined 1950X at a $100 lower launch price. The TR 2950X features the same layout as the 1950X, it comprises two active Zeppelin dies each packing 8 cores, two memory channels, and 32 PCIe gen 3 lanes. When using DDR4-3200 memory the Infinity Fabric throughput between these dies is roughly 50 GBps.
For the most part, the TR 2950X destroys the Core i9-7900X offering significantly more performance at a reduced price and that's as far as we're going to go in discussing Intel's expensive, somewhat outdated proposition.
The $900 TR 2950X is essentially a drop-in replacement for last year's 1950X, becoming the ultimate high-end desktop CPU. It’s no secret we really liked the 1950X and the 2950X is simply a more refined version, typically offering 5-8% more performance. While not the point of this guide, it's worth mentioning TR 1950X is a cracking good buy at $710, too.
Meanwhile, the more expensive TR 2990WX with its 32-core/64-thread configuration remains a very powerful but niche proposition for those who render video all day or run highly threaded workloads. For anything else, it's hard to recommend at $1800 a pop, even when gaming performance is getting a much welcomed fix.