This is what you should get
Mid-way through the year AMD consolidated a strong market position with the launch 2nd-gen Ryzen, which saw them taking over most of our CPU recommendations, offering great performance and good value. However we did anticipate Intel's 9th-gen Core series was incoming and that would be meaningful for high-end gamers, while we did not get our hopes up so much for the Skylake-X refresh.
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. Of note, we've also made recommendations for both Intel and AMD motherboards, including AMD X470 and Intel Z390 platforms.
- Best All-Round Value CPU
- Best Value CPU for Productivity
- Best Gaming CPU
- Best Extreme Desktop CPU
- Best Budget CPU
Best All-Round Value CPU
If you’ve got some $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.
In our last CPU guide update, we noted that Intel's Core i5-8400 could be an attractive alternative since it was a little less expensive and performed very well in games. But it's crazy to look back on that today, a mere six months later, the Ryzen 5 2600 is selling for just $160, making the Intel CPU almost 40% more costly, so this is an easy win for AMD.
Right now we’re recommending the Ryzen 5 2600 over the 2600X as it costs just $160 opposed to the $220 you’ll pay for the X-model. With those savings we recommend spending more on the motherboard (if you can) as that will provide better support for an eventual upgrade to 7nm AMD CPU next year or beyond. In short, nothing can hold a candle to the Ryzen 5 2600 at this price, it’s bonkers how good value this thing is right now.
Best Value CPU for Productivity
For $270 (or less) the Ryzen 7 2700 smashes everything Intel has on offer in terms of value, especially when it comes to productivity. The Core i7-8700 holds an advantage for lightly threaded workloads thanks to a clock speed advantage, but for the seriously taxing and time consuming workloads the 2700 will come on top.
The 2nd-gen Ryzen CPUs also took a decent step forward in gaming performance, and here the 2700 is very respectable, especially when paired with the right memory.
Earlier this year we picked either the Ryzen 7 2700 or 2700X as the best value for productivity, but today we're picking just the 2700. With recent price cuts, you can save $50 by getting the vanilla 2700 and that will buy you a decent cooler that will allow you to get the most out of this CPU. However, you don’t really need to overclock the 2700X, so you could just get that and run it stock. Or you could save the $50, forfeit a tiny amount of performance and get a better quality motherboard. Again, a good plan for those keeping the upcoming 7nm Zen 2 CPUs in mind.
As applications continue to make better use of Ryzen 7’s many threads, for example Adobe Premiere Pro CC, we’re going to continue to see Ryzen walk away with it. Because of this along with AMD’s commitment to the AM4 platform, we feel 2nd-gen Ryzen 7 series offers shoppers the most bang for their buck.
Best Gaming CPU
The most obvious win for Intel comes in the gaming category, but which Intel CPU should we pick? Technically speaking, the Core i9-9900K offers the highest level of performance for gaming, so we could simply name that the winner. However, in order to qualify you first have to be able to buy it, and secondly it has to make sense. Right now it's really hard to find the 9900K for its list price, and it’s debatable how much sense it makes at the $500 MSRP.
The i7-8700K on the other hand will set you back $340, has incredible out of the box performance, remarkable overclockability, and power consumption that is impressive for a CPU running at over 4GHz by default.
Intel fans generally dislike our position here, in short, we don't approve of Intel's asking prices. For gamers, the 9900K doesn’t offer anything new or extra, at best it’s a few percent faster than the 8700K in today’s titles and yet it costs at least 35% more. It also requires a high quality motherboard (read: expensive) and if you want to achieve maximum performance out of the box without technically overclocking it, you’ll require an expensive cooler.
Now, if money is not an issue and $500 is a drop in the bucket, then I guess you can simply buy the 9900K and you will get a blazing fast gaming rig. That's not to say the 8700K will not deliver a similar experience which is a big compliment for this year-old CPU. Because it's a more practical CPU and it’s what we’d buy if we were building a new gaming system, we'll continue to recommend the Intel Core i7-8700K as the best gaming CPU for now.
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 got most of the attention at launch, 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 Threadripper 2950X 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. Intel’s refreshed Core i9-9820X isn’t much better either and at $890, it can’t hold a candle to the Threadripper.
It’s no secret we really liked the 1950X a year ago, and the 2950X is simply a more refined version, typically offering 5-8% more performance. So the $900 Threadripper 2950X is essentially a drop-in replacement for last year's 1950X, becoming the ultimate high-end desktop CPU.
While not the point of this guide, it's worth mentioning TR 1950X is a cracking good buy at $550-600, too, without question the best value extreme desktop CPU you can buy, while it lasts.
Best Budget CPU
The best budget CPU not only is relatively inexpensive but offers great lasting value. For about $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 competition for the 2200G comes from the Core i3-8100 which currently costs around $15 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. Also, AMD recently released a $60 dual-core of their own. The Athlon 200GE runs at 3.2 GHz and packs basic graphics, but we’ve found that spending the extra $40 to secure the 2200G is a wise investment as you get a significantly more capable part. The dual-core SMT-enabled Athlon has very little headroom and is virtually useless with a modern mid-range GPU, therefore you will get considerably more mileage with the Ryzen 3.
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.