This is what you should get
Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that we'd see AMD dethrone Intel at the top of the high-end desktop CPU segment? Or at every single price point for that matter. It certainly wasn't us. Although Intel has mustered up an appropriate response, the company is no longer dominating the landscape the way it had been over the last five-plus years. It's an exciting time to be a PC enthusiast and we're glad we can finally look forward to some competition again in this segment.
- Best Enthusiast CPU
- Best Value Gaming CPU
- Best Value Performance CPU
- Best Budget CPU
- Best 'Money Is No Object' CPU
Best CPU for Enthusiasts
Intel's new 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.
While it isn't the best value option, Intel's $400 8700K 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. Budget builders and those more interested in productivity performance would probably still be better served by a Ryzen chip such as the $210 R5 1600 or $300 R7 1700, the latter of which should offer a little more value than the 8700K with both parts overclocked to the max.
In addition to the cost of the processor itself, if you're going this route you should account for a decent Z370 motherboard starting around $150 and another $30 to $100+ on a good cooler if you plan to do heavy overclocking.
For those after the best enthusiast-level processor, the Core i7-8700K has proven to be much more of an all-rounder than the i7-7700K was and it contributed to what was a spectacular year for PC hardware.
Best Value for Gamers
Great for gamers across the board and more than decent when it comes to productivity (especially Premiere Pro CC), the $182 (MSRP) Core i5-8400 is the most affordable six-core processor ever released and represents Intel's best value chip.
Although a strong case could be made for the $200 Ryzen 5 1600, which has cheaper motherboards, can be overclocked, touts generally superior productivity performance and has 12 threads on tap instead of six, the Ryzen chip isn't quite as good when it comes to gaming.
At the end of the day, six high-speed cores are going to be more than enough for the vast majority of gamers to play all the latest games without any frame hitches, while those seeking extreme frame rates for high refresh rate gaming shouldn't have any problem with the new Coffee Lake Core i5s either.
Building a machine around the i5-8400 today will leave you installing it on a relatively expensive Z370 board, while next year's B360-based boards won't be as pricey but they'll also support slower memory. We can say that with DDR4-2400 memory, the i5-8400's gaming results are less impressive -- quite a bit in some cases.
Intel's six-core i5-8400 nonetheless puts Ryzen in an awkward position when it comes to gaming -- perhaps even the new Core i7 range for that matter -- and may even be the go-to solution for budget builders.
Best Value for Performance-Seekers and Overclockers
For this one we aimed to choose the best value high-end CPU that is good at everything yet maintains a solid price to performance ratio. Obvious candidates included the Intel Core i5-8600K and Core i7-8700 along with anything from the Ryzen 7 range, and the one we're going with once again is the R7 1700.
The Ryzen 7 1700 is by far the best choice at $279 if what you want is workstation-level performance on the cheap. For that purpose, the Ryzen 7 1700 eliminates everything from Intel priced above $300, but it does the same for AMD's own line up if you want the best value. There is little point in purchasing the 1700X at $300 or the 1800X at $350 (that's way less than it used to, no stock cooler on the 'X' models) given we've found all three Ryzen 7 models hit the same overclock of around 4 to 4.1GHz.
In response to the 8-core/16-thread Ryzen 7 1700, Intel has had to make changes to its HEDT platform but you still get less cores and way less number of threads. As a nice little bonus, the base model Ryzen 7 CPU includes AMD's Wraith Spire cooler, which helps make it the ultimate best value high-end CPU in our opinion.
Best Budget CPU
Although the Pentium G4560 has been the obvious choice here for quite some time -- we deemed it "Kaby Lake's real gift" and the bargain CPU of 2017 (before the arrival of Ryzen) -- that Intel chip has been in such demand that it's actually a dollar or so more expensive than the G4600 at the moment, which is a slightly faster version of the same processor.
For $87, the Pentium G4600 is clocked 100MHz higher than the G4560 (3.6GHz versus 3.5GHz) and its integrated graphics solution is also slightly upgraded from the 1.05GHz Intel HD Graphics 610 to the 1.1GHz 630. When we first reviewed the 3.5GHz G4560 in February it was going for only $64 (while the G4600 was $82) and considering its price we were excited at the time to see that the G4560 was only 200MHz slower than similarly spec'ed Core i3s.
The Pentium G4600 is the perfect CPU for a budget build that requires no add-in graphics, but it should also prove to be a good companion for a graphics card akin to the RX 560, GTX 1050 or 1050 Ti. In our tests the CPU also worked well with the GTX 1060 though we think a sub-$200 GPU makes more sense for playing CPU-intensive games on it.
One thing is for sure: you'll have to spend significantly more money to get a truly better processor.
Unless you happen to catch the G4560 at its original price, your next step up would be the Ryzen R3 1200 which is superior but requires a GPU, or the Core i3-8100 which is amazing at $120, but will also require a much more expensive motherboard.
Best 'Money Is No Object' CPU
This wasn't the easiest pick to make. The Core i9-7980XE isn't that much faster than AMD's Threadripper 1950X which costs half as much, but it's hard to get around the fact that it is actually the faster chip and that folks shopping for a processor in this price bracket generally aren't worried about getting the best value.
Frankly, for $899 versus $1,999, we'd buy the Threadripper 1950X over the i9-7980XE about 95% of the time, which is why it's recommended on our PC buying guide's 'Extreme Machine.' But for a "money is no object" chip, the Core i9 certainly deserves to be mentioned and maybe even crowned.
If overclocked, the i9-7980XE can be about 15-20% faster than an overclocked 1950X, though it's not without trade-offs of the same percentages in total power draw. At stock, the Core i9 is more like 10% faster than Threadripper, which again, does make it hard to recommend given its 100% price premium.
There's also the fact that X299 motherboards required for the Core i9 aren't the most attractive platform around with its lack of compatibility with ECC memory, something Threadripper supports. While an argument could be made for either camp in this category, there are businesses who could justify the investment on Intel's new Core i9s, which shouldn't be overlooked when they offer the fastest overall workstation performance.