This is what you should get
Today we're talking best CPUs and this is a prompt follow up to our late December buying guide update, with a few surprise categories, and of course, the latest available CPUs and platforms at play. It should be noted that we've recently made 'best of' recommendations for both Intel and AMD motherboards, including AMD's latest X470 platform.
With Ryzen now a year in the market, it's 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
First up we have the best budget CPU and previously we went with the Intel Pentium G4600 which was pretty much impossible to beat at the time. This time around though the Gold G5400 doesn’t really offer anything new, a 200 MHz increase in clock frequency isn’t going to get it over the line today.
Although a tad more expensive (yet still, less than $100), the Ryzen 3 2200G offers worlds more value. Apart from being a true quad-core, the integrated Vega 8 GPU is many times more powerful for those who are holding off on buying a discrete graphics card.
The real competition for the 2200G comes from the Core i3-8100 which costs around $20 more, but again gets smoked without a discrete graphics card. Then with a GTX 1060 or RX 580 they both offer a similar gaming experience. For productivity workloads and general usage they are evenly matched though once overclocked the 2200G generally comes out on top.
The fact that 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 makes it our #1 of budget CPU pick.
Previously the Pentium G4560 claimed the best budget gaming CPU category, and at the time couldn’t be touched at well under $100. This year though saw the release of the Ryzen 3 2200G and with an MSRP of $100 this quad-core processor offers way more power for not a great deal more. As a bonus you also get entry-level like discrete GPU performance with the integrated Vega 8 GPU.
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 around $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 is 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 right now 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, looking beyond the #1 pick, the i7-8700K.
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. 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.
Rumor has it Intel might ditch support for the 8th-gen Core series sooner than expected which could be a problem, and while that would be a real shame if true, 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.
At ~$350 the 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. 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.
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
Believe it or not, this was the easiest pick of the bunch to make and it seems like the majority of shoppers also agree. As of writing, AMD's Threadripper 1950X occupies the 23rd position on Amazon's best CPU seller list -- an incredible result for a $900 CPU that costs more than twice as much as every CPU listed before it.
In our last guide update, we called this section the best "money is no object" CPU, and we regretted calling it that as we forced ourselves into selecting what is arguably the fastest processor that we wouldn't buy ourselves. We had this to say:
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.
Although the 16-core/32-thread Core i9-7960X is at times faster, it also costs 100% more. 100% more for roughly the same performance is madness. Even the best extreme CPU pick from a year ago, the i9-7900X costs slightly more at $920 and the 1950X wipes the floor with it.