AMD obtained a strong foothold in the CPU market mid last year with the launch of 2nd-gen Ryzen. The processors offer excellent performance on top of fantastic value as months after launch they also received some price cuts, effectively pushing Intel out of the limelight.

Since our last update new CPUs have hit the market from both sides, though AMD still dominates our recommendations. There's the increasingly-favorable price tags on older AMD hardware and the release of 3rd-gen Ryzen chips to thank for that. Intel still keeps the best gaming performance crown and offers some good value alternatives to Ryzen for gaming-first builds, it's just so hard to keep up with Ryzen on the productivity front. But with so many compelling options on the market, which processor will best suit your needs?

After all the extensive testing you are familiar with, TechSpot's CPU buying guide means to answer that question for you in a few easy recommendations you can trust and follow. Of note, we've also put together lists for picking Intel and AMD motherboards, including AMD X470 and Intel Z390 platforms (X570 is coming very soon).

Best All-Round Value CPU

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

For just $200, the Ryzen 5 3600 is a direct upgrade over the 2600, our previous best all-around, bang-for-your-buck CPU. With 6 cores, 12 threads, and the included Wraith Stealth cooler, this CPU will handle just about any task you can throw at it with ease; whether you use it for gaming or productivity.

Clock for clock, the Zen 2 architecture brings noticeable improvements at the same price which is great. For those looking to upgrade, if two years ago you bought an affordable B350 motherboard and say the Ryzen 5 1600, for example, you now have the option of slotting in the R5 3600 for up to a 35% performance boost in games and at least a 45% boost in applications, though as we saw in WinRAR it can be over a 100%. This is why we’ve been big proponents of AMD’s AM4 platform.

The Core i5-9400F and the Core i5-9600K (both 6 core and 6 thread chips) are the closest blue team alternatives, priced at $150 and $220, respectively. We've put them head to head and in our opinion the Ryzen 3600 is simply too good to pass up. Against the i5-9400F, the Ryzen 5 3600 destroys it in core-heavy games and applications. It currently costs 33% more, but it was often 50% faster in applications and provided roughly 30% gains in modern games.

Then the i5-9600K trades blows on gaming titles, but it got smoked in every single application benchmark we ran in our review. Intel gets you 6 threads opposed to 12 on Ryzen, so no doubt AMD's CPU will age better. The 9600K chip used to be more expensive but has seen price cuts recently thanks to the competition. It doesn't come with a cooler either, so value suffers a tad more if you take that into consideration.

Our previous recommendation, the Ryzen 5 2600 is still a great choice for anyone who wants to spend as little as $130 (more on that later) but its successor -- the Ryzen 5 3600 -- has snagged the overall value crown as expected.

Best Gaming CPU

Intel Core i9 9900K

Launched late last year, the Core i9-9900K still offers the highest level of performance for gaming builds. There are chips that come very close to its performance, and others that offer far better value, but for no non-sense peak gaming performance, the power hungry 9900K is as good as it gets.

In our tests, no other processor has managed to surpass the 9900K’s raw performance in the gaming arena. However, we must note that Intel's own Core i7-8700K -- which is much cheaper at $350 -- comes close, often testing within a few percentage points of its pricier cousin. It's also remarkably well behaved for a CPU running at over 4GHz by default. Things get even more complicated when you consider motherboard compatibility (the 9900K demands a high-end board) relative thermals, power consumption, and overclockability. Dollar-for-dollar, the 8700k is arguably the better choice and that's why you'll often find us recommending it instead.

AMD has also managed to close the gap considerably with 3rd-gen Ryzen's architectural improvements. Intel has been magnanimous enough to praise AMD for this. In this instance we’d give a nod to the Ryzen 3700X. The chip will set you back about $370, while still offering solid gaming performance. Additionally, if you use your PC for any productivity undertakings, you’ll find that the 3700X surpasses the 8700K and closes the gap on the 9900K.

However, if all you care about is pure gaming chops and nothing else, the 9900K is the clear-cut option, and should set you up nicely for some CPU-intensive upcoming games like Cyberpunk 2077.

Best Enthusiast/Workstation CPU

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

What if gaming performance is more of a “nice to have” feature for you and not your first priority? What if productivity and workstation use cases are more in your wheelhouse? If that’s the case, there’s one clear option: the 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X which comes in at about $520 as of writing.

AMD does have the 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X coming down the pipeline later this year, but until that arrives, we found that the 3900X absolutely decimates 2nd-gen Threadripper and the similarly-priced competition from Intel.

The Ryzen 9’s 24 threads helped it achieve a score of 7086 points in Cinebench R20’s multi-threaded benchmark, which makes it about 24 percent faster than the Threadripper 2920X, and a whopping 45 percent faster than the i9-9900K. Further, the 3900X is more power-efficient than the latter, eating up roughly 27 fewer watts during our Blender Open Data test.

It’s also worth noting that the 3900X is no slouch when it comes to gaming. While the 9900K is still undisputed in this area, the 3900X was a strong contender in several titles -- the more affordable 3700X also offers nearly identical gaming performance -- including Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, where the performance difference was only six percent at worst, Battlefield 5 (four percent difference), and a few others.

With all of that said, if you want even better workstation performance and don’t mind spending some extra cash, it might be worth waiting for the $750 R9 3950X that hits the market this month (September 2019) and the somewhat bleak possibility of AMD introducing newer Threadripper processors that boost those core counts even further.

Best Budget CPU

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

We’ve talked about the CPUs that give you the best bang for your buck, or simply net you the highest possible level of performance for a given task. But what if your needs are exactly the opposite, and you don’t have much to spend on a new processor?

For anyone who wants to spend as little as possible while still retaining acceptable (honestly, it's great) gaming and productivity performance, the six-core Ryzen 5 2600 is a no-brainer. It’s only $130, and though it was 28 percent slower in Cinebench R20 than its Ryzen 5 3600 successor, it’s also 35 percent cheaper. Looking at gaming performance, the margin is even smaller, with the 3600 claiming only a 12 percent average FPS advantage over its predecessor.

In the event that $130 is still too much for your wallet to handle, there is one other option you might want to consider: the Ryzen 3 2200G, which is one of the cheapest modern CPUs you can get that ships with integrated graphics. It comes in at a mere $79, but that lower price tag does come with significant performance trade-offs. If you have the opposite problem and want to spend a bit more on a CPU that still contains built-in graphics tech, the $150 3400G is a reasonable bet as well, though its productivity capabilities pale in comparison to the 2600's.

Masthead credit: Computer chip on silicon wafer by Morozov Anatoly