You know it’s time to make the move to the best CPU, or processor, for your budget when your computer starts getting sluggish. At the same time, if you’re a first-time PC builder, you don’t want to skimp on your processor, either. It doesn’t matter if you’re suiting up your rig for gaming, work, school or general use – a capable CPU from AMD or Intel is a must.
Thanks to the constant rivalry between the red (AMD) and blue (Intel) teams, we’ve come to appreciate the clear cut advantages hoisted by both sides. While processors are pushing for more cores and threads in its high-end processors, still reigns supreme when it comes to IPC (instructions per cycle) and towering clock speeds.
There are also a few major differences between the CPUs made by Intel and AMD. For starters, much of Intel’s suite of processors comes with onboard graphics while any given desktop-class Ryzen chip from AMD will require a discrete . However, this is set to change once .
On the other hand, AMD’s CPUs are often lauded for being value-packed with overclocking as a standard feature and include impressive stock coolers, areas wherein Intel could improve. For these reasons, going with an Intel processor tend to perform better at PC gaming than AMD’s CPUs – though this is quickly changing.
Whatever floats your boat, we’ve assimilated all of the best CPUs from both AMD and Intel below:
Best CPU: Intel Core i7-7700K
Unlocked, overclockable champion in blue
Cores: 4 | Threads: 8 | Base clock: 4.2GHz | Boost clock: 4.5GHz | L3 cache: 8MB | TDP: 91W
Overclockable up to 5GHz
Fastest processor for LGA 1151 mobos
Only slight improvements over last-gen
Media upgrades only worth it on Intel HD Graphics
The Kaby Lake Intel Core i7-7700K takes overclocking up a notch over the Skylake Core i7-6700K of yesteryear, making it the fastest chip you can fit into an LGA 1151 motherboard. As it touts the “K” moniker at the end of its title, indicating unlocked overclockability, this CPU can reach frequencies upwards of 5GHz, so long as your cooler allows for it.
Best high-end CPU: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X
Ripping threads and breaking records
Cores: 16 | Threads: 32 | Base clock: 3.4GHz | Boost clock: 4.0GHz | L3 cache: 32MB | TDP: 180W
Ready for the ultimate mega-tasking
Easier to install than Intel
More power-hungry than Intel’s rival
Switching profiles requires a full restart
When AMD dropped its Zen architecture-based Ryzen chips earlier this year, they thrived on the promise of a price-to-performance ratio that knock Intel’s socks off. At the same time, however, they failed to touch Intel in terms of sheer horsepower. That all changed with the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X, a chunk of silicon that’s not only a better value than Intel’s Core i9-7900X, but it’s also easier to anchor into the socket of any x399 motherboard.
Best mid-range CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 1600X
Six cores for less than the price of four-core chip
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Boost clock: 4.0GHz | L3 cache: 16MB | TDP: 95W
Awesome multi-core performance
Cool running chip
It’s no surprise that with its mid-range chip, AMD offers more cores for less money when compared to Intel. While in year’s past this has equated to making compromises in other areas to keep the costs low, the Ryzen 5 1600X remains economical without being shown up. After all, operating with six cores and 12 threads, there’s no shame in a 3.6GHz base frequency, not to mention the 4.0GHz boost in addition to overclocking capabilities.
Best entry-level CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 1300X
Welcome to the circus of value
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Boost clock: 3.7GHz | L3 cache: 8MB | TDP: 65W
More cores than most budget CPUs
Lagging benchmark scores
Runs a little too warm
Considering you will need a discrete GPU to use it, there will always be the assumption that the AMD Ryzen 3 1300X is built for gaming. Once you see past your prejudices, though, you’ll see it as the little processor that could. That’s because, at a price that’s hard to refuse, you’re getting a chip that’s 53% faster at encoding video than the Intel Core i3-7350K in Handbrake and – with the right GPU attached – can easily help you attain 60 frames per second in Overwatch.
Best gaming CPU: Intel Core i5-7600K
“K” series Core processing at an i5 cost
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.8GHz | Boost clock: 4.2GHz | L3 cache: 6MB | TDP: 91W
Easy to overclock
OC approaches i7-6700K stock speeds
Negligible upgrade over Skylake
Like the 7700K that preceded it on this list, the Intel Core i5-7600K is an unlocked, overclockable quad-core processor from Intel. However, it also suffers from the same integral shortcoming; that is that it’s barely an upgrade over the i5-6600K. Be that as it may, squeezing out only 300MHz over its precursor brings it nearly in line with the last-gen Core i7-6700K when overclocked. All the while, it won’t put too much of a dent in your budget either.
Best VR CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
Ryzen to the occasion and VR-ready to rumble
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Boost clock: 4GHz | L3 cache: 16MB | TDP: 95W
Stunning multi-core performance
Overclocking is touch and go
Temperatures are ‘unique’
The primary contender to Intel’s Core i7-7700K, the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X poses a convincing threat to Intel’s flagship. While it’s unfortunately more expensive than the 7700K, uncharacteristic for the oft value-focused Red Team, the Ryzen 7 1800X most certainly keeps up with some of Intel’s older chips. Plus, unlike the Core i7-5960X and -6700K it most intimately rivals, the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X is much more qualified for VR now and into the future.
Best video editing CPU: Intel Core i7-7820X
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Boost clock: 4.3GHz | L3 cache: 11MB | TDP: 140W
Solid multi-core performance
Best value for an eight-core Intel chip
Little benefit over cheaper Ryzen 1800X
Threadripper is cheaper
The naming convention is confusing, given that the Intel Core i7-7820X is part of Intel’s “Skylake-X” series rather than the X-class chips built on the 14nm Kaby Lake node, but semantics matter very little when you get to go hands-on with an Intel CPU boasting this many cores. Although the fact that you’ll need a new motherboard to use this octa-core monster might be enough to scare some users off to Ryzen, Intel loyalists shan’t mind the upgrade.
Best budget CPU: Intel Pentium G4560
Intel Core i3 power at a Pentium price tag
Cores: 2 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | L3 cache: 3MB | TDP: 54W
Closely tails Core i3-7100
Limited to DDR4-2400 memory
Inferior performance to Intel Pentium G4560
With the amount of money you’ll save by purchasing the Intel Pentium G4560 over a Core i3 chip, we promise you won’t mind the ever-so-slight loss in performance you can expect from this hardy value chip. As the first Pentium processor in quite some time to feature hyper-threading, the G4560 goes out of its way to show us all what we’ve been missing. And, in benchmarks, it proves itself eerily adjacent to the more expensive Intel Core i3-7100.
Best HTPC CPU: AMD A12-9800
Integrated graphics, now there’s a novel idea
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.8GHz | Boost clock: 4.2GHz | L2 cache: 2MB
Doesn’t require graphics card
Compatible with AM4 mobos
Limited to DDR4-2400 memory
Inferior performance to Intel Pentium G4560
Maybe you’ve probably heard some bad things about the AMD A12-9800, some of which are justified, but some salty impressions we’ve seen are just based on how AMD’s first AM4-compatible APUs aren’t Zen-based. Instead, the A12-9800 takes advantage of the Bristol Ridge architecture, which is basically just a refresh of the Bulldozer family AMD has been slowly iterating on since 2011. Even so, this is the best way single AMD chip build independent of a discrete GPU – for now.