Ready to build a new PC, or upgrade your current version into a more powerful machine? Then it’s time to pick out a new processor. Don’t waste your time — we’ve got the top new chips for upgrading in this handy list right here. Here are our best processor picks for a variety of price and expertise levels!
Note: Wondering about the lack of AMD? Intel has dominated the last few CPU generations at almost every price point, and typically provide better performance in mixed workloads for less power. There are some exceptions under $100, but if it has to be AMD, we recommend waiting for Ryzen, the next processor generation.
Budget: Pentium G4620 ($99)
For about $100 you can get this dual-core, 3.7GHz chip ready to go with a 3MB L3 cache, and an Intel HD Graphics 630 integrated GPU. This combines to provide you with solid specs and a surprisingly high speed that’s in reach of nearly every budget. Plus, this processor Hyper-Threading to the mix, allowing two cores to act like four in a lot of situations. It’s a premium feature that only improves the budget-friendly chip’s value.
This is our only Pentium on this list, however. If you’ve always wondered if there’s any notable difference between Pentium and Core chips, here’s the deal: Intel’s Pentium brand is older, but most modern Pentium and Core devices use the same basic processor technology. In this case, the main difference is L3 cache, which doubles as you move to our next pick, the Core i5-7400.
This quad core, 3.0GHz chip comes with support for both DDR4 and DDR3L, and Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz under ideal conditions. It also boasts a full 6MB of L3 cache, a small chunk of memory faster than RAM stored directly on the CPU, allowing for lightning-fast access.
While it does have Turbo Boost, this model does not have Hyper-Threading. That means each physical core can run only one processing thread, whereas Hyper-Threading lets one core handle two. That will mean a slight performance downgrade when dealing with extremely demanding workloads, but in most scenarios, it won’t be noticeable.
If you’re looking for the best bang-for-your buck chip, the Core i5-7400 is probably it. It’s fast, it has enough cores for most tasks, and it’s under $200. This is a processor that could easily last five years, but won’t break the bank.
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Enthusiast: Core i5-7600K ($243)
Let’s take a big jump up to this 3.8GHz option, with a Turbo Boost maximum of 4.2GHz. While this quad core processor lacks Hyper-Threading, it remains the quickest in the current Core i5 lineup. It’s also overclocked, so advanced users will be able to push the chip past its stock speeds. The unlocked chips don’t come with a cooler, though, so keep the $30 addition in mind.
If not already apparent, this chip is a step above the 7400, with very few downsides. Everything the Core i5-7400 can do, the 7600K can do better. While the former is a great value that will suit most users, the 7600K goes the extra mile, and may better satisfy enthusiasts as a result.
Keep in mind that, at this level, we’re reaching the chips people use for gaming machines, ones that can really push the settings toward their limits. The average home computer — even if it sees a lot of action — doesn’t usually need this much power, or the ability to overclock, which is a premium feature.
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High-end: Core i7-7700K ($350)
And here we come to the first fully unlocked processor on our list. The 7700K is a quad core, 4.2GHz beast, with a Turbo Boost maximum of 4.5GHz. That’s a smaller boost over the base clock than found on the aforementioned Core i5 models, but this chip is unlocked, which means the processor multiplier can easily be bumped to increase the base clock. In our testing, it handled the task adeptly.
Also, because this is a Core i7 model, it has Hyper-Threading. That means it can handle eight processing threads, even though it has only four physical cores.
Otherwise, the chip’s feature set is similar to the Core i5 processors on our list. It’s ideal if you want to spend some quality time building a machine and running plenty of tests to find the optimum settings. That said, the Core i5 options still present a better value for the majority of users — only the most demanding workloads require the robust power of the i7-7700K.
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Extreme: Core i7-6950X ($1,650)
If the Core i7-7700K doesn’t satisfy your cravings, or you have a couple grand to throw around, the Core i7-6950X Extreme Edition may be your best option. This beastly chip boasts 10 cores, with Hyper-Threading kicking the total thread count up to 20. Out of the box, the chip is clocked at 3.0GHz base, hitting up to 3.5GHz with Turbo Boost 3.0 — an upgraded version of Intel’s feature that makes the most of thermal and power headroom. The 3.0 update also identifies individual cores with higher stability and targets them more aggressively.
We haven’t done a lot of testing on its overclocking potential, but one of our favorite systems, the Origin Millennium, arrived with a chip overclocked to a whopping 4.4GHz, thanks to a sizable closed-loop cooler. That system was able to convert a 4K trailer in just under three minutes, a task that takes most gaming machines 10 minutes or more, and consumer machines around 15.
That said, the i7-6950X carries a hefty price tag of over $1,500, and is definitely overkill in most situations. The most common use for the chip is likely high-end home rendering and modeling. Beyond that, gaming rigs with multiple GPUs often benefit from extra PCIe lanes, but really only after two cards, and the less expensive Broadwell-E chips usually suffice at half the price. There’s no denying the appeal of the biggest and baddest, though, and the Core i7-6950X definitely fits the bill.
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