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The best budget processors

Your CPU takes part in everything you’re doing on your computer, be it work, gaming, or scrolling through social media, and often the more powerful it is, the better job it’ll do. But you don’t have to buy a super-expensive CPU to get a good one. In fact, the best budget processors can offer you amazing value for money.

We’ve compiled a list of the best budget CPUs available in 2021, from the cheap Intel Core i3-10100F to the one-time budget king, the Athlon 3000G. While they may not be topping the list of the best processors ever, they are all solid picks for any cost-effective build.

The best budget processors in 2021 at a glance

Intel Core i3-10100F

Box of the Intel Core i3 processor.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s a solid yet inexpensive processor that will support a variety of day-to-day tasks.

Who’s it for: Casual users who want the best bang for their buck.

Why we picked the Intel Core i3-10100F:

Finding a budget CPU that can stand its ground in 2021 isn’t easy, but Intel Core i3-10100F provides great value for the money. It’s discounted right now, which means savings of $30, and let’s be honest — finding a modern-day CPU for less than $100 just doesn’t happen these days. Even when the discount ends and it goes back to its usual price, this processor will still be amongst the best budget picks for well-rounded performance.

Part of Intel’s Comet Lake 10th-generation of processors, this CPU features four cores and eight threads. The clock speeds are a respectable 3.60GHz at base level and 4.30GHz on turbo mode. With a TDP of 65W, it’s not a very power-hungry CPU that will fit well with entry-level builds. It’s important to note that the Core i3-10100F does not feature integrated graphics, so keep that in mind when planning your component shopping list.

Given the four cores, you may find this CPU limiting if you like to engage in creative work such as video editing. On the other hand, Intel Core i3-10100F is more than good enough for most day-to-day tasks and even some light gaming. Paired with a decent graphics card, it can be used for both productivity and entertainment.

Intel Core i5-10400F

Intel Core i5 processor packaging.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: While still in the budget range, this is processor is one of the best ones on our list.

Who’s it for: Casual gamers, non-demanding creatives, and day-to-day users.

Why we picked the Intel Core i5-10400F:

Although pricier than the Core i3-10100F, this processor earns its value through a boost in performance. It’s a straight upgrade in most lanes and a better, stronger CPU overall. The catch is that it can cost up to $80 more than the Core i3-10100F, although this is still very much a budget processor.

This CPU is part of the same generation of processors as the one above — Intel Comet Lake, the 10th-gen of Intel CPUs. It comes with six cores and 12 threads. While the base frequency is lower than in the cheaper model, clocking in at 2.9GHz, the turbo mode is the same with 4.3GHz. This is topped off by a 12MB cache and a reasonable 65W TDP.

Much like the previous pick, this CPU doesn’t come with an integrated graphics card. On the other hand, it has a more than sufficient cooler, so that’s one thing to cross off your shopping list.

If you can spare a bit more money, Intel Core i5-10400F is an entry-level processor, but it can handle a fair amount of tasks without any issues. Combined with a decent (still entry-level) GPU and an adequate amount of RAM, it will perform well in gaming, even if you like titles that are heavier on the resource side of things. You can use it for productivity, some light creative workflows, and entertainment without a major hitch.

AMD Athlon 3000G

Packaging for AMD Athlon 3000G.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s an extremely inexpensive processor that also has a built-in graphics card.

Who’s it for: Users in need of a very cheap desktop with acceptable integrated graphics.

Why we picked the AMD Athlon 3000G:

If your budget is ultra-tight, you might want to turn your eyes to less modern technologies. Hearing AMD Athlon might remind you of a PC you used to own years ago, but the truth is, AMD Athlon is alive and well — in very low-end builds.

AMD Athlon 3000G is a two-core, four-thread CPU with a clock speed of 3.5GHz. It comes unlocked, which means that, surprisingly enough, you can even overclock it to improve its performance. It has an extremely low TDP of 35W, meaning you won’t need much in the way of a power supply. Keep in mind that it’s old enough to not work with the latest motherboards, so you will need an AMD 300-Series or 400-Series chipset instead.

This CPU comes with a stock cooler and integrated graphics. If you’re not looking to do more than watch the occasional video, browse the web, or do some very light gaming, you might be satisfied with that, no discrete GPU necessary. This makes AMD Athlon 3000G a great pick if you’re looking to a lot of save money.

For such a low-end processor, this AMD Athlon provides good value for the money. It’s not going to blow you away with its performance, but considering the savings that it offers, it’s good enough for non-demanding users.

AMD Ryzen 3 1200

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 3.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s a good CPU for multitasking that will do the job well, both in games and in work situations.

Who’s it for: Gamers and less demanding users who want to pair it with a graphics card.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 3 1200:

Moving on from the days of old, let’s take a look at something much more recent — AMD Ryzen 3 1200. Cheap enough to not break the bank but effective enough to serve you well, this CPU is a solid pick for many budget builds.

It’s worth noting that AMD’s Ryzen 3 line has two variants — the basic Ryzen with simultaneous multithreading (SMT) technology enabled, and the G-Series that doesn’t come with SMT, but it does come with integrated graphics. This CPU belongs to the former line, meaning it will require you to buy a graphics card, but it will be a better multitasker than its G-Series cousins.

This processor comes with four cores, four threads, and a total cache of 10MB. The frequency offered is a 3.1GHz base and a 3.4GHz boost clock. Overclocking is not always an option in budget CPUs, so this is nice to see. The TDP is comparable to most others on this list with 65W.

AMD Ryzen 3 CPUs generally perform well in gaming. Although this one will require a stand-alone graphics card, it shouldn’t bottleneck if you’re playing games that are a few years old. If your goal is more work-oriented than gaming, you’ll find this processor more than adequate for your needs regardless of which GPU you pair it with. (Read: It’s OK to buy the cheapest graphics card you can find.)

AMD Ryzen 3 3200G

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 3 3200G.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It has a surprisingly decent integrated graphics card.

Who’s it for: Users who want to save on a GPU but still want the option to play games.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G:

If you like the idea of Ryzen but don’t necessarily want to buy a graphics card, AMD Ryzen 3 3200G is a good solution. The downside is that it costs a fair bit more than many other CPUs on this list, but you’d likely have spent more on a processor paired with a dedicated graphics card.

AMD Ryzen 3 3200G comes with a mix of four cores and four threads. It’s overclockable up to 4.0GHz with a base frequency of 3.6GHz, which is fairly impressive in such a budget CPU. The downside is the lack of multithreading. This means that each of its four cores can run only one software instruction thread at any given time. As such, it’s not the best multitasker, but what it lacks in multithreading, it makes up for in the integrated graphics card.

The iGPU in this model is surprisingly good for this price range. Equipped with AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics, this processor can support light gaming without forcing you to shell out money on a discrete GPU. The integrated GPU has a frequency of 1250MHz and can hold its ground in many games.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 5 1600.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s a multitasking dream in this price range, making it adequate for many tasks at once.

Who’s it for: Creatives, gamers, and others who value good performance.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 5 1600:

Surprisingly cheap for the performance that it offers, this processor can be referred to as “upper low-end.” Still in the budget category, AMD Ryzen 5 1600 can be found in many mid-range PC builds.

The number of cores and threads alone is an improvement over slightly cheaper CPUs. With its six cores and 12 threads, Ryzen 5 can support many tasks, from gaming and productivity to creative tasks such as photo and video editing.

It’s unlocked and supports multithreading, making it a strong multitasker, especially in this price range. Like most AMD processors, it comes with a stock cooler that is more than adequate for its needs. This is rounded up by a base clock of 3.2GHz that can be boosted up to 3.6GHz.

The downside of using this CPU over the Ryzen 3 3200G is the need to buy a dedicated graphics card. This makes it less optimal for those on a tight budget. However, if you’re looking for a solid mix of pricing and performance, going with Ryzen 5 is a reasonable choice.

Intel Core i5-10400

Intel Core i5 processor packaging.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: It’s a reliable CPU that lets you save money on a graphics card.

Who’s it for: Intel fans who want a semi-modern processor with integrated graphics.

Why we picked the Intel Core i5-10400:

While this list is largely dominated by AMD processors, that is not to say that Intel doesn’t have a few horses in this race too. Very similar to the Intel Core i5-10400F, this processor delivers what the previous one didn’t — an integrated graphics core.

Intel’s dedicated graphics may not have the best rep, and the performance of this CPU may not be enough to rid the world of that notion. However, this processor/graphics card combo will provide you with decent frames per second (fps) in games — at least for this price range. It’s a six-core, 12-thread CPU with a base clock frequency of 2.9GHz that can go up to 4.3GHz during resource-heavy tasks, although it is not overclockable because it is not unlocked.

If you’re not much of a gamer and just want a solid CPU for day-to-day computing, you’ll be more than happy with this one. For gaming, however, you might want to try out the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G instead, as the graphics card solutions in that processor are a bit better than in this one.

Intel Celeron G5920

Packaging for Intel Celeron.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Why should you buy this: You’d be hard-pressed to find a working new CPU cheaper than this one.

Who’s it for: People who just want a functioning computer without much care for performance.

Why we picked the Intel Celeron G5920:

Intel Celeron, much like AMD Athlon, is an echo of the past that can still find a home in an extremely budget build. Priced at around the $60 range, it’s one of the cheapest CPUs out there.

G5920 is a dual-core, dual-thread CPU with a clock of 3.5GHz. Although Intel Celeron sounds like retired technology to many, this CPU is actually part of the Intel Comet Lake family and is just a bit over a year old. It’s based on the same LGA1200 technology as the other processors from that line, meaning it requires a fairly modern motherboard for such a budget CPU.

No one can expect fireworks from such a budget choice. There is no hyper-threading and no overclocking when it comes to this CPU. On the other hand, it comes with integrated graphics, which means that for such a low price, you’re knocking two major components out of the way — the CPU and the GPU.

This processor will do just fine for office work and light, casual computing in a cheap build. As far as gaming goes, even the AMD Athlon 3000G is likely to outperform this CPU, but this one is cheaper.

CPU buying guide and FAQ

What should you look for in a budget CPU?

The answer depends entirely on what you intend to use the computer for. If you are looking to do some light computing, such as browsing the web, working, and the occasional Netflix, you can do that on most processors, including the Intel Celeron G5920. However, if you are after something more powerful with a greater cost-to-performance ratio, it’s often better to invest just a little bit more and get a CPU that will stand the test of time. Two processors with great value are the Intel Core i3-10100F and the Intel Core i5-10400F.

Generally, for a mix of value and performance, it’s good to get at least four cores,  although six are ideal. Unlocked processors are nice because it means you can overclock them to improve their operating speed. However, if you’re not much interested in that, you don’t have to worry about whether it’s overclockable or not. Some budget CPUs come with built-in graphics cards, and that’s another thing to consider. If you don’t want to spend extra on a GPU, and you aren’t a gamer, it’s good to look for a CPU with integrated graphics.

Is AMD or Intel better for budget CPUs?

Both AMD and Intel have their merits, although AMD may offer slightly better value in this price bracket. Budget AMD processors generally have better built-in graphics cards, allowing for some light gaming even on systems without a discrete GPU. They are also usually unlocked, meaning you can overclock them, whereas only Intel K-series CPUs offer that option. On the other hand, while Ryzen CPUs are generally good multitaskers, not all of them offer multi-threading.

Overall, you may have an easier time finding a decently-priced AMD processor that performs well, but if you can get your hands on the right Intel model, you’ll definitely be happy.

How many cores does a budget CPU need?

For office work and browsing the web, two cores will suffice, and four will be plenty. For gaming, four cores are a minimum, with six or more recommended if possible, depending on the games you play and the performance you expect. Resource-heavy tasks, such as 3D rendering and video editing, benefit from the use of a six-core CPU, although the sky is the limit — or in this case, your planned budget.

Editors' Recommendations

Monica J. White
Monica is a UK-based freelance writer and self-proclaimed geek. A firm believer in the "PC building is just like expensive…
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