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The best Intel processors for 2020

When it comes to high-end CPU performance on desktops, Intel is one of only two companies worth considering — and when it comes to gaming, it still handily beats AMD. Whether you’re gaming or computing though, Intel has a CPU to meet your standards, budget, and performance needs. If you’re currently in the market for a new CPU, we’ve got you covered.

From the top of the line to the most wallet-friendly, we wrangled up the best Intel processor options on the market to help narrow down your search. The rest is up to you.

The best Intel processor: Core i5-10600K

Intel Core i5-10600K package
Intel

Intel’s 10th Gen “Comet Lake” desktop CPUs arrived with a bang in 2020. This Core i5 chip replaced the previous i5-9600K with a significant uptick: Hyper-Threading. Whereas the 9th Gen chip has six cores and six threads, this newer model has six cores and 12 threads to provide better performance at the same cost. It even serves up more threads than Intel’s 9th Gen Core i7 chips.

The 10600K has a 4.10GHz base speed and a maximum single-core boost clock of 4.80GHz. The TDP is slightly higher than the previous model at 125 watts, but with clever power management, it doesn’t run much hotter. It does not ship with a stock cooler, so be sure to grab one along with this top pick, though.

In benchmarks, it nearly matches Intel’s Core i7-9700K, an older $350 eight-core, eight-thread chip. It also competes well with AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X, both of which have six cores and 12 threads for $172 and $220, respectively. And while the AMD chip prices are considerably lower than the 10600K, Intel’s model includes integrated graphics whereas AMD’s two CPUs do not.

One amazing facet of this processor is its overclockability. With the right cooling and tweaking, it can reach frequencies well above 5.0GHz and gaming performance close to that of the stock 10900K, a processor that’s almost twice the cost.

Overall, the 10600K provides a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you intend to overclock. It’s not much slower than the Core i7-10700K right out of the box, making it ideal if you want to save some money, and can go much further still.  Keep in mind this chip only works in the new LGA 1200 socket, so if you’re interested, grab a board with the Z490 chipset.

The best budget Intel processor: Core i3-10100

Intel Core i3-10100 package
Intel

If you’re on a budget, this chip is a steal. It’s a highly capable chip for the suggested price, packing four cores and eight threads with a base speed of 3.60GHz and a maximum single-core boost of 4.30GHz. Pair it with a budget graphics card and a decent LGA 1200-compatible motherboard, and you have the makings for a solid entry-level gaming PC.

On a performance level, it targets AMD’s Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X chips. It’s an improvement over the previous generation Core i3-9100 thanks to Hyper-Threading. That’s the real big change between the two Intel chips, as the TDP and L3 cache size remain the same.

This chip does not support multiplier-based overclocking, though BCLK overclocking is possible — just don’t expect huge performance gains. However, it includes Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 with a 350MHz base frequency and a 1.10GHz maximum — a component not offered on a similar AMD CPU, and that helps you get your system running without a graphics card, as well as enjoy very low-level gaming.

For $30 more, you could splurge for the Core i5-10400F, a six-core, 12-thread chip with a 2.90GHz base frequency and a maximum 4.30GHz single-core turbo frequency. However, it doesn’t include integrated graphics and at the time of writing, stock is low, so it’s extremely hard to find.

The best high-end Intel processor: Core i7-10700K

Intel Core i7-10700K Package
Intel

If you want high-end performance without the paralyzing sticker shock of a Core i9 CPU, this is the Intel chip to get. It packs eight cores and 16 threads along with a 3.80GHz base frequency and a hefty 5.1GHz maximum single-core turbo frequency.

As the “K” implies, this chip supports multiplier-based overclocking, though it doesn’t ship with a stock cooler. It’s a nice performance uptick from the previous generation Core i9-9900K for a lower cost, even more so after a little tweaking under the hood. It even gives the new Core i9-10900K a run for its money, which is around $100 more.

Intel’s Core i7 chip targets AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X, another eight-core 16-thread chip at a lower cost, but without integrated graphics. Reviews show that AMD’s chip follows behind the 10700K right out of the box, and even more so after overclocking both. However, AMD’s lower price point includes a stock cooler.

As with all other new Comet Lake desktop CPUs, you’ll need a compatible motherboard with the LGA 1200 socket. If overclocking is on the menu, grab a board with the Z490 chipset.

The best raw performance: Core i9-10900K

Intel Core i9-10900K Package

At the top of the performance tree is this 10-core, 20-thread chip. It has a base frequency of 3.70GHz and a maximum single-core turbo frequency of 5.30GHz when using the new Velocity boost algorithm. With heavy overclocking, some 10900Ks can even handle 5.3GHz all core.

Intel’s 10-core chip lists a TDP of 125 watts, but reviews show it can reach up to 325 watts when overclocked, so if you want to get the most from your Core i9 CPU, you’ll need a hefty cooler.

Despite the power draw, Intel’s Core i9 chip doesn’t disappoint for the price. It’s the fastest out-the-box gaming CPU ever made and in some cases, it even outperforms AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X, a 12-core, 24-thread chip in productivity tasks.

The Core i9-10900K includes 20MB of L3 cache and Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 GPU, though using that for anything other than test booting to Windows would be a waste. Pair this CPU with a powerful graphics card and you’ll have the most powerful gaming PC money can buy.

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