Even if AMD’s Ryzen processors offer stiff competition in 2020, Intel CPUs still offer great gaming and multi-threaded performance. Our favorite Intel CPU is the Core i5-9400F. It’s affordable and powerful, but if you have a higher budget, or a lower one and don’t quite need six cores, then there are some other options we can recommend too.
The best Intel processor is whatever is going to best fit your needs and budget. If you need something that’s fast, you might want the 9700K, or the 8100 if you’re looking to build something more modest. Whatever you’re after, our guide will have something right for you.
For a more varied look at great CPUs for any budget, check out our manufacturer-agnostic guide to the best processors available today.
The best Intel processor
As great as Intel’s top-of-the-line CPUs are, its 9400F is one of the best bang for buck chips it has released in years. By ditching the onboard graphics core, there are some savings to be made and the pricing for this chip puts it just north of the true budget entries, but with solid midrange performance.
Although it lacks hyperthreading and the ability to easily overclock it, the i5-9400F comes with six cores, which is more than enough for most programs and a decent frequency of 4.1GHz when in turbo mode. Although its base frequency of 2.9GHz might look weak compared to previous generations, that helps keeps its TPD to just 65 watts.
In many benchmarks, especially in gaming, this chip easily outperforms the beloved Core i5-7600K from a couple of generations ago and even rivals the much heftier Core i7-7700K in some tests. That’s very impressive considering the 9400F’s significantly cheaper price than either of those options.
If you want an onboard graphics core for basic gaming or as a backup, the Core i5-9400 is also an option, but can cost as much as $40 more. If your budget is closer to $200, we’d recommend the 9600K instead.
The best budget Intel processor
If you’re looking for an Intel processor that doesn’t set your wallet on fire, the Core i3-9100F is your golden ticket. It’s a quad-core CPU that boosts up to 4.2GHz and works great in both games and productivity tasks. Combine it with a budget graphics card and it will work wonders as an entry-level gaming CPU.
The only downside with this chip is that as an “F” model it doesn’t have an onboard graphics core. That means you’ll need a GPU for this to work at all. At the budget level, that’s not always ideal, so there is the standard 9100 and last-generation 8100 (which isn’t too different), but they both tend to cost as much as $40 more.
There are some Intel Pentium CPUs, like the Pentium Gold 5600, that come in cheaper than this model, but you’re likely only going to save $20 or so. You’ll lose at least two cores and several hundred megahertz of frequency in the process, but they do come with built in graphics, so for super budget builds, they’d be your best bet.
The best high-end Intel processor
If you want an awesome processor that doesn’t require selling your kidney on the black market, Intel’s Core i7-9700K is the ideal solution. Based on Intel’s ninth generation architecture, the only real difference between this chip and its higher-end, much-more-expensive cousin, the 9900K, is the lack of hyperthreading. It’s an odd loss and this is the first desktop Core i7 CPU to ship without it in a long time, but it doesn’t actually impact general performance much, especially in gaming.
It comes with eight cores and 12MB of onboard cache. Its base frequency sits at 3.6GHz, but when pushed into turbo mode it can hit up to 4.9GHz on a limited number of cores. Since this is a K-series processor, too, it can be overlocked easily with an adjusted multiplier and with good cooling should be able to hit 5Ghz on a number of cores.
Its performance improvements over its predecessor aren’t dramatic, so we wouldn’t recommend upgrading to it if you have an 8700K already, but for anyone running older generations of hardware, it’s a decent upgrade. It has hardware fixes for Spectre and Meltdown bugs, too, so if you’re security conscious that is worth considering.
The best raw performance
It might be expensive, but Intel’s 9900K is the best gaming CPU ever made. It ships with the ability to turbo up to 5GHz on a couple of cores at a time and has eight of them to play with. Also, unlike its smaller sibling, the 9700K, it has full support for hyperthreading so can handle up to 16 threads at a time.
In our testing, we found the 9900K far more capable than even some of AMD’s Threadripper CPUs and although we wouldn’t say it’s as powerful as some early sources claimed, it was the best gaming processor we’d ever used. It managed almost 120 FPS in Civilization VI at 1440p on Ultra settings when paired with an RTX 2080, and even a solid 68 FPS on average in the always-taxing, Dexus Ex: Mankind Divided at the same settings.
It’s also exceedingly powerful in multithreaded scenarios and when using professional tools. The 9900KS is a factory-overclocked version, but it sold out almost everywhere just months after release and you can get comparable performance with a little overclocking.
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