These are the best processors for building a PC on any budget

best processors Core i7-7700K
Ready to build a new PC, or upgrade your current version into a more powerful machine? Then you’ll need to figure out which of the world’s best processors is right for you. Don’t waste your time — we’ve got the top new chips for upgrading in the handy list below. Whatever your budget, we’ve got a recommendation for you.

If you’re building a PC for the first time, don’t forget to read through our guide on how to build a computer (no experience require).

Budget — AMD Ryzen 3 1200 ($110)

best processors any budget amd ryzen 3 1200 icon

For the past decade, whatever your budget, we would probably have recommended you buy Intel, but that all changed in 2017 with the launch of AMD’s Ryzen range of CPUs. AMD has always had a strong presence in the economy end of the CPU market, but with Ryzen, it also brings solid performance.

For around $100, the Ryzen 3 1200 CPU comes with four cores and a boosted clock speed of 3.4GHz. It boasts 8MB of L3 cache and comes unlocked, so you can play around with overclocking if you like. In our testing, we found it to be a very capable gaming chip, especially given its price point.

It does lack multi-threading support, however, meaning you’re restricted to four threads at once. That said, comparably priced Intel chips are only dual-core, so it will have much stronger multi-threaded performance even without additional threads.

One consideration to make though is that unlike Intel’s counterparts, the Ryzen 3 1200 does not feature an on-board graphics chip, so you will need an add-in graphics card. If you can’t budget that in, something like the Intel Core i3-7100 is a viable alternative, but its processing capabilities are far behind those of this AMD chip.

Amazon

Entry-Level — Ryzen 5 1600 ($210)

best processors any budget amd ryzen 5 1600 icon

The Ryzen 5 1600 replaces our previous Intel recommendation at this price point and does so with gusto. It offers six cores — Intel’s readily-available alternatives are only quad-core — and it has multithreading, so has 12 threads at once for maximum multi-threaded performance. It also sports 16MB of level 3 cache and turbos up to 3.6GHz.

With an unlocked core, you can also overclock it further for added performance, bringing it closer to the stock frequencies of the slightly heftier 1600X CPU of the same range.

This chip sits firmly in the middle of the Ryzen lineup and is capable of solid gaming performance, as well as more multithreaded-orientated tasks such as video and image editing. Although it may be challenged by the new-generation of Intel Coffee Lake chips, until those become more widely available, the Ryzen 5 1600 is arguably the best mid-range CPU purchase out there.

If you have to opt for an Intel alternative right now, the Core i5-7500 is a comparable buy. It can be found for a few dollars cheaper, but keep in mind that it comes with two less cores and lacks hyperthreading.

Amazon

Enthusiast — Core i5-7600K ($230)

best processors any budget core i5 7600k thumber

This chip makes a big jump up in frequency to a base of 3.8GHz, with a Turbo Boost maximum of 4.2GHz. While this quad-core processor lacks hyper-threading, it’s still one of the quickest i5 chips available. It comes unlocked, too, meaning it can be overclocked. The unlocked chips don’t come with a cooler, though, so keep that $30 addition in mind.

Although this chip does lack the additional cores and threads of the aforementioned Ryzen 5 1600, it does offer stronger single-core performance, especially when it comes to certain games. This is even true when you compare the i5-7600K to its direct competitor, the 1600X. Although it’s arguable that Ryzen chips will offer better gaming support in the future as multi-threading becomes more important, we’ve been expecting better multithreading in games for years now and it’s improving at a snail’s pace.

The Core i5 7600K then, is one of the best gaming chips you can buy right now, and although it’s fair to suggest the 1600X as a viable alternative, this is the one we’d suggest at this price point.

It is very much a gaming chip, though. 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 in Intel’s range.

Amazon

High-end — Core i7-7700K ($330)

Intel Core i7-7700K review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

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 Core i5 model, but as with the 7600K, this chip is unlocked. This 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. This means it can handle eight processing threads, even though it has only four physical cores.

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.

It’s also important to highlight that Ryzen chips still give even this powerful chip some stiff competition. While there currently is no real debate that the 7700K is a much better gaming chip, a Ryzen 7 1700 would beat it in most multi-threading tasks at a comparable price point, so it is a viable alternative.

Read our full Intel Core i7-7700K review

Amazon

Bleeding Edge — Core i9-7980XE ($2,090)

best processors any budget core i9 7980xe thumber

If money is no object, then the Core i9-7980XE is the CPU for you. Crowned by many as the king of all processors, this Skylake-X processor is arguably the fastest processor ever made and features not only stellar power right out of the gate, but powerful overclocking potential.

Released in September, the i9-7980XE is the epitome of Intel’s response to AMD’s Ryzen processors. It threw everything but the kitchen sink on to that die and the results are astounding. It packs 18 cores under the hood, doubling that to 36 threads with hyperthreading. It sports a base clock of just 2.6GHz, but that turbos up to 3.4GHz with all cores enabled and can reach 4.4GHz with Turbo-Boost 3.0.

With a price tag of more than $2,000, however, the 7980XE is a chip that should only really be considered for those who really need enormous multi-threaded and single-threading performance. There are plenty of comparable offerings with much cheaper price tags, such as Intel’s own 7900X ($960) and AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper 1950X ($880). Either would be great options if you’re looking for top-tier performance and don’t care about how much you spend.

Although it’s completely unnecessary for 99 percent of desktop users, if you want the absolute cutting edge and have zero interest in getting the most bang for your buck, then Intel’s Core i9-7980XE is the best processor you can get right now.

Amazon

Update: Replaced budget, extreme, and mid-range offerings with more contemporary processors.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day vacuum deals: Roomba, Dyson, and Bissell

Amazon and Walmart are offering pretty substantial savings to help kick-start your spring cleaning. Top brands like Roomba, Dyson, and Bissell are dropping prices left and right for Presidents' Day.
Deals

This discounted smartwatch is a cheap Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa alternative

The Amazfit Bip isn't an Apple Watch or Fitbit Versa, but at the discounted price of $67, it's a very affordable alternative packed with useful features. With built-in GPS and 30-day battery life, this cheap smartwatch is a great option to…
Computing

If Core i5 CPUs are great for most people, do you really need a Core i7?

This guide is designed to help you decide whether you need the extra technological enhancements provided by the i7 core, or if the more affordable Core i5 will suit your needs. In the i5 vs. i7 battle, which is best for you?
Deals

From Air to Pro, here are the best MacBook deals for February 2019

If you’re in the market for a new Apple laptop, let us make your work a little easier: We hunted down the best up-to-date MacBook deals available online right now from various retailers.
Web

Are you one of the billions who have watched these super-popular YouTube videos?

Viral videos can quickly garner millions upon millions of views, but even they fall well behind the view counts on the most watched YouTube videos ever. Those have been watched billions of times.
Business

Marriott asking guests for data to see if they were victims of the Starwood hack

Marriott has created an online form to help you find out if your data was stolen in the massive Starwood hack that came to light toward the end of 2018. But take note, it requires you to submit a bunch of personal details.
Computing

Windows updates shouldn't cause problems, but if they do, here's how to fix them

Windows update not working? It's a more common problem than you might think. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot it and in this guide we'll break them down for you step by step.
Computing

Speed up your system by tweaking the startup application in Windows and MacOS

Bothered by programs that automatically start when you boot your computer, or want to add a new one to the list? Here's how to change your startup programs in Windows 7, 8, and 10, along with Apple's MacOS.
Computing

Apple may go big with a redesigned 16-inch MacBook Pro, 31.6-inch 6K display

In a research note, well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo writes that there are indications the company could be releasing a 16-inch MacBook Pro, as well as a 31.6-inch 6K display in 2019.
Computing

Accidental Amazon listings provides peek at cost of GTX 1660 Ti PCs

An accidental listing on Amazon provided a peek at the final cost of some of the new Windows 10 desktops with the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti on board, with prices possibly in the $1,200 range.
Deals

The best Presidents’ Day sales 2019: Amazon, Walmart, Dell, and more

Presidents' Day sales are a great chance to score electronics, clothing, home and office stuff, and other goodies at a discount. We’ve smoked out a large handful of the best of these Presidents' Day deals, from tech to bedding, to help…
Computing

Nvidia promises DLSS at low resolutions will be ‘top priority’ in future updates

Nvidia's deep learning super sampling needs work. Gamers know it and now we know Nvidia knows it too. The company made it clear on the technology's FAQ page that it plans to make fixing DLSS a top priority.
Computing

All signs point to a new Apple external display in 2019. Will it be 6K or 8K?

Will there be an Apple Display 2019? It looks like Apple is getting ready to announce a new monitor, after canceling its old Thunderbolt Display back in 2016. But what will this new display look like? Here's what we know.