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)
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.
Entry-Level — Ryzen 5 1600 ($210)
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.
Enthusiast — Core i5-7600K ($230)
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.
High-end — Core i7-7700K ($330)
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.
Bleeding Edge — Core i9-7980XE ($2,090)
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.
Update: Replaced budget, extreme, and mid-range offerings with more contemporary processors.
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