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The best processors for 2020

Putting together a computer allows you to pick precisely which screen, system, and other components you want. Making the final result unique to your needs and desires is crucial, and selecting the best processor is an essential step in your efforts.

Some processors boast high speeds or great power, while others impress us with value based on what they deliver. AMD Ryzen Processors do all of the above, so they dominate our list as a result. If you’re building a PC for the first time, don’t forget to read through our guide on how to build a computer.

The best processors in 2020

The best budget processor: AMD Ryzen 5 2600

AMD might have a new range of third-generation Ryzen processors which are stealing the limelight, but at the budget end of the CPU spectrum, you can now find some of its best bang-f0r-buck chips from the last generation. The Ryzen 2600 is arguably the best of that bunch. It has six-cores and 12 threads, and though it doesn’t automatically boost above 4GHz, with a little tweaking, overclocks in excess of 4.1GHz are easily possible on air cooling.

If your budget has you stuck with spending around $100 on a CPU, there are alternatives worth considering. AMD’s Ryzen 3200G is around that price and enjoys onboard Vega graphics for some entry-level gaming ability. It only has four cores and threads, making it a less capable CPU than the 2600, but it’s a great little chip at a very affordable price.

Intel has some alternatives at a similar cost, like the ninth-generation 9100F, with the same cores and a higher clock speed. But it lacks the onboard graphics.

The best entry-level processor: AMD Ryzen 5 3600

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The successor to our favorite budget CPU, the Ryzen 3600 is an astounding achievement for AMD. It enjoys the same Zen 2 architecture improvements as the rest of the Ryzen 3000 range, and the same six-cores and 12 threads as its more expensive brethren, the 3600X. But it does it all for under $200. Its clock speed falls behind its new-generation counterparts, but AMD’s automated overclocking gets it very close in performance to its bigger brothers at a much-reduced cost.

It’s comparable to Intel’s more-expensive 9600K in gaming and is able to punch above its weight in productivity workloads thanks to its 12-threads. This is a CPU that delivers the kind of performance that just a few years ago would have been the reserve of the best of the best. When you factor in the affordable upgrade path presented by AMD’s multi-generational socket AM4 motherboards, the 3600 is a great starting point for a new build, no matter what you plan to do with it.

If you’re sold on Intel, a 9400F is a more affordable option, although the 3600 pulls ahead in every scenario.

The best processor for enthusiasts: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

If you were just looking for a gaming CPU, we’d probably recommend the Ryzen 3600, but if you want to do anything else on your PC instead (or as well), then the 3700X is the chip for you. With eight-cores and 16-threads, it decimates the Intel competition in multithreaded workloads, even taking the fight to top-tier chips like the 9900K.

Although the 3700X doesn’t have as many cores nor hit quite the same clock speeds as its bigger brothers in the 3000-series, it’s arguably the best all-rounder. With its eight-core configuration, it is more futureproof than the more common hexa-core chips of today.

Alternatives at this price include the Intel 8700K and 9700K, but they’re both more expensive and don’t offer much in the way of added performance. The AMD Ryzen 3800X is slightly faster, but only by a percentage point here and there and is certainly not worth the additional $50.

The best high-end processor: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

The crown jewel in AMD’s Ryzen 3000 series is the 3900X. While the 3950X is more impressive, it’s 50% more expensive, making it more Threadripper-lite, than a true mainstream CPU. The 3900X, on the other hand, is. With 12-cores, 24-threads, and a boost clock that creeps close to 4.6GHz at times, this is an astoundingly powerful CPU considering its price. In gaming, only the Intel 9900K can keep up, but it’s a close race. Our review suggested the AMD chip should pull ahead in many scenarios.

It’s in productivity workloads like Photoshop, video transcoding, and video editing that the AMD Ryzen 3900X really shines, though. With so many threads to bring to bear, it is head and shoulders above the nearest competition, and it does so at a price that’s hotly competitive.

If you’re a pure gamer and do nothing else, the 9900K is still the better chip. But for sheer all-round performance, the 3900X is the best CPU in the world. Especially considering its recent price reductions.

The most powerful processor: AMD Threadripper 3990X

AMD Threadripper 3990X

If AMD changed the conversation with its mainstream Ryzen 3000-series processors, it flipped the script with Threadripper 3000. But even among that ridiculously powerful generation of high-end CPUs, the Threadripper 3990X stands alone as a truly ludicrous and unnecessary CPU. But if you can take advantage of its 64 cores and 128 threads, there’s no other CPU out there quite like it, outside of the server space.

Not only does this CPU have more cores and threads than most applications will know what to do with, but it also has fantastic single-threaded performance too. It can hit up to 4.3GHz on a single core, meaning it will even work well in limited thread tasks like gaming — even though it would be complete overkill. But that means that even when you can’t use all of its cores, you’re still getting excellent performance.

The price is high, at almost $4,000, but it’s tens of thousands of dollars less than Intel’s 50+ core options and if you don’t need as many, you can always get the 32 core Threadripper 3970X for half the price.

Editors' Recommendations

AMD vs. Intel

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x