Sometimes choosing the right CPU can be just as hard as picking the other core components of a PC. But unlike graphics cards, you can easily buy the best CPUs right now. Almost all models from both AMD and Intel are readily available on the market, that too for the MSRP. You may even snag a discount if the timing is right, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should pick up anything on sale.
Choosing the right processor is the most crucial step of the PC building process. Even though it boils down to only two manufacturers — Intel or AMD — you still have to comb through dozens of SKUs. Additionally, there are other factors to consider like the CPU’s overclocking potential, your primary workload, etc. Your options will also vary depending on whether you’re planning a new build or upgrading an existing one.
To make it easier for you to choose, we’ve decided to make a compressive collection of the best CPUs to buy right now.
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Before we get started with individual items on the list, we’ve managed to put together a list of important things to consider while shopping for the best CPUs. Here, take a look –
- Generation check: Both AMD and Intel upgrade their CPUs with new architecture and advanced computing features every year. It’s important to understand the difference to get the best bang for your buck. The first digit of the four-figure model number denotes the generation. For example, 9 in Core i7-9400 or 3 in Ryzen 5 3600.
- Understanding workloads: It’s important to match your CPU budget with what you plan to do with your PC. You don’t need a high-performance CPU for basic day-to-day tasks, but you can’t rely on a budget chip to have enough multi-thread muscles to push creative workload applications.
- Overclocking: Overclocking helps the CPUs to achieve significantly higher clock speeds than it is rated for out of the box. However, not all CPUs support overclocking, and not all CPUs need overclocking for the best results. It boils down to your requirements, really. Also, don’t fiddle with CPU overclocking if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- CPU sockets: Not all CPUs can be used on any available motherboard on the market. You’ll need chipsets and a socket that’s specific to your CPU of choice, so pair it accordingly. If you already own a motherboard and don’t have money for a new one, then purchase a CPU that matches your board’s socket.
- Pair with the right components: While CPUs are crucial for your build, there’s no point in pairing a high-performance chip with a weak GPU or a slow storage type. Make sure all your components work well together before making a purchase decision.
- Core speed or core count: Higher clock speeds allow for a snappy performance in simple, day-to-day workloads. However, having more cores will help you get through complex and time-consuming tasks faster.
Best CPU overall: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
|Specification||AMD Ryzen 5 5600X|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.6GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X is our pick for the best overall CPU you can buy right now. It’s in fact, one of the best processors in AMD’s 5000 series based on the Zen 3 architecture. This remarkable CPU offers reliable performance in both gaming as well as other application workloads. At $299, it justifies the $50 premium over its last-gen counterpart by offering a huge performance increase in both single and multi-threaded applications.
Be it day-to-day workloads, gaming or even creative workload applications, the Ryzen 5 5600X is capable of handling them all with ease. This is largely due to AMD’s Zen 3 architecture which results in an impressive 19 percent increase in IPC. The Ryzen 5 5600X is the reason why we didn’t add the Ryzen 7 5700X to this collection. It matches the general gaming performance of the 5700X while keeping the price low. We think it’s better to step up directly to a Ryzen 9 5900X from the Ryzen 5 5600X.
The Ryzen 5 5600X brings six cores and twelve threads to the mid-range CPU battle. Additionally, the Ryzen 5 5600X brings other improvements to the table including a highly optimized boosting algorithm, improved memory overclocking, revamped cache topology, and more. The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X has a base clock of 3.7GHz and a boost clock of 4.6 GHz. Pair it with the right motherboard and a potent cooling solution, and you can expect a higher short-term boost in clock speeds. The 65W TDP allows it to run both cooler and quieter compared to other processors in its class. For reference, the last-gen Ryzen 5 3600X had 95W TDP. Even the competing Intel CPU in its class has a higher TDP.
The 5600X matches the gaming performance of its more expensive siblings in the series. In fact, it also topples Intel’s $499 Core i9-10900K in 1080p gaming. The 10900K is Intel’s top-of-the-line mainstream CPU from last year, so this goes to show how the Ryzen 5 5600X really is when it comes to its pure performance. Even outside of gaming, we think this well-rounded chip packs enough performance for other workloads. It’s also one of the most power-efficient desktop PC processors on the market right now. The bundled CPU cooler is powerful enough to handle the CPU at stock settings, but we recommend getting an aftermarket unit for better results over time. A basic air cooler or even a compact AIO cooler will do the trick.
One of the best things about the Ryzen 5 5600X is that it fits right into both 400 and 500-series motherboards. It makes it easier for existing AMD users to save that money for other core components. We recommend pairing it with one of the B550 motherboards. They’re are both affordable and easy to find.
Second-Best CPU overall: Intel Core i5-11600K
|Specification||Intel Core i5-11600K|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.9GHz|
|Processor Technology:||14 nm|
The Intel Core i5-11600K is our pick for those leaning towards the blue team. It’s also one of the few Intel CPUs we’ve listed in this collection for now. It may not be as powerful as the Ryzen 5 5600X, but it carries a palatable price tag of $262. This 14nm Rocket Lake chip has six cores and twelve threads. It can boost to a peak of 4.9GHz on two cores simultaneously and can maintain a 4.6GHz peak on all the cores. Unlike the Ryzen 5 5600X, however, you can’t expect any short terms burst in clock speed over the rated speeds without overclocking. It also supports PCIe 4.0 for GPUs and a single M.2 slot on the board.
The Core i5-11600K comes with an unlocked clock multiplier, meaning it can be overclocked easily under favorable conditions. It can match the Ryzen 5 5600X in gaming performance after tuning, but you may have a hard time dealing with the extra heat. This particular processor tends to run a little hot, so make sure you’re buying a good quality aftermarket cooler to keep the temperatures in check. The 11600K comes with a 251W PL2 (power Limit 2) rating, a 69W increase compared to the 182W limit of its previous-gen counterpart. This could be a deal-breaker for many since the Intel K-series chips don’t come with a cooler too.
As a Rocket Lake chip, the Core i5-11600K features Cypress Cove, which is Intel’s new architecture for the desktop chips in six years. The new architecture allows for a 19 percent increase in IPC. It serves well for the price and has a rather competitive price-to-performance ratio compared to the $300 Ryzen 5 5600X. The lack of a bundled cooler does add up to the cost, but it’s worth considering if you want a reliable CPU from Intel for your build. Besides that, this CPU doesn’t demand a highly sophisticated cooling solution as long as you’re running at stock settings.
We also recommend looking at the Core i5-11600KF version of the CPU which comes without integrated graphics. It’s an absolute steal at $237 MSRP, assuming you’ll use discrete GPU for your build. That’s another way to save some money for the rest of your components. Both 11600K and the 11600KF are great CPUs for the price. Intel is yet to make a full-node transition to a 10nm process for its desktop processors. While that’s changing with the upcoming Alder Lake processors, it’s tough to recommend some of the other powerful Intel CPUs in a world where AMD’s mainstream 7nm processors exist. You’ll need a 500 series motherboard with an LGA1200 socket to run this CPU. Thankfully, they’re readily available on the market for a fairly affordable price.
Best CPU overall for gaming: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
|Specification||AMD Ryzen 9 5900X|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.8GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
The Ryzen 9 5900X is AMD’s high-end mainstream chip, and it’s our pick for the best overall gaming CPU you can buy on the market right now. More emphasis on the word gaming here since there are other CPUs in this collection that may serve you well outside of gaming. It’s not a halo product in the 5000 series, but it still packs 12 cores and 24 threads with a base clock of 3.7GHz and a potential boost clock of 4.8GHz. Anything above an 8-core, 16-thread config is still considered overkill for gaming, but just the thought of having some additional cores at your disposal when you need them makes the Ryzen 9 5900X a solid chip.
Having more cores will not only help you with other workloads like streaming, but it’ll also make sure your PC has the headroom to stretch when games finally start taking advantage of more cores. Pair the Ryzen 9 5900X with one of the best GPUs on the market, and your PC will easily outlive the PS5 and the Xbox Series X. Obviously more expensive than the consoles, but it’s a PC that can do so much more too. We recommend pairing the Ryzen 9 5900X with at least an RTX 3070 or an RTX 3080 for the best results. The RTX 3060 Ti is also a good choice, but we think the Ryzen 5 5600X is a better fit for that card.
The Ryzen 9 5900X features 64MB of L3 cache, supports PCIe 4.0, and has the same 105W TDP as its predecessor. It beats the high-end 10th gen processors and trades blows with even the newer Rocket Lake with its gaming prowess. You can also overclock this CPU to hit higher clock speeds under favorable conditions. A powerful air cooler like the Noctua NH-D15 will do wonders for this CPU even under heavy load. Just don’t go for a smaller air cooler or a compact AIO for cooling this beast. We recommend buying an x570 motherboard for this CPU, but it’ll work with all 400 and 500-series motherboards.
At $549, the Ryzen 9 5900X isn’t the most affordable CPU on the market, but it offers great gaming performance and then some. If your budget doesn’t allow you to step up to the Ryzen 9 5950X (also in our collection) to enjoy 16 cores and 32 threads, the 5900X is the one to go for. It’s sufficient for both gaming and creative workloads for $250 less. The only drawback with this CPU is the lack of any bundled cooler. AMD has stopped bundling coolers for its CPUs with ratings higher than 65W.
Best high-performance CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
|Specification||AMD Ryzen 9 5950X|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.9GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
The Ryzen 9 5950X is AMD’s flagship processor in the 5000-series. It’s our pick for the best high-performance CPU mainly because it delivers HEDT-class performance without raising the bar for entry. It boasts 16 cores and 32 threads based on the company’s Zen 3 microarchitecture. It has a base frequency of 3.4GHz and it can hit a peak of 4.9GHz under favorable conditions. It’s, however, proven to break the 5Ghz barrier with AMD’s Precision Boost Overdrive feature — the first one to do so for AMD.
The Ryzen 9 5950X delivers a huge performance improvement over not only AMD’s previous-gen Ryzen processors but also over Intel’s Rocket Lake flagship. This is true for both gaming as well as other creative workloads such as 3D rending, video editing, and more. The Ryzen 9 5950X with 105W TDP beats even the Intel Core i9-10980XE with 165W TDP, that too by a significant margin in multi-threaded tests. And since this is an unlocked CPU, you can even overclock to push it further.
We also love how the 5950X drops into existing AM4 motherboards on the market with 500-series chipsets. This makes a HEDT chip like the 5950X more accessible to the mainstream market. As for the competition, well, Intel doesn’t really have an answer to the Ryzen 9 5950X. The Rocket Lake chips top out at 8 cores for $549. The Intel Core i9-10980XE at $815 comes close with its performance, but it’s more expensive and has other drawbacks such as high power consumption, higher thermal output, and more.
You’ll need your own cooler for the Ryzen 9 5950X since AMD has decided to skip bundled cooler in higher TDP models. The company believes most enthusiasts use custom cooling with high-performance CPUs and it recommends using at least a 280mm AIO liquid cooler (or equivalent air coolers) for the Ryzen 9 5950X. Our list of the best CPU coolers has some powerful options for this beast of a CPU. AMD’s bundled CPU coolers haven’t been the best lately, so you can also find coolers for their other 5000-series CPUs in the list.
Overall, the AMD Ryzen 5950X is our pick for the best high-performance CPU you can buy on the market. It’s nimble enough to deliver rock-solid performance for content creators with tons of multithreaded muscle. Of course, it’s also a good gaming chip, but we recommend the Ryzen 9 5900X if you’re only interested in gaming. The Ryzen 5 5950X is your best bet if you want a workstation-grade CPU without the inevitable trade-offs like the requirement of expensive workstation components, reduced performance in lightly-threaded apps and games, and more.
Best budget CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
|Specification||AMD Ryzen 3 3300X|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.3GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
The AMD Ryzen 3 3300X delivers incredible performance for both day-to-day tasks and gaming, and it’s our pick for the best budget CPU you can buy on the market right now. It comes with fours cores and eight threads, and it’s capable of pushing low to mid-range graphics cards to their fullest. This 7nm processor is based on AMD’s Zen 2 architecture and it enables a lot of useful features such as a unified core design, access to PCIe 4.0 interface, and more. It comes with a base clock of 3.8GHz and a boost clock of up to 4.3GHz.
At $120, the Ryzen 3 3300X locks horn with Intel’s hexa-core Core i5-9400F. In fact, it beats it in many instances even at stock settings. The Ryzen 3 3300X also supports overclocking, with all cores capable of hitting the highest frequencies in the 3000-series. AMD includes a bundled Wraith Spire cooler with the Ryzen 3 3300X processor, but you might want to consider investing in a budget CPU cooler, especially if you are overclocking. Either a compact AIO with a 120mm radiator or an entry-level air cooler should do the trick. There are plenty of options on the market like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 that won’t necessarily put a dent in your budget.
The 3300X works best with B550 motherboards, but you can also use it with a B450 board if you don’t mind losing access to the PCIe 4.0 interface. The Ryzen 3 3300X lacks an integrated GPU, so you can use the extra money to buy a discrete graphics card. You also get 16MB of L3 cache and support for up to DDR4-3200 memory at stock settings.
It’s a little hard to find supplies for this chip, but we think the Ryzen 3 3300X is the best budget CPU you can buy right now. It sits in a good spot between the entry-level Ryzen 3 3100 and the mid-range Ryzen 5 3600 in the product stack. We think it’s worth spending the extra $20 over the Ryzen 3 3100 to get an additional boost in gaming and other latency-sensitive workloads. You can also step up to the hexa-core Ryzen 5 3600 for better multi-threaded performance for productivity apps, multitasking, streaming, etc. Some of the newer Ryzen 5000-series APUs are also good alternatives if the lack of a discrete GPU doesn’t bother you. If you’re not building a PC for hardcore gaming, then the Ryzen 5 5600G will save you the GPU cost.
Best entry-level CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
|Specification||AMD Ryzen 5 5600G|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.4GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600G with an integrated GPU is our pick for the best budget CPU on the market right now. It has entered the market during the worst graphics card shortage in history/ All graphics cards are either out of stock or selling for a premium, so we think it’s a great option for many who’re looking to build a PC right now. The Ryzen 5 5600G’s Vega graphics will serve you well as long as you’re willing to sacrifice visual fidelity up to an extent.
The hexa-core Ryzen 5 5600G comes with a 3.7 GHz base and a 4.4 GHz boost clock. It also features 16MB of L3 cache, and seven Radeon RX Vega CUs operating at 1.9 GHz. It has a configurable TDP (cTDP) of 45W to 65W, although you can expect it to operate at 65W for the most part. It does it without producing too much heat, though. Compared to the more expensive Ryzen 5 5500X, the 5600G gets the Radeon RX Vega graphics engine in exchange for 200 MHz of peak CPU boost clock and half the L3 cache. You also have to make peace with 24 lanes of PCIe 3.0 instead of PCIe 4.0, but you get support for the DDR4-3200 interface.
The 5600G should be good for 720p gaming across a lot of titles, but your experience will be fairly limited at 1080p. We’ve noticed this APU struggling to keep even at fairly low settings while working at 1080p resolution. Outside gaming though, it offers solid performance in standard desktop PC applications. The Ryzen 5 5600G gets brownie points for excellent power consumption and efficiency. The 5600G also shaves a lot of overhead cost with its bundled Wraith Stealth cooler and compatibility with AM4 motherboards.
The Ryzen 3 3300G is a fantastic alternative to the Ryzen 5 5600G for the price, but it’s currently confined to OEM systems as AMD hasn’t brought it to retail yet. We recommend staying away from the 3300G’s engineering samples that are storming eBay. They’re both expensive and unreliable, so it’s best to go with the Ryzen 5 5600G for now. You can often find the 5600G under the suggested MSRP price too.
Notably, the AMD Ryzen 5700G APU is also worth checking out if you want something more powerful. It offers 15 percent more graphics performance for $100 more. However, it’s not worth considering if you’re planning to buy a discrete GPU down the line. We recommend using that money to fetch either a 400 or 500 series motherboard for the 5600G and build a basic PC.
Second-Best entry-level CPU: Intel Core i5-11400
|Specification||Intel Core i5-11400|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.4GHz|
The Intel Core i5-11400 is the second Intel CPU in our collection and we think this is a fantastic entry-level CPU. For a mere $182, it sits in the Rocket Lake family as a surprisingly powerful unit with six cores and twelve threads. It crushes AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 to unseat Ryzen’s budget gaming dominance. The Ryzen 5 3600 is also relatively difficult to find on the market (at least at MSRP), making the Core i5-11400 a no-brainer choice. The Core i5-11400F for less than $160 is an even better deal if you’re planning to a discrete GPU or already have one lying around from an existing build.
The Intel Core i5-11400 tops out at 4.4 GHz turbo on one core and 4.2 GHz on all cores with Intel’s Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. The CPU comes with a stock cooler to help achieve those peak frequencies without any issues, but you might want to invest in a better cooler to make room for tinkering. An entry-level CPU like this will work just fine with even a basic air cooler.
The Intel Core i5-11400 comes with a 65W PL1 rating and a 154W PL2 rating, both being considerably better than the 11600K’s 125W PL1 and 251W PL2. However, you’re still looking at considerably high power consumption, resulting in more thermal output when compared with some of the Ryzen alternatives. That doesn’t necessarily make it a bad choice though. There are some noteworthy features like support for 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0, with four dedicated to one M.2 slot.
The Core i5-11400 is also arguably better than the Core i5-11600K if you’re only interested in gaming. The 10th gen Core i5-10400 is also a great alternative to save some money, but we think you’ll benefit from having the 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0 connectivity on the new Rocket Lake CPU. It performs better than the Ryzen 5 3600 in both single as well as multi-threaded work, making it a good option for other workloads such as streaming. The Core i5-11400 also comes close to the performance of Ryzen 5 5600X, which is only up to 7 percent faster for the $118 premium.
We’re expecting Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake chips to yield better results in the budget segment, thereby allowing us to add more options in this space next year. But for now, the Core i5-11400 is the only processor we recommend for budget shoppers who’re hellbent on building an Intel-based PC. It’s compatible with both 400 as well as the 500 series motherboards.
Best CPU for workstation: AMD Threadripper Pro 3995WX
|Specification||AMD Threadripper Pro 3995WX|
|Peak Frequency:||Up to 4.2GHz|
|Processor Technology:||TSMC 7nm FinFET|
In addition to a good mix of mainstream CPUs, we’re adding the AMD Threadripper Pro 3995WX to the collection as a productivity workhorse. This is currently the best CPU for those looking to build a productivity machine, capable of chewing through multi-threaded workloads in no time. It’s more powerful than every other mainstream CPU in our list for some obvious reasons.
The Threadripper Pro 3995WX was an easy pick for us considering how the Threadripper 3000 processors rule the top end of the HEDT market with Intel’s delay in transitioning to the 10nm node. Intel will most likely make a splash in this category very soon with its new processors, but for now, you’ll find plenty of good workstation CPUs from AMD.
The AMD’s Threadripper 3995WX is an absolute unit with 64 cores and 128 threads. It also supports up to 2TB of memory spread out among eight memory channels, 128 lanes of PCIe 4.0 connectivity, among many other features. According to AMD, the Threadripper 3995WX is “a highly specialized processor that provides incredible performance in a narrow cross-section of workloads, but at an extremely attractive price point given its capabilities.” Despite its expensive price tag, we agree with AMD on the pricing. All things, considered, the Threadripper Pro 3995WX is a reasonably priced CPU.
The company’s decision to pair 64 cores and 128 threads with higher boost frequencies makes it one of the best silicon on the market for creative workloads. The Threadripper Pro 3995WX can deliver more performance than even dual-socket servers, which is quite impressive. The higher boost frequencies of the cores provide snappy performance in everyday tasks too. Gaming is also within the reach of this processor, however, we don’t recommend this CPU just for gaming. That’d be overkill since the current generation games aren’t designed to take advantage of these many cores anyway. The Threadripper 3995WX isn’t necessarily restricted to multi-threaded tasks either, but we’d rather go with other CPUs from the collection to handle mainstream workloads. The Ryzen 9 5950X is a good example.
The Threadripper 3995WX is priced at $5,489, making it one of the most expensive CPUs on our list. Additionally, the cost of the components to build around the CPU will easily burn a huge hole in your pocket. AMD’s Threaripper Pro processors self-modulate performance based on the available thermal and electrical headroom, so it’ll also need one of the most powerful air or liquid cooling solutions on the market. If you’re looking for a relatively cheaper workstation CPU, then the 64-Core Threadripper 3990X is also worth checking out. It serves as a great alternative for those looking for a more price-conscious model.
Our collection of the best CPUs on the market reflects the ever-evolving market as we try our best to maintain an updated list of offerings. We’re expecting newer Intel Alder Lake CPUs to some big changes next year, but the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X remains our pick for the best CPU you can buy for your next PC build. The Intel Core i5-11600K is also a great 14nm Rocket Lake chip to consider if you want an Intel-based build. The Ryzen 3 330X is our pick for those who’re strapped for cash right now, but it’s a little difficult to find supplies for that. We’ve included APUs like the Ryzen 5 5600G in case you’re finding it too difficult to buy a GPU right now.
While the AMD Threadripper Pro 3995WX remains the best workstation CPU, we think the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X should be sufficient for most workloads. It also lets you stay within the realm of mainstream chips, as workstation builds demand stringent requirements. AMD is clearly dominating the CPU market right now with its Zen 3 offerings. Gaming performance has also largely shifted in favor of AMD with CPUs like the Ryzen 5 5600X claiming an outright victory over even some of the high-end Intel CPUs at 1080p. This is, however, a never-ending battle and the matchup tends to change substantially with each new release.
Like most consumer tech, you’ll be forced to decide whether it’s best to buy a CPU now or wait to see what next-generation chips bring to the table. Our collection will help you get a detailed understanding of the existing CPU options, but it’s up to you to decide if you want to wait for the gen-on-gen performance improvements. Both AMD and Intel will have new CPUs on the market next year. We already have some knowledge about Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake processors, but it remains to be seen what AMD’s next-gen AM5 platform will bring to the table. The only thing we know so far is AMD’s AM5 will support next-gen features like DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 next year. It’ll also let you bring your existing CPU coolers which means you won’t have to wait for manufacturers to release new adapters.
Figuring out what you’re going to do with your PC and allocating a budget for it is a good place to start a PC build. A CPU is not the only core component affecting the performance, so make sure you’re spending just as much time looking for other stuff like the best GPUs, best SSDs, and more. You can also check out our collection of the best monitors, best keyboards, best webcams, etc. if you need help picking the right peripherals. Lastly, we also have some nice case options for you in our best PC case collection to pack everything inside a compatible enclosure without having to compromise on space or airflow.