In the wild world of PC hardware, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest trends, figuring out what the best CPU for a given budget or workload might seem like a daunting task, but we promise by the end of this guide you’ll know exactly what to buy. Whether you’re looking jump into PC gaming, or want to upgrade your aging workstation we’ll show you the best options for every budget and application.
If you’re on a really tight budget and are looking to play eSports titles such as DoTA2, Overwatch, Fortnite or Apex Legends: look no further than the Ryzen 3 2200G. It offers 4-cores and 4-threads with a base clock of 3.5GHz and a boost clock of 3.7GHz. It also has the added bonus of coming equipped with Vega 8 graphics, which as the name implies features 8 Vega-based GPU cores clocked at 1100MHz out of the box.
All of this, plus an included AMD Wraith Stealth boxed cooler for just over $90 USD makes this a great starting point for anyone looking to get into PC gaming on the cheap. The integrated Vega 8 graphics can handle plenty of games at 720p and even up to 1080p at lower settings and you can always slot in a dedicated graphics card such as the Radeon RX 570 and play more demanding titles at higher settings.
If playing the latest triple-A games is your aim and you don’t want to break the bank: the Ryzen 5 2600X is easily the choice we’d make. With a current price of ~$179 USD, It offers 6-cores and 12-threads with a base of 3.6GHz and a boost clock of 4.2GHz. On top of that, you get get the very capable Wraith Spire boxed cooler, which will have no issues keeping this chip cool.
For us, this is a tremendous value. The Ryzen 5 2600X can easily handle any modern game you throw at it and will pair nicely with almost any GPU at appropriate resolutions, with the exception of the absolute top of the line cards such as the RTX 2080 Ti.
For those looking to get into 240Hz gaming for competitive titles such as CS:GO, Rainbow Six: Siege, Fortnite or Apex Legends, it’s not really surprising that you’ll probably want to go with an Intel part to push such high frame rates. For us, the Core i5 9600K is the obvious choice. It features 6-cores and 6-threads with a base clock of 3.7GHz which boosts up to 4.6GHz and an unlocked multiplier which allows for overclocking for even more performance.
At ~$265 USD the Intel Core i5 9600K is definitely not “cheap” but we still think that it represents one of the best values you can get in an unlocked Intel chip. Of course, as is the case with all unlocked Intel parts, it does not include a boxed cooler, so you’ll definitely need to factor one into your budget: We’d recommend something like the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Black Edition or decent 240mm AIO such as the DeepCool Captain 240EX RGB.
Now, if you’re not all that strapped for cash and really want the best possible gaming experience without compromising, then the Intel Core i9 9900K is your best bet. At ~$489 USD, it definitely isn’t cheap, but for that price you get 8-cores, 16-threads and a base clock of 3.6GHz which boosts all the way up to 5GHz. Unfortunately, like the 9600K, you won’t be getting a boxed cooler included so you’ll need to fork over some additional cash for one. We’d recommend at least a high-end air cooler such as the Noctua NH-U12A or a 280mm AIO such as the Corsair H115i Pro.
If you’re looking for the absolute best CPU to pair with your RTX 2080 or 2080 Ti for high-refresh rate gaming, this is likely it.
If you plan on streaming your games, editing video clips of your game footage or any sort of content creation and what to get the most out of your money: The Ryzen 7 2700 is an absolute steal at just under $219. For your money, you’ll be getting 8-cores and 16-threads with a base clock of 3.2GHz and a boost clock of 4.1GHz. It’s also a fully unlocked part, so you can overclock to get even more performance out of it. In addition, it comes bundled with a Wraith Spire RGB cooler which is fairly adequate at cooling the chip at stock and with modest overclocks.
If you want to step up your productivity to the next level, the Ryzen Threadripper 2920X ups the ante to 12-cores and 24-threads while maintaining a 4.3GHz maximum boost clock (3.5GHz base) and an unlocked multiplier for additional tuning. You also get the benefits of AMD’s X399 platform which includes 64 PCI Express lanes and quad-channel memory support.
You wont be getting any boxed cooler included, but if you’re looking for a capable cooler you’ll likely want something like Cooler Master’s aptly named Wraith Ripper air cooler.
Upping the ante even further, we have the 2970WX which features an insane 24-cores and 48-threads along with a base clock of 3.0GHz and a maximum boost clock of 4.2GHz. You also still get the unclocked multiplier and all the other features the X399 platform offers.
Like the 2920X, there is no boxed cooler, so we’d still recommend the Wraith Ripper.