Powerful single and multi-thread performance ensures that no task is too much. Processor also cools down easily and comes bundled with a cooler. Works well with current 500-series motherboards.
Lacks good overclocking ability.
Can easily handle most tasks, including mid-level gaming. Comes with a cooler. Supported memory overclocking and improves power limits, especially when paired with a B-series motherboard.
Takes a lot of power to run.
Capable of fitting in most modern motherboards and delivers specs that are only found on high-end PCs. Perfect for beefy application users like developers. Multi-thread applications are extremely smooth and fast.
Requires a large cooling system.
Features an 8-core design. Optimized for detailed gaming, seamless multitasking, and processor-intensive tasks. Integrated cooling system. LED lighting. Unlocked for overclocking.
Overclocking does not seem to add much power.
Trusted brand name with a type of processor technology that has proven successful over time. Will give you 2.8GHz of processing speed as well as turbo enhancements up to 4.0GHz. Six-core processor that excels for multi-tasking, gaming, or VR experiences.
Price point is a little high. Will need to purchase a fan and heat sink separately.
We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.
If you’re building a computer, there’s one decision that matters more than all the others: which central processing unit (CPU) you’re going to buy for it. The CPU determines how fast and capable a computer is, so picking the right one is critical to having a PC that will last as long as you need it to.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be an engineer to pick out the right CPU for your custom computer – you just need to be able to sort through the hoopla of technical specifications and marketing hype to find one that’s fast enough for your needs.
As you’re shopping for a new CPU, you’ll quickly notice that there are really only two brands on the market: Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Despite the fact that both manufacturers make CPUs for computers, they’re really quite different. Most important of all, Intel CPUs only work with motherboards designed for Intel processors and vice versa. When you pick a CPU, you’re also committing to using compatible parts. Here’s what you need to know about each brand.
Intel processors come in four product lines: i3, i5, i7, and i9. The number associated with each line indicates its relative speed. For example, i3 CPUs are the most modest, and i9 CPUs are the fastest. The important thing to know is that Intel releases new generations of its product lines every 18 to 24 months, so when you see an Intel processor, it’s crucial to know which generation it’s from. Start by searching online to find out what the current generation is, then limit your CPU search to those so you can avoid buying a CPU that’s already outdated.
Selecting the best CPU for your needs will largely depend on what you’ll be using your computer for.
If you’re building a gaming PC, your best bet is an AMD Ryzen CPU. These are designed for hard work, so one will be right at home powering your high-end gaming titles without a problem. For best results, buy the best one you can afford, and don’t forget to check online for user reviews of how different models perform before you buy.
If you’re building a server for hosting your files and not much else, you can buy either an Intel or an AMD processor – both will be completely fine. Serving up files doesn’t require a lot of horsepower, so unless you need your server to perform other tasks (like transcoding video), a low-end CPU like a Ryzen 3, Intel i3, or even a Celeron-based processor will do the job.
If you’re building a basic desktop computer, use either a Ryzen 5, an i5, or better. By choosing a “middle of the road” CPU, you’re not overbuying but still giving yourself enough power so that your computer will never feel slow.
You’ll find budget CPUs and models that are a few years old or more for between $50 and $249. Processors in this price range aren’t very powerful and are often built on older standards. If you’re building a computer for low-intensity tasks (for example, if you’re building a server), you can find a good deal in this price range, but if you need a computer for anything more, you’ll need a faster CPU.
If you spend between $250 and $499, the CPUs range from decent to great. CPUs in this price range are fast enough for typical PC gaming or everyday office work. More than that, you’ll find the best bang for your buck in this price range. There are definitely speed gains to be had by spending more, but unless you work with high-intensity applications like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere, spending more isn’t worth it.
Expect to find the CPUs designed for professionals and hardcore gamers between $500 and $1,000. CPUs in this price range are great for anything and everything: encoding video, processing large amounts of data, or supporting triple-A video game titles. If you’ll be doing a lot of intense work on your computer, you’ll save a lot of work time by buying a CPU that can keep up with you.
Wash your hands before handling a CPU. And try and avoid situations that create static shock. CPUs are extremely sensitive to dirt, dust, and even electric shock, so use care when handling yours. Start with a clean pair of hands, and avoid walking around in bare feet on carpet whenever you’re touching or working with your CPU.
Make sure your computer is powered down and completely unplugged before installing your CPU. Computers draw a lot of power, and even if you’ve got it turned off, keeping it plugged in can result in severe electric shock or injury. Play it safe: when installing your CPU, keep it unplugged from the wall, and only plug it back in when you’re ready to turn on your PC.
Q. Can I update the CPU in my laptop?
A. No. Most laptops are not designed to be upgraded or disassembled. If your laptop is running slow, try upgrading the RAM or consider buying a faster model.
Q. When is the best time of year to buy a new CPU?
A. Unfortunately, most CPU price drops aren’t very predictable. When a new CPU generation comes out, the prior generation gets cheaper, but CPU release schedules are entirely at the manufacturer’s discretion. If you’re looking for a good deal on a CPU, keep an eye out during all of the holidays with sales.
Q. What is liquid cooling and how does it work with CPUs?
A. CPUs must maintain a low temperature in order to operate. All CPUs must have a cooling mechanism (called a heatsink) attached so they can function. Heatsinks sit directly on top of the CPU – separated only by a thin layer of thermal paste – and dissipate the heat that the CPU generates. Some heatsinks use liquid cooling, so they contain liquids that stay cold even in warm situations. Liquid cooling is completely safe, and in many cases, it’s more effective than traditional heatsinks, although liquid-cooling heatsinks are typically more expensive than traditional ones.