Which CPU is best?

Building your own computer or upgrading the individual components can be a daunting task. There are numerous aspects that need to be compatible, reliable and powerful enough for your electronic activities. But the one internal piece that stumps even the most ardent technological user is which central processing unit is the best for their purpose.

It’s not as simple as only deciding between Intel or AMD, but if AMD is your preferred brand, then its Ryzen 7 5800X 8-Core, 16-Thread Unlocked CPU is an excellent choice.  

What to know before you buy a CPU

Intel vs. AMD

Deciding between Intel and AMD is the most challenging aspect of selecting a CPU. While several factors must be taken into consideration, it will mostly come down to preference. But with that said, AMD processors are lighter on power consumption and provide better security. Intel processors, on the other hand, are better at overclocking, software and overall specifications.

Overclocking provides more power

A CPU’s main specification is the base clock speed, which determines its processing power. But this is just the regular-usage speed — through special software, you can squeeze a bit more power out of it. The practice is called overclocking and is typically a selling point. It’s rather tricky (and volatile), but CPU manufacturers don’t frown on it. Overclocking might be needed if you want your system to perform resource-intensive tasks faster.  

Motherboard socket type

An important factor that goes into deciding on a CPU is which motherboard and socket type you have — or plan on getting. Intel CPUs will only fit on Intel-compatible motherboards, and AMD CPUs will only fit on AMD motherboards. Similarly, depending on the age of the motherboard, it may have a different socket type. This is essentially how many pins the CPU has to correspond to the slots on the motherboard.

What to look for in a quality CPU

Base clock speed

The base clock speed should be sufficient for everyday tasks and video games without putting strain on the computer’s other resources. A modern CPU should have a clock speed of at least 4.2 gigahertz to play the latest video games, but some can go as high as 4.8 GHz.

Number of cores

Another important specification, the cores in a CPU determine how many tasks the processor can handle. A good-quality CPU has between eight and 64 cores, while entry- to mid-level CPUs can have as few as two or four cores. The number of cores you need depends on what you use your computer for. A higher core count is recommended for video editing or playing video games on the highest settings.  

Threads

The threads inside a CPU work simultaneously with the cores. The number of threads determines how many independent processes the chip can perform. Some CPUs can use two or more threads for processes, and Intel calls this Hyper-Threading. More threads can make resource-intensive programs run smoother. 

How much you can expect to spend on a CPU

The average price of a CPU largely depends on the manufacturer, the thread count and the clock speed. An entry level CPU with eight cores retails for $200-$250, while a powerful CPU for video games costs $400-$500.

CPU FAQ

What’s the difference between a CPU for gaming and office work?

A. While a CPU for gaming is perfect for everyday office work, there are a few differences. Gaming CPUs tend to have higher overclocking results, require a stronger power supply and are resource-intensive.

Can you put a desktop CPU into a laptop?

A. No — the CPUs are different in size and specifications. A laptop CPU is much thinner than a CPU that goes into a desktop computer and often has a different socket type.

What’s the best CPU to buy?

Top CPU

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-Core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-Core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor

What you need to know: This component is AMD’s fastest eight-core CPU with 16 processing threads. Perfect for video games, it can easily produce over 100 frames per second when paired with the correct graphics card. 

What you’ll love: Its clock speed can be boosted to 4.7 GHz while the 36 megabytes of cache aids in producing a maximum performance for resource-intensive tasks.

What you should consider: A cooler for the CPU isn’t included, so you’d need to check the specifications and buy it separately. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top CPU for the money

Intel Core i7-10700F Desktop Processor

Intel Core i7-10700F Desktop Processor

What you need to know: With a clock speed of up to 4.8 Ghz, this CPU is powerful enough for most applications while being affordable.

What you’ll love: It has an Intel Smart cache of 16 megabytes, has eight cores and 16 threads and only requires a 65-watt power source. 

What you should consider: The base clock speed is relatively low at 2.9 GHz, so if you are afraid to overclock, you won’t get the most out of the chip.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Intel Core i9-12900K Desktop Processor

Intel Core i9-12900K Desktop Processor

What you need to know: Compatible with LGA-1700 sockets, this CPU has 30 megabytes of L3 cache, dramatically reducing the time it takes to access information.

What you’ll love: With 16 cores and 24 threads, it’s at the pinnacle of computer performance. The 3.2 GHz base clock speed can be boosted to 5.2 GHz and the Intel Thread Director automatically sends tasks to the best cores for the job.

What you should consider: It beats out other CPUs by a country mile in specifications and performance, but the retail price of $600 is difficult to justify. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

 

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Charlie Fripp writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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