The world of CPUs has been known to be busy in recent years, and we've kept this buying guide up to date with the latest versions to complement our initial ratings and benchmark comparisons.
After all the extensive testing you're familiar with, the Catrachadas CPU Buying Guide means narrowing things down to a few simple recommendations that you can trust and follow. It should be noted that we have also compiled lists for the selection of Intel and AMD motherboards, including the platforms AMD X570, B450 and Intel Z390 (Intel Z490 / B460 are in progress).
Best all-round CPU
For three years, our cheapest desktop CPU category has been dominated by Ryzen 5 processors with 6 cores and 12 threads. In 2017 it was the Ryzen 5 1600. 2018 and early 2019 had the 2600 and 2600X, which had received some massive price cuts at the time of the exchange. Finally, the Ryzen 5 3600 arrived in mid-2019 to take the place.
Almost a year after its release, nothing has changed. The Ryzen 5 3600 is still by far the cheapest desktop CPU. In fact, the R5 3600 has become even cheaper lately, with retail prices dropping to just $ 167. Even if you get it at the original $ 200, it's an amazing value option.
The competing 10th generation Intel alternative is the Core i5-10400. While not a terrible option, the Ryzen processor is up to 20% faster for productivity tasks and offers comparable game performance. A key platform advantage, however, is that the 3600 can be overclocked on low-cost B450 motherboards that also support higher memory speeds.
The Core i5-10400 requires a Z490 motherboard for this, and the cheapest model you should maintain costs around $ 170 – much more than a high-quality B450 board. If Intel now opened the overclocking of memory on B460 and H410 cards, we could certainly have the idea to recommend the Core i5 processor as an option for exclusively PC games. Other than that, the Intel part isn't convincing enough to consider the Ryzen 5 3600 the best all-rounder again.
The X alternative
We saw that the Ryzen 5 3600X costs around $ 200 and sometimes even less. If the difference between the 3600 and 3600X is very small ($ 5 to $ 10), you can use it for the better cooler. Granted, you could pocket that money and use it to buy a $ 30 Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, but we think the 3600X is probably worth it for the small investment at this price. In other regions where the X costs more, simply choose the Vanilla 3600.
Best gaming CPU
We had high hopes that the affordable Core i3-10100 and Core i5-10400 were compelling options for gamers when they finally turned out, but we were pleasantly surprised with the Core i5-10600K. Sure, in our review, we still chose the Ryzen 5 3600 as the best all-rounder, and few could argue the opposite, but if you play mostly, the 10600K is an attractive option that doesn't break the bank.
This Core i5 part is competitively priced with the Ryzen 7 3700X. If you are mainly interested in productivity performance, you should buy the AMD processor, which is faster thanks to the 2 additional cores. However, if gaming is the name of the … game, well, we think the Core i5-10600K is pretty good.
If you throw it on a relatively affordable Z490 motherboard, MSI's Tomahawk for $ 190 seems to be a good example and put $ 50 in a decent air cooler, and you've got a serious high-end gaming system made . Overclocked it can deliver Core i9-10900K-like performance for ~ 40% less in most games, which is nice.
We are part of the Core i5-10600K, but if we stay true to the category, the Core i9-10900K is the most powerful gaming CPU. This unlocked 10th generation core processor offers maximum gaming performance. Our ultimate recommendation is that price-conscious players aim for the 10600K, while players with deep pockets and an RTX 2080 Ti in sight choose the 10900K.
Best extreme desktop CPU
The easiest choice we had to make. The Threadripper 3990X is a beast, completely unchallenged and has redefined the HEDT space. Sure, it's damn expensive, but if you're aiming for maximum productivity, price won't be your main concern. For the right kind of user who will actually use the full potential of the 3990X, this CPU brings a significant leap in performance. Not only is it a little bit faster than the next best, it's a lot faster too.
If $ 3,500 is too rich for your blood, the 3970X or 3960X Threadripper may understandably be a better alternative to the insane 64-core, 128-thread beast, the 3990X. The 32-core 3970X is available for $ 1,900, while the 3960X is available for a slightly cheaper $ 1,400.
We have been using the Threadripper 3960X for over six months as our main game and video editing device and the experience has been flawless. We can distort over a dozen 4K clips in Premiere while using the computer to benchmark diagrams in Excel or thumbnails in Photoshop without noticing a slowdown.
Previously we used a Core i9-9900K, which is about 2.5 times cheaper in every way. However, if we tried to use more than half a dozen warp stabilization processes at the same time, the system would crash and there would be no chance that we would perform other tasks in the background without serious delay or risk of freezing. An Intel Cascade Lake-X part would have been better suited for such productivity tasks, but they basically don't exist, and even if they did, the flagship 18-core 10980XE is ill-equipped to compete against a 3rd generation thread ripper Processors.
Best value for productivity
When it comes to productivity performance, it doesn't matter what price you're talking about. In 2020, AMD will dominate across the board. Do you want to do the job cheaply? Nothing beats the Ryzen 3 3300X. If you have a little more to spend, get the Ryzen 5 3600. Do you have more money to spend? Get the 3950X and if you have tons of cash there are third generation thread rippers.
The point we are aiming for is that there are a number of Ryzen processors that we could choose for this category that we really should. Our usual favorite, the Ryzen 7 3700X for $ 285, is an amazing value for a powerful 8-core processor with 16 threads. We still recommend him to spend more than $ 50 more on the 3800X.
For around $ 400, there is the Ryzen 9 3900X, which is an amazing value for a 12-core CPU with 24 threads – something that was previously unknown to a mainstream desktop CPU.
At the top of the Ryzen food chain is the 3950X. It's an expensive $ 700 product, and while it costs 40% more than the Intel Core i9-10900K, it's generally over 40% faster on core-heavy workloads. In our book, this high-end processor remains an amazing proposition to get the performance of 16 cores and 32 threads. So you can choose between $ 300, $ 400 and $ 700.
Best budget CPU
A lot has changed in the low-end segment in the past six months. More recently, we've seen the arrival of AMD's 3rd generation Ryzen 3 series and 10th generation Core i3 series from Intel. So there are a few new CPUs to choose from, but before we get to that, here's a brief history of that category.
In 2017, we selected the Intel Pentium G4560 as our best budget CPU, which was available for a while for just $ 80. Around mid-2018, the Ryzen 3 2200G took this award and remained the best option all year round. We only dropped it in favor of the 2400G when the prices for the SMT-enabled APU dropped. Later in 2019 we recommended the Ryzen 5 3400G.
In 2020, the Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X were added to the mix along with the Core i3-10100. By far the best option here is the Ryzen 3 3300X. At $ 120, the value this CPU offers is unprecedented. While the 3100 is also good business for $ 100, it's worth spending the extra $ 20 on the 3300X to get all the cores in a single CCX.
The Ryzen 3 3300X outperforms the Core i3-10100 in terms of gaming performance in general and is typically 20% faster in productivity applications. As an unlocked processor, the 3300X can also be overclocked for even higher performance, while overclocking memory is supported on affordable B450 motherboards.
It's great to see that there are so many options available in 2020. Whether you're talking about AMD or Intel, we don't think you can really go wrong. The Ryzen 5 3600 may be our preference for the Core i5-10400, but if you were to use the Intel processor, you wouldn't be disappointed with the experience. It is a powerful gaming chip and application performance is still strong.
The 10th generation from Intel is much more competitive than the 9th generation and offers SMT support across the board and better prices. Ultimately, however, AMD remains at the top in almost all areas. In the long run, this kind of competition is good news for the consumer as we expect the 11th generation core series and the Ryzen 4000 series to achieve even better value as CPU wars worsen, but that is a story for another day.
Masthead credit: Pawarun Chitchirachan