We as consumers have the opportunity to live during very competitive times in the CPU market; AMD and Intel have really fought-out almost each and every segment of the processor market, giving us better prices and more performance at each price point. There is no hiding that AMD usually has the better value options in both the gaming and productivity sector but with Intel, you’re still getting that little extra gaming performance at the top end that many people seek.
These being said, we at PremiumBuilds always thrive to provide you with the best performance and value builds for your money so we always research in order to be aware of what parts are best in every situation. The following article will deal with this exact aspect; splitting the CPU market into categories and finding out what’s the best CPU you can buy in each one of them, with options for the best budget, all-rounder, productivity, gaming & extreme desktop CPUs. Here we go!
Best CPUs – Our Recommendations
Best Budget CPU ($100-150)
First up we have our best budget CPU pick and quite a lot has changed in this market segment in the past year; in that time we’ve seen the arrival of AMD’s third generation Ryzen 3 series as well as Intel’s 10th gen core i3 range so there are quite a few new CPUs to pick from. Before we get to that here’s a brief history of this category; back in 2017 the Intel Pentium G4560 was the best budget CPU but the following year, during mid 2018, the first generation Zen launched and Ryzen 3 3200 G took over the performance crown in this category. It remained there as the best option throughout 2018 along the Ryzen 3 2400 G which offered slightly better value once pricing started to drop for this Simultaneous Multi Threaded APU.
Later, during 2019 we would’ve recommended the Ryzen 3 3400G; do you see a pattern here? But now it’s 2020 and the Ryzen 3 series has launched with two budget CPUs added to the mix; the 3300X and 3100. If we would have to compare the current generation 10th generation Intel Core i3 10100 and the Ryzen 3 3300X we would have to give the win to AMD’s CPU; it’s by far the best option thanks to its unprecedented value and performance at just $120. The 3100 is also a good deal at $100 but it’s well worth spending the extra $20 to have the 3300X which has all its cores in a single CCX thus minimizing latency. In fact, the 3300X is the only third-generation AMD CPU that has its cores on a single CCX. The Intel Core i3 10100 CPU gets beaten by the Ryzen 3 3300X CPU in gaming at stock settings and thanks to its ability to overclock even on cheap boards, the gaming performance between it and the i3 10100 widens even more; the 3300X is also around 20% faster in productivity tasks such as core heavy applications.
The 3300X also supports memory overclocking even on affordable mid range B450 motherboards while Intel crippled its i3 10100 CPU with a maximum RAM speed of 2666; you’d have to get a Z490 motherboard in order to be allowed to tweak your memory higher but pairing the budget CPU with a high-end motherboard simply doesn’t make sense. Even if Intel made an attempt to become more competitive in this budget market, it was a case of too little too late. AMD really “slam dunks” Intel and there’s really no valid reason to buy an i3-10100 over the Ryzen 3 3300X besides the included iGPU in the 10100; it does everything better.
Best ‘Value’ All Rounder CPU ($150-250)
For more than two years now the best value all around desktop CPU category has been dominated by 6 core 12 threads AMD Ryzen 5 processors; in 2017 it was the Ryzen 5 1600, in 2018 the Ryzen 5 2600 and again in early 2019 after massive price cuts. After its launch in Spring 2019, the Ryzen 5 3600 became the undisputed champion of this category thanks to its notable improvements in IPC and manufacturing process while still remaining a 6 core 12 threads CPU. It is still, by far, the best value Desktop CPU at the time of this article and has in fact recently became even better value with prices for this part dropping to as low as $175; If you can’t find it for that price though, don’t worry, its still a great value even at $200.
The closest current competitor from Intel’s lineup is the 10th generation Intel Core i5 10400 and while it’s not a terrible alternative at its $190 retail price, the Ryzen 5 3600 CPU delivers up to 20% better performance in productivity tasks while delivering comparable gaming performance at stock. A key advantage of the Ryzen 5 3600 processor is its ability to be overclocked on any mid-range B450 motherboard, boards that also support memory tweaking and higher RAM speeds. With the i5 10400, you’re stuck at a maximum of 2666 with the B460 boards and the processor cannot be overclocked even on expensive Z490 motherboards; the multiplier is locked.
With the Ryzen 5 3600 and a B450 motherboard-CPU combo, you are getting overall better performance at a more affordable price and that is a win-win situation that Intel needs to deal with. If Intel were to allow memory tweaking and overclocking on their B460 boards, we would then consider recommending the locked Core i5-10400 for gaming in this price range; but until that happens, the 3600 remains the undisputed CPU here. The Intel part is just not compelling enough and seems like a low effort CPU. The Ryzen 5 3600 CPU still remains the best value all-rounder CPU in the $150 – $250 price range, the second year in a row. We are excited to see what the remainder of the year will offer in terms of CPU performance.
Best Value Productivity CPU ($300+)
When it comes to productivity, it doesn’t really matter what price point we’re talking about; in 2020 AMD Ryzen CPUs really do dominate across the board. If you want to get work done on the cheap nothing beats the Ryzen 3300 X – have a little bit more money to spend? The Ryzen 5 3600 is the next step up from 4 cores to 6 cores. Even more money to spend? Ryzen 7 3700X is a great 8 core 16 thread CPU and value gets better and better every day. An even higher budget? Ryzen 9 is there for you with its 12 core 3900XT and 16 core 3950X. For the two Ryzen 9 CPUs, before getting into any talk about value, Intel still has no CPU that can rival them when talking about productivity performance.
If you happen to have loads of cash on your hand or your business depends on you getting the job done in the fastest possible manner, there’s the Ryzen 3000 Threadripper CPU range but we’ll get to those in a moment. The point we’re trying to make here is that there are a number of Ryzen processors we could pick for this category and we really should. So this is more of a general Ryzen 7 / Ryzen 9 comparison pick. For example, the Ryzen 7 3700X is $285 right now; its amazing value at that price for a powerful 8 core 16 threads processor and we recommend it overspending ~$50 more for the Ryzen 7 3800X when there’s the Ryzen 9 3900X waiting around the $400 mark. The 3900X is still amazing value given you’re getting a 12 core 24 threads CPU which is something previously unheard of in the mainstream desktop CPU market.
Then, at the end of the consumer Ryzen ‘food chain’ there’s the Ryzen 9 3950X 16 core, 32 threads CPU; its a bit of a pricier processor at $700 and it might cost 40% more than the Intel Core i9 10900K but it is generally more than 40% faster in core heavy workloads and productivity tasks. Its a good deal for a 16 core consumer CPU. All these Ryzen CPUs leave you with great options to pick from at $300 for Ryzen 7, $400 for Ryzen 9 12 core and $700 for Ryzen 9 16 core.
Best High-Performance Gaming CPU
All out gaming performance!
Although we had expected the Intel Core i3 10100 and Intel Core i5 10400 to be more compelling for gamers than they ultimately turned out to be, we were pleasantly surprised by the Core i5 10600K processor. Sure, we ended up going with the Ryzen 5 3600 in the best all-rounder category and I think no one can argue that it doesn’t deserve it but if you plan to exclusively game on your system and don’t mind paying a premium for a Z490 motherboard together with a decent air cooler, the unlocked Intel Core i5 10600K is an attractive option that is priced to compete with the Ryzen 7 3700X. If you’re both interested in gaming and productivity, get the 3700X as its faster with its 2 extra cores but if you’re primarily gaming, the 10600K will beat it by a small margin most of the time, especially when overclocked.
The i5 10600K is a pretty great gaming processor that you can throw on a relatively affordable Z490 motherboard (for example, MSI’s Z490 Tomahawk @ $190) and then put $50 towards a decent air cooler and you have the basis of a seriously high-end gaming system. Overclocked to 5.0 / 5.1 GHz, it can deliver Core i9 10900K-like performance while being around 40% cheaper.
While we’re being partial to the Core i5 10600K, if we were to be true to this category, it’s the Core i9 10900K who really is the best performance gaming CPU. With its 10 unlocked cores, 20 threads, 5.2 GHz boost clock and a 5.2 GHz possible all core overclock, this thing games like a beast with no slowdowns in any game engine; be prepared to pay a lot for it though, together with a suitable cooler and a capable motherboard. Either way though, it is an unlocked 10th gen Core processor that will deliver maximum gaming performance in all titles and therefore we suggest that budget-conscious gamers aim for the Intel Core i5 10600K while those who don’t mind paying with their deep pockets and have an enthusiast GPU like the RTX 2080Ti in their sights, opt for the Core i9 10900K.
Best Extreme Desktop CPU
Budget-less maximum performance
This category is pretty easy, isn’t it? Ryzen 3rd generation Threadripper. There aren’t many other CPUs that even come close to the performance these CPUs bring to the table. They are pretty expensive but ultimately, they don’t break the bank if you’re seeking the ultimate performance in productivity; the price isn’t probably going to be your worst concern if you consider that the multi-core value these bring isn’t actually that bad.
That said, if the Ryzen Threadripper 3990X which retails around the $3,500 price point is a bit rich for your taste then the Threadripper 3970X or the Threadripper 3960X might be the better alternatives to the insane 64-core, 128-thread beast that is the Threadripper 3990X. For example, the 32-core 3970X can be had for $1,900 while the 24 core 3960X comes in at a slightly more affordable $1,400. Using such CPUs in productivity and editing rigs is such a great experience; as an example, 8K Warp Stabilizing in Premiere Pro, 3D compositing and rendering are very heavy tasks but this line of CPUs can do them flawlessly and at the same time without even breaking a sweat!
You need to realize that these CPUs aren’t for everyone but the people that need them for their businesses or hobbies are very thankful that they exist. If we were to compare these Threadripper CPUs with a more popular and known one such as the Intel Core i9 9900K, the Intel CPU would have no chance of sustaining a few harsh productivity tasks and would crash while the Threadrippers would plough through while simultaneously taking care of something else. They really are that powerful and do the work without asking any question or slowing you down with any system lag. The closest Intel competitor for these CPUs would be the 18 and 28-core Cascade Lake parts but they are almost non-existent due to supply issues and they objectively do not perform at the level of the Threadrippers while consuming much more power.
It’s great to see so many CPU options available in 2020 and whether you’re talking about Intel or AMD, I don’t think you can go wrong with any in the majority of categories. For example, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 might be our preference over the Intel Core i5 10400 but if you would happen to end up with the Intel processor, you wouldn’t exactly be disappointed with the experience; its still a very capable gaming chip and application performance is still even though some key features are missing on the Intel part.
Intel’s 10th gen lineup of CPUs is much more competitive than their previous 9th generation. They are now offering Hyper-Threading (SMT) support across the board and better pricing. Ultimately though, they are still beaten by AMD on almost all fronts but it seems to be a situation where supply is struggling to meet the demand so Intel doesn’t need to be any more competitive on pricing than they currently are. We researched the numbers of a few retailers around the world and discovered that the Ryzen 5 3600 alone has heavily outsold Intel’s entire 10th generation lineup. Amazon also approves of this as there’s also publicly available evidence that this the case; you’ll find the Ryzen 5 3600 as the number one bestseller while the best selling 10th gen Intel part, the Core i5 10400, is way down in the 15th position.
This has been going on for a while now and Intel really needs to start being more competitive in order to keep up with AMD’s continuous innovation. We are expecting to see even better value and performance out of the 11th gen Intel Core series and Ryzen 4000 series as the CPU ‘wars’ continue to heat up.
Meanwhile though, if you’re in need of a new CPU or an upgrade to your current one, there are a number of great options available at all ranges of prices. There haven’t been many times in which the processor market has been this competitive thus meaning you can probably find the perfect CPU for your taste and budget with relative ease. We hope that the above categories have been of help to you if you want to maximize performance in your budget and we will gladly see you in the comments below if you’ve got anything to add or discuss!