Even if AMD’s Ryzen processors offered real competition to Intel when they debuted in 2017, Intel chips are still arguably the best for gaming and other predominantly single-threaded tasks. Whatever reason you want to go Intel on your next upgrade though, this guide will show you the best Intel processors whether you’re looking for something entry level, or a little more on the high-end side of the spectrum.
Don’t forget that there are plenty of great options outside the world of best choices for Intel. This guide doesn’t extend to the very cheapest of Intel chips, though these are the ones we’d recommend you check out first before dipping lower. There are also chips well above our extreme-rated-recommendation, though those is really only recommendable for those with an unlimited budget.
For a more varied look at great CPUs for any budget, check out our manufacturer-agnostic guide to the best processors available today.
Entry level: Pentium G4560 ($80)
The entry-level market has always been one of the most hotly competitive and there are a lot of processors to choose from, meaning there’s something for every “entry-level” budget. Although we would certainly urge most people to consider AMD hardware at this price point, it’s hard to go wrong with the Pentium G4560.
Considered by many to be one of the best ultra-affordable gaming processors out there, the Pentium G4560 stands apart from predecessors with the same nomenclature by supporting hyperthreading. That means although it only has two cores, it can run four threads at once, which gives it solid multithreaded performance. In fact, in many tests it’s only a couple of steps behind the much more expensive i3-7100.
The G4560 isn’t going to hold a candle to any recent-generation Core i5 or i7 CPUs, but it represents a great starting off point for anyone looking to build a budget system. If you plan to use onboard graphics, it might be worth considering the Pentium 4600 for its more powerful Intel HD 630 graphics core.
Although we would love to recommend you one of the latest generation Core i3 CPUs, like the fantastically powerful i3 8100 with its four cores, at this point it’s not a viable option for entry-level buyers. While the CPU itself is affordable, the only available motherboards are Z370s which are typically north of $130 a piece.
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Mid-range: Core i5-8400 ($210)
As nice as it is to see Intel upping the core counts of all its eighth-generation processors, the real sweet spot in the Coffee Lake line up is the Core i5-8400. Hailed by many as the best mainstream gaming processor in generations, it comes with some impressive specifications considering its relatively diminutive price point.
Although it lacks hyperthreading and the ability to easily overclock it, the i5-8400 comes with six cores, which is more than enough for most programs and a decent frequency of 4.0GHz when in turbo mode. Although its base frequency of 2.8GHz might look weak compared to previous generations, that helps keeps its power demands to just 65 watts.
In many benchmarks, especially in gaming, this chip easily outperforms the beloved Core i5-7600K from the previous generation and even rivals the much heftier Core i7-7700K in some tests. That’s very impressive considering the 8400’s significantly cheaper price than either of those options.
The only real downside to the 8400 is that as part of the newest generation of CPUs, it is only compatible with 300 series motherboards. That means that whatever set up you’re running now you’re going to need a new motherboard too.
If you don’t want to upgrade your motherboard and processor all in one go, a last-generation alternative would be the i5-7600. A still solid processor, though not as easy to recommend as the new poster-child of mainstream gaming that is the 8400.
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High-end: Core i7-7700K ($315)
As much as even our review of the i7-7700K suggested that the Core i5 range of Intel’s latest chips offer better value, there’s no denying that the additional threads of a Core i7 CPU do have their benefits. With some of the best single-core performance of any chip available today and enough additional cores and threads for those more multithreaded scenarios, the Core i7-7700K is a fantastic processor for those with an inflated budget.
The chip sports four cores, with eight threads thanks to multithreading and a base frequency of 4.2GHz. That can turbo up to 4.5GHz as and when required and thanks to that “K” designation, this chip is unlocked, so can be overclocked easily. Although the 7700K typically struggles to get close to 5.0GHz, it is an already exceedingly fast chip, so any extra megahertz are a nice treat, rather than to be expected.
Another real benefit of the 7700K is its compatibility. Although it isn’t of the latest generation of Intel chips, it supports both 100 (with a BIOS update) and 200 series chipsets, making it widely compatible with various motherboards.
All of that can be had for $315, which is a hell of a lot of processor for your money. Although we could certainly draw comparisons between this chip and the newer generation Core i7-8700K, which has more cores and threads, the additional $100 on the price tag and lack of large performance gains just doesn’t seem worth it to us. For that reason and the overall stellar status of the 7700K, it continues to be our high-end recommendation.
That’s not to say we don’t love the new 8th-gen chips though. They’ve begun showing up in the latest-generations of some of our favorite laptops, such as the Dell XPS 13 or Surface Book 2 — and have been clocking in at some impressive speeds. Unfortunately, without some compatible motherboards on the market that aren’t extremely expensive, we can’t recommend them when building your next PC just yet.
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Extreme: Core i9-7900X ($960)
In response to AMD’s Ryzen and Threadripper CPUs Intel introduced a number of staggeringly powerful processors in the latter half of 2017, so there’s a lot to pick from. However, when you’re talking about spending upwards of $1,000 on a processor, there are certainly some with more bang for buck than others.
As much as you might eye the ludicrously expensive 7980XE with envy for its 18 cores, that’s complete overkill for almost anyone, even someone with your impressively deep pockets. In comparison, the 7900X is a much more worthwhile purchase.
Although still expensive at $960, the 7900X is the cheapest of the Skylake-X range of Core i9 CPUs and is a fantastically powerful processor. With 10 cores, 20 threads (with hyperthreading), and a frequency that can turbo up to 4.5GHz using Turbo Boost Max 3.0, it offers ridiculous single and multithreaded performance. If you’re a sporadic upgrader, it will easily futureproof you for a few generations without missing a step.
Its advantages over the high-end alternative won’t be revolutionary in its effects on games, but it will be noticeable and for those planning to do high-resolution video editing and other intensive tasks. It’s there where the additional cores will absolutely make a difference.
The 7900X is still overkill for most users, but if you want one of the fastest Intel processors in the world without remortgaging your home, the 7900X is the best choice.
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