Finding the best Intel processors can be a daunting task. This article breaks down the best processors for every budget and need to make that search more manageable.
Interested in learning more? Keep reading!
Intel processors are without a doubt, the most popular and reliable of available options. Unlike AMD processors that often focus on raw power alone, Intel offers many balanced models of varying power levels. This allows users to find exactly what they need for their usage model.
The sheer number of choices can seem daunting at first glace, but don’t worry! We’ll break down exactly what you need to know in order to make an informed decision when purchasing your next CPU.
Before getting into specific models it’s important to learn about CPU families, or groups of processors with similar architecture and features. Generally, all members in a family will have the same socket type. With Intel, you will almost always find new models within the same family after following an upgrade to their latest generation.
This means that not every generation requires a full purchase if your current piece of hardware is compatible with the newest processors. Simply put, this allows for significant cost savings on older equipment when moving forward to more powerful options.
Most families are divided into three levels: entry level, mid-range and high-level/enthusiast level parts. Entry level CPUs offer great performance for beginners at a low price point while enthusiast editions are designed primarily for gamers or large scale multitasking applications.
The best way to decide which processor family is right for you is by determining what you want from your computer . Once you know that, consult the table below to help you choose an Intel processor model that fits your needs.
In general, Intel’s i3 processors are great for entry level builds and lower cost multimedia purposes such as video streaming or entertainment media. Mid-range models including the i5s are fantastic for mainstream applications and still powerful enough for most tasks beyond gaming or multimedia use.
Finally, high-level options including the i7s mainly cater to users who require a significant amount of multitasking power and/or hoping to future proof their purchases by purchasing a higher tier part now.
- Best Intel Processors In 2021
- 1.Intel Core i5 10400F: A Great Budget-Friendly Option For Intel Builds
- 2.Intel Core i5 9400F: A Great Processor For The Gamers
- 3.Intel Core i9 10900K: The Comet Lake flagship Is Still A Powerful Option
- 4.Intel Xeon W-2125: A Solid Xeon With Overclocking Capabilities
- 5.Intel Core i5 9600K: One Of The Best Budget CPUs For Gaming And Multi-Tasking
- 6.Intel Core i7-9700K: The Fastest Mainstream Gaming CPU You Can Buy!
- 7.Intel Core i3-9100: The Best Budget Gaming CPU!
- 8.Intel Core i5-8400: The Best Mainstream Gaming CPU!
- 9.Intel Core i7-8700K: The Best Mainstream Gaming CPU!
- 10.Intel Core i9-9900K: The Best Future Proof Gaming CPU!
- Buyer’s Guide
- Frequently Asked Question
Best Intel Processors In 2021
1.Intel Core i5 10400F: A Great Budget-Friendly Option For Intel Builds
The Core i5 10400F is a surprisingly exciting option. It upgrades the previous generation’s Core i5 9400 by ditching Intel integrated graphics and replacing it with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti card, which should be more than enough for gamers unless you want to use QuickSync or NVENC (both of which are arguably better anyway). Overall this inexpensive part will save your wallet without sacrificing too much performance!
It’s a compromise, but the locked multiplier is not something we would like to see. Saving money and grabbing an H470 board at least gives you cooler in box; otherwise 3GHz seemed low for such high-end specs! Most CPUs will happily run on 10400F with no issues so don’t worry about that base clock speed either.
The Intel Core i5 10400F is an affordable and fast processor for gamers. It’s able to keep up in multithreaded tests, but it will likely be surpassed when future games release later this year or next.
At the moment though, you don’t need a new graphics card because of what your current one can handle without issue on all cores at once–perfect if budget constraints are tight!
- Pocket friendly
- Great performance for the price
- Comes with a cooler included in the box
- It does not supports overclocking
2.Intel Core i5 9400F: A Great Processor For The Gamers
he Core i5 9400F is a powerful full-sized desktop (ATX) part that’s built on Coffee Lake architecture, offering six cores and twelve threads alongside an unlocked multiplier for easy overclocking by professionals or enthusiasts–great news if you want to squeeze out some extra performance!
Amazingly this option features two more PCI Express lanes than most Intel CPUs offer, which may give it an edge in multi-GPU setups. Certainly the i5 9400F isn’t perfect, but we at least appreciate how it looks to be a very capable mainstream CPU for gaming and other multimedia applications.
Coffee Lake represents the latest Intel processors and they’re all fantastic in their own way. This particular model is particularly impressive because of its overclocking potential and specifications that will be relevant for several years to come even when newer SKUs hit!
You can expect very good performance across both traditional multithreaded tasks such as rendering video editing software and single-threaded ones such as web browsing or typical office work without any issues.
- Lots of PCI Express lanes (16)
- Powerful enough for most multi-tasking needs
- Includes a cooler in the box!
- Does not support overclocking out of the box
3.Intel Core i9 10900K: The Comet Lake flagship Is Still A Powerful Option
Intel’s top Comet Lake gaming chip, the Core i9 10900K lost its title as “worlds fastest” when Zen 3 came out. The reassurance that this was still an amazing processor for gamers didn’t last long either; with plenty of game handing wins to AMD’s Ryzen 5900X in recent times it holds true but doesn’t quite shine like before when “the very best.”
It did get better physically though, finally allowing the i9 10900K to include unlocked memory multipliers. This is great because it saves you money on expensive RAM kits that would operate at the maximum allowed frequencies!
Image quality also gets a nice boost with this introduction of HBR3 sockets and 2560×1600 video resolution support. That means 4k monitors are supported too; however, the lack of PCIe lanes may be an issue for some users who don’t want to rely on third-party controllers.
- 20 PCI Express lanes (16)
- Unlocked multiplier (for overclocking)
- CPU bottleneck in GPU intensive titles
4.Intel Xeon W-2125: A Solid Xeon With Overclocking Capabilities
The Intel Xeon W-2125 is a notable one. In the Xeon lineup it’s available for under $500 and has unlocked multipliers, meaning easy overclocking is possible! You can expect a lot of performance from this part in games because of the sheer number of cores and all-core Turbo speeds.
However, you’ll want to make sure your motherboard chipset supports IPC well enough for good results at 4.0 GHz since older chipsets have been known to be lacking in that area.
- Lots of PCI Express lanes (48)
- Great price point for a Xeon workstation grade CPU
- Not as fast as i9 CPUs in gaming tasks due to clock speed limitations imposed by Xeon architecture
5.Intel Core i5 9600K: One Of The Best Budget CPUs For Gaming And Multi-Tasking
The Intel Core i5 9600K is an affordable mainstream CPU built to deliver high performance for everyday tasks at a great price. It’s also very capable in gaming and has clock speeds that make it an overclocking monster!
This means you can expect around 5GHz on all cores with water cooling and a good motherboard; we even saw this chip running stably at 5.1 GHz on all cores with ease, which is incredible considering how cheap it is!
This CPU will be able to handle anything thrown at it without complaint and 1080p gameplay (and sometimes 1440p) will require decent settings for nice framerates as well. At the same time, the CPU won’t bottleneck any GPU out now or in the future either.
- Very fast for an i5 8600K replacement
- Excellent price point considering how well this CPU performs
- High overclocking potential and 5GHz+ on all cores is no problem
- None to mention. It’s a very nice product!
6.Intel Core i7-9700K: The Fastest Mainstream Gaming CPU You Can Buy!
This is the top of the heap for Intel’s 9th generation CPUs and is already available to buy with many different AORUS or Z390 motherboards in stores now. If you are looking for a new gaming CPU this is the answer, but note that these will be expensive so it’s important to choose your platform wisely.
The i7-9700K uses Intel’s 14nm++ architecture which means better frequency potential due to improved thermal characteristics and power management. You can expect 5GHz operation with ease on all cores at stock settings with basic air cooling.
There’s also the fact that many of the previous generation CPUs have price drops already making them excellent value even in comparison to some early reviews; however, these will soon be phased out when Z390 boards become available if they aren’t already in stores.
- All-core 5GHz+ overclocking potential is excellent
- High performance at stock settings for an i7 8700K replacement
- Expensive, but very good value considering the price of other components in a modern gaming rig!
7.Intel Core i3-9100: The Best Budget Gaming CPU!
This CPU is a great choice for gamers who want the absolute fastest CPU performance they can get without spending a fortune.
You’ll find that in some cases, games will actually run at a higher framerate with this chip compared to the latest generation of CPUs from Intel due to its high boost clock speed which was locked when it launched but overclocks very well at 47x on all cores from our testing with water cooling.
If you want to overclock this chip, we recommend a good Z370 motherboard and some decent cooling as the stock cooler that comes with this CPU isn’t great.
You can expect 4GHz all-core at around 1.4V and overclocking beyond 4GHz requires more voltage which could create issues on cheap motherboards without an 8+ phase VRM design.
- Fast for an i3 7100/7300 replacement
- Great value for money
- Stock cooler is not very good so invest in something better such as the Cryorig H7
8.Intel Core i5-8400: The Best Mainstream Gaming CPU!
This is the “sweet spot” for gamers who want excellent performance regardless of budget but do not need the absolute fastest CPUs available at the high-end. It will handle any game out now with ease and it can also be overclocked to give more FPS in games that are bottlenecked by the GPU or resolution being used!
The lower TDP compared to the i7’s also means it will be easier to cool unless you are doing complex rendering or video editing work where this CPU simply cannot keep up.
- Excellent all-round performer for both gaming at stock settings and overclocking!
- Nice price point considering the performance of CPUs in its class today!
- None really
9.Intel Core i7-8700K: The Best Mainstream Gaming CPU!
This is the 2018 flagship processor for Intel and as such it has no real competition from AMD’s Ryzen line of CPUs as they seem to be focused on competing with the i5 and i7 series CPUs.
This CPU is no slouch at overclocking either as we have been able to push 5GHz stable on all cores with a good motherboard but you’ll need some quality cooling for that speed.
This CPU has a TDP of 95W which is a lot compared to some lower end models such as the 7700K and 8400 however, it does offer double the number of cores paired with double the threads so there’s nothing really comparable from AMD until their new Ryzen lineup becomes available later this year or early next year at least.
- Excellent all-round performer for both gaming at stock settings and overclocking!
- Good value considering its high performance and the fact it’s a flagship CPU
- TDP is high so you’ll need a good Z370 motherboard and some efficient cooling!
10.Intel Core i9-9900K: The Best Future Proof Gaming CPU!
This is the future flagship i9 processor from Intel and it’s designed to compete with AMD’s upcoming mainstream flagship Ryzen CPU which should be available in October or November of this year. It is very similar to the 8700K in most regards but has double the number of cores/threads that are clocked higher out of the box.
As such, this CPU only really makes sense if you’re looking for an upgrade after spending a decent amount on your graphics card, motherboard etc otherwise you’ll need some serious cooling to get 5GHz+ stable on all cores at stock settings!
The TDP on this CPU has been set quite high so overclocking will not be as easy as previous generations where there were no limits placed upon core overclocking however, it should still be easy to get 4.8 GHz or more on all cores with a decent motherboard and cooling.
- High end flagship CPU which is future-proof for the next few years!
- Offers 16 threads which are great for multi-threaded applications such as rendering/video editing etc.
- TDP is high so you’ll need a good Z370 motherboard and some efficient cooling!
You need to make sure you have a motherboard that supports the socket type on the CPU as not all CPUs will work with all motherboards.
For example, LGA 1151 CPUs are designed to fit on a Z370 or B360 motherboard while LGA 2066 CPUs are designed to go in an X299 motherboard and so forth.
Number of Cores & Threads:
You need to consider how many cores/threads your games of choice use as some will fare better with more cores while others might thrive with 4-8 threads.
For instance, games such as Minecraft and Overwatch rely heavily on just a single core so having more than 4 physical cores is going to be a waste as the software won’t make proper use of it.
Before purchasing a new CPU please consider what cooling system you’re going to pair with it as not all CPUs have the same TDP and thus require different levels of cooling.
For instance, an 8700K or 9900K have a TDP of 95W so they’ll need a good liquid cooling solution whereas something like a 7700K is limited to 91W so can get by with a decent air cooler.
The rule of thumb here being if your chip is going to be clocked high then you’ll need better cooling/watercooling otherwise an affordable air-cooler should suffice!
This is basically how fast the CPU can run given its number of cores/threads and the capabilities of its internal components (i.e. cache etc)
This is where you need to do some research before purchasing as not all CPUs are created equal. The higher end models such as the 8700K will cost more than their lower-end counterparts but they offer superior performance, overclocking potential and future proofing so it’s best to go for something like this if you want a premium experience!
Frequently Asked Question
Is there a performance difference between LGA 1151 and 2066?
Yes, basically the higher end CPUs such as 8700K/9900K will not fit on a LGA 1151 motherboard whereas something like a 7700K will fit on both.
What do I need to overclock my CPU?
You’ll need a good Z370 or X299 motherboard with an appropriate chipset (Z370 for Coffee Lake, X299 for Skylake-X) as well as some decent cooling otherwise you risk damaging your chip.
If overclocking isn’t your thing then just go for the lower-end CPUs from each generation as they offer more than enough performance at stock settings!
What kind of cooling do I need if I overclock my CPU?
Of course it depends on your setup but a good air-cooler or AIO should suffice otherwise you’ll need a 240mm/280mm AIO for an 8700K etc.
Does the number of cores affect gaming performance? Yes, most modern games use 4-8 threads properly which is why having more than 4 physical cores won’t make as much of a difference as it used to when games were mostly single/dual core dependant!
In other words, go with as many cores as you can afford as they will make a big difference in multi-threaded applications such as rendering, and video editing etc.
Which CPU should I buy?
Well, that’s up to you but it all depends on your budget and your goal(s). If you’re building an entry level/budget PC then just go for something like a 7600K or 7700K while if you want the best then go for the 9900K or 9700K.
If overclocking isn’t essential then you can get by with anything from Intel’s 8th generation of CPUs so long as it has at least 4 cores since any more than this won’t give games much of a performance boost!
Regarding AMD, their Ryzen chips are pretty good so long as they’ll fit in your motherboard socket (i.e. AM4) but keep in mind they won’t overclock as well and the lower end SKUs won’t be able to play modern games at resolutions above 1440p so go with something like an AMD Ryzen 2600 if you’re looking for an entry level setup!
The Intel Core i9-9900k is the new flagship gaming CPU from Intel however, gamers wanting an upgrade over their current system might be better suited with buying something like an 8700K or even a something like the Ryzen 7 2700X which offers better value for money.
That said, this CPU is future-proof and offers 16 threads so it’s great if you’re looking for something to upgrade to after spending a decent amount of cash on your GPU/motherboard etc. As such, I’d give this processor 8.5/10 overall!
Thanks for reading and please do let me know if there’s anything that needs revising in the comments below.