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.
For a more varied look at great CPUs for any budget, check out our manufacturer-agnostic guide to the best processors available today.
Core i5-8400 ($ 205)
The best Intel processor
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 TPD 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.
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Pentium Gold G5600 ($ 107)
The best budget Intel processor
If you’re looking for an eighth-generation processor that doesn’t set your wallet on fire, the Pentium Gold G5600 is your golden ticket. It’s a two-core chip clocked at a steady 3.9GHz that doesn’t provide any additional boost speeds. The chip consumes a mere 54 watts of power making it a great selection if you don’t plan on installing a meaty power supply in your desktop.
Benchmark results regarding this chip depend on the operating system. The best scores seen on Geekbench for a Windows-based machine sees the chip with a 4,939 score for the single-core test and a 9,403 score for the multi-core test. It’s a nice jump over the previous-generation gold-free Pentium G4560 in single- and multi-core performance, but it falls slightly behind the Core i3-8100 four-core chip in single-core performance. The Pentium can’t compete with the Core i3 in multi-core testing given it’s locked down to two physical cores.
But the Core i3-8100 is a $ 130 part, and you’re barely breaking into three digits with the Pentium Gold G5600. Launched in the second quarter of 2018, the G5600 features the benefits of Intel’s eighth-generation design including an integrated UHD Graphics 630 GPU component, higher speeds, and so on. However, this specific chip doesn’t support Turbo Boost Technology or Intel Optane memory.
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Core i7-9700K ($ 410)
The best high-end Intel processor
It comes with eight cores and 12MB of onboard cache. Its base frequency sits at 3.6GHz, but when pushed into turbo mode it can hit up to 4.9GHz on a limited number of cores. Since this is a K-series processor too, it can be overlocked easily with an adjusted multiplier and with good cooling should be able to hit 5Ghz on a number of cores.
Its performance improvements over its predecessor aren’t dramatic, so we wouldn’t recommend upgrading to it if you have an 8700K already, but for anyone running older generations of hardware, it’s a decent upgrade. It has hardware fixes for Spectre and Meltdown bugs too, so if you’re security conscious that is worth considering.
The only downside to it is that it’s mostly sold out at the time of writing and that’s driven up prices. If you can wait a little until stock has improved, prices should come down as the suggested retail price is around $ 380, rather than the $ 410 it’s currently commonly found at.
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Core i9-9900K ($ 580)
The best pure performance
It might be expensive, but Intel’s new Core i9-9900K is the best gaming CPU ever made. It ships with the ability to turbo up to 5GHz on a couple of cores and has eight of them to play with. Also, unlike its smaller sibling, the 9700K, it has full support for hyperthreading so can handle up to 16 threads at a time.
In our testing, we found it far more capable than even some of AMD’s Threadripper CPUs and although we wouldn’t say it’s as powerful as some early sources claimed, it’s definitely the best gaming processor in the world. It managed almost 120 FPS in Civilization VI at 1440P on Ultra settings when paired with an RTX 2080, and even a solid 68 FPS on average in the always-taxing, Dexus Ex: Mankind Divided at the same settings.
It’s also exceedingly powerful in multithreaded scenarios and when using professional tools. There are more extreme Intel CPUs that cost well north of $ 1,000 that would likely beat it in applications that can take advantage of more cores and threads than this CPU has, but there are few who will need more power than the 9900K has to offer.
As with the 9700K though, pricing and availability are the bane of the new nine-series CPU. It has a suggested retail price around $ 490, but at the moment you’ll be lucky to find it for anything under $ 580 if it’s in stock at all.
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