If you were on a particularly tight budget when Intel’s Sky and Coffee Lake CPUs were unleashed upon the world, you probably settled for a lower-end model in order to afford a new motherboard with the necessary LGA 1151 socket. Now, seemingly a million mobos later, Intel is slowly preparing the release of Lunar lake, but that LGA 1151 board still has a lot of love to give.
To prove this, we’ve rated and reviewed five of the very best LGA 1151 CPUs you can buy. We’ll look at the high-powered options, some middle-of-the-pack options, and some that are easier on the wallet too. Different though they may be, they all have one thing in common, they’re capable of breathing new life into that LGA 1151 motherboard. Let’s go!
How We Picked
We did the testing and research anyway, but before we even did any of the legwork, we already knew what the best CPUs compatible with LGA 1151 sockets were. Here at PC Guide headquarters, most of us have at some point or other used each of these CPUs in either our own personal builds or experimented heavily with them in a professional capacity.
We don’t just know the CPUs we’ve gathered here for you are the best because the numbers on their boxes claim so, we know they’re the best because we have a history with them. We know which ones have the best stock settings and which have the biggest headroom for overclocking. We know which ones are the best value for money and which suit each LGA 1151 chipset. We just…know them, and now we get to introduce them to you.
Best LGA 1151 CPU in 2021
16 threads make multitasking a walk in the park
Facilitates gaming averages beyond 100fps
3.6GHz base and 5GHz boosted clock speeds
A little pricey
The K-models of each Intel series are some of the best you can buy, even if they are over half a decade old, and the Intel Core i9 9900K is a testament to that. Featuring 8 cores and hyperthreading technology, it has twice the computational power you’d ever need for most gaming scenarios. This CPU is a good match for the top-end LGA 1151 chipsets such as a Z390 or even Q370, and with an insane 5GHz boosted clock, you’ll be able to run complex software in a swift and effortless fashion.
If you’re looking to get the most life possible out of your LGA 1151 motherboard before you eventually give in to the future and fork out for some new tech, then the i9 9900K should be a serious contender for you.
Featuring an octa-core structure and 16 threads, it’s absolutely the most powerful, not to mention the most versatile, LGA 1151 compatible CPU you can buy. Forget the hyperthreading; those 8 Coffee Lake cores would be more than enough in their own right for some buttery smooth, high-paced gaming. With the 8 extra threads, the i9 9900K is futureproofed for years to come.
It does come with an integrated Intel UHD 630 graphic card, but if you want to game in ultra settings, you’ll need to look into pairing it with a discrete GPU. Once you’ve sorted that out, you can expect the i9 900K to hit average frame rates in the 90s during demanding games like Shadow of War and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but for most titles, you can expect to demolish the 100fps threshold.
With 128GB of DDR4 memory, a 3.6GHz base clock, and a whopping 5GHz Turbo rate, this CPU won’t just shoulder heavy modern workflows, it’ll spin them on its silicone fingers, Globetrotter-style.
Faster for gaming than our top pick
12MB Intel Smart Cache
3.6GHz base and 4.9GHz boosted clock speeds
No hyperthreading means stilted multitasking
Not as future proof as our i9 top pick
While the i9 9900K is technically the best in the biz, if you’re not willing to part with that much of your hard-earned cash, drop those 9s for a pair 7s and you’re set! The i7 9700K features similar gaming performance, if not a bit faster than the i9, for roughly $100 less. I know what you’re thinking…what’s the catch, right? Well, the i7 9700K differs in a few little ways, but the most significant is that it does not feature hyperthreading technology, and so won’t be quite as nifty at supporting parallelizing workloads.
The i7 9700K is a non-nonsense gaming mega-force, and we’re not exaggerating just to pique your interest. This CPU is actually up to 5% faster for gaming than our expensive i9 top choice. The reason for the i7’s twinkle toes is that it’s a single-core CPU, and single-core systems are much more efficient during singular tasks than their hyperthreaded counterparts.
The lack of hyperthreading does mean that your multitasking will take a hit, but the good news is that 8 cores – single or not – are quite capable of handling normal amounts of simultaneous functions. Unless you’re a creative professional using multiple complex programs at the same time, you shouldn’t have a problem.
The i7 9700K does have a few other reduced capacities in comparison to its i9 cousin such as a 0.1GHz lower boosted clock speed, and a slightly smaller Smart Cache, but for gaming, these differences will be almost entirely negligible, making it by far the best value for money LGA 1151 CPU for gamers.
One thing to be wary of, though, is that modern AAA games are more frequently than ever designed to spread their instructions across however many threads they can reach, so for some games of the future, hyperthreading will be beneficial.
Paired with a strong Z370 board, it has decent headroom for OC-ing
Very impressive clock speeds
Features the same memory format as high-tier cards
Not great for threaded workloads
The i5 9600K may be running a little light on hardware compared to its bulky i7 and i9 superiors, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t flex what it’s got. The single-threaded, hexa-core design is packed full of gaming potential. If you’re looking for raw fps performance, but you’re on a strict budget, the i5 9600K should be the first place you look. It’s not too hot at supporting threaded workloads, but that’s not what it’s designed for, besides if that’s the kind of CPU you’re after, you’re better off barking up AMD’s tree.
Some might turn their nose up at 6 cores, to which we’d say they’ve been reading too many new tech articles. They’ve been spoiled on tales of Threadrippers and i9 10900Ks. The i5 9600K, with its hexa-core heart, is more than capable of pumping out some serious frame rates across a massive gamut of old and new games.
If you have the right gear, you can overclock this little monster to hell and back. It’ll take an advanced board along the lines of the MSI MEG Z390 Godlike, but if you’ve got it, you can reach stable frequencies as high as 5GHz. Even before any overclocking, this i5’s clock speed specs are pretty impressive, in fact, it has a 0.1GHz faster base frequency than both the i7 9700K and our LGA 1151 CPU champion, the i9 9900K.
This CPU performs especially well during games that thrive on per-core performance. It’s not quite encroaching on the i7 9700K’s territory, but it definitely offers beyond mid-level performance for mid-level prices.
Our one caveat is that the i5 9600K is more or less just a gaming CPU. General functionality is low latency, but due to the absence of hyperthreading, it’s not suitable for professional workloads.
6 single cores are ideal for gaming
4.1GHz boost frequency or 3.9GHz across all cores
9MB Intel Smart Cache
Not suitable for multitasking
No integrated Intel graphics card
This is a stripped-down version of our previous i5 K-Series pick, but the magical thing is, the stuff that Intel has chosen to omit in this design doesn’t really have any bearing on gaming performance. For instance, the integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics card is gone, bringing the price down, but you’ll be pairing it with a discrete GPU anyway, so no harm no foul, right?
You do lose out on a chunk of clock speed from one i5 to the next, leaving you with a base frequency of 2.9Hz, a little below the desirable rate for gaming, but simply flick on Turbo Boost in the BIOS and your max frequency hits highs of 4.1GHz. That’s only for single-core boosts, but you’ll be able to push out 3.9GHz boosts across all six cores.
One more minor downside to the entire F-Series is that they’re not unlocked, by which we mean that they can’t be manually overclocked, so if you consider yourself something of an OC wizard, scroll on…we won’t be mad. Who this CPU is perfect for is the average gamer that likes to simply sit down and actually play their favorite games.
Great clock speeds
4 single cores
Includes a cooling fan
No integrated graphics card
Can’t be overclocked
Not too capable of handling parallelizing workflows
Our final CPU for LGA 1151 socket types is one of the best i3 units you can buy. It not exactly stacked with hardware, containing only 4 single-threaded cores, but it has all it needs to supplant your old processor and keep you gaming on that LGA 1151 motherboard for at least a few more years.
What still impresses us about the i3 9100F are its awesome clock speeds. It bottoms out at 3.6GHz, which is beyond the minimum requirement for some snappy gaming, and it can be boosted to an admirable 4.2GHz when you need some extra juice.
Burdened by that ‘F’ suffix, you won’t be able to tweak performance with any manual overclocking whatsoever, so it’s by no means an enthusiast unit, but if all you’re worried about is the capacity to run games, the i3 9100F is a fantastic budget option.
Much like our penultimate pick, this i3 unit doesn’t include any integrated graphics facilities, but it does come with a cooling fan, so if you like to keep a chill, quiet case, it won’t disappoint.
Things To Consider
Cores and Threads
Let’s get down to business! CPU cores should be your first consideration when buying a CPU no matter what socket type you need. Cores are responsible for all primary instruction executions. They’re both the brains and the brawn of your CPU, so it makes sense that the more you have, the better your CPU will perform.
Intel cores can also be hyperthreaded, meaning each core has two threads. This almost doubles the processing power, but slightly increases latency. As such, hyperthreading is great for multitasking, but not quite as swift as single-core CPUs for focused workflows.
Clock speed should be your second port of call. Clock speed and CPU cores are partners. Generally speaking, cores control the bulk of applications that can be handled simultaneously, while clock speed – measured in GHz – defines how fast they load and function as you interact with them.
Clock speed is measured in GHz and will be given in two forms: base rates and boost rates. The base rate is the normal frequency your CPU will run at. The boost rate is the maximum frequency it will reach when Intel Boost Technology is enabled in the BIOS.
Pretty much every new generation of Intel CPU is built using a different architectural blueprint. CPU architecture refers to their physical structure and processes. It’s these physical changes that enhance performance, and they’re the reason you need a shiny new motherboard every time Intel announces they’ve got a new CPU up their sleeve.
Other than physical differences, new architecture normally means a CPU is more energy-efficient, able to accommodate a greater number of cores, may have an enhanced thermal treatment, and perhaps even feature completely new and exciting processes. Even if an older top-tier CPU has faster clock speeds or more cores than a new entry-level model, how the new CPU handles instructions and data will be more efficient.
What people mean when they talk about multitasking in a computational context is the CPU’s ability to run different software in parallel with full functionality in each application without the risk of crashing. For example, if you’ve got a billion tabs open, you’re listening to music, live streaming, and playing games all at once, that’s multitasking.
As we mentioned earlier, hyperthreaded cores are fantastic at multitasking. They’re the jugglers of the tech world. The more threads you have, the more they can handle. Rudimentary multitasking is essential to everyone these days but never is it so important as it is for content creators.
Tech may move pretty dang fast these days, but LGA 1151 motherboards aren’t quite out of the race just yet. There should be something on our list for just about everyone. We have a premium performer in the i9 9900K, for someone looking for an epic all-rounder CPU, and the i7 9700K is the top dog for high frames per second gaming thanks to those single-threaded cores.
Either of our i5 offerings will bring a similar single-core performance to your build for a wallet-friendly price, but you’ll have to sacrifice multitasking capabilities, especially in the i5 9400F. If you’re torn between these two CPUs, simply choose the K if you plan on overclocking and the F if you have no desire to alter stock settings.
Finally, we come to our budget bruiser, the i3. It’s not the most versatile of chips, but if all you want is a dedicated CPU for gaming in 1080p resolutions, it’s absolutely the way forward.
Did any of our LGA 1151 CPU suggestions catch your eye? If not, you may want to start saving for a motherboard with a newer socket, but if this list proves anything, it’s that you really don’t have to any time soon.