Today, we’re going to cover four of our top picks for best Intel processor. While there are a lot of great Intel Core processors, these are ones that represent the best of their respective niche and price range, either in value or sheer performance.
When buying a CPU you want to take into account your specific needs– you don’t just want to buy the latest Intel processor– that’s why we tried to do our best to cover a breadth of use cases so that it’d be easier for you to find the perfect CPU for your needs. We’ve even slid in a few more alternatives in the margins, just in case you’re extra discerning (or just aren’t interested in overclocking).
We’ll also make sure you understand how these CPUs perform in relativity to each other, though it won’t boil down to any old i3 vs i5 vs i7 battle. Let’s get into it.
How We Picked
The new generation of Intel CPUs is pretty much upon us. Here we have picked five great performers but included two 10-gen models too that aren’t widely available at the time of writing. We will update with links to buy them as soon as they appear.
Best Intel Processor – The Best CPUs from Intel in 2021
Outstanding for gaming
Without getting into the Intel v AMD argument here the i7-9700K is a fantastic processor. Is it as good a value as a Ryzen 7 3700X, possibly not but if you are wedded to Intel’s ecosystem that might just be irrelevant to you.
Eight cores and outstanding single-threaded performance make this a got to CPU for Intel fans – as long as you have the cash to put down on it. While it isn’t an I9 you get similar performance, certainly in gaming at a much lower price. If you are wanting to use your rig for other things such as video editing and the like, then it might be best to look elsewhere but for a multi-purpose general out and out warrior that will still be in the budget for most people, look no further.
Just make sure you get a decent cooler too as they do run hot.
Good pound for pound contender
Outperforms many rivals
Low base clock of 2.9Ghz
For some time now the 9400F has been ranked as a favorite Intel CPU by many people. Its price point to performance value has made it hard to beat on a number of levels – especially if you have no intention of going down the overclocking route.
It’s six cores and 4.1Ghz clock when running Turbo mode mean it is ample for the majority of things you will want to do with it. It’s not as easily overclocked as other models and there is no hyperthreading but if you are looking for a great CPU and you are on a restrictive budget this is certainly worth looking into.
Good for budget multi-purpose set ups.
No built in graphics
Not everybody wants to or can afford the latest and greatest when it comes to a new CPU. For some people who just want to build out a new multi-purpose rig sometimes less is definitely more and the i3-9100F is a great option for people in that position.
It’s quad-core with a boosted 4.2Ghz clock that means it is suitable for any budget gaming PC too, especially if you pair it with a half-decent GPU to handle the grunt.
Intel Core i5-10600K
Base clock: 3.5GHz
Boost clock: 4.7GHz
Good price for mi d-range budgets
No PCIe 4.0 on this gen yet
Now we are getting onto Intel’s new generation that are just starting to arrive on the shelves. There are no links to buy yet and we will be adding them soon, but feel free to click on one of the above links and have a poke around yourself in case you find it before we do!
Now mid-range builders can get their hand on hyper-threading from INtel without remortgaging the house. You will need a decent cooling solution as it has a high power consumption but decent thermals help stop it running away with itself – it’s just something to bear in mind.
Intel Core i9-10900K
Base clock: 3.7GHz
Boost clock: 5.3GHz
Good single core performer
High performance option for your next build
No PCIe 4.0
If you are waiting on a new high-end Intel processor for your next build then this is going to be the one you end up choosing when it arrives over the next couple of days. Like the other 10th gen CPUs they are power-hungry little monsters but this is a huge improvement over the last generation with an extra couple of cores and threads bringing the numbers up to 1 and 120 respectively.
Single-core performance here is outstanding and there can be no doubting this chip will for the brains of many a PC build over the coming year with good reason. Hunt it down the second it arrives on the shelves.
Things To Consider
Buying The Best Intel Processor For You
If you didn’t understand all the specs and lingo we were tossing around earlier in the article, don’t worry: we’re here to help. This section should help you better understand what everything meant, but if you have additional questions…feel free to comment below.
Cores, Threads, and what they mean
In the olden days of processors, “cores” did not exist. Rather, a core by itself was considered the processor, and the later addition of cores was akin to bundling multiple processors in one. Nowadays, dual and quad-core processors are the standard, with the idea of a single-core processor being outright laughable and unheard of to today’s consumers.
A “thread” is something similar to a core. Think of a thread as the way a core is viewed by your OS– a virtual core if you will. With most processors, software threads and hardware cores are identical!
With “hyperthreading” technology, however, multiple threads can exist per core. This essentially translates to extra virtual cores, usually without a cost to per-core performance. (Exceptions to this are seen with server-grade processors and “consumer” processors like the i9 Extreme Edition and AMD Threadripper, where the sheer density of cores and threads results in reduced single-core performance.)
Typically-speaking, your most important metric for gaming performance will be single-core performance. Most titles are not optimized to use any more than four CPU cores, but a few cutting-edge games exist that break this trend.
Additional cores and threads aren’t really for gaming purposes. Instead, these will be more useful to Twitch streamers, video creators, and professional use. Keep this in mind when evaluating the CPUs above.
Clock speed and overclocking
Clock speed is a measure of…well, speed. Specifically, the effective speed (measured in Gigahertz) of a processor’s cores. Base clock speed refers to the average clock speed the CPU may operate at (unless power-saving is enabled by the OS, in which case the CPU downclocks), and boost clock speed, or turbo, refers to the maximum speed the CPU can reach.
These maximum speeds are dependent on the cooling conditions of the PC in question. The better your cooling, the more your processor can push its Turbo frequencies. (Assuming your processor has turbo mode.)
“Overclocking” refers to the practice of manually setting higher clock speeds in order to achieve more performance. Once upon a time, you could do this with any processor, but nowadays this feature is locked down to specific CPUs and motherboard architectures.
With Intel in particular, only processors whose names end in K can be overclocked. These overclockable CPUs will also need either a Z370 motherboard or Z390 motherboard to utilize their overclocking functionalities.
Overclocking generally requires more power, cooling, tweaking, and maintenance than average CPU usage. In the case of an Intel CPU, overclocking-capable CPUs and motherboards will also cost a good bit more. Keep this in mind when making your purchase (that’s why we suggested non-overclockable alternatives for the 8600K and 8700K!)
All of this being said, you can’t necessarily compare clock speed across generations of CPUs because their architecture makes them too different to compare.
Intel Processor Generations: 8th gen vs 9th gen and the new 10th gen
The first three CPUs on this list belong to either the 8th or 9th generation (indicated by whether they are 8000 or 9000 series respectively). The main difference between 8th and 9th Generation Intel CPUs are…
Well… while this isn’t always the case between generations, here it’s mainly the numbers. Sometimes there’s fewer threads, a higher core count, or a higher clock speed, but in terms of effective speeds, 8th and 9th Gen Intel CPUs are closer than ever.
They also operate on the same motherboards, though 8th Gen motherboards may require a BIOs update before they can be used with 9th Gen CPUs. Always be sure to check with the manufacturer that your 9th Gen CPU is compatible if you aren’t sure.
In the case of 8th Gen vs 9th Gen, we honestly just recommend buying whichever is cheaper.
The last two are the brand new, not even on some shelves yet 10th gen processors which will need a new motherboard – a Z490 will do it as they fit a brand new socket design. If you invest in one of these though you are potentially future-proofing yourself for years to come.