Windows 11 is coming and while Microsoft has said they’re reconsidering their list of CPUs, as of right now, things are looking forward rather than considering those running machines with anything below 8th Gen Intel or 2nd Gen Ryzen. So what is the current best CPU?
CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is essentially the brains of your computer. While everything is else inside is vitally important for different things, the CPU controls pretty much all the different bits of the computer, from USB ports to your graphics card.
Of course, in the meantime, if you’re not ready to upgrade your CPU or even look for other options and want to see if whatever is in your machine will work just fine, we do have a full list of every CPU that Microsoft has confirmed to be working with Windows 11.
Also bear in mind that if you’re going to get into the Insider’s Program developer version before the beta hits later this year, Microsoft has removed all restrictions, which is why you can currently install the OS to a Raspberry Pi!
So when choosing the Best in terms of CPUs, especially for Microsoft’s Windows 11, we’ll need to consider the same things we pointed out for our Best Motherboards for Windows 11:
Future-proofing, compatibility and just a couple ‘budget’ options for those that might not be able to acquire a CPU during the current COVID electrical shortage.
We’ve also taken the best for Intel, AMD which will cover your gaming and general use, but then something for those who’re in the creative space and need a bit of extra oomph. We haven’t considered anything along the lines of AMD’s Epyc CPUs, as we doubt that unless you’re on that side of computing, you don’t really need to be reading about that stuff.
Best CPUs for Windows 11
Perfect for a refresh
Excellent gaming performance
Great creative performance
Best all rounder without being too expensive
A little hamstrung in anything more than light video or photo work
Really made for gaming/general PC use only
AMD’s CPUs, which have continually been improving or providing the best value for money since the launch of Ryzen.
These CPUs can be considered ‘best all rounders’, as even my 2700X from 2018 is still doing ridiculously well compared to other PCs made at the time.
As of right now, for regular humans and not weird nerds who need the most out of a piece of silicon (I’d go look up the 5900X and 5950X for that sort of stuff), AMD’s 5600X is by far and away from the best value for the power that it can put out.
Sitting around £260/$300, this Zen 3 CPU is both a fantastic upgrade for those on older hardware and an excellent starting point for entirely new builds.
Performance across the board when it comes to gaming is top-notch and can even beat 10th gen Intel CPUs at similar price points when it comes to creative work thanks to AMD’s multi-threaded performance. While it’s marketed more towards gaming, this CPU can absolutely do some light creative work in Photoshop and similar level programs.
The biggest downside to the newer Gen 3 Ryzens is that they all seem to lack an integrated graphics card, so when installing you’ll absolutely need a discrete GPU – which if you’re building or upgrading, you probably already have covered.
Great performance if you're moving up a couple generations
Access to PCIe 4.0
Unlocked for Overclocking
Still stuck on older hardware
Not terribly brilliant at anything
Little difference in performance between 9th, 10th and 11th gen
Recommending Intel CPUs is a little weird at the moment. The Blue Team have found themselves a little lagging behind in both performance and technology, as their incessant need to do everything themselves has rendered their current architecture a bit outdated in comparison to say, AMD’s Ryzen.
However, we wouldn’t be doing a Best CPU review if we didn’t intend to give you the skinny on just about everything CPU, would we?
Please bear in mind that if you’re on the 10th or 9th generation of Intel, just disregard this bit and maybe consider holding on until they release something worth upgrading to. The power differences between 9th, 10th and 11th are minuscule for those that just want to game and use their PC in a regular way. For someone like me, who edits video with hefty amounts of terribly daft VFX, if I was considering Intel, I’d be looking at the most recent generation anyway – it covers all bases.
While I’m recommending you stay on 9th or 10th generation CPUs, be aware that PCIe 4.0 isn’t supported on them and only on 11th and any future upgrades that come around, so if you have any intentions of slotting in high-speed SSDs or potential future GPU upgrades, just keep this in mind.
The Intel i5 11600K is absolutely the best bet here. While the performance differences between this and its previous generation aren’t massive leaps, the ability to use PCIe 4.0 is probably just enough to squeak it out.
Game, render and compile at the same time
The current end-all-be-all for creatives
Worth every penny
Ridiculously expensive CPU
Impossibly expensive to build around
Seriously, it's so much money
Okay, money is no object and you’re absolutely gunning for the best CPU overall. In our Motherboard round-up for Windows 11, we mentioned Threadripper for creatives, but of course, Threadripper can be used on anything really. It’s not like Quadro graphics cards, where NVIDIA design them specifically for other means instead of gaming,
So here’s the deal: the AMD Threadripper 3990X is overkill. In price, performance and more, if you’re just going to use it for gaming.
Threadripper prides itself on its multicore infrastructure and today’s games aren’t really designed with using the vast power of this particular CPU, so it will be wasted potential and in some cases, cash.
However, if you’re streaming, making things in DaVinci Resolve or Premiere Pro, After Effects or even designing games yourself and need the quickest PC possible, then after 5 pm you clock out and get into some gaming yourself, this is absolutely the processor you want to go for.
Multiple companies that build PCs will always have a Threadripper variation of their AMD builds as a ‘best available’ sort of option.
These aren’t cheap though and the motherboards needed do have their own special slot – AM4 boards will not work – so you’ll be shelling out a little extra on top of the gargantuan price of the CPU itself.
But like we’ve said, if you’re creative, don’t sleep on the Threadripper, especially if your work is incredibly taxing – like rendering – and you need to work through a lot of it.
Better performance than some more expensive, older CPUs
Access to PCIe 4.0
Simple, budget entry
Intel's Comet Lake has been disappointing
Will most likely be chucked out on upgrading
So here’s the weird thing, in our motherboard article, we fell back on some older motherboards to show you what would still work with Windows 11, but with CPUs, the current selection is actually a fairly broad spectrum of price ranges and performance. There’s rarely a need to actually recommend anything ‘old’ in a budgetary sense, as the ‘old’ CPUs can sometimes actually be still in line price-wise with their replacements.
A 10th generation Intel i7 is still £300 in some places, while the 11th gen, i5-11400 is only around £170. While the performance overall will be a gap, you have to remember that this is half the price and makes for a perfect budget entry.
With no K on the end of the name though, it means you won’t be able to overclock it, but at the price, it currently sits and for the performance, let’s be honest, when it comes time to upgrade you’ll probably just replace this one instead of trying to fend off another purchase in a few years by potentially setting fire to yourself.
If you’re gaming at 1440p or 1080p, you’ll find plenty to love when paired with the graphics card.
Great performance for nothing too strenuous
AMD CPUs are mostly backwards compatible
Can handle most games
Will probably be outpaced in a couple years
As with Intel, AMD has basically been pumping out some great budget options that aren’t several years old at this point. While we recommended the Zen 3 5600X above, you’ll find that the CPU I wanted to recommend isn’t actively available at the price it should be.
The 3300X is a beast of an entry-level, budget CPU, with performance being killer for the 120 dollar price tag that it should be sitting at, especially when paired with one of the GPUs in the 3000 series from NVIDIA.
However, with massive shortages going on worldwide, the 3300X has been relegated to eBay stores or hiked up prices online. Amazon currently sits around $200 which is ludicrous compared to the other options available.
So instead, we’re going to recommend the Ryzen 5 3600, a great middle-of-the-road entry in AMD’s CPU lineup. On Amazon right now, it’s going for just about 20 dollars more from the right stores, but please don’t purchase this over its MSRP of 200 dollars.
Things To Consider
Pricing and Availabilty
As with most technology at the moment, pricing is everywhere and while GPUs are ridiculous, CPUs are also hurtling into the same direction at worrying speeds.
Both AMD and Intel’s budget options are price hiked up by 100s of dollars, while the high-end prices continue to flatline at the top, but are constantly sold out in some cases. Even base options like the 3300X, which we really wanted to recommend, are scarce and PCGuide cannot in good conscious recommend buying from eBay.
So when considering an upgrade or new purchase, to check everywhere before you buy and also if you’re using Amazon, to check their other sellers via the ‘Buying Options’ button for other sellers.
So of course, I’m going to choose the 5600X, a mighty CPU that while focused on gaming with its meagre six cores, can still absolutely do some content creation. If you have more money to spend, maybe look at the 5900X or above, as these might last you a lot longer and especially if you’re working in a non-linear video editing software like DaVinci Resolve, more power is always better.
But for the every-person out there, I’d absolutely recommend this processor, it’s more than capable to take on almost any task you throw at it, with minor caveats.