The best computer processor

Computer Components

Before purchasing a new computer processor, be certain that it’s compatible with your motherboard.

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WHICH COMPUTER PROCESSORS ARE BEST?

When you want to upgrade your current computer or build a new rig from scratch, the computer processor (also called the CPU) is a key component. The CPU handles all the primary processing tasks for the computer, so it’s difficult to understate its importance.

When shopping for a new CPU, it needs to be compatible with your motherboard, which is the circuit board on which you install the CPU. Other than that, you have a host of specifications and features from which you can pick.

To learn more, keep reading our guide, which includes our top recommendations at the end. Our favorite is the powerful Intel Core i7-8700, which delivers outstanding performance.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A COMPUTER PROCESSOR

Clock speed

The clock speed refers to the speed with which the processor can handle individual tasks. Manufacturers measure clock speed in gigahertz (GHz), and a higher number equals a faster working processor. CPUs are listed with the maximum clock speed at which they can run.

Cores and threads

Each processor has a certain number of cores, which essentially work like independent mini-processors within the primary computer processor. A processor with eight or more cores will excel at multitasking.

Threads are further divisions within the cores, giving the CPU the ability to further divide processing tasks when the software is demanding maximum performance.

If you often make use of extremely complex types of software and tasks that need to manage multiple commands at the same time (such as what animation or video editing require), having more cores and more threads gives you a better level of performance.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN QUALITY COMPUTER PROCESSORS

Cache

Though not quite as important as the clock speed or the number of cores, things like cache play a role in the level of performance you receive from the CPU. Cache is an area of memory that’s contained on the processor. This is a type of memory made to hold data on a temporary basis, much like RAM in the computer. Cache on the CPU has much smaller capacity than your computer RAM, but it allows the CPU to access important data faster than it can access the data from RAM.

Cooling

As a computer processor runs, it generates heat. Your computer system needs to be able to dissipate this heat from the CPU, as an overheated processor can begin to malfunction and could have a shorter than expected lifespan. TDP, or thermal design profile, tells you how much heat the processor should generate, helping you tune your cooling system properly.

Overclocking

If you buy an unlocked CPU, you can overclock it, which means you can run it at a faster speed than the maximum speed the manufacturer lists. Overclocking is important for those who run the most processor-intensive software.

HOW MUCH YOU CAN EXPECT TO SPEND ON A COMPUTER PROCESSOR

The least expensive processors cost $50-$150, but these are not made for gaming. For more powerful processors made for gamers, expect to pay $150-$500.

COMPUTER PROCESSORS FAQ

Q. What’s the most important number to pay attention to in the computer processor?

A. The importance of clock speed shows up in everyday computing tasks. For multitasking, you want the maximum number of cores and threads.

Q. Should I pick Intel or AMD brand processors?

A. Both brands have excellent processors, although some people are loyal to one brand over the other. AMD typically makes value-priced CPUs, while Intel is thought to excel in the high end of the market.

WHAT ARE THE BEST COMPUTER PROCESSORS TO BUY?

Top computer processor

Intel Core i7-8700

Intel Core i7-8700

Our take: Plenty of performance to handle the latest gaming software. Its features pair especially well with a newer motherboard.

What we like: It’s pricey, but it has some of the best power and speed that you can find in a consumer-level processor.

What we dislike: This CPU tends to run hot, so make sure your cooling system is up to the challenge.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Top computer processor for the money

Intel Core i3-7100

Intel Core i3-7100

Our take: When you need to fit your processor purchase into a tight budget, this i3 model delivers decent performance.

What we like: Offers extra security protection versus older processors. Doesn’t require a complex cooling setup.

What we dislike: Only offers two cores; no option to gain more cores. Not a powerful CPU for those with high-end needs.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

Worth checking out

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X

AMD Ryzen 5

Our take: Good all-around computer processor that gives you a decent performance boost in nearly every area.

What we like: Uses AMD’s Zen architecture, which creates a nice value in terms of its versatility.

What we dislike: Not going to give gamers a big enough boost for high-end processing needs.

Where to buy: Sold at Amazon

 

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Kyle Schurman writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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