8 Cheap CPUs (Under $130) Tested & Ranked

There's never been a better time to buy a processor for under $125. AMD's latest processors have shaken up the low-cost landscape, so now you can find quad-core models with gaming-capable integrated graphics for a mere $100. Intel's response has brought hyper-threading to its low-end Pentium processors and two additional cores to the Core i3 lineup, which vastly improves performance for its budget chips even though they're still limited in the graphics department.

Below you'll find our top budget and mainstream CPU picks topping out at $130, followed by the details of the testing we did to make these determinations.

News & Product Updates

We’re working on a review of AMD’s $55 (£50) Athlon 300GE, but chips on the other end of the price/performance spectrum like the AMD Threadripper 2950X and Intel Core i9-9900K keep popping up and taking over our test bench. And in news that we’re not quite sure is good or bad for future chips, Intel announced that it’s splitting up its manufacturing group into three, with one division handling technology development, another focused on manufacturing, and the last on supply.

Quick Shopping Tips

When choosing a CPU, consider the following:

  • You can't lose with AMD or Intel: Both companies offer good budget options, and overall CPU performance between comparative parts is closer than it’s been in years. That said, if you’re primarily interested in gaming, Intel’s chips will generally deliver better performance when paired with a graphics card, while AMD’s Raven Ridge chips (like the Ryzen 3 2200G below) do a better job of handling games at modest settings and resolutions without the need for a graphics card.
  • Clock speed is more important than core number: Higher clock speeds translate to snappier performance in simple, common tasks such as gaming, while more cores will help you get through time-consuming workloads faster.
  • Get the latest gen: You won't save much money in the long run by going with an older chip.
  • Budget for a full system: Don't pair a strong CPU with weak storage, RAM and graphics.
  • Overclocking isn’t for everyone, but the ability to squeeze more performance out of a budget offering is enticing. Intel doesn't have overclocking-capable processors for the sub-$125 market, but AMD's processors allow for tuning, and in most cases, the bundled cooler is sufficient for the task. Automated overclocking features in most motherboards make the process simple and easy, so even the least tech-savvy users can enjoy the benefits.

For even more information, check out our CPU Buyer’s Guide, where we discuss how much you should spend for what you’re looking to do, and when cores matter more than high clock speeds.

$100 - $130

Intel's Core i3 series provides excellent single-threaded performance for lightly-threaded tasks, such as web browsers and most desktop PC software, and come with integrated graphics. AMD's Ryzen 3 lineup is competitive and comes with unlocked ratio multipliers, so you can overclock at will, but the company’s processors in this price range come without integrated graphics. Intel and AMD processors also drop into value-minded motherboards that help keep costs in check.

$85 - $100 Budget Pick

Integrated graphics become more important as we dive further down the pricing scale, and AMD's budget-minded APUs have shaken up the low-cost range with the powerful integrated Vega graphics silicon. These new processors provide enough graphics horsepower for lightweight gaming, which was impossible with integrated graphics engines on previous-generation products. Intel's Pentium Gold processors also feature integrated graphics, but when it comes to gaming, Intel's graphics in this range aren't comparable to AMD's Vega.

$60 - $85 Entry-Level Pick

AMD doesn't have any of its next-generation offerings in the sub-$85 segment (at least at the time of this writing), so Intel reigns largely uncontested. The new Coffee Lake Pentiums come with higher clock speeds than the previous-gen models and the advantages of the new 300-series chipsets, but at the same price. You can find dual-core processors without hyperthreading that fall below our lower pricing boundary, such as Celerons, but a dual-core processor with four threads is the best option for a desktop PC that can stand the test of time.

Why Trust Us

Tom's Hardware has been reviewing PC components for more than two decades. We put each CPU through a bevy of benchmarks which measure everything from its single- and multi-core performance in applications and games, to its power consumption. We've tested hundreds of models, at both stock and overclock settings where applicable, so we can separate the best from the multi-core disappointments.

Gaming Performance

Intel’s Coffee Lake Pentium models come with slight frequency improvements, a 3W increase in the TDP rating, and 4MB of L3 cache. These slight adjustments deliver a surprising boost to performance compared to the previous-gen Kaby Lake models. The Coffee Lake Pentium Gold G5600 even beats out the Kaby Lake Core i3-7100 in most of our gaming benchmarks, highlighting the impressive performance gains Intel made within a single generation.

The G5600 grapples with the Ryzen 3 2200G. The Ryzen 3 2200G is relatively simple to overclock with single-click options in the BIOS, and the bundled cooler provides enough headroom for all but the most extreme overclocking efforts. At stock settings, the 2200G trails the G5600, but the advantage of AMD’s unlocked multipliers is clear: At $99, the tuned Ryzen 3 2200G’s performance nearly matches the $117 Core i3-8100.

The Ryzen 3 2200G also comes with powerful integrated graphics that provide surprisingly strong gaming performance at lower resolutions and quality settings. That’s a feat the Core i3-8100 simply cannot match. If you’re seeking the absolute best gaming performance (when paired with a dedicated card) regardless of price, the Core i3-8100 fits the bill. If you want the most bang for your buck or plan on gaming on integrated graphics, the Ryzen 3 2200G is the clear value winner.

We tested with an Nvidia GeForce 1080 FE graphics card to remove graphics-imposed bottlenecks, but the difference between the processors will shrink with the cheaper graphics cards that are commonly found in budget builds. Provided the performance deltas are small, you can select less expensive models and enjoy nearly the same gaming experience with lower-end graphics cards.

Productivity Performance

The Core i3-8100’s solid mixture of frequency and IPC throughput delivered to our expectations. The agile processor took the lead in several of our lightly-threaded applications, like the Adobe Cloud suite, but it is also surprisingly powerful in threaded workloads. The Core i3-8100 also offers superior performance in applications that use AVX instructions, like HandBrake, which is a great addition to its impressively well-balanced repertoire. Much like we observed in our gaming tests, the Core i3-8100 offers the best overall performance.

The previous-gen Core i3-7100 comes with a higher frequency than the Core i3-8100. That facilitates higher performance in single-threaded applications, but the -7100’s dual-core design leads to underwhelming performance in heavier workloads, creating an unbalanced performance profile that isn’t worth the cash, especially when you can have the faster Core i3-8100 for the same price.

Even after overclocking, the Ryzen 3 1300X isn’t competitive enough with the Core i3-8100 to justify its higher price tag, and the lack of integrated graphics also restricts its appeal.

The Ryzen 3 2200G continues to impress with its lower price point and competitive performance, not to mention the integrated Vega graphics, making it the obvious choice for budget builders who are willing to spend a little extra time on tuning.

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

MORE: AMD Ryzen 2 vs. Intel Coffee Lake: What's the Best CPU Platform?

MORE: All CPU Content

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  • totalinsanity4
    The link for the 2200G is wrong, it leads to a bundle deal with a liquid cooler. The base CPU can still be found for $99 on Amazon
  • adamrcharles
    The pairing with a 1080 really makes no sense here. Most people looking at these processors in a new build will be using a 1050, 1050ti or picking up one of these good deals going around right now on an rx570. I think the review would better serve its target audience pointing out a Pentium/rx570 combo likely outperforms an i3/1050 combo in most situations for a slightly cheaper price.
  • delaro
    The 2200G has been $99 since launch and it's the replacement for the 1300X which is no longer in production. Since you want to include out of production chips you should also include the Ryzen 5 1400 ~$133, 1500X~ $144, 1600 $154 and the 2600 which goes on sale often for $149.
  • cryoburner
    Anonymous said:
    ...and the 2600 which goes on sale often for $149.

    I think that's the best processor deal right now, so long as the system doesn't require integrated graphics and one is willing to stretch their budget a bit beyond this "under $130" range. Compared to any of these quad-cores, you get 50% more cores and SMT for far better performance at heavily multithreaded tasks, along with higher boost clocks and overclocking support on inexpensive motherboards. And while this $150 sale pricing may or may not be short-lived, the processor has been regularly available for around $160-$165 most of the time in recent months, and even that's a very good price compared to a $130 quad-core with fewer cores and all-around lower performance.
  • Olle P
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    ...and the 2600 which goes on sale often for $149.
    I think that's the best processor deal right now, so long as the system doesn't require integrated graphics and one is willing to stretch their budget a bit beyond this "under $130" range.
    Also the Ryzen5 2400G is currently available at $150, making it a good option for budget with the cost of GPU included.
  • Olle P
    Anonymous said:
    The pairing with a 1080 really makes no sense here.

    Anonymous said:
    ... a Pentium/rx570 combo likely outperforms an i3/1050 combo in most situations for a slightly cheaper price.
    I saw a recent review with new games showing that 2 (fast) cores with HT do become increasingly obsolete and less useful compared to 4 (not so fast) cores.
  • cryoburner
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    ... a Pentium/rx570 combo likely outperforms an i3/1050 combo in most situations for a slightly cheaper price.
    I saw a recent review with new games showing that 2 (fast) cores with HT do become increasingly obsolete and less useful compared to 4 (not so fast) cores.

    The Pentiums and prior-gen i3s don't seem worth it right now, at least going by current US online pricing. Intel seems to have cut back production of their less profitable processors due to their current production issues, so prices have risen and availability has become scarce, and many of their CPUs that had been decent values some months back are now priced out of the market. A $90+ dual-core is just not worth considering when AMD's quad-core 1200 and 2200G are available for under $100. The Ryzen 1300X also seems a bit pointless to consider, when the 2200G provides nearly identical performance (especially after overclocking), along with the best integrated graphics in its class, for $30 less.

    And that would be the better comparison to make, pairing a faster graphics card with a 2200G. The $30 saved over the i3-8100 (or around $20 saved if we spend a bit more on faster RAM to get the most out of Ryzen) would go long way toward moving up from a GTX 1050 to an RX 570, offering roughly double the graphics performance. The small performance difference between the 8100 and an overclocked 2200G will rarely make any notable impact to frame rates with the cards these CPUs are likely to be paired with in the near future, but doubling graphics performance absolutely will. And for that matter, the 1050 Ti is also arguably overpriced considering the much faster RX 570 currently costs about the same. The 1050 Ti is an alright option for someone upgrading a prebuilt system with a 300 watt PSU, but anyone building a new system will likely be going with at least a 450 watt PSU, where the increased power draw of the RX 570 shouldn't really matter.

    Also, I really don't like the way these price comparisons are done. At least in the case of this roundup, differences in platform costs aren't as much of a concern, since all these chips include boxed coolers and can run on inexpensive motherboards, but the prices still have major problems, since you simply can't buy most of Intel's processors at MSRP right now. Some of them aren't even close. What's the point of a price-focused roundup when the prices that it's based on are out-of-date and inaccurate? All these charts and recommendations should be updated to current real-world pricing.