Most processors can handle just about any workload you throw at them, given enough time. But faster CPUs (with more cores and / or faster clock speeds) chew through heavy workloads faster, which ultimately saves time. A processor that excels at gaming isn't always the best choice if your workload is more productivity-focused. So we've compiled a list of processors that represent the best bang for your buck in common productivity tasks.
8/14 Update: We're in a bit of a holding pattern for high-end CPUs at the moment, but exciting happenings appear to be on the horizon for those who need lots of cores and threads. AMD's 16-core, 32-thread Ryzen 9 3950X is slated to arrive next month, and it's looking like we may see new 3000-series Threadripper processors may be incoming soon as well. We also expect Intel to launch its Cascade Lake-X high-end desktop chips sometime this year, but rumors and leaks on that front have been minimal as of late.
Quick Shopping Tips
When choosing a non-gaming-focused CPU, consider the following:
- Know the apps you use: If your apps take advantage of AMD's superior cores / threads per dollar, you might want to get an AMD chip. But if you're using lightly-threaded apps or Adobe products, Intel will perform better.
- Get the latest gen: You don't save a lot by going with an older chip.
- Keep the motherboard in mind: The priciest CPUs require more expensive motherboards than cheaper chips.
- Play it cool: Most expensive chips don't come a cooler, requiring you to buy your own.
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.
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1. Intel Xeon W-3175X
Best Workstation CPURating: 4/5
Architecture: Skylake-SP | Socket: LGA 3647 (Socket P) | Cores/Threads: 28/56 | Base Frequency: 3.1GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz | TDP: 255W
Pros: High performance in lightly-threaded applications • High performance in multi-threaded applications • Unlocked multiplier makes overclocking easier
Cons: Expensive motherboard is required • Sky-high power consumption • High price-per-core hurts value proposition
If you’re a true computing professional for whom time wasted calculating or rendering means lost revenue, then you need the most powerful desktop hardware available. This kind of hardware goes above and beyond what’s available on Intel and AMD’s HEDT processors, to true workstation hardware. Workstation platforms also support ECC (Error Correcting Code memory), as does AMD’s Threadripper platform, to protect against data corruption.
Silicon designed to churn through these kinds of professional workloads as fast as possible and as long as necessary won’t come cheap. But if you truly need it, a top-end workstation CPU will pay for itself.
Intel's overclockable 28-core, 56-thread Xeon W-3175X is the current champ in this realm. Predictable results are a must in professional workloads, and the W-3175X delivers with a superior blend of performance in both lightly- and heavily-threaded applications. As with most of Intel’s high-end processors, you pay a hefty premium for the privilege of owning one. But the this Xeon offers an unbeatable experience in exchange.
Those looking for lots of cores and lower prices should keep a look out for AMD's recently announced Ryzen 3000 lineup, which the company says will arrive on July 7th. AMD promises these chips will deliver a 15% increase in instructions per cycle (IPC) and a top boost clock of 4.6GHz on the 12-core, 24-thread $499 Ryzen 9 3900X. But the biggest news for those in need of lots of cores and threads is the Ryzen 9 3950X that was announced during E3. It sports 16 cores and 32 threads, with a boost clock of 4.7GHz. AMD says it will arrive sometime in September for $749. We'll of course have to wait to run our own benchmarks before passing full judgement. But paired with a lower-cost X570 or X470 motherboard, it could give lower-end Threadripper builds a run for their money.
On the Intel side, the announcement of the Core i9-9900KS, promises all eight cores running at an impressive 5GHz out of the box. But we don't know important details yet, like the price or release date--or how much stock will actually be available of this binned version of the company's existing Core i9-9900 flagship chips.
Also, mention of third-gen Threadripper recently disappeared from recent roadmaps from AMD, leading to some speculation about whether we'd see new versions of AMD's high-end desktop chips at all. But AMD's CEO Lisa Su, at a press reception at Computex in Taipei in May, promised that the company would deliver more Threadripper processors in the future, but didn't say anything about when that might happen.
Read Review: Intel Xeon W-3175X
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AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X
2. AMD Threadripper 2950X
Best High-End Desktop (HEDT) CPU
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: TR4 | Cores/Threads: 16/32 | Base Frequency: 3.5GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 180W
Pros: Reasonable price per core • Lots of horsepower packed into 16C/32T configuration • Solid generational performance improvement • Indium solder between heat spreader and dies • Unlocked multiplier for overclocking
Cons: Expensive platform
If you commonly run workstation-class workloads or fall into the semi-professional category, high end desktop processors (HEDT) are the best solution. Intel's X299 and AMD's X399 platforms come with robust connectivity options, like expanded PCIe lanes that accommodate additives like high-speed LAN, more graphics cards, and quad-channel memory. Intel's Skylake-X family has a wide range of core counts that satisfy almost every use-case, but you'll have to pay a premium. Intel also restricts its Core i9 models to 44 PCIe lanes, which can't compete with AMD's hefty allotment of 60 usable lanes.
AMD's first- and second-generation Threadripper lineups are made up of several models with various core counts, but in general you'll pay far less per core than you do with Intel's processors. Intel still holds the performance-per-core advantage, but AMD's less-expensive price points offset that. And because second-gen Threadripper models have now hit the market, you may find great deals on the first-gen Threadripper models.
While we still recommend the mainstream Ryzen 7 2700X or Core i7-8700K for gaming, they clearly can't keep pace with Threadripper in productivity-oriented applications. Intel's Skylake-X processors are still brutally fast, but you'll also pay a premium for the privilege of owning one. The Threadripper 2950X offers a lot more performance at a lower price than the first-gen Threadripper did at launch, but we wouldn't recommend a direct upgrade from the 1950X. If you're looking to upgrade from an older CPU to this well-balanced processor, AMD's Ryzen Threadripper 2950X does not disappoint.
Read Review: AMD Threadripper 2950X
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AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
3. AMD Ryzen 9 3900XBest Mainstream Desktop CPU (Sub $500 / £400)
Architecture: Zen2 | Socket: 1331 | Cores/Threads: 12/24 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.6GHz | TDP: 105W
Pros: Bundled cooler • Unlocked multiplier • Compatible with X470 motherboards • Indium solder
Cons: Requires expensive X570 motherboards for official PCIe 4.0 support • Limited overclocking headroom
AMD continues to offer as much backward compatibility as it can given its expanding portfolio, earning kudos from the enthusiast community, and is also staying true to its standard value proposition of offering more for less. The Ryzen 9 3900X comes with a beefy bundled Wraith Prism cooler that can even provide a bit of overclocking headroom, too.
AMD also continues to offer fully unlocked processors for all Ryzen models and allows overclocking on value-centric motherboards, which has long been a sore point for enthusiasts that have to pay a premium for access to Intel's overclocking features. AMD is even expanding on that with the introduction of Precision Boost Overdrive and AutoOC features that bring overclocking to mainstream users through a few clicks in its easy-to-use Ryzen Master utility. Intel obviously still holds the overclocking crown, but that's becoming less of an advantage in the face of processors that come with up to twice the cores at similar pricing.
The Ryzen 9 3900X redefines our expectations for the mainstream desktop with a beastly 12-cores and 24-threads and represents a great value if you're seeking a well-rounded performer that’s also very capable of tackling heavily threaded tasts. The extra cores and threads will pay big dividends in productivity applications, and the solid performance in more common lightly-threaded applications is more than enough for most users.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
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AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
4. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Best Mainstream CPU (Sub $350 / £280)
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
Architecture: Zen2 | Socket: 1331 | Cores/Threads: 8/16 | Base Frequency: 3.2GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 65W
Pros: Bundled cooler • Unlocked multiplier • Compatible with X470 motherboards • Indium solder
Cons: Requires expensive X570 motherboards for PCIe 4.0 support • Limited overclocking headroom
AMD continues to offer as much backward compatibility as it can given its expanding portfolio, earning kudos from the enthusiast community, and is also staying true to its standard value proposition of offering more for less.The Ryzen 7 3700X comes with a beefy bundled a cooler that can even provide a bit of overclocking headroom, too.
AMD also continues to offer fully unlocked processors for all Ryzen models and allows overclocking on value-centric motherboards, which has long been a sore point for enthusiasts that have to pay a premium for access to Intel's overclocking features. AMD is even expanding on that with the introduction of Precision Boost Overdrive and AutoOC features that bring overclocking to mainstream users through a few clicks in its easy-to-use Ryzen Master utility. Intel still holds the overclocking crown, but that's becoming less of an advantage in the face of processors that come with up to twice the cores at similar price points.
The eight-core 16-thread Ryzen 7 3700X slots in as solid performer for the mainstream that offers incredible power efficiency paired with powerful performance. The fully unlocked processor also supports the PCIe 4.0 interface and comes with a beefy Wraith Spire RGB cooler. The value seekers among us will also appreciate the backwards compatibility with X470 motherboards.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
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AMD Ryzen 5 2600
5. AMD Ryzen 5 2600
Best Budget CPU (Sub $200 / £150)
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 (1331) | Cores/Threads: 6/12 | Base Frequency: 3.6GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.2GHz | TDP: 65W
Pros: Big step forward in performance compared to Ryzen 5 1600 • Backward compatibility with previous-gen motherboards • Indium solder between die and heat spreader improves thermal transfer • Bundled cooler improves value proposition
Cons: Performance deficit compared to stock Ryzen 7 2700 • Requires a higher-end thermal solution for serious overclocking • Only $20 / £35 cheaper than 95W Ryzen 5 2600X
The lower end of the processor spectrum is extremely competitive, particularly with the copious core counts, bundled coolers, and unlocked multipliers you can find in the AMD lineup. Intel processors tend to offer the best single-threaded performance at stock settings. And since you can't overclock them, in this price range they're suitable for less-expensive B- and H-Series motherboards that can't overclock.
Retailers have dropped pricing on the Ryzen 5 2600 to a mere $170 / £140, which means you can pick up six cores and twelve threads powered by the Zen+ architecture at an all-time low price. The plucky 2600 has a 3.4-GHz base frequency that boosts up to 3.9 GHz for lightly-threaded tasks, while improved multi-core turbo capabilities help tackle heavier workloads.
Like all AMD Ryzen processors, you can overclock with X- and B-series motherboards. The attractive 65W Wraith Stealth cooler is great for stock cooling but has limited overclocking potential, so plan to invest in a beefier aftermarket cooler if you plan on tuning the processor.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 5 2600
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AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
6. AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
Best Entry-Level CPU (Sub $100 / £80)
Rating: 4/5 (Editor's Choice)
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 (1331) | Cores/Threads: 4/4 | Base Frequency: 3.5GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 3.7GHz | TDP: 65W
Pros: Great price for performance & features • Higher frequencies Solid • 720p gaming performance • Unlocked multipliers
Cons: Eight lanes for PCIe slots • Need to ensure motherboard BIOS compatibility • Requires a better heatsink for overclocking
AMD's less-restrictive feature set grants the Ryzen processors the uncontested lead in this segment of the market. The Ryzen 3 2200G dips into the sub-$100 (£80) category, but its support for AVX instructions and four physical cores easily beats the Intel Pentium lineup.
The four-core, four-thread Ryzen 3 2200G is particularly appealing for budget gaming builders and upgraders. In multi-threaded workloads, the comparable Pentium dual-core models are no match for the Ryzen 3 2200G's four physical cores. The 2200G's single-threaded performance is also extremely competitive, and that's before we take overclocking into account. AMD also supports AVX instructions with all of its processors, an important consideration for productivity-focused workloads, while Intel disables the feature in its Pentium family.
The $99 (£82) Ryzen 3 2200G also comes with the powerful integrated Radeon Vega graphics engine and drops into existing inexpensive 300-series motherboards (after a requisite BIOS update), to form the basis of a surprisingly capable low-cost PC. It’s also unlocked, so, with proper cooling, you can tune the graphics or the CPU to best suit your needs.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
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