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.
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 upcoming Ryzen 3000 and third-generation Threadripper chips, both of which should arrive later in 2019.
Read Review: Intel Xeon W-3175X
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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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3. AMD Ryzen 7 2700XBest Mainstream Desktop CPU (Sub $400 / £350)
Rating: 4.5/5 (Editor's Choice)
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: 1331 | Cores/Threads: 8/16 | Base Frequency: 3.7GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz | TDP: 105W
Pros: Significant performance boost vs. 1800X • Bundled cooler • Backward-compatible with 300-series motherboards • Indium solder • Better memory and cache performance
Cons: Limited overclocking headroom • No value-oriented 400-series motherboards yet
Flagship mainstream desktop processors fall within sane price ranges and the motherboard selection can be both cheap and plentiful. You'll have only 16 usable PCIe lanes from the processor and dual-channel memory, but these processors satisfy the needs of all but the highest-end users.
For applications, the flagship mainstream models in Intel's Core i7 and AMD's Ryzen 7 product families offer the best value. Intel's Coffee and Kaby Lake models offer a strong blend of single- and multi-threaded performance in common applications. But AMD's Ryzen 7 series comes with more cores, which you might find attractive if you have more demanding requirements, such as rendering or streaming. You can also often find AMD's Ryzen processors well below MSRP.
Intel's sub-$400 (£350) processors come with an integrated graphics engine, meaning you won't need a discrete graphics card, but AMD only offers a few models (like the Ryzen 5 2400G, Ryzen 3 2200G, and Athlon 200GE) with integrated graphics.
The Ryzen 7 2700X's multi-threaded muscle makes it a natural fit for application workloads. The Ryzen 7 2700X's eight cores and 16 threads crunch through heavily-threaded workloads with ease due to the 3.7-GHz base and 4.3-GHz boost frequencies. AMD also improved the multi-core boost algorithms and reduced memory latency, which equates to a big step forward on the performance front.
The 2700X generally trails comparable Intel models in single-threaded applications, but the difference is slight enough to be offset by the Ryzen 7 2700X's excellent threaded performance, bundled RGB-lit Wraith Prism cooler, and backward-compatibility with older, less-expensive 300-series boards.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
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4. AMD Ryzen 7 2700
Best Mid-Range CPU (Sub $300 / £275)
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 (1331) | Cores/Threads: 8/16 | Base Frequency: 3.2GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.1GHz | TDP: 65W
Pros: Faster than previous-gen Ryzen models • Bundled cooler adds value • Backward compatibility with 300-series motherboards • Indium solder improves thermal transfer
Cons: Needs a better cooler for overclocking • No value-oriented 400-series motherboards at launch • Large performance deficit compared to a stock Ryzen 7 2700X
Mid-range processors typically land in the $200 to $300 (or £150-250) price range and still offer enough power to handle heavy workloads, albeit at a slower pace. AMD's Ryzen processors have truly reinvigorated this segment and often come with a discount, too. This price range finds two distinct price tiers, but you can often find the best value around the $200 (£180) mark if the processor has an unlocked multiplier.
It's best to step up to the more expensive models in this class if overclocking isn't in your plans. If overclocking is on the menu, you'll have to select a pricier K-series Intel chip and pair it with a Z-series motherboard. Meanwhile, all of AMD's processors can be overclocked on value-centric B-series (B350 and B450) motherboards.
The Ryzen 7 2700 brings all of the goodness of the Ryzen 7 series to an incredibly low price point. The 2700 has the same eight cores and sixteen threads as the 2700X, but it comes at the cost of lower clock rates of 3.2/4.1 GHz (base/boost). AMD bundles the 2700 with a capable cooler that can withstand mediocre overclocking. If tuning isn't in your plans, the Precision Boost Overdrive feature automatically boosts performance to the limits of your motherboards' capabilities so you can wring out the maximum performance with a minimum of fuss.
Like all AM4 Ryzen processors, you can choose either the high-end X-series models, but the value-minded B-series boards are also a solid selection.
You can find Intel's Core i7-8700 for a similar price during frequent sales, but you'll have to pick up an aftermarket cooler to ensure optimum stock performance, which adds to the cost. Overclocking also isn't an option and the Core i7-8700 comes with two fewer cores, which hampers relative performance in threaded workloads.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 7 2700
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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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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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