2019 has been a busy year for CPUs, and that could mean big deals during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Intel launched its monstrous 28-thread Xeon W-3175X, and GPU-disabled chips like the Intel Core i5-9400F. And Cascade Lake X has been announced with steep price cuts (and the same 14nm+ process). AMD successfully rolled out Zen 2 architecture and a full lineup of AMD Ryzen 3000 processors, although there were some issues with Boost Clocks, and the top-end 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X was delayed until November. While we still don't have performance numbers for that AMD chip or Intel's incoming Core i9-9900KS. But in terms of value and multi-core productivity, AMD is, in fact, handily ahead of the big blue team for now.
What does that mean for the deal-seeking CPU shopper? There's a good chance we'll see very good deals on previous-generation Ryzen 2000 CPUs this Black Friday, as well as some deals on newer Ryzen 3000 processors as well. And with Intel cutting prices of its upcoming CPUs in order to better compete with AMD, we would not be surprised to see some more sweet deals on 8th- and 9th-Gen Intel CPUs, too.
So with all these CPUs, old and new, how do you shop for a new CPU while ensuring you’re getting a good deal? If you’re not wedded to either Intel or AMD, you should check out our CPU Buying Guide for general advice, the CPU Hierarchy page to see how given processors compare to the competition and our Best Gaming CPUs, Best CPUs for Desktop Applications and Best Cheap CPUs (under $130) pages to help narrow down your search.
Keep an Eye on AMD's 2000-Series
While you won't get the best performance possible by opting for an older 2000-series Ryzen CPU, these chips are still plenty capable, especially for high-end productivity purposes with those models with high core and thread counts. Older 1000-series Ryzens may be worth considering if your budget is tight and you see a very good deal. That said, while the continuation of the AM4 CPU socket extends the shelf life of AMD's older processors, if you're going to drop a serious amount of money on a new CPU, you may want to consider spending a bit more on a chip that isn't now two-generations old.
Don’t Forget About the Cooler
One last thing to keep in mind about newer versus older Ryzen CPUs: All the 3000- and 2000-series Ryzen 5 and 7 processors ship with a cooler in the box, while that wasn’t the case with some of the 1000-series models. So be sure that you know what you’re getting before buying. If you have to factor in the cost of a cooler, that Ryzen 5 1600X might not be be the deal it seems to be. Intel’s unlocked K-series CPUs also ship without coolers, so keep that in mind when shopping as well.
Look to AMD Threadripper for Powerful Deals
Also, if you’re in the market for something truly powerful for high-end productivity purposes, keep an eye out for older first- and second-generation Threadripper chips. Again, the second-generation parts are better, and we've seen deals on those CPUs in the past. now that AMD's mainstream CPUs have more cores than ever and Threadripper 3000 chips seem to be on the horizon. So keep an eye out if you're after a sweet deal on a CPU with all the cores and threads.
Avoid Buying Into a Dead Platform
So then, if those are the chips you should be looking out for, what CPUs should you avoid? In short, eschew anything that’s part of a dead platform and/or that delivers noticeably worse performance than more modern chips that don’t cost that much more.
This list of chips we think you should skip includes any AMD processor with an FX in its name. These chips weren’t exactly great when they were new (falling well behind Intel in single-thread performance, while being less efficient), and the AM3+ socket/platform they drop into has been dead since the AM4 socket launched in September of 2016. The same is true of AMD’s older “APUs,” which use the FM2+ socket and start with A4, A6, A8, or A10 in their product names.
Similarly, unless you have an existing older Intel motherboard that’s in need of a better CPU, we’d avoid Intel chips that are older than 8th Generation at this point. There are still some 7th Generation “Kaby Lake” CPUs available, but they don’t sell for substantially less than newer models. And if you buy one along with a compatible 200-series motherboard, you’ll again be stuck with a dead-end platform, without native USB 3.1 Gen2 support or the extra cores that are the hallmark of Intel’s 8th Generation CPUs.
The best way to tell whether or not a given sale is good or not is to use a site like Camelcamelcamel or PCPartPicker to track prices over time. That way you can see if the current price is the best (or nearly the best) a CPU has ever sold for, or if the price was jacked up in order to make a deal appear sweet when it actually leans toward sour.
Bottom Line: Buy Smart
If you’re looking for a deal on a new CPU to build a new PC, there’s a good chance you’ll want to upgrade the CPU or motherboard down the line--or add RAM that’s readily available, rather than having to track down some old DDR3. So avoid opting for chips that lock you into CPU sockets or other key components that are no longer supported. An old chip at a low price might seem like a deal today. But if have to toss the motherboard, processor and other parts in a year or two to get something better, you’ll wish you’d spent a few more dollars on something that was more current here in 2019.