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Best Desktop CPUs for Work 2019

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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.

While we await the promised arrival of AMD's flagship 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X, there has been plenty of news on the CPU front. Intel says its promised 5GHz Core i9-9900KS will arrive in October, though we still don't know what it will cost. And AMD has been busy working on firmware fixes for its Ryzen 3000 processors, which Intel has implied may have reliability issues. Meanwhile, soon after those accusations, Team Blue outed reliability issues of its own in its Apollo Lake chips, before trying to walk back the statement, stating the issue will be fixed via a firmware update. 

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.


MORE: Intel and AMD Processor Hierarchy
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Best Workstation CPU

Intel Xeon
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Intel Xeon W-3175X

Best Workstation CPU

Architecture: Skylake-SP | Socket: LGA 3647 (Socket P) | Cores/Threads: 28/56 | Base Frequency: 3.1GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz | TDP: 255W

High performance in lightly-threaded applications
High performance in multi-threaded applications
Unlocked multiplier makes overclocking easier
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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Best High-End Desktop (HEDT) CPU

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X

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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

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
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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Best Mainstream Desktop CPU (Sub $500 /

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

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AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

Best 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

Bundled cooler
Unlocked multiplier
Compatible with X470 motherboards
Indium solder
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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Best Mainstream CPU (Sub $350 /

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

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AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

Best Mainstream CPU (Sub $350 /

£280)Architecture: Zen2 | Socket: 1331 | Cores/Threads: 8/16 | Base Frequency: 3.2GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 65W

Bundled cooler
Unlocked multiplier
Compatible with X470 motherboards
Indium solder
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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Best Budget CPU (Sub $200 /

AMD Ryzen 5 2600
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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

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
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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Best Entry-Level CPU (Sub $100 /

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

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AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

Best Entry-Level CPU (Sub $100 /

£80)Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 (1331) | Cores/Threads: 4/4 | Base Frequency: 3.5GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 3.7GHz | TDP: 65W

Great price for performance &amp
features
Higher frequencies Solid
720p gaming performance
Unlocked multipliers
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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  • abryant
    Archived comments are found here: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/id-3795358/gaming-performance-cpus.html
    Reply
  • javiindo
    When is this going to be updated with the new ryzen 3? :-) I'm wondering which processor is the best value/performance.
    Reply
  • LiviuTM
    There's a small mistake in the description of the new AMD processors -> manufacturing process is listed as "7nm LP GlobalFoundries".
    Reply
  • caqde
    LiviuTM said:
    There's a small mistake in the description of the new AMD processors -> manufacturing process is listed as "7nm LP GlobalFoundries".
    Thats nothing check out the process listed for the Xeon W-3175X it says 14nm Glofo. LOL didn't know Global Foundries started making chips for Intel. Come on guys fix your information. Although I do agree with the chip choices at least until Zen2's TR4 chips come out where the Xeon W-3175X will likely be usurped by AMD's 32core (Maybe 64?) threadripper based on Zen2 .
    Reply
  • logainofhades
    I think some pricing changes need to be put into this copy/paste article. Amazon and Newegg have been selling the R5 2600, for $129.99-$139.99, for quite some time now. The R7 2700 should probably be in the sub $200 list now, given that it has been under $200 for a good while now.
    Reply