Best Processor (CPU) for Your Custom PC Windows Central 2020

The central processing unit (CPU), usually called the processor, is the main brain of your computer. When looking for a new CPU, it's easy to automatically go for the more expensive options expecting a return in performance, and you'd be correct in that assumption. However, the question is whether or not you need that kind of power and whether or not you really need to pay that much. To help you choose the right CPU for your custom PC, we've put together this collection of the best options based on a number of performance and price points.

Best general purpose: Intel Core i5-8400

The Core i5-8400 has six cores, six threads, a base clock speed at 2.8 GHz, and a burst clock speed up to 4.0 GHz, altogether offering performance that's suitable for gaming and productivity purposes. It's not unlocked so you won't be able to get into any overclocking, but for most people, that's alright.

$185 at Amazon

Budget general purpose: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

If you'd like to keep this purchase affordable, AMD has your back. Its Ryzen 3 2200G has four cores, four threads, a base clock speed of 3.5 GHz, and a max boost clock up to 3.7 GHz, plus it's unlocked for overclocking purposes. Whether it's for a budget gaming rig or for general performance, this is a great CPU that will save you money.

$100 at Amazon

Budget Intel performance: Intel Core i5-9600K

This 9th Gen Intel Core i5-9600K CPU is overclockable, has a base clock speed at 3.7 GHz, and has a turbo speed up to 4.6 GHz. You get six cores and six threads for respectable multitasking capabilities, and it can definitely be the powerful centerpiece of a new gaming rig.

$260 at Newegg

Budget AMD performance: AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Many people are turning to AMD's Ryzen 5 2600 CPU for mid-range gaming builds, as it offers excellent performance to price ratio. It has six cores, 12 threads, and a clock speed up to 3.9 GHz, which is more than enough to keep up with most modern games. All that plus overclocking for well less than $200? No wonder it's so popular.

$165 at Amazon

Serious Intel performance: Intel Core i7-9700K

If you have a sizeable PC build budget and want serious performance for editing or high-end gaming, Intel 9th Gen Core i7-9700K CPU is a top pick. Get eight cores and eight threads, a base clock speed at 3.60 GHz, and a turbo clock speed up to 4.90 GHz. It's also unlocked, meaning it's ripe for overclocking.

$410 at Amazon

Serious AMD performance: AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

AMD's Ryzen 7 2700X comes with eight cores, 16 threads, and overclocking capabilities. It has a base clock speed of 3.7 GHz, a boost speed up to 4.3 GHz, and while it won't quite match the 9700K in raw performance, it comes very close. Considering the price difference of about $100, AMD's hardware is likely the better buy when it comes to serious gaming performance.

$309 at Amazon

Intel overkill: Intel Core i9-9900K

If you'd like to step over the line and get into CPU overkill territory (for most people), Intel's Core i9-9900K is happy to oblige. It has eight cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed at 3.60 GHz and a turbo speed up to 5.00 GHz, plus it can be overclocked if that's not quite enough power. For unreal performance no matter you're doing, this is a great but expensive choice.

$526 at Amazon

AMD overkill: AMD Threadripper 2950X

Even more overkill than the Core i9-9900K is AMD's Threadripper 2950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads. It has 64 lanes of PCIe for connecting plenty of hardware, and its base clock of 3.5 GHz can boost up to 4.4 GHz. Oh, right, it can also be overclocked if this isn't enough power for you.

$870 at Amazon

If we're making some suggestions

When building a custom PC, most people aren't going to need (or want) to spend the money on overkill CPUs like Intel's Core i9-9900K or AMD's Threadripper 2950X, which are generally reserved for enthusiasts. If you need a CPU that can do it all without really pushing any limits, Intel's Core i5-8400 is a knockout with an affordable price, while the AMD Ryzen 5 2600 is an ultra-popular CPU for mid-range gaming builds.

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