Best Intel CPUs Windows Central 2021
Intel is still the king of the CPUs, and with the Comet Lake-S introduction earlier this year, the company is offering CPUs with more cores, higher frequencies, and hyper-threading across the board. The Core i5-10600K is the obvious choice if you want the latest silicon, but there are plenty of great alternatives across all price points.
- Best Overall: Intel Core i5-10600K
- Runner-up: Intel Core i7-9700
- Best Budget: Intel Core i3-9100F
- Best Value: Intel Core i5-9400
- Best Gaming: Intel Core i5-9600K
- Best Enthusiast: Intel Core i9-10900K
Best Overall: Intel Core i5-10600K
Sure, the Core i9-10900K is a 10-core behemoth that blazes through everything you throw at it, but for most users, the i5-10600K is the ideal option. With six cores and 12 threads and a base clock of 4.1GHz with a boost of 4.8GHz on all cores, the i5-10600K hits all the right notes. The K in the naming means it is the unlocked model, making it an ideal option for overclocking down the road.
Like the rest of the Comet Lake-S series, the Core i5-10600K is compatible with the new LGA1200 socket, so you will need to get a Z490 series motherboard to unlock its full potential. The Core i5-10600K is built on the 14nm node, and it has a TDP of 125W, offering more headroom for boosting the clocks.
In day-to-day use, the Core i5-10600K delivers outstanding performance. You get a noticeable boost in performance over the last-gen i7-9700K, and with AMD breathing down Intel's neck, the Core i5-10600K is pretty decent value for under $300. If you're building a new rig and need a CPU that will deliver a stellar performance, the Core i5-10600K is the one to get. Note that because of shortages, the chip is selling for $300 to $320, but it should come down to its $260 retail figure shortly.
- Decent value
- Incredible performance
- Six cores and 12 threads
- Unlocked part is great for overclocking
- Needs a new Z490 series motherboard
- No PCIe 4.0
- No bundled cooler
Runner-up: Intel Core i7-9700
Need more cores than the i5 series? The Coffee Lake Core i7-9700 is the ideal choice. You're getting eight cores and eight threads, 65W TDP, and because it slots into the LGA1151 socket, it will work with a variety of motherboards in the market, including the Z370 series.
The Core i7-9700 has base clocks of 3.0GHz and boost of 4.7GHz, 12MB L3 cache, and an integrated graphics. You get excellent gaming performance, and while there's no hyper-threading, that isn't a bad thing necessarily, because, for most gaming and creative tasks, the i7-9700 is a fantastic choice.
It has a solder-based thermal interface material, leading to better thermal performance. If you're looking to pick up an eight-core part for gaming and a few creative tasks like video or photo editing, the i7-9700 has plenty to offer.
- Eight cores and eight threads
- Great gaming performance
- Soldered thermal interface material
- Decent value
- No hyper-threading
- Not an unlocked part
Best On a Budget: Intel Core i3-9100F
Are you looking for an Intel CPU for under $100? The Core i3-9100F is your best option. The F in the moniker denotes the fact that it doesn't have integrated graphics, so you will have to pair it with a video card. This is the best way to do it if you're building a budget gaming rig because you can always pick up a value-based video card, and that will deliver much better performance than the integrated graphics on the regular Core i3-9100.
The Core i3-9100F has four cores and four threads, base clocks of 3.6GHz and boost of 4.20GHz, 65W TDP, and 6MB L3 cache. It slots into the LGA1151 socket, and you can find plenty of budget motherboards based on H310 and B365 designs. Intel also provides a cooler in the box, and while it is basic, that's one less thing you have to buy.
For most mainstream tasks, the Core i3-9100F is perfectly serviceable. Pair it with a decent video card, and you'll get a system that can handle casual games just fine.
- Available for under $100
- Comes with a cooler out of the box
- Four cores with base clocks of 3.6GHz
- Solid day-to-to-day performance
- No integrated graphics
Best Value: Intel Core i5-9400
If you're looking for the ideal mix of value and performance, the Core i5-9400 has to be your go-to option. It slots into the LGA1151 socket, and you're getting six cores and six threads, with a base clock of 2.9GHz and boost clock of 4.1GHz.
It has a 65W TDP, and while you're missing out on overclocking headroom, the chipset on its own has plenty to offer. It runs games at 1080p and QHD just fine as long as you have a decent video card, and for most day-to-day tasks, it delivers reliable performance.
- Great value
- Reliable performance for most mainstream tasks
- Six cores and six threads
- Slots into LGA1151 socket
- Limited overclocking potential
- No hyperthreading
Best Gaming: Intel Core i5-9600K
The Core i5-9600K launched 18 months ago, and it continues to be a fantastic choice for gamers. You're getting six cores and six threads with a base clock of 3.7GHz and 4.6GHz boost, 9MB L3 cache, TDP of 95W, and it slots into the LGA1151 socket.
If you're looking to get a powerful graphics card to play the latest titles at 4K, the Core i5-9600K is the ideal choice. The CPU delivers outstanding performance for not only gaming but also most day-to-day tasks. And because this is an unlocked part, you get a lot of headroom for overclocking.
If you're investing in a gaming rig and want the best CPU for under $200, the Core i5-9600K should be at the top of your list.
- Six cores at base clock of 3.7GHz
- Outstanding gaming performance
- Vast overclocking potential
- Great for multi-threaded use cases
- No cooler included in the box
- No hyperthreading
Best Enthusiast: Intel Core i9-10900K
Intel doesn't have a decent option in the HEDT segment anymore, so your best choice if you want to pick up an Intel CPU that has more than eight cores is the Core i9-10900K. The flagship in the Comet Lake-S series, the i9-10900K is the fastest desktop CPU Intel has debuted to date.
Billed as a gaming chip, the i9-10900K has ten cores and 20 threads, with a base clock of 3.7GHz and boost of 5.3GHz. The Core i9-10900K dominates when it comes to demanding games and multi-core workloads, and the fact that it is an unlocked part means you have a lot of headroom for overclocking.
The Core i9-10900K slots into the new LGA1200 socket, so you will have to pick up a Z490 motherboard. If you're looking for the best that Intel has to offer right now, this is it.
- Ten cores and 20 threads
- Base 3.7GHz and boost 5.3GHz clocks
- Outstanding performance
- Unlocked part is ideal for overclocking
- No PCIe 4.0
- Needs new Z490 motherboard
- High power usage
You'll find a CPU to meet your needs here
Whether you're looking for a budget option or are interested in a ten-core CPU that blazes through everything you throw at it, Intel has something to offer at all price points. The Core i5-10600K in particular stands out because it delivers outstanding performance without being too expensive. If you're looking to play the latest games and need a CPU that keeps up, the Core i5-10600K is the ideal option.
If you need a more budget-focused option, the Core i5-9400 is still a great choice in 2020. When paired with a decent video card, you can play most titles at 1080p and QHD, so if you're not switching to 4K gaming just yet, it is a solid option in 2020.
We may earn a commission for purchases using our links. Learn more.