CPU

Sure, you could just plop down a bunch of cash for the best CPU money can buy, but spending several hundred dollars isn't the only way to get a good CPU. Here are some bang-for-your-buck options.

Grab a brand new motherboard and you'll be able to spend as much as $300 on a more-than-capable processor for the PC build. You'll have bags of fun, be it in games or in intensive applications. But if you'd like to save a penny or two, all while taking advantage of capable CPUs, it's possible to grab a stellar deal when it comes to performance.

Updated March 1, 2017: We swapped out our Intel Core i5-6500 listing in favor of a more powerful (and expensive) 7th-Gen Core i7-7700K. This was also due to the addition of a new AMD processor, the Ryzen 7 1700.

On a budget

AMD Athlon X4 860K

AMD X4 860K

This quad-core workhorse isn't the most powerful processor on the market by any stretch of the imagination, but it costs $65. AMD includes overclocking, a stock cooler (massive bonus at this price point) and superb performance for the price. You'll definitely want to slap on an aftermarket cooler, but once you do this chip can be pushed far.

That said, while multi-core performance is strong, the chip is let down by per-core power and efficiency compared to Intel's offering. For $65, it's easy to overlook this and invest in a capable little CPU that can handle some gaming and multitasking. Just stay clear of intensive applications.

  • Good for: Budget gaming, can be overclocked.
  • Not so good: Higher TDP than Intel counterpart.

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Intel Pentium Processor G4400

Intel Pentium G4400

If you're not after multi-threaded overclocked madness, Intel has a solid offering in the G4400. It's locked and dual-core without zero hyper threading, but you get a CPU that can easily tackle light-to-medium computer use, including some gaming.

The AMD option above will better perform in applications that support multi-core (especially when overclocked), but the G4400 has a few tricks up its sleeve, including an integrated GPU. There's also not much to differentiate the two price wise. The G4400 is only $62.22.

  • Good for: Superb single-core performance for the price.
  • Not so good: Integrated GPU is poor, no overclocking.

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Mid-range

AMD FX-8300

AMD FX-8300

You g four modules and eight cores for just $104.95. That's what the FX-8300 brings to the table. It's an insane amount of power for the price, adding around $40 on top of the two budget chips above. Much like other AMD processors, these aren't designed for single core performance.

Applications that can take full advantage of multiple cores will enjoy partnering up with the 8300. What provides the FX family a little extra, particularly this processor, is the ability to be overclocked. This brings it right up to comparable Intel chips in the Core i3 range.

  • Good for: Gaming and high productivity with eight cores.
  • Not so good: Produces a lot of heat when overclocked.

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Intel Core i3-6100

Intel Core i3-6100

Our choice from the Intel camp for the middle ground is the Core i3-6100, which again is a solid chip. The Core i3 option here beats the FX-8300 in single-core performance but loses out on multi-core and scope for overclocking. It's also more expensive than the 8300, which could sway some heads.

If you do not wish to do some serious gaming and intense computing, the Core i3-6100 will be more than enough. For the price, it's possible to hop onto the Skylake platform and have room to throw in a Core i5 or Core i7 at a later date, to bring more power to the table.

  • Good for: Gaming and efficient PC builds.
  • Not so good: Fully locked.

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High performance

AMD Ryzen 7 1700

AMD Ryzen

AMD announced its new lineup of Ryzen processors and made three launch CPUs available for preorder. The Ryzen 7 1700, 1700X and 1800X make up of the company's latest offering in the segment, to compete against Intel's high-end counterparts. The 1700 targets the Intel Core i7-7700K with 8 cores, 16 threads and a tiny 65W TDP. This is the lowest rated desktop CPU, which is an achievement all in itself.

And you get a stock LED-touting cooler!

  • Good for: Gaming and intensive workloads.
  • Not so good: Those who don't wish to spend a lot or build a new system.

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Intel Core i7-7700K

Intel Core i7

The Core i7 series from Intel, built on the Kaby Lake architecture, offers great levels of performance for high-end gaming. Throw in a capable GPU to match and you have quite the capable rig. The same applies to productivity, and as an added bonus the CPU can be overclocked, meaning it can handle more advanced software and multiple tasks with ease.

This is among the best of the best, but you should only really consider an i7 if you truly require the performance.

  • Good for: Gaming and intensive workloads.
  • Not so good: The price for those on a budget.

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The future

Keep an eye out for price drops when AMD releases more details on the upcoming rollout of next-generation processors. Intel is no doubt bound to reduce the pricing of current chips to better compete with AMD, opening up better value on all fronts. Should you be planning a PC build, it may be worth holding out to see just what's up with these new CPUs.

Are there other processors you would like to see in our roundup? Sound off in the comments.