Only the best processors can see you through the most demanding, resource-hungry tasks. Whether you’re building a new PC that could rival the best computers on the market or upgrading your existing one, only a powerful CPU is good enough. Luckily, with Intel and AMD locked in a fiery competition, many powerful processors are more affordable than ever. So, you won’t have to spend a lot to take home an excellent option.

While you no longer have to break the piggy bank to get a CPU that will see you through the best PC games or the most demanding 4K video editing workloads, choosing one of the best processors for your needs still takes a bit of work. There are more choices than ever, yes, but that doesn’t mean that you should just go for the priciest one you can afford and call it a day. 

Whether you should go for one with an excellent multi-core performance or better single-core performance, stick with Intel or give AMD a chance, or even stay on budget or go all in still depends on your computing needs. To set you off to a good start, however, we rounded up the best processors in 2021. From Intel’s impressive Comet Lake-S to AMD’s Ryzen 5000 chips, here are our top picks.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

(Image credit: AMD)

Best CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Best CPU for high-end gaming

Specifications

Cores: 12

Threads: 24

Base clock: 3.7GHz

Boost clock: 4.8GHz

L3 cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Amazing performance+A new single-core champion+Same power consumption

Reasons to avoid

Price went upNo included cooler

The AMD Ryzen 9 5900X brings the biggest gen-on-gen jump in a single performance in years, making it a terrific upgrade. This latest release from AMD is not just a stronger processor across the board. It’s also an incredibly powerful processor for gaming and creative work full stop. The fact that you won’t need a new motherboard is just a nice perk.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

(Image credit: AMD)

Best high-end CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

A mainstream CPU moonlights as an HEDT processor

Specifications

Cores: 16

Threads: 32

Base clock: 3.5GHz

Boost clock: 4.7GHz

L3 cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Performance powerhouse+Cheaper than HEDT+PCIe 4.0

Reasons to avoid

Needs extra coolingLimited gaming advantage

The highest tier in the Ryzen 3000 series is the performance powerhouse you’re looking for, if you want something for heavily threaded computer work. Besides high-end gaming, the Ryzen 9 3950 also blasts through processing tasks. It’s expensive, but for a mainstream processor that can go toe-to-toe with HEDT processors, that’s hardly a surprise. And, it’s also well worth the price, if you need its level of performance. Just remember that it may take a bit to keep cool so be sure to follow AMD’s guidance.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

(Image credit: AMD)

Best mid-range CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

Top performance on a budget

Specifications

Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base clock: 3.8GHz

Boost clock: 4.4GHz

L3 cache: 32MB

TDP: 95W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent performance+Affordable+Includes a cooler

Reasons to avoid

Still 6-cores

With more threads than the Intel Core i5-9600K, this mid-range graphics card delivers impressive multi-threading performance. However, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X doesn’t just stop there: it takes that budget-minded stage of performance to a new level, with its increased IPC (instructions per clock) performance and a higher clock speed while staying at the same price point. It also stays competitive in even the most intense single-threaded applications.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

AMD Ryzen 3 3100

(Image credit: AMD)

Best entry-level CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

PC gaming just got cheaper

Specifications

Cores: 4

Threads: 8

Base clock: 3.5GHz

Boost clock: 3.6GHz

L3 cache: 16MB

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent performance+Affordable+Doesn’t suck up much power

Reasons to avoid

Not as fast as the 3300XMay bottleneck high-end GPUs

Budget-minded consumers who missed out on all the 3rd-generation Ryzen excitement the first time will appreciate AMD’s latest attempt in the entry-level sphere. There’s no denying that the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 is appealingly cheap, but it does so without compromising on performance. In fact, this chip delivers a performance that could almost rival that of processors double its price, without sucking up much power. And, it’s an excellent choice for budget gamers who are looking for something that can handle 1080p gaming.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

(Image credit: AMD)

Best gaming CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Ryzen to the top

Specifications

Cores: 8

Threads: 16

Base clock: 3.8GHz

Boost clock: 4.7GHz

L3 cache: 32MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent single-core performance+Strong for gaming+Low power

Reasons to avoid

Price jump from Ryzen 3000No included cooler

Intel no longer has the monopoly on gaming CPUs. Rocking 8 cores and 16 threads, along with much stronger single-core performance, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X is among the best CPUs for gaming – as well as less demanding creative work – right now. And it comes with a much more approachable price tag compared to most of Intel’s offerings, making it a much better value.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Intel Core i5-10600K

(Image credit: Intel)

Best VR CPU: Intel Core i5-10600K

Hyper-Threading for everyone

Specifications

Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base clock: 3.5GHz

Boost clock: 4.7GHz

L3 cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent multi-core performance+Affordable+Good thermal performance

Reasons to avoid

No PCIe 4.0Higher power consumption

Mid-range buyers will appreciate the fact that they actually don’t have to shell out quite a bit of cash for Intel’s hyper-threading technology. With Intel’s Core i5-10600K, among Intel’s latest chips to hit the streets in 2021, it’s possible to have it for much less than $500. This chip may lack PCIe 4.0 support and has a higher power consumption, but it makes up for those in spades. Besides hyper-threading, this processor also delivers superb multi-core performance as well as improved single-core performance. What’s more is that it’s got great thermals to keep that pesky heat down.

Read the full review: Intel Core i5-10600K

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

(Image credit: AMD)

Best performance processor: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

Perfecting the Threadripper line

Specifications

Cores: 24

Threads: 48

Base clock: 3.8GHz

Boost clock: 4.5GHz

L3 cache: 128MB

TDP: 280W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent single and multithreaded performance+Competitive price

Reasons to avoid

Not backwards compatible

Launched alongside the even more potent Ryzen Threadripper 3970X, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X may have the same core count as its predecessor. However, it comes with a brand-new architecture that delivers performance gains as well as PCIe 4.0, making it among the best processors in the Threadripper arena. The 3960X delivers dramatically improved single-threaded performance and has successfully reduced its predecessors’ idiosyncrasies that affect their own performance. It may come with a higher price tag and require the TRX40 motherboard – not to mention, a powerful cooler – but it’s certainly worth the fuss if you can maximize its skills to your advantage.

AMD Athlon 300GE

(Image credit: AMD)

Best budget CPU: AMD Athlon 300GE

A best value performer

Specifications

Cores: 2

Threads: 4

Base clock: 3.4GHz

Boost clock: 4.0GHz

L3 cache: 4MB

TDP: 35W

Reasons to buy

+Incredibly cheap+Low power usage

Reasons to avoid

Not powerful enough for demanding tasks

Whether you’re looking for a processor for your media center or for your desktop PC, the AMD Athlon 300GE is among the best processors you can find on the market today in terms of value. It’s reliable and surprisingly fast for what it can do. It’s never going to deliver a breathtaking performance, but for a processor in the budget space, it’s definitely going to impress you.

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

(Image credit: AMD)

Best HTPC CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

Best for 720p gaming

Specifications

Cores: 4

Threads: 8

Base clock: 3.7GHz

Boost clock: 4.2GHz

L3 cache: 4MB

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Affordable+Radeon Vega graphics+Bundled cooler

Reasons to avoid

Lower performance in applications than alternatives

With a noticeable, if small, performance advantage over its predecessor, AMD’s Ryzen 5 3400G is a capable option for your home theater PC and budget gaming computer. That means that it’s among best processors for folks who don’t quite take gaming as seriously as the big gamers, touting a solid 720 and a fairly decent 1080p gaming performance. 

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