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Best processors 2022: the best CPUs for your PC from Intel and AMD

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
Best processors
(Image credit: Future)

The best processors on the market are even more important to your PC than graphics cards, RAM, or any other component. The CPU is the brain for your computer, so you're going to want the best CPU you can afford to get the most out of your apps, games, and especially, your operating system.

The best Intel processors and best AMD processors all bring something to the table, though there are some pretty big differences between the two. And while most modern processors are sufficient to get you through daily workloads like browsing and video streaming, you're going to need more than the bare minimum if you want to multitask, or if you need your computer to do some heavy duty work like video editing or powering through the best PC games.

So finding the right processor has never been more important, especially as the demands on processors is increasing more than ever, and it can be daunting to know which one is the right one for your needs and budget. Don't worry, though, if there's one thing we know, it's processors, and we've put all the best processors on the market through some especially rigorous testing to find their strengths and weaknesses.

If you're looking to upgrade your computer's CPU and want to get the most processing power for your money, we've broken down the best of the best and we're here to help you find exactly the right CPU to keep your computer running at its best for years to come.

How we test processors

How we test the best processors on the market

It's impossible to tell the best processors from the worst just by looking at them. All of the core components are hidden away in identical looking packaging, and even if you were to peel back that packaging, the transistors on the CPU die (the neurons of the CPUs "brain") are literally measured in nanometers. How can you tell a million transistors on a chip from a billion, and how can you measure a processor's clock cycle by looking at the box?

Fortunately, there are tests we can run to see how well a processor performs in the real world, and the best way to do that is to push a processor to its limits by running finely-calibrated benchmarking tools that produce comparable scores based on how well a processor performed a specific task like compressing a video file or performing the very complex math used in 3D gaming.

We use industry-standard tools like Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, and PCMark 10 to synthetically push processors to the limit using realistic workloads that you're likely to experience in day-to-day use.

We also use modern PC games set to the lowest graphical settings on the best available gaming hardware to isolate CPU performance while gaming, which we measure in frames per second.

Then, with the scores in hand, we look at the price of the processor. The best processors offering either best-in-class performance regardless of price, or processors that offer compelling value for the customer, since it's just as important to get the best processor you can afford and not just a top-scoring processor that is out of most people's budgets.

Best processors 2022: find the best CPU for your needs

Best processors 2022 from Intel and AMD

Intel Core i9-12900K next to its retail package

(Image credit: Intel)

1. Intel Core i9-12900K

The best processor on the market right now

Specifications

Cores: 16
Threads: 24
Base clock: 3.20GHz
Boost clock: 5.2GHz
L3 cache: 30MB
TDP: 125W

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly powerful
+
Performance and efficiency cores

Reasons to avoid

-
All new platform, all new hardware

The Intel Core i9-12900K is an incredibly powerful processor, and a real return for Intel. The new chip layout sees traditional "performance cores" paired with "efficiency cores" that take care of background tasks. This means that heavy workloads like gaming or video editing are completely uninterrupted and you can focus your performance on what's important. 

With the Core i9-12900K, Intel has totally reclaimed its CPU crown that it lost when Ryzen hit the market back in 2017. Whether you want to do some PC gaming or video editing, this chip will tear through everything with no problem. Just get ready to pair it with a beefy CPU cooler. 

Read the full Intel Core i9-12900K review

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X box against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

2. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

A 12-core monster

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 up
-
No 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.

It has since been dethroned in pure performance by the Intel Core i9-12900K, but this processor is still nothing to shake a stick at. 

Read the full AMD Ryzen 9 5900X review

The retail packaging for an AMD Ryzen 7 5000-series processor against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)
The best processor for gaming

Specifications

Cores: 8
Threads: 16
Base clock: 3.7GHz
Boost clock: 4.7GHz
L3 cache: 100MB
TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+
Outstanding gaming performance
+
Uses AM4 Socket
+
New 3D V-Cache technology

Reasons to avoid

-
No DDR5 or PCIe 5.0
-
Non-gaming performance lags

The AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D is without question one of the best processors for gaming on the market. With incredible performance thanks to AMD's new 3D V-Cache technology, the 5800X3D punches way above its weight class and even bests the Core i9-12900K when it comes to gaming.

Since this is essentially an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X with additional cache memory stacked on the CPU die, it keeps the same motherboard socket as earlier chips, making it a much more affordable option for those who want great gaming performance but don't want to spend a lot of money.

That assumes that you have an AMD AM4 system already. If not, you'll need to buy a whole new motherboard, and maybe a new cooling solution, in which case you might as well go all in and get the i9-12900K, which offers comparable gaming performance, but comes with a whole lot more extra goodies. 

Read the full AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D review

Intel Core i9-12600K next to its retail package

(Image credit: Intel)

4. Intel Core i5-12600K

Top performance on a budget

Specifications

Cores: 10
Threads: 16
Base clock: 3.7GHz
Boost clock: 4.9GHz
L3 cache: 20MB
TDP: 125W

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent performance
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Will need all new hardware

It's not often that you see a CPU that absolutely wipes the floor with everything else in its class, and that's just what the Intel Core i5-12600K does. This is one of the strongest CPUs on the market for anyone that doesn't want to spend nearly a thousand bucks on a single component. It's a mid-range CPU with 10 cores, 6 of which are multi-threaded Performance Cores. 

These are traditional CPU cores, while the other 4 cores are efficiency cores. That means that even in a chip this affordable, you get the latest tech. This chip layout will let your computer focus on important tasks like gaming, without you having to worry about a Windows 11 update spoiling your fun (and your framerate). 

Read the full Intel Core i5-12600K review

AMD Ryzen 3 3100 box against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

5. 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 3300X
-
May 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 AMD Ryzen 3 3100 review

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X box against a white background

(Image credit: AMD)

6. 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 3000
-
No 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 processors 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 AMD Ryzen 7 5800X review

How to find the right processor for you

Finding the best processor for your needs and budget isn't just about finding the fastest processor out there, since it is possible to buy way more processor than you actually need. It's important to look at what you actually want out of your new processor and shop accordingly.

If you're looking for the best gaming CPU on the market, definitely look at the Intel Core i9-12900K and AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D, but if you aren't planning on doing much gaming and you're just looking for something to handle everyday tasks faster with some medium duty processing work, anything from a Core i5 to a Ryzen 7 should do the trick.

And if you're on a tight budget, an AMD Ryzen 3 might be better. Sure, it won't give you blazing fast graphics like a high-end chip, but it also won't cost you a huge sum of cash.

Which processor is fastest?

If we're talking the fastest CPU in the world, that would be AMD's 64-core/128-thread Ryzen Threadripper 3990X, but that is a High End Desktop (HEDT) processor. This means it's designed for serious content production like 3D rendering for movies or film scoring with dozens of digital instruments at a time. It's also obscenely expensive, costing more than twice what a high-end gaming PC would probably cost you.

Bringing it back down to Earth, the fastest processor by benchmark scores is the Intel Core i9-12900K, hands down. But things get interesting when it comes to gaming. There, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D absolutely crushes it, punching way above its weight in terms of gaming performance and outperforming even the i9-12900K at 4K gameplay.

Is Intel or AMD better?

Nobody likes this answer, but it depends.

If you are looking for raw performance regardless of price, the Intel Core i9-12900K is the reigning champ, but it's going to require a whole new motherboard and most likely a whole new cooling solution as well.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for the best gaming processor, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D not only outperforms just about every other processor out there, it slots right into an AM4 motherboard and doesn't require much more in the way of cooling (though liquid cooling is highly recommended).

Today's deals on the best processors of 2022

John (He/Him) is the US Computing Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY. 


Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.


You can find him online on Twitter at @thisdotjohn


Currently playing: EVE Online, Elden Ring.

With contributions from