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Best processors 2021: the best CPUs for your PC from Intel and AMD

Included in this guide:

A CPU on a purple background
These are the best processors on the market in 2021. (Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

Let one of the best processors of 2021 do the heavy lifting whether for gaming, video editing, or multi-tasking at work. Sure, lesser chips might see you through the most basic tasks, but it’s only their most powerful and efficient counterparts that can really handle your more demanding computing needs (and stay cool under pressure).

As your computer’s brain, a CPU is responsible for executing all its commands, tasks and processes. So, going for a mediocre one and hoping for the best, especially if you expect it to perform intensive tasks, isn’t going to cut it – no matter if you’re building a new PC or upgrading your current one. And, thanks to Intel and AMD still battling it out in the CPU arena, we have a lot more excellent options at more affordable prices.

With chips like the Comet Lake-S and the Ryzen 5000 more powerful and more affordable than ever before, you no longer have to settle for less or the second best if you’re on a budget. To make it easier for you to choose, we found the best processors on the market for playing the best PC games, getting through your creative workloads, and more.

What's the best processor for gaming?

One of the best processors on the market today, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X, combines excellent single-core performance and a massively improved multi-core one with its low power consumption and a fairly approachable price. And, it’s a strong option for gaming.

Scratch that: it’s arguably the best processor for gaming. It even beats out the Intel Core i9-10900K in Total War: Three Kingdoms, a game optimized for Intel hardware, by 7%. Based on AMD’s 7nm manufacturing process, its Core Die (CCD) design allows for one Core Complex per die. That means every Ryzen 7 5800X’s CCX has 8 cores, each of which direct access to 32MB of L3 cache, resulting in a breathtaking gaming performance.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X box against a white background

(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 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.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X box against a white background

(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 cooling-Limited 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 box against a white background

(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 box against a white background

(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 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 review: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X box against a white background

(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 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 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 box against a white background

(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 4.0-Higher 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 box against a white background

(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 box against a white background

(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 box against a white background

(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.