As we head into March, the only thing anyone can really talk about is the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D, which is unquestionably the best processor for gaming on the market right now thanks to its incredible performance gains over the base Ryzen 9 7950X as well as Intel's best chip, the Core i9-13900K. It's still mighty expensive, so we're hoping to see what the Ryzen 7 7800X3D has in store for us when it launches next month, but for now, if you're looking for the best of the best and you're willing to pay for it, the Ryzen 9 7950X3D is the way to go.
- John Loeffler, Components Editor
The best processors are the most essential part of any PC. And, given that they are the brains of the entire operation, it's very important that you choose the best performing, most power-efficient one you can afford.
In addition to performing the vital operations that actually make the machine run, the best Intel processors and the best AMD processors even come with integrated graphics processors, which offer massive savings since the best graphics cards can cost hundreds of dollars. If you do not need a dedicated GPU, that is.
With the release of Intel Raptor Lake and the AMD Ryzen 7000-series processors, the very best processors from the previous generations are getting some healthy price cuts, which means more savings for you. Although, if you are looking for high-end builds, you'll find some excellent high-end CPUs are going to provide outstanding levels of performance when it comes to content creation or playing the best PC games at high frame rates, making them worth the splurge.
We've tested the best CPUs on the market, putting them through their paces to see how they perform in the real world. And, we're here to help you make the right choice for your needs and budget. Whether you want something to power your family desktop PC or are looking for a powerful chip for content creation, we have a terrific option for you below.
The best processors for 2023
The Intel Core i9-13900K already had a very high bar to clear given the outstanding performance of the Intel Core i9-12900K, but when AMD released its Zen 4 processors in September 2022 to wide acclaim, Intel's big.LITTLE follow-up had to essentially do everything right.
Incredibly, Team Blue manages just that with this chip. Whether it's multithreaded workloads or single-threaded ones like gaming, the Core i9-13900K simply blows away the competition here, which is all the more impressive given the phenomenal performance of the rival AMD Ryzen 9 7950X processor.
What's more, Intel was able to do so without raising the price of the chip over the previous generation, an incredible feat given the inflationary pressures on the semiconductor industry from still-wonky supply chains and the rising costs of raw materials and other production factors.
While still a pricey chip, the money spent is well worth the cost given the amount of performance you're getting for that money. This is a chip that will serve you very well for the long-haul.
- Read more: Intel Core i9-13900K review
The most value-oriented processor in the new AMD Zen 4 lineup is the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X, but don't let its price fool you: this chip is anything but a lightweight. Sure, it can't hold up against the massive, 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X, but its single-core performance is nearly on par with its beefier cousins.
What's more, the lack of V-Cache doesn't slow this chip down one bit when it comes to gaming performance, and gamers looking to make the jump to AMD's AM5 platform will find a lot to love about this processor, especially as its more accessible cost helps to offset the cost of a new motherboard and RAM.
Fortunately, you won't need a different CPU cooler if you already have one compatible with AM4, and fortunately the Ryzen 5 7600X manages to stay cool under load.
- Read more: AMD Ryzen 5 7600X review
The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D is easily the best AMD processor on the market, thanks to its outstanding performance gains over the base 7950X3D as well as competitive gaming performance against Intel's best chip, the Core i9-13900K.
Whether its blazing fast gaming play or some serious creative workload performance, the 7950X3D is a processor that anyone serious about a high-performance CPU is going to want to consider, especially given this chips incredibly low energy use relative to the competition.
It's more expensive than the competition too, unfortunately, but if you want the best and you're willing to pay the premium for it, you won't find better.
- Read More: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D review
It's not often that you see a CPU that absolutely wipes the floor with everything else in its price bracket, but that's just what the Intel Core i5-12600K does. It's one of the strongest picks right now if what you want is great value for money, currently costing just $260 for a 3.7GHz base clock speed and 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 though this chip is far more affordable than the i9-12900K at the top of our list, you still get the latest Intel 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). If you're not fussed about overclocking, you can pick up its non-K little brother - the i5-12600 - for even cheaper.
- Read More: Intel Core i5-12600K review
The AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D is - without question - one of the best processors for gaming on the market right now. With incredible performance thanks to AMD's new 3D V-Cache technology, the 5800X3D punches way above its weight class and can even beat out the more expensive Core i9-12900K when it comes to gaming.
Since this is essentially an AMD Ryzen 7 5800X with triple the cache memory thanks to a new microarchitecture that lets AMD 'stack' cache on the CPU die, it keeps the same AM4 motherboard socket as earlier Ryzen chips - meaning that you don't need to spend more to upgrade your motherboard if you're already rocking an AMD system.
- Read more: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D review
The Ryzen 7000 series has definitely impressed us with its massive generational leap over its predecessor – as well as its rival, Intel. Nowehere is that more clear than with the Ryzen 7 7700X, a midrange-ish chip meant for more serious content creation and gaming performance that easily outperforms the best chips of the previous generation while not costing a fortune.
While it's content creation chops are decent enough, it still lags the Intel Core i5-12600K in many content creation tasks, so if content creation is your priority, there are better chips out there. If you're looking for gaming though, this is unquestioningly the best gaming processor we've ever tested, and it's overall productivity scores and general performance is top notch.
- Read More: AMD Ryzen 7 7700X review
How to find the best processor for you
How to find the best processor for you
Finding the best processor for your needs and budget isn't just about finding the fastest processor out there, since it's easy to spend far more than you need to. It's important to look at what you actually want out of your PC 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 - the same goes if you're planning on performing high-level content creation tasks, like 4K video editing. But if you're planning on gaming at lower resolutions or 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.
If you're on a tight budget, an AMD Ryzen 3 option might be a better pick. Sure, it won't give you blazing-fast performance like a high-end chip, but it also won't cost you a huge sum of cash. Note that Ryzen 3 isn't available in the current 5000-series generation, so you'll need to dial back to the 3rd or 4th generation.
Which processor is fastest?
If we're talking about the fastest CPU in the world, that would be AMD's monster 64-core/128-thread Ryzen Threadripper Pro 5995WX, but that's 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 - not the average consumer looking to build a PC. It's also hilariously expensive, with an MRSP of $6,499.
Bringing it back down to Earth, the fastest consumer desktop 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 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 as it uses the new LGA-1700 CPU socket, and you'll most likely need 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 any AM4 motherboard and doesn't require much more in the way of cooling - though we'd highly recommend liquid cooling for optimal performance.
In terms of value for money, AMD still reigns. Intel has the high-end covered (unless we're discussing AMD's absurdly expensive Threadripper chips, which are mostly used for business purposes), but AMD offers a broad variety of processors that offer a consistently excellent performance-to-price ratio.
How we test processors
Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.
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 near-identical packaging, and even if you were to peel back that packaging, the transistors on the CPU die 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 complex math used for 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 offer either best-in-class performance regardless of price, or compelling value for the customer. We won't score a CPU highly if its performance is just fine but it's out of reach for most people's budgets.
For more information, see How We Test.