When it comes to high-end CPU performance on desktops, Intel is one of only two companies worth considering — and when it comes to gaming, it still gives AMD a run for its money. Whether you’re gaming or working though, Intel has a CPU to meet your standards, budget, and performance needs.
From the top of the line to the most wallet-friendly, we wrangled up the best Intel processors on the market to help narrow down your search. The rest is up to you.
The best Intel processor: Core i5-10600K
Intel’s 10th Gen “Comet Lake” desktop CPUs arrived with a bang in 2020. This Core i5 chip replaced the previous i5-9600K with a significant uptick: Hyper-Threading. While the 9th Gen chip has six cores and six threads, this newer model has six cores and 12 threads to provide better performance at the same cost. It even serves up more threads than Intel’s 9th Gen Core i7 chips.
The 10600K has a 4.10GHz base speed and a maximum single-core boost clock of 4.80GHz. The TDP is slightly higher than the previous model at 125 watts, but with clever power management, it doesn’t run much hotter. It does not ship with a stock cooler, so be sure to grab one along with this top pick, though (our best CPU cooler guide has a few options).
In benchmarks, it nearly matches Intel’s Core i7-9700K, an older $350 eight-core, eight-thread chip. It also competes well with AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X, both of which have six cores and 12 threads for $172 and $220, respectively. And while the AMD chip prices are considerably lower than the 10600K, Intel’s model includes integrated graphics whereas AMD’s two CPUs do not.
One amazing facet of this processor is its overclockability. With the right cooling and tweaking — read our best AIO cooler guide to get started — it can reach frequencies well above 5.0GHz and gaming performance close to that of the stock 10900K, a processor that’s almost twice the cost.
Overall, the 10600K provides a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you intend to overclock. It’s not much slower than the Core i7-10700K right out of the box, making it ideal if you want to save some money, and can go much further still. Keep in mind this chip only works in the new LGA 1200 socket, so if you’re interested, grab a board with the Z490 chipset.
The best budget Intel processor: Core i3-10100
If you’re on a budget, this chip is a steal. It’s a highly capable chip for the suggested price, packing four cores and eight threads with a base speed of 3.60GHz and a maximum single-core boost of 4.30GHz. Pair it with a budget graphics card and a decent LGA 1200-compatible motherboard, and you have the makings for a solid entry-level gaming PC.
On a performance level, it targets AMD’s Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X chips. It’s an improvement over the previous generation Core i3-9100 thanks to Hyper-Threading. That’s the real big change between the two Intel chips, as the TDP and L3 cache size remain the same.
This chip does not support multiplier-based overclocking, though BCLK overclocking is possible — just don’t expect huge performance gains. However, it includes Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 with a 350MHz base frequency and a 1.10GHz maximum — a component not offered on a similar AMD CPU, and that helps you get your system running without a graphics card, as well as enjoy very low-level gaming.
For $30 more, you could splurge for the Core i5-10400F, a six-core, 12-thread chip with a 2.90GHz base frequency and a maximum 4.30GHz single-core turbo frequency. However, it doesn’t include integrated graphics and at the time of writing, stock is low, so it’s extremely hard to find. If you can find one, you’ll end up spending as much as a Ryzen 5 3600X, which may be a better option.
The best high-end Intel processor: Core i7-10700K
If you want high-end performance without the paralyzing sticker shock of a Core i9 CPU, this is the Intel chip to get. It packs eight cores and 16 threads along with a 3.80GHz base frequency and a hefty 5.1GHz maximum single-core turbo frequency.
As the “K” implies, this chip supports multiplier-based overclocking, though it doesn’t ship with a stock cooler. It’s a nice performance uptick from the previous generation Core i9-9900K for a lower cost, even more so after a little tweaking under the hood. It even gives the new Core i9-10900K a run for its money, which is around $100 more.
Intel’s Core i7 chip targets AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X, another eight-core 16-thread chip at a lower cost, but without integrated graphics. Benchmarks show that AMD’s chip follows behind the 10700K right out of the box, and even more so after overclocking both. However, AMD’s offering includes a stock cooler, and at a lower price point.
As with all other new Comet Lake desktop CPUs, you’ll need a compatible motherboard with the LGA 1200 socket. If overclocking is on the menu, grab a board with the Z490 chipset.
The best raw performance: Core i9-10900K
When it comes to raw performance, this 10-core, 20-thread chip tops the charts. The Core i9 has a base frequency of 3.70GHz. Its maximum single-core turbo frequency is 5.30GHz, with the new Velocity boost algorithm. With heavy overclocking, some 10900Ks can even handle 5.3GHz on all cores.
Intel’s 10-core chip lists a TDP of 125 watts. Some users have been able to overclock the chip and get up to 325 watts. You’ll need a large power supply if you want to get this kind of performance. If you want to overclock this processor, we also recommend getting a performing cooler and some solid PC fans to prevent the Core i9 CPU from overheating.
It may have a significant power draw, but Intel’s Core i9 chip doesn’t disappoint when it comes to price. It’s also the fastest out-the-box gaming CPU ever made. In some cases, it even outperforms AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X, a 12-core, 24-thread chip in productivity tasks.
The Core i9-10900K includes 20MB of L3 cache and Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 GPU. This integrated graphics card is only suitable for basic computing tasks, but you can add a powerful graphics card to your i9 CPU build for a gaming setup that packs a punch.