One of the most important makings of a good computer is an equally good CPU. This central processing unit is essentially the brains of any desk- or laptop. With so many types of computers and varying needs, it stands to reason that the same thing applies to CPUs and not all devices will offer you the same performance or adaptability. At the end of the day, the best way to get exactly what you want, you must first know what you need.

For starters, if you’re a devoted gamer or if you use your computer for heavy processing work, you’ll need a powerful CPU. If this is the case, simply looking for the year’s top models won’t cut it. There are hundreds of powerful computer processors out there and their characteristics will greatly vary from one unit to the next. There’s a lot you should know before purchasing a CPU, this guide will help you determine your needs so that you can make the best possible purchase.

Key Facts

  • Keep in mind that CPUs designed for gaming are different than those created for multimedia or graphic design. Therefore, knowing what your needs are is key.
  • Having a basic understanding of what things like voltage, cache or processor core mean is super important if you want to find exactly what you’re looking for. The possibilities are truly endless, regardless of whether you choose Intel or AMD processors.
  • It makes sense that the CPU you choose is compatible with your device. This will not only make you waste your money on a CPU that doesn’t meet your expectations, but it will also prevent your device from performing as it should.

Ranking: The best CPUs on the U.S. market

One may think that the base frequency or the turbo of a CPU is the only relevant aspect to consider in order to find the best product on the market. The truth is that the performance of these units depends on many other components. The internal architecture, for instance, is a key part that is often overlooked by users. In this section, we present you with the most well-rounded CPUs in North America.

No. 1: AMD — Ryzen 5 2600 Processor

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This 2600 processor is like i7-8700, with a 10% lower frequency, and at half the price! It is 6 cores and 12 threads boost to 3.9 (single-core) while all cores are 3.7 GHz. It is a great CPU for mid-range processors. The VR works extremely well and it overclocks easily. It comes with a good cooler that has a built-in thermal paste, saving you at least $50 you would have to spend otherwise. It flies through normal workloads which include web browsing, virtual machines, VR, gaming and file serving.

The internal fan is extremely quiet, keeping the CPU at about 40-50c. It has 19 MB of combined cache and hits a maximum temperature of 95 C. It has a CMOS of 12 nm FinFET. It is compatible with windows 10 – 64-Bit edition, RHEL x86 64-Bit, and Ubuntu x86 64-Bit. It’s supported technologies are AMD store technology, and sensor technology, and ryzen master utility and AMD ryzen VR-ready premium.

No. 2: Intel — Core i7-8700K Desktop Processor

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This processor by Intel is an excellent CPU for gaming, photo, and video editing and more. It has smoother frame rates than competitor’s CPU’s with less stuttering and fps dips. This Core i7-8700K processor can be installed without expert assistance following their user manual. It has 6 cores and 12 threads with a 3.7 GHz Max Turbo frequency and 12 MB cache. Its memory type is a DDR4-2666.

This processor is compatible with all motherboards based on an Intel 300 Series Chipset. It is Intel Optane memory supported with Intel UHD Graphics 360. This processor model is not as stubborn with ram and overclocking as many other brands are, enabling you to use many different models and get 3200 MHz. Users, and especially gamers, love that they are able to game at 4K while transcoding videos for streaming without the display skipping frames.

No. 3: AMD — Ryzen 7 2700x Processor

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This Ryzen 7 2700x Processors holds up to AMD’s high-quality standards and includes a high tech and stylish prism LED cooler that will keep the processor running smoothing and giving your room or office a modern, exciting feel. It has 8 cores and 16 threads unlocked. It runs at a frequency of 4.3 GHz at max boost. This upgraded model allows the memory speed to be increased up to 3200Mhz using 4 x 8GB DDR4 models.

As Amazon’s Top Choice for CPUs, this processor doesn’t fail to impress. This chip within this processor can handle high rates of video game streaming, video editing and other high capacity work programs that would cause other processors to idle. It is backward compatible with X370 and B250 motherboards, with the proper BIOS updates. It has noticeable higher clock speeds versus the 1700x model, even under full load. The price for performance on this model can’t be beaten.

No. 4: AMD — Ryzen 3 2200G Processor

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The AMD Ryzen 3 2200G Processor comes with built-in Radeon Vega 8 Graphics for higher performance. It has 4 cores unlocked and functions under a frequency of 3.7 GHz max boost. It has a Wraith Stealth cooler that keeps the temperature down for a max thermal solution. It has an AM4 max system socket type and a memory speed of 2667Mhz. It is an OS supported system that is compatible with Windows 10 – 64-Bit Edition, RHEL x86 64-Bit, and Ubuntu x86 64-Bit, though OS support will slightly vary by manufacturer.

For proper functioning, make sure that the corresponding BIOS system is updated. For less than $100 you can have a CPU, CPU cooler, and corresponding graphics. AMD’s AM4 platform is as future proof of a platform as you can get, with a consumer-oriented business model that provides you with some of the best quality processors on the market for a price anyone can afford.

No. 5: Intel — Core i9-9900K Desktop Processor

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This Core i9-9900K Processor performs around 50-100% better than i7 processor models. It consumes only a fraction of the power with less heat production at low utilization compared to that of an x99 chip. It processes at 5.0 GHz for common few core loads for long periods of time and at 4.7 GHz on all cores forever under heavy load, performing at 3.6 GHz at its lowest capacity.

It has turbo boosts to enhance workload-optimized speeds when needed and reduces down to less than 25 watts TPD when not under stress. Although this is marketed as a gaming CPU, it’s a great choice for all workstation needs. For gaming, it plays at 100fps on brand new gaming titles with plenty of headroom to spare. It has 16 MB Cache and is compatible only with motherboards based on Intel 300 Series Chipsets. It is Intel Optane Memory Supported and equipped with Intel UHD Graphics 360.

Shopping Guide: Everything you should know about CPUs

There are a few things you should know before buying a CPU. For starters, you should know that a good CPU will have a series of essential features that will make up its processing capabilities. Moreover, the two major CPU manufacturers are Intel and AMD. Learning everything you can about these units will ultimately help you make the best choice. For this reason, this next section answers the most frequently asked questions among users.

CPUs are highly complex, extensive set of electronic circuitry that executes stored program instructions.
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What is a CPU exactly?

A CPU (Central Processing Unit), also called a central processor or the main processor is the central hardware (electronic circuitry) within any computer. It is responsible for carrying out the instructions of a computer program and running the system. It does so by performing the basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output operations specified by the instructions.

Plainly put, the primary task of a CPU is to process all and execute all the functions of a device. Which basically means that using a computer without a CPU would be impossible. This electronic brain doesn’t just store information; it constantly checks the status of the operating system.

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The central processing unit (CPU) is the unit which performs most of the processing inside a computer.

Intel Core or AMD CPU?

In North America today, Intel Core and AMD CPU pretty much dominate the market. Within each brand, there is such a large selection of great products, that it’s hard to say for certain that one is better than the other. At the end of the day, it will likely be your needs and your budget that will determine which brand you choose.

Setting out to compare every single CPU model currently available from Intel and AMD would be a fool’s errand. Nonetheless, we’ve created this table to give you a visual overview of their most noteworthy aspects. To help you find the best model for you, we’ve included the main advantages and disadvantages of the two brands.

Intel AMD
Advantages Disadvantages Advantages Disadvantages
They offer a lower energy consumption. Many of their best models are particularly expensive. Their products tend to offer better value for money. They usually consume more energy and therefore produce more heat.
Good option for small computers because they generate little heat. Good option for desktop computers. AMD CPUs are generally not the best for laptops.
Widely compatible. Some of their models offer incredible power due to the number of cores.
Its QuickPath Interconnect technology offers high quality memory. Gaming-specific models have greatly improved.
They currently have 14 active plants around the world, a true testimony their position within the industry.

What is the frequency of a CPU?

The frequency of a CPU is better known as the clock rate, and it is present in various computer elements – RAMs also have it. It is measured in clock cycles per second (Hz) and represents the time needed to carry out its intended functions. This is basically the processing speed of your CPU. If you want to use this value for comparison, make sure to only do so between units of the same class.

That being said, this doesn’t mean that they have to be units from the same manufacturer. We should note that oftentimes, the frequency values of a CPU may be lower than advertised. This can happen for many reasons; poor compatibility, for example, may lead to diminished speeds. If you want to know these values, there are programs you can use that will tell you your CPS’s clock rate.

The clock rate typically refers to the frequency at which a chip like a central processing unit.
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This value is important especially if you want to push your device to the limit. Higher frequency speeds will offer better performance when it comes to gaming or professional environments, such as graphic design. If you want to dive deeper into the science behind clock rates, there are numerous videos and articles that will answer all your questions on the internet.

What are a CPU’s cores?

As the name would suggest, the first single-core processors had only one core. Technological development has brought forth an increase in that number. To simplify the science, we could say that these cores are little brains, or processing units themselves. Just like with a CPU, their main role is to interpret instructions and carry out concrete actions accordingly.

Every action you take on your devices, whether it be your smartphone or computer, goes straight to the CPU. There, each core of the processor has the ability to carry out individual processing cycles. There are three stages to these cycles: fetching, decoding and executing.

The CPU is the hardware device in a computer that executes instructions from the software.
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Even though it would be accurate to say that the cores within a CPU will determine its overall performance; it should be noted that a higher number of cores doesn’t always mean better performance. At the end of the day however, more cores will allow your CPU to perform more processing cycles simultaneously but the clock rate of the CPU will determine its speed.

What is the architecture of a CPU?

The architecture of a CPU is the design that its microprocessor presents. This isn’t only relevant for aesthetics or for saving space: the level at which your CPU performs will also depend on it.
Generally, there are four main components in this structure:

  • The ALU (Arithmetic Logic Unit): This is the component in charge of carrying out all the requested operations.
  • The Control Unit (CU): It extracts instructions from memory decodes and executes them, basically registering temporary data.
  • Process Control Blocks (PCBs): These blocks are a crucial component, they help send out communications, while helping manage the flow of information and establishing an order of execution for the different tasks requested.
  • The program counter: It synchronises the execution of everything related to the CPU, both orders and internal processing. This prevents errors or setbacks from happening.
Seymour CrayAmerican Electrical Engineer and Supercomputer Architect

“Arguably, anyone could build a CPU, the mastery and skill come in building a fast CPU.”

What is the cache of a CPU?

Also known as a memory cache is hardware used by the CPU to reduce the average cost (time or energy) of accessing data from the main memory. Basically, it is a smaller, faster memory, closer to a processor core, which stores copies of the data from frequently used main memory locations. The information it stores can be the result of previous calculations or a data replica stored in other components of the system.

The cache presents three main levels:

  • L1 cache: Also known as the primary cache. Located in the core of the CPU, it has a maximum capacity of 768 KB. Its focus is to store and access frequently used data and instructions pertinent to the operation of the device and its different programs.
  • L2 cache: It is also responsible for storing frequently used data. The main difference is that it is slower than the L1 cache – although faster than the RAM. While it is part of the CPU, it is not located in its cores. It also stores a copy of the L1 cache.
  • L3 cache: The L3 cache holds a copy of the L2 as the latter does with L1 cache. It is also faster than RAM, but slower than L2 cache. Its main goal is to facilitate access to data and instructions not found by L1 or L2. Its size tends to be larger than the two previous caches, and it helps to boost the overall performance of the processor.

How does a CPU affect gaming capabilities?

This section is relevant if you’re a devoted gamer. Often in the gaming world, you’ll hear talks about the best gaming CPUs. However, people rarely talk about the tasks the CPU must execute while playing a video game. For starters, the CPU is responsible for the physics, calculations, AI (artificial intelligence) and other non-graphic components.

This means that, yes — a CPU is important — however, it is not the sole ingredient for a good gaming experience. A quality CPU will be completely useless if you don’t have a good graphic or video card. That being said, the CPU remains the foundation of it all, and it cannot be overlooked. At the end of the day, the best way to ensure optimal performance is to find the perfect balance between the different components implicated in gaming.

Purchase Criteria

Aside from all the information we have already provided you throughout this guide, we would like to include one last set of criteria you should consider in order to find the perfect CPU for all your needs. Keeping these criteria in mind will help you make the most appropriate decision.

  • Gaming, graphic design or everyday use?
  • Number of cores and clock rate
  • Overclocking and multithreading
  • Cache and voltage
  • Compatibility

Gaming, graphic design or everyday use?

The sales of AMD’s CPUs have increased by 5% in recent years. This shows the brand’s tireless efforts to develop great products. Nonetheless, the continued improvement of AMD’s CPUs doesn’t mean you should automatically opt for their units. Keep in mind that Intel Core CPUs still offer amazing models. At the end of the day, finding a CPU that meets all your needs is the only thing that should matter.

Because everyone will have a different use for their own devices, it should be the specific taste and needs of the individual that dictates the model they should choose. Consider things like what type of tasks do you need your system to perform, if you’re still unsure about your options, here is a quick guide to help you with your decision:

If you want to: You should get:
Play the latest video games: A CPU with a high clock rate and with an integrated graphics chip (if you want to avoid an extra investment).
Dedicate yourself to professional graphic design: A CPU with a good clock rate, but more importantly a high number of cores to avoid crashes and enhance its multitasking capabilities.
Play and dedicate yourself to graphic design in an informal context: An affordable CPU (with an integrated graphics chip or not). You can find quality options with basic features for less than $150.

Number of cores and clock rate

These two elements combined and their individual characteristics will essentially dictate the general operation of the CPU. Be sure to consider both criteria and if you want to get the best CPU on the market, make sure to find a good balance between them. Moreover, when it comes to the cores, the majority of CPUs available in North America will offer anywhere from 2 to 10.

As mentioned before, the frequency or clock rate dictates the processing speed of the CPU. Higher frequency values will mean that it will be easier for the cores to work efficiently to meet any multitasking demands. When it comes to cores, Intel generally offers greater performance. These are critical aspects to consider when looking at mid-range processors.

A computer will be completely useless without a CPU.
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Last but not least, both Intel and AMD CPUs feature another interesting value: the maximum frequency. This represents the highest speed that a processor can reach in the most demanding situations and in certain critical thermal or consumption conditions. You should know that you’ll have to consider this component if you’re already looking for very specific products.

Overclocking and multithreading

Some CPUs may offer other values and features that we haven’t discussed yet: the threads of the cores. Intel dubbed this technology ‘Hyper-threading’, and its role is to divide the action of each core in two. This technology is essential if you want to choose one of the very best CPUs in the United States.

As far as AMD is concerned, these days their processors offer very similar technology. It is important that you pay close attention to the overclocking value. This feature allows you to modify certain CPU values to enhance the performance of your device. Please keep in mind that not all models will let you overclock, as this characteristic is designed for the most experienced and knowledgeable users only.

Cache and voltage

When buying either an AMD or an Intel CPU, the cache memory is an aspect you should not overlook. As mentioned before, this type of memory helps to speed your processor perform much faster. It is basically responsible for making sure that the CPU receives all the information it needs to work at all times.

The best professional Intel or AMD CPUs will have caches larger than 4MB. Usually, this value will fluctuate between 2 and 8 MB. Moreover, you should also consider the energy consumption of your CPU, as well as its thermal management capabilities. In the not long run, a quality CPU that has a tendency to overheat will lose it’s performing powers.

Compatibility

Regardless of whether you’re looking at CPUs because you want to upgrade the one you have at the moment, or because you’re looking to build and design your new computer from scratch, compatibility is a fundamental aspect you should never overlook. When it comes to this component the motherboard and the RAM memory are the two main pieces to consider.

We can’t stress this enough, you will risk poor performance or a useless device if CPU is not compatible. Moreover, higher-end processors will offer the maximum RAM memory currently possible. This doesn’t simply prevent compatibility issues: it also means you won’t have to invest in a CPU that you don’t really need.

Summary

In North America, the very best CPUs are ranked by their versatility. You will have no trouble finding models that are made to execute any type of use. This seemingly endless selection guarantees that you will always find a quality product within your budget. When making your final decision make sure to consider the use you’ll be giving your computer.

Remember that a powerful processor with a high clock rate will guarantee top performance. Nonetheless, if you use your computer for everyday tasks combined with some editing, you will require a mid-range CPU. If you want to increase the useful life of your device, make sure to buy a compatible model.

If you found our article on all things CPUs informative, don’t hesitate to share it on your social networks. You can also leave us a comment in the section below!

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