Best Intel processors 2021: the best CPUs from Team Blue
The best Intel processors are, from their most powerful to their newest, more than just a status symbol. While the AMD Vs Intel rivalry gets ever more intense, especially with all the quality chips AMD has been releasing, Intel’s top offerings are still the best of the best when putting together your own gaming PC. You can’t invest in much better processors than these.
With their high IPC (instructions per clock) performance and high clock speeds, the best Intel processors are among the most ideal options for gaming. But, they can do so much more. For professionals and content creators, Intel’s HEDT (high-end desktop) offerings, the Cascade Lake-X, bring incredible performance, though at an incredible price. In contrast, the Intel Comet Lake-S, is battling AMD’s Ryzen offerings for the hearts and minds of consumer desktop users.
Regardless of the type of CPU you need, there’s something for you in our round-up of the best Intel processors of 2021. That way, you can spend less time on research and more on getting your PC build put together. If you need a new motherboard, be sure to check out our best motherboards guide.
1. Intel Core i5-10600K
Best Intel processor
Base clock: 3.5GHz
Boost clock: 4.7GHz
L3 cache: 64MB
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 offering, 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
2. Intel Core i9-10900K
Best Intel processor for high-performance
Base clock: 3.7GHz
Boost clock: 5.3GHz
L3 cache: 20MB
Reasons to buy
+Good single-core performance+Good thermal performance
Reasons to avoid
-High power consumption-No PCIe 4.0
While one of Intel’s more powerful 10th-generation chips has fallen behind AMD in multi-threaded performance, there’s no doubt that the Intel Core i9-10900K is an incredibly capable chip, especially when it comes to its single-core performance. It’s also a great improvement from its predecessor, with two extra cores, bringing the total to a whopping 10 cores and 20. If you’re an Intel fan and need an impressive processor to power your rig, this should more than satisfy your needs.
Read the full review:Intel Core i9-10900K
3. Intel Core i7-10700K
Best for hyper-threading support
Base clock: 3.8GHz
Boost clock: 5.1GHz
L3 cache: 16MB
Reasons to buy
+Much improved over its predecessor+Hyper-threading
Reasons to avoid
-Not enough improvements if upgrading from previous generation
Regarded as among the best gaming CPUs on the market right now, the Intel Core i7-10700K not only offers hyperthreading, with 5.1Ghz overclocking on all its 8 cores, but it’s also takes the great things about the i9-9900K and improves on its failings with higher clock rates, better thermal performance and a more affordable price. It may require a beefier cooling solution, but it’s still the chip to beat if you’re looking to upgrade to the 10th-generation and have the money to spare.
4. Intel Pentium Gold G5400
Best Intel processor on a budget
Base clock: 3.7GHz
Boost clock: N/A
L3 cache: 4MB
Reasons to buy
+Great on threaded workloads+Bundled cooler
Reasons to avoid
Whether you’re building a home theater that doesn’t require a chip with a lot of power or you’re building a PC on a tight budget, the Pentium Gold G5400 is a good Intel processor to consider. With its new affordable price tag and a great light multi-threaded performance, this one is the best choice at its price point. Pair it with a powerful graphics card, and you’ll be good to go.
5. Intel Core i9-10980XE
Best HEDT Intel processor
Base clock: 3.0GHz
Boost clock: 4.6GHz
L3 cache: 24.8MB
Reasons to buy
+Tons of power+Thermals under control
Reasons to avoid
With a sheer price drop, a higher boost clock and some performance improvements over the i9-9980XE, the Intel Core i9-10980XE is a truly worthy successor of the Extreme Edition line. That refined 14nm process not only affords it better performance, but also lower power consumption. Better yet, it has that sheer overclocking capabilities like no other. It’s still plenty next to its rival AMD chips, but if overclocking is a huge factor to you, this one’s worth its premium price tag.
List of Intel processors
Wikimedia list article
This generational list of Intel processors attempts to present all of Intel's processors from the pioneering 4-bit4004 (1971) to the present high-end offerings. Concise technical data is given for each product.
11th generation Core
Desktop (codenamed "Rocket Lake")
Mobile (codenamed "Tiger Lake")
This section is missing information about Intel 11th Gen mobile processors. Please expand the section to include this information. Further details may exist on the talk page.(August 2021)
10th generation Core
Desktop (codenamed "Comet Lake")
Mobile (codenamed "Comet Lake", "Ice Lake", and Amber Lake)
9th generation Core
Desktop (codenamed "Coffee Lake Refresh")
8th generation Core
Mobile (codenamed "Coffee Lake", "Kaby Lake Refresh", and "Whiskey Lake")
7th generation Core
Desktop (codenamed "Kaby Lake" and "Skylake-X")
Mobile (codenamed "Kaby Lake" and "Apollo Lake")
All processors are listed here in chronological order.
The 4-bit processors
First microprocessor (single-chip IC processor)
- 4004 – CPU
- 4001 – ROM & 4-bit Port
- 4002 – RAM & 4-bit Port
- 4003 – 10-bit Shift Register
- 4008 – Memory+I/O Interface
- 4009 – Memory+I/O Interface
- Introduced November 15, 1971
- 4211 – General Purpose Byte I/O Port
- 4265 – Programmable General Purpose I/O Device
- 4269 – Programmable Keyboard Display Device
- 4289 – Standard Memory Interface for MCS-4/40
- 4308 – 8192-bit (1024 × 8) ROM w/ 4-bit I/O Ports
- 4316 – 16384-bit (2048 × 8) Static ROM
- 4702 – 2048-bit (256 × 8) EPROM
- 4801 – 5.185 MHz Clock Generator Crystal for 4004/4201A or 4040/4201A
- Introduced 1971
- Introduced in 1974 by Intel
- Clock speed was 740 kHz (same as the 4004 microprocessor)
- 3,000 transistors
- Interrupt features were available
- Programmable memory size: 8 KB (8192 B)
- 640 bytes of data memory
- 24-pin DIP
The 8-bit processors
- Introduced April 1, 1972
- Clock rate 500 kHz (8008–1: 800 kHz)
- 0.05 MIPS
- Bus width: 8 bits (multiplexed address/data due to limited pins)
- Enhancement load PMOS logic
- 3,500 transistors at 10 μm
- Addressable memory 16 KB
- Typical in early 8-bit microcomputers, dumb terminals, general calculators, bottling machines
- Developed in tandem with 4004
- Originally intended for use in the Datapoint 2200 microcomputer
- Key volume deployment in Texas Instruments 742 microcomputer in >3,000 Ford dealerships
- Introduced April 1, 1974
- Clock rate 2 MHz (very rare 8080B: 3 MHz)
- 0.29 MIPS
- Data bus width: 8 bits, address bus: 16 bits
- Enhancement load NMOS logic
- 4,500 transistors at 6 μm
- Assembly language downward compatible with 8008
- Addressable memory 64 KB (64 x 1024 B)
- Up to 10× the performance of the 8008
- Used in e.g. the Altair 8800, traffic light controller, cruise missile
- Required six support chips versus 20 for the 8008
They are ICs with CPU, RAM, ROM (or PROM or EPROM), I/O Ports, Timers & Interrupts
- Intel 8020 – Single-Component 8-bit Microcontroller, 1KB ROM, 64 Byte RAM, 13 I/O ports
- Intel 8021 – Single-Component 8-bit Microcontroller, 1KB ROM, 64 Byte RAM, 21 I/O ports
The best Intel processors for 2021
Even the best Intel processors have fallen short of the AMD Ryzen competition, but that doesn’t mean Team Blue is a bad choice in 2021. In a twist, Intel processors are usually cheaper than their AMD counterparts, and by shopping last-generation chips, you can save big while getting similar performance.
From the top of the line to the most wallet-friendly, our guide runs down the top Intel processors on the market to help narrow your search. The Core i5-10600K tops our list with its balance of price and performance, despite the release of the newer Core i5-11600K.
If you glance at our list, you’ll notice a surprising absence of Intel’s most recent Rocket Lake processors. Although the new chips improve single-core performance, they’re more expensive than their 10th-gen counterparts without a big performance improvement overall. In some cases, such as the i9-10900K, the last-gen parts perform even better.
Intel is in a holding pattern right now as it gears up to launch its Alder Lake processors later this year. If you want an Intel CPU right now, it’s best to stick with the 10th-gen chips unless you can find an 11th-gen option on sale.
The best Intel processors at a glance
Intel Core i5-10600K
Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake processors arrived in 2020, and in 2021, the leading i5 from the lineup remains our top pick. Intel is pushing ahead with its 11th-gen desktop platform, but the 10600K provides most of the performance of its next-gen counterpart at a significantly lower price. Plus, the 10600K is compatible with cheaper motherboards and is far less demanding on your PSU and cooler.
The 10600K has a 4.1GHz base speed and a maximum single-core boost clock of 4.8GHz. The TDP is slightly higher than the previous-generation 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 (our best CPU cooler guide has a few options).
In benchmarks, the 10600K nearly matches Intel’s Core i7-9700K, an older $300 eight-core, eight-thread chip. It stacks up well against a competing AMD processor (the 3600X), which has six cores and 12 threads for $290. It doesn’t perform as well as AMD’s $300 Ryzen 5600X, but the 10600K can still hold its own in gaming.
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. Overclocking is important for gaming, allowing you to push the speed of each core.
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 LGA 1200 socket, so if you’re interested, grab a board with the Z490 or Z590 chipset.
Intel Core i5-11600K
Intel’s 11th-gen Rocket Lake platform isn’t perfect, which is why most of our recommendations focus on the previous generation. For gaming, however, the i5-11600K is an exception. It’s slightly more expensive than the 10600K but comes with the same six cores and 12 threads. It bumps the base clock speed down from 4.1GHz to 3.9GHz, but comes with a higher boost clock speed at 4.9GHz. It has better integrated graphics, too, but you should pair it with a dedicated GPU.
It depends on the game, but the 11600K maintains a small but measurable lead over the 10600K in most titles. In some games, such as Death Stranding, the 11600K actually beats last-gen’s 10700K and can match the 10900K in others. Although not quite the generational improvement Intel fans hoped for, the 11600K proves that you don’t need a high-end processor for gaming.
The gen-on-gen improvements are clearer in non-gaming tasks. The 11600K blows past Intel’s last-gen offerings and offers more credible competition to AMD’s mid-range chips in productivity tasks, leveraging application-specific accelerators to great effect. Single-core performance is up, too, without a big trade-off in multi-core performance.
Intel charges for the privilege, though — not in dollars, but in power. Despite an advertised TDP of 125W, the 11600K can draw well above 200W under load. With more power, and thus more heat, you need a decent power supply, cooler, and motherboard for the 11600K. Intel is switching sockets with its upcoming Alder Lake launch, too, so you’ll need a new motherboard if you decide to upgrade down the line.
Still, the 11600K is a great gaming processor. It comes with enough juice for gaming while offering decent power for productivity tasks, and that combination is tough to find under $300. That said, the 10600K gets most of the way there, so consider it as an alternative if you can’t find an 11600K in stock.
Intel Core i5-10400F
Despite not sporting the Core i3 tag, the 10400F is one of Intel’s cheaper processors. It’s an incredible value at around $150, packing in six cores and 12 threads, a base clock of 2.9GHz, and a boost clock of 4.3GHz. It’s around $80 cheaper than the 10600K while sporting similar specs. The biggest difference is the “F” suffix, meaning that the 10400F requires discrete graphics.
Even with the low price, the 10400F performs well. In tasks like rendering, the 10400F is able to match the 9700K while surpassing AMD’s budget Ryzen 3000 chips. Although the 10400F is underpowered for most CPU intensive workloads, it’s still a great Intel processor for web browsing, light image editing, and office applications.
If you’re a gamer, the 10400F is an even better choice. With plenty of cores and a solid boost clock, the 10400F can put CPUs three times its price to shame. If you pair it with a nice graphics card, you can achieve gaming performance on par with an i7, and sometimes even an i9.
The 10400F marks a sweet spot in Intel’s range. Below it, performance drops significantly without much cost savings, and above it, price scales faster than performance. If you’re looking for an everyday CPU with enough power for light productivity and gaming, it’s hard to beat the 10400F.
If you can afford it, a viable alternative is the new-generation 11400F. It is slightly faster, but it runs about $80 more than the last-gen part.
Intel Core i7-10700K
If you want high-end performance without the paralyzing sticker shock of a Core i9 CPU, this is the Intel i7 processor to get. It packs eight cores and 16 threads along with a 3.8GHz 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 Core i9-10900K a run for its money, which is around $100 more.
Intel’s Core i7 processor 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. The Ryzen 5800X puts the 10700K in its place, but it’s around $100 more expensive.
Like our top recommendation, the 10700K has a new counterpart: the 11700K. You can save around $50 by going with the 10700K without giving up much performance.
As with all other new Comet Lake desktop CPUs, you’ll need a compatible motherboard with the LGA 1200 socket for the 10700K. If overclocking is on the menu, grab a board with the Z490 or Z590 chipset.
Intel Core i9-10900K
When it comes to the best raw performance, this 10-core, 20-thread Core i9 chip tops the charts. The 10900K has a base frequency of 3.7GHz, while its maximum single-core turbo frequency is 5.3GHz 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. If you raise the power limits while using a large enough power supply, some users report that heavy overclocks can cause this Intel processor to pull as much as 325 watts. If you make these changes, there are certain steps you should take to avoid overheating the Core i9 CPU, like adding a powerful cooler and some solid PC fans.
The 10900K remains one of the best gaming CPUs on the market today, and its price is dropping with the release of the 11900K. If you want to save even more, consider the 9900K. For gaming in particular, the 9900K matches the 10900K, and you can usually find one for around $300. Keep in mind that the 9900K is a couple of generations old, so it might be tough tracking one down.
Why not recommend the newer chip? Well, it doesn’t offer enough of an improvement over the 10900K to justify the price. Although single-core performance is better on Intel’s latest flagship, it cuts the core count down to eight instead of 10. That leads to vastly lower multi-core performance on the 11900K.
The Core i9-10900K still is a gaming powerhouse in 2021, even if the AMD competition has long eclipsed it.
Intel Core i7-11375H
Although a new Intel desktop processor can have some problems, the Tiger Lake mobile processors are excellent. For a great balance of performance and power, we recommend the i7-11375H. It comes with four cores and eight threads, a base clock of 3.3GHz, and a staggering boost clock of 5GHz, all while keeping power demands under 35 watts. The i7-11375H leads Intel’s new Tiger Lake H35 processors, which target portable gaming laptops with 14-inch screens.
The processor shows up in laptops like MSI’s Stealth 15M, but many manufacturers are still shipping notebooks with last-gen CPUs. Despite sporting similar specs, the i7-11375H passes even the top Tiger Lake chips with its extended power budget. That translates to some performance improvements in single-core performance. With the same underlying architecture, however, you should expect more of a performance benefit in multithreaded tasks.
It’s hard to say anything definitive about a mobile CPU, though. The wrong build can make even the best processors look weak, and a decent configuration can make underpowered CPUs shine. The i7-11375H is undoubtedly the most powerful mobile Intel CPU available, but it’s important to consult individual laptop reviews.
If you’re looking for more raw power, Intel also offers the Core i9-11980HK in premium gaming laptops. It comes with eight cores and 16 threads and a turbo speed of 5GHz, so it’s certainly faster than the i7-11375H. However, it mainly shows up in high-end gaming machines, so it’s not for everyone.
FAQs about Intel processors
What’s the difference between K and F Intel processors?
Intel uses multiple suffixes to indicate different features, but “K” and “F” are among the most common. “K” processors are unlocked, so you can overclock them with a compatible motherboard. “F” processors don’t come with integrated graphics, so you’ll need a dedicated graphics card. You may even find a “KF” processor, indicating that it’s unlocked and requires discrete graphics.
You can usually find variants of Intel’s leading i9, i7, and i5 processors with either or both suffixes. If you’re planning on building a gaming computer, you can save a few dollars by purchasing the “F” variant of a processor. On the other side, “K” processors are slightly more expensive with their overclocking capabilities. If you want a full breakdown on Intel’s naming scheme, make sure to read our CPU buying guide.
How good are AMD processors compared to Intel?
Intel and AMD both offers excellent processors at different price points and in different forms, so one brand isn’t definitively better than the other. That said, if you’re shopping for a desktop processors in the second half of 2021, AMD generally has better options. The newer Ryzen 5000 processors have better single-core performance and pack more cores compared to the Intel competition, making them great for gaming and content creation.
In the mobile world, Intel used to dominate. Now, you can find machines with AMD Ryzen processors, too, and they perform great. That said, there is still a far greater number of machines that come with Intel processors, and they stack up well against the AMD competition.
In short, an AMD processor is generally better on desktop, and Intel and AMD are evenly matched on mobile, though Intel has more options available. Keep in mind that the power balance between Intel and AMD changes with each processor release, so although AMD is better right now, it may not always be that way.
How do you know which processor is best for your needs?
To find the best processor for your needs, you need to consider the applications you want to run. If you’re into gaming, for example, a processor with strong single-core performance is a good choice because games usually stress only a handful of cores at a time. On the hand, content creation applications like Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve can take advantage of a greater number of cores, so a processor with a lot of cores is better for them.
Those are good rules to follow. Games like a fast processor over one with a lot of cores, and content-creation apps like more cores over faster ones. Some processors, such as the Intel Core i9-10900K and AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, offer both. If you want a processor for browsing the internet and using basic apps, any processor with four or more cores from the last few years should work well.
How can you tell if a PC processor is any good?
The best way to tell if a PC processor is good is to look at individual benchmarks. Specs like core count and clock speed don’t tell the full story — they only show what the processor is capable of within its own range of products. If you’ve settled a certain brand or series, however, looking at core counts and clock speeds can show you where the processor sits in the range.
If you want to test your own processor, there are plenty of tools available. Cinebench is a great benchmarking tool that focusing solely on the processor, while PCMark 10 provides an overview of performance across a suite of day-to-day tasks.
Intel’s next-generation desktop chips are finally here: after a brief preview at CES, the company is fully unveiling its 11th Gen Core desktop chips (better known by their codename, Rocket Lake-S.)
Leading the pack is Intel’s new flagship chip, the Core i9-11900K, with eight cores, 16 threads, boosted clock speeds up to 5.3GHz, support for DDR4 RAM at 3,200MHz, a total of 20 PCIe 4.0 lanes, and backwards compatibility with Intel’s 400 Series chipsets.
Eagle-eyed Intel fans might notice that the new chip is, on paper, actually a downgrade from last year’s top model, the Core i9-10900K, which offered 10 cores and 20 threads (and a similar boosted clock speed of 5.3GHz).
That’s because Intel is debuting a new desktop core architecture for the first time in over half a decade with its 11th Gen Rocket Lake-S chips called Cypress Cove. Cypress Cove finally replaces the Skylake microarchitecture, which the company has been using since its 6th Gen chips in 2015.
But the Cypress Cove design isn’t actually a whole new microarchitecture — it’s actually Intel’s Willow Cove chip designs and technologies that the company has been using on its 11th Gen 10nm Tiger Lake chips which Intel is backporting to its 14nm production process.
Since those designs were meant for 10nm chips, though, Intel is limited in the number of cores it can fit when scaling them up to a 14nm size; hence, the reduction in core count year over year. But Intel still says that the new chips will offer better performance (at least, in some cases) than the 10th Gen, with the core architecture enabling up to 19 percent IPC (instructions per cycle) than the previous generation.
Intel’s argument here is effectively that sheer core count isn’t enough on its own — frequency speed and performance matters, too, and thanks to the maturity of the 14nm production process, Intel is very good at cranking out every last drop of performance from these chips.
Intel 11th Gen Desktop Chips
|Model||Cores/Threads||Base clock speed (GHz)||Boosted clock speed (GHz)||Turbo Boost Max 3.0 clock speed||Thermal Velocity Boost speed, single core / all cores (GHZ)||Smart Cache||TDP (W)||Graphics||Recommended Price|
|i9-11900K||8/16||3.5||Up to 5.1||Up to 5.2||Up to 5.3 / 4.8||16M||125||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$539|
|i9-11900||8/16||2.5||Up to 5.0||Up to 5.1||Up to 5.2 / 4.7||16M||65||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$439|
|i7-11700K||8/16||3.6||Up to 4.9||Up to 5.0||NA||16M||125||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$399|
|i7-11700||8/16||2.5||Up to 4.8||Up to 4.9||NA||16M||65||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$323|
|i5-11600K||6/12||3.9||Up to 4.9||NA||NA||12M||125||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$262|
|i5-11600||6/12||2.8||Up to 4.8||NA||NA||12M||65||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$213|
|i5-11500||6/12||2.7||Up to 4.6||NA||NA||12M||65||Intel UHD Graphics 750||$192|
|i5-11400||6/12||2.6||Up to 4.4||NA||NA||12M||65||Intel UHD Graphics 730||$182|
And Intel’s benchmarks (obviously) support that argument: head to head with last year’s Core i9-10900K, the i9-11900K offered between 8 to 14 percent better performance on games like Gears 5, Grid 2019, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Total War: Three Kingdoms. Intel also says that its top chip outperforms AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5900X processor for those titles, although by slightly smaller margins (between 3 and 11 percent better, according to Intel’s benchmarks).
That said, Intel’s tests were all running at 1080p, so we’ll have to stay tuned for more comprehensive benchmarking down the line on a wider range of titles — and particularly, at 4K resolution.
The new architecture also brings other improvements, with up to 50 percent better integrated graphics compared to Gen9 thanks to the company’s new Xe graphics, with one-third more EUs than its Gen9 graphics.
Given that these are desktop chips that will almost certainly be paired with a high-end discrete graphics card, that’s not the most groundbreaking improvement, however. And while Intel will be offering several F-series models of the new chips without GPUs, the overall design is still the same on those models. That means that Intel isn’t going to be offering any niche models that ditch integrated GPUs to try to fit in more cores, at least for now.
The new chips also feature other improvements. The 11th Gen chips add Resizable BAR, for a frame rate boost on compatible Nvidia and AMD graphics cards. There’s built-in support for both USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 at 20Gbps as well as Intel’s own Thunderbolt 4, along with DDR4-3200 RAM. And Intel has added four additional Gen 4 PCIe lanes, for a total of 20.
As is traditional for a major new chip launch, Intel is also introducing its 500 series motherboards alongside the new processors, but the Rocket Lake-S CPUs will also be backwards compatible with 400 series motherboards.
Additionally, there’s some new overclocking options with the new chips for users looking to squeeze out even more power. Specifically, Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility software is getting refreshed with a new UI and some updated features alongside the 11th Gen chips.
The new 11th Gen Intel desktop processors are available starting today.
Chips newest intel
Best Intel processor: Core i3, i5, i7 and i9 explained
What’s the best Intel processor?
If you’ve already sided with Team Blue in the Intel vs AMD debate, then we’ve provided a rundown of all the best Intel processor options here, as well as multiple explanations if you’re not well rehearsed in CPU lingo.
The first thing you need to know is that Intel is now in its 11th Generation for both laptops and desktop chips. 11th Gen laptop CPUs (aka Tiger Lake) have been around for some time now, and are great for someone who wants a slim and light laptop that can do some light gaming.
11th Gen desktop processors (aka Rocket Lake) are much newer, and a mixed bag. The higher-end chipsets disappoint, struggling to compete with AMD Ryzen rivals, and even Intel’s last generation 10th Gen CPUs.
But what are the best Intel processor options you should buy. Let’s start with a few recommendations for different scenarios.
A snapshot of recommendations
Best Intel processor for budget gaming desktops: Intel Core i5-11400F
Consider the Intel Core i5-11400F if you want a processor for a gaming PC and have a tight budget. It doesn’t have its own GPU, so needs to be paired with a graphics card. But this saves you a little cash over the standard i5-11400.
We haven’t reviewed this processor, but the specs suggest that it probably offers the biggest proportional generation jump in performance of the 11th Gen desktop series, and is not a bad pairing even for very high-end cards like the Nvidia RTX 3080 with most games. That’s right, a £150 CPU can be paired with a GPU that costs £649-£2000, depending on timing and luck when you try to buy a graphics card.
Hardcore PC gamers would disagree, not least because the Intel Core i4-11400F is not an unlocked processor, meaning it cannot be overclocked properly. But it’s a good buy for many.
Best all-rounder performance CPU:
Intel Core i5-10600K
The Intel Core i5-10600K is the Intel CPU I am most likely to recommend to enthusiast system builders who do not have a limitless budget. It’s powerful enough to act as, at most, a mild bottleneck when paired with the most powerful graphics cards.
Performance per pound is sound, and this is a “K” series card, giving you the option to overclock substantially if you have the cooling to match. And it has baked in UHD 630 graphics. You can use it without a graphics card, handy if you’re waiting for prices to cool down a bit before buying.
Intel’s most powerful mainstream desktop CPU:
Intel Core i9-11900K
Our Computing Editor, Ryan Jones, is not a huge fan of the Intel Core i9-11900K, with good reason. It’s expensive and doesn’t match its AMD rivals for multi-threaded performance.
However, its single-core performance is excellent and you need one of these 11th Gen Intel or Ryzen 5000 chips to get PCIe 4.0 support. This is required to max-out the speed of the latest SSDs.
Some of the performance fiends out there should still consider the older Intel Core i9-10900K, though. It’s significantly cheaper and actually outperforms the newer processor in quite a few situations because it has 10 cores, to the Intel Core i9-11900K’s eight.
Best laptop CPU to look out for:
Intel Core i5-1135G7
I’ve picked the laptop Core i5 as the laptop CPU of choice, but your options are likely to determined in part by the model you choose. Not all laptops come in all varieties of processor.
However, the i5-1135G7,i7-1165g7, i5-1185g7 and i7-1185g7 mobile processors are the 11th Gen laptop highlights as they have Intel Xe graphics.
These chipsets are better than the integrated GPUs of their respective desktop cousins, and let you play games once thought of as ultra-demanding on a thin and light laptop. I’m talking about titles like Kingdom Come: Deliverance and The Witcher 3, not genuine oldies like Skyrim.
Choosing between an Intel Core i3, i5, i7 and i9
An Intel Core i5 is a sensible place to start whether you plan to buy a laptop or desktop. You can’t really go wrong with an i5, particularly with the 11th generation chipsets. They have enough power for high-end gaming, intensive image editing work and video editing. And they use less power than a Core i7 or i9, which is nice.
The Core i7 is more powerful than the Core i5 series. And the Core i9 chipsets are, you guessed it, more powerful than the i7s.
Intel’s Core i3 CPUs are usually the least-discussed these days, but they still exist and are a great choice for low-cost family PCs and ultra-budget gaming desktops. However, at the time of writing you’d have to buy a 10th Gen i3-10100 as an 11th Gen Core i3 is not available (yet).
So how do you quantify the differences between an Intel Core i3 and an i9? I’m going to stay away from benchmark results and too much deep tech talk, and stick to two factors: cores and clock speed.
I can use a human analogy here. If you have more cores, you have more workers to do a job. And a higher clock speed means each of these workers can get stuff done at a quicker pace.
Some tasks, like gaming, benefit more from a few fast cores than an increased number of them. But others like video editing love a processor with lots of cores, because the applications are designed to exploit all the available CPU power. Games are, for the most part, miners of graphics card power.
Here’s a run down of the core counts, base clock speeds and turbo clock speeds of the desktop 11th Gen CPUs, for reference.
|Intel Core i5-11400||6 cores||2.6GHz||4.4GHz Turbo|
|Intel Core i5-11600K||6 cores||3.9GHz||4.8GHz Turbo|
|Intel Core i7-11700||8 cores||2.5GHz||4.9GHz Turbo|
|Intel Core i7-11700K||8 cores||3.6GHz||5GHz Turbo|
|Intel Core i9-11900K||8 cores||3.9GHz||5.3GHz Turbo|
|Intel Core i3-10100 (10th Gen)||4 cores||3.6GHz||4.3GHz Turbo|
In previous years we would have had to explain another term to get to the root of performance differences, hyperthreading. But all the main 11th Gen have hyperthreading.
This is where you (to torture the metaphor a little more) get to give each of the workers two jobs at at time instead of one. Those folks should unionise.
Looking a little deeper into the upgrades
Higher-end Intel processors also have more cache memory than mid-range and low-end ones. This is very fast storage used to hold the data the CPU cores are about to need. The Intel Core i3-10100 has 6MB, the Intel Core i5-11600K 12MB.
Top-spec CPUs like the Intel Core i9-11900K and Intel Core i7-11700K have 16MB. However, the last gen i9-10900K has 20MB. Intel can justify this as the newer version has fewer cores, but it’s another reason why some techies look down on the 11th Gen Core i9.
How to choose an Intel CPU: What the names mean
Choosing whether to buy a Core i5, i7 or i9 can seem pretty simple. It’s one of those “good, better, best” scenarios. But you also need to pay attention to the letters at the end of a CPU name before you head to the checkout.
Here’s what they mean.
K – This means the CPU is unlocked, which is essential if you plan on overclocking. This is where you manually increase the speed of a processors cored beyond their defaults, for better performance at the cost of more heat. Gamers who pay attention to the cooling in their desktops will always want an unlocked CPU.
F – Processors with an ‘F’at the end do not have an integrated graphics section. This means they absolutely need some form of standalone graphics card, or they won’t even be able to display Windows. Those building a gaming PC should consider one of these, as it saves you a small amount of cash, which can be spent elsewhere.
T – Most of you probably don’t want a ‘T’CPU. These use lower clock speeds in order to consume less power. Why would you want one? They also create less heat, so are a good fit for cramped mini PCs.
G – This means the CPU has its own half-decent graphics section built into the CPU. However, Intel now puts ‘G’in stacks its Core i series laptop, making it next to meaningless without also looking at the number that follows. “G4” means a laptop has an Intel UHD graphics chip, which is pretty poor. “G7” means it has Intel Xe graphics, which are kinda great. They let you play some surprisingly demanding games
H – ‘H’stands for high performance. These processors get you closer to desktop PC power, but also use a lot more of battery and create more heat under strain. They are used in thicker, heavier laptops that can accommodate better cooling systems. But you probably wouldn’t want to carry most of them around every day.
U – You don’t see the ‘U’in Intel’s 11th Gen laptop CPU names. But it’s an important one to know because it was everywhere beforehand, and older processors will float around for a while. It stands for Ultra Low Voltage — battery-saving, in other words. Intel’s “G” laptop CPUs are in the same mould, made largely for thin and light laptops.
Should you go below the Core i series?
There are two rungs below the Intel Core i3 series: Pentium and Celeron.
Intel Pentium CPUs come in Gold and Silver versions. Pentium Golds are desktop CPUs, and are not a bad fit for a computer that will just be used for Office apps, video streaming and browsing. Or as part of a budget gaming PC with a low-end or lower-mid-range graphics card.
However, they only have two cores and are not close to the recommended Core i5-11600 and Core i5-11400 in performance. The G6605 is the latest Pentium Gold processor. Pentium Silver chipsets, like the N6000, are laptop processors and are only well suited to the basics. If the jump to an 11th Gen Intel Core i3 does not cost too much, make that jump.
Celerons are the weakest Intel processors, and are not recommended in general. Laptops with these processors are usually noticeably slow. You are better off spending a little more on at least a Pentium Gold in a desktop build.
Should you wait for the 12th Gen Intel series?
Intel’s next generation of CPUs will offer more dramatic changes than the 11th Gen. The 12th generation of desktop CPUs is known as Alder Lake, and will use sets of ‘power’ cores and efficiency cores. This arrangement is similar the Apple M1 CPU used in the latest MacBook Air. It’s quite a dramatic change.
Where today’s Core i9 CPU has eight cores, the next will likely have 16: eight ‘big’cores and eight ‘little’cores. The hope is for a high-end processor that can beat the standard-setting AMD Ryzen 9 5900x/5950X, and make up some of the ground Intel has lost to Apple in the laptop space.
Intel’s next generation of CPUs will be far more interesting than the 11th. But you’ll also need a new motherboard as they will connect using a different socket. Stick to Trusted Reviews for all of the latest news on Intel’s upcoming processors.
Intel has rolled out its 10th Gen chips to almost all of its laptop lineup at this point, and now, it’s time for desktops to get a turn. The company has announced its latest Comet Lake-S processors across its Core i9, i7, i5, and i3 lineups. Leading the range is the new Core i9-10900K, which offers 10 cores, 20 threads, a 125W TDP, boosted speeds up to 5.3GHz, and, according to Intel, it’s “the world’s fastest gaming processor.”
Despite the 10th Gen moniker, like Intel’s recent high-performance H-series laptop chips, the new desktop lineup still relies on Intel’s 14nm Skylake architecture, which it’s been using since 2015, not the 10nm process found in its Ice Lake chips.
But the fact that Intel is still using the older process isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the company has been able to continue to refine and build upon its earlier work, allowing for higher core and thread count and faster clock speeds compared to the 2018 9th Gen lineup. (For reference, the top 9th Gen chip was the i9-9900K, with eight cores, 16 threads, a base frequency of 3.6 GHz, and boosted speeds up to 5.0 GHz — all numbers that the i9-10900K has eclipsed.)
Along with the top-of-the-line $488 Core i9-10900K, Intel is announcing two more unlocked chips: the $374 Core-i7 10700K, with eight cores, 16 threads, a base clock speed of 3.8GHz, and boosted speeds up to 5.1GHz and the cheapest unlocked chip is the $262 Core i5-10600K, with six cores, 12 threads, a base clock speed of 4.1GHz and a boosted speed up to 4.8GHz.
The new chips reach those faster speeds thanks to new technologies offered on the high-end chips, including its Turbo Boost 3.0 technology and the “Thermal Velocity Boost” (which was introduced on the 10th Gen H-series laptop chips but limited to just the Core i9 chips here) that will increase clock speed when the processor is at a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius / 158 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, assuming there’s power available.
The new chips also support up to DDR4-2933 memory, support for up to 2.5 gigabit Ethernet, and, like the rest of the 10th Gen lineup, they feature integrated Wi-Fi 6 by default. One downside to the upgrade is that Intel is physically changing its socket configuration for the new lineup, so the new Comet Lake chips aren’t compatible with Coffee Lake motherboards — something to keep in mind if you’re looking to upgrade. The entire Core lineup also features Intel’s integrated UHD Graphics 630 (except the F-series variants, which don’t offer integrated graphics at all in exchange for a lower price).
Along with the more powerful 125W TDP unlocked lineup of processors (which can be found by looking for a “K” appended at the end of the model number), Intel is also debuting regular 65W 10th Gen chips across the i9, i7, i5, and i3 lineups, along with 35W T-series chips (which have a “T” at the end of their model numbers), which feature the same core and thread counts but lower clock speeds for less power-hungry builds.
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Don’t Buy a Desktop PC With One of Intel’s Newest Processors—Here’s Why
Every year for the past decade, Intel has released a new generation of its Core processors. And every year, we’ve recommended that people buy the newest version they can get—if you’re paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for a computer, you should get one that will feel fast and run all the apps you use for as long as possible. But Intel’s 11th-generation Core processors are a little different, and there are some models we don’t think you should buy.
Specifically, the 11th-generation Core i5, i7, and i9 processors that will be available in many desktop computers in the next couple of months are difficult to recommend because they are only a little faster than the 10th-generation processors they replace, and because they run much hotter and use much more electricity than either those 10th-generation processors or competing AMD Ryzen chips do. Here’s what you need to know about the problems with these processors, what you should look for instead if you’re shopping for a desktop PC, and why, in contrast, we believe Intel’s 11th-generation laptop processors are safe to buy.
Hotter, more power-hungry desktops
To understand why these 11th-generation desktop processors are having problems, you need to know a little about how the processors in computers, tablets, phones, and game consoles get better over time. First, there’s the chip’s architecture, or how it has been designed—a processor is structured a bit like the blueprint of a house, with processor cores, cache memory, and blocks for playing 3D games or high-definition video files all laid out in a precise arrangement. And then there’s the manufacturing process, or how the chip is physically constructed in a chip maker’s factory.
Those two concepts are deeply intertwined. One way to make a processor faster is by adding more transistors to the design—a transistor is the basic building block of a computer processor, and the more of them you have, the more your processor can do. The transistor count of a typical desktop computer processor has increased from tens of thousands in the late ’70s to billions today. As you use the computer, those transistors are all being switched on and off constantly, which requires power, which in turn produces heat. So all else being equal, a processor design with more transistors requires more electricity to run and a bigger fan to cool.
But newer manufacturing processes make transistors smaller, which generally reduces the amount of power required to switch them on and off. That way, processor designers can add more transistors to make a processor architecture faster without worrying about making it physically larger or more power-hungry. If you’ve ever wondered why a MacBook Air you can buy today is faster, smaller, thinner, and lighter than a MacBook Air from a decade ago, that’s one major reason.1
So what happened to Intel’s latest desktop chips? Compared with the 10th-generation chips, the 11th-generation processors have an updated architecture but not a newer manufacturing process. This means that they can be faster sometimes, since Intel has added more transistors to their design. But each of those transistors requires the same amount of electricity as those in 10th-generation processors, and as a result, the 11th-generation processors run hotter and are more difficult to cool down. And because processors are designed to slow down (or “throttle”) when they get too hot to avoid burning themselves out, that increased heat can often cancel out whatever speed improvements Intel might have achieved by updating the processors’ architecture in the first place.
What you should buy instead
Intel’s 10th-generation desktop processors are still widely available, and they still perform reasonably well for most tasks, including gaming, professional photo and video editing, 3D modeling, and other tasks that benefit from a lot of processor power. And if you just need a basic desktop for editing documents and spreadsheets, browsing the web, and chatting on video calls, the 10th-generation Core i3 processor is an excellent value.2
We also like desktop processors from AMD, Intel’s biggest competitor in computer processors. Ryzen 5, Ryzen 7, and Ryzen 9 processors from the Ryzen 3000, 4000, and 5000 series are all as good as or better than Intel’s processors in both performance and power use (quite a bit better, once you start comparing Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 chips against the Intel Core i7 and i9 lineups). But AMD is a smaller company, and it has been a victim of its own success—AMD Ryzen systems are often harder to find and go out of stock more quickly than Intel PCs. Ryzen 5000 processors in particular are worth waiting for if you can get them, especially if you’re buying a PC for gaming or professional work such as video editing, coding, or designing 3D models. Just know that they have a reputation for being hard to find in an industry where currently everything is hard to find.
11th-generation laptop processors are good, actually
Our problems with Intel’s 11th-generation Core processors for desktops don’t extend to the company’s 11th-generation laptop processors, which are completely different chips despite sharing that Core name and generation. (Perhaps to distinguish between the two, 11th-generation Core laptops are often sold with Intel’s Evo branding instead, which literally downplays the “Core” by putting that word under the “Evo” in tiny print.) These chips offer a maximum of four processor cores, down from six or eight cores in the desktop chips, which means they aren’t as fast on some heavy-duty tasks like editing videos or playing games. But they generally offer a big step up in performance from their 10th-generation counterparts, they work great for everyday computing tasks such as browsing and editing documents and photos, and they offer excellent battery life in the laptops we’ve tested.
And although these processors were designed for laptops, they do appear in some desktops, mainly all-in-one PCs and mini desktop computers. We wouldn’t recommend those kinds of computers if you’re a professional photo editor or if you’re looking for a high-end gaming PC, but they’re great for everyday web browsing, video chatting, working from home, remote schooling, and less-intensive games like Fortnite (or older ones like Fallout 4).
If you’re shopping for a desktop and you need to be able to tell what kind of chip it has inside, you can look at Intel’s (admittedly bewildering) model numbers to distinguish the 11th-generation laptop chips from the desktop ones. The laptop chips have a four-digit model number followed by the letter G and another number, as in i5-1135G7 or i3-1115G4. The desktop chips have five-digit model numbers that are sometimes followed by one or two letters, as in i5-11400, i5-11600K, or i7-11700KF.
What if you need to buy an 11th-gen desktop anyway?
An ongoing shortage of silicon chips has made buying pretty much any piece of technology more difficult and expensive than it was even a few months ago, and that’s likely to be true throughout most of 2021. So what do you do if you need a desktop PC today, and one carrying an Intel 11th-generation chip is your only option?
If you’re in this position, the 11th-generation Core i5 processors are the least bad of the lot. They do use more power than 10th-generation i5 processors or AMD’s Ryzen processors, but they’re reasonably affordable, their six processor cores offer good-enough performance for graphics-intensive games, and they don’t emit so much heat that it will cause major problems in the long run. The 11th-generation Core i7 processors run hotter and use even more power, but their two extra processor cores do at least offer a noticeable speed increase for high-end video editing or 3D drafting apps—you wouldn’t notice the difference if you were just browsing or editing documents, though.
Regardless of the kind of work you’re doing, you should completely avoid the 11th-gen Core i9 models, which cost a lot more than the Core i7 versions and use more power without offering appreciably better performance. Early reviewers have even had problems with crashing and instability with the Core i9 processors (though we expect those issues to be fixed once Intel and the PC makers have had some time to work the bugs out).
1. Sometimes, chip makers choose to keep a processor’s architecture more or less the same while upgrading the manufacturing process. This results in a chip that performs the same but requires less power and heat and can be cooled with fewer fans or a smaller heat sink. This is why you often see new “slim” versions of video game consoles a few years after the originals were released.
2. There will be no 11th-generation Core i3 desktop processors; Intel will continue to sell 10th-generation Core i3 chips for budget systems.