If you are thinking about buying or building a new desktop computer system, one of your first decisions is what processor to choose. Your processor choice will affect your budget and many of your other component choices. For example, it will affect your motherboard choices, how much memory you can use, and what kind of storage is supported. Given that, what are the top 5 best CPUs in 2020?
This post will lay that out, giving my current thinking for the best CPUs in several different categories as of June 2020. My picks are for new CPUs only. These choices are subject to change as new CPUs are introduced during the rest of 2020. My CPU choices are also subject to change if we see large pricing or availability changes. With those caveats, lets get started!
Best Budget CPU (Less than $150)
The best all around budget CPU in this price range is the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X. This is a 4C/8T 7nm Zen 2 processor with better performance than the flagship Intel Core i7-7700K from 2017. The suggested retail price of this CPU is $120.00.
The Ryzen 3 3300X has a base clock of 3.8 GHz, a max boost clock of up to 4.3 GHz, 16MB of L3 cache, and a TDP of 65 watts. It is unlocked for CPU and memory overclocking, it has PCIe 4.0 support, and it comes with a decent Wraith Stealth CPU cooler.
This processor will work with B450 motherboards (with a BIOS update) if you don’t need PCIe 4.0 support. It will also work with existing X570 and upcoming B550 motherboards if you do want PCIe 4.0 support. For a CPU in this price range, a B550 is going to be a better price match than an X570. The B550 motherboards are supposed to launch on June 16, 2020.
The single CCX architecture along with slightly higher clock speeds make the 3300X well worth the $20.00 price premium over the Ryzen 3 3100.
The only problem with this CPU is that it not actually widely available yet. It should be available in the U.S. by mid-to-late June. There may be some price-gouging initially, but prices should settle down by July into August. Just to be clear, this CPU only makes sense at $120 or lower.
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Reviews
- The AMD Ryzen 3 3300X and 3100X CPU Review: A Budget Gaming Bonanza
- AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Review – The Magic of One CCX
- Ryzen 3 3100 & 3300X Review, $100-$120 3rd gen Ryzen CPUs
- AMD Ryzen 3 3300X vs. 3100 CPU Review: An R3 is Enough for Gaming & Clock-for-Clock
Best Value All-Around Desktop CPU (Less than $250)
The best value all-around budget CPU in this price range is the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. This is a 6C/12T 7nm Zen 2 processor with good gaming and productivity performance. It has better MT performance than the Intel Core i7-8700K in most benchmarks. The suggested retail price of this CPU is $199.00, but it is widely available for $159-179.00.
The Ryzen 5 3600 has a base clock of 3.6 GHz, a max boost clock of up to 4.2 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a TDP of 65 watts. It is unlocked for CPU and memory overclocking, it has PCIe 4.0 support, and it also comes with a decent Wraith Stealth CPU cooler.
This processor will work with B450 motherboards (with a BIOS update) if you don’t need PCIe 4.0 support. It will also work with existing X570 and upcoming B550 motherboards if you do want PCIe 4.0 support. For a CPU in this price range, a B550 is still going to be a better price match than a X570.
There is a reason that this is the best selling desktop processor at both Amazon and Micro Center. This processor has many very favorable reviews. I actually own three of these processors that I use in my @Folding@Home lab.
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Reviews
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Review: Why Is This Amazon’s Best Selling CPU?
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU Review & Benchmarks: Strong Recommendation
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 Review, Price to Performance Champ!
If you are only going to be gaming, the Ryzen 3 3300X has slightly better single-threaded performance due to somewhat higher base and boost clock speeds. If you want to do some productivity work, having two more cores and four more threads makes a lot of difference. Some newer games also do better with 6C/12T compared to 4C/8T.
The similar AMD Ryzen 5 3600X processor simply isn’t worth the extra $40-50.00 in most scenarios. The new Intel Core i5-10600K is better for gaming (and about the same for productivity), but it costs about $100 more than an AMD Ryzen 5 3600. It also requires a more expensive Z490 motherboard to get the best performance.
Best Value Productivity CPU (More Than $250)
The best value value productivity CPU in this price range is the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X. This is a 8C/16T 7nm Zen 2 processor with very good gaming and productivity performance. It has better MT performance than the Intel Core i9-9900K in most benchmarks. The suggested retail price of this CPU is $329.00, but it is widely available for $259-279.00.
The Ryzen 7 3700X has a base clock of 3.6 GHz, a max boost clock of up to 4.4 GHz, 32MB of L3 cache, and a TDP of 65 watts. It is unlocked for CPU and memory overclocking, it has PCIe 4.0 support, and it also comes with a pretty nice Wraith Prism CPU cooler.
This processor will also work with B450 motherboards (with a BIOS update). It will also work with existing X570 and upcoming B550 motherboards. For a CPU in this price range, a X570 is going to be a better price and feature match than a B550.
Seriously, if you are not quite sure what you will be doing with your machine, but you want it to handle everything well at an affordable price, just get a Ryzen 7 3700X.
Personally, I don’t think it makes sense to get an AMD Ryzen 7 3800X processor for roughly $50.00 more than a Ryzen 7 3700X. If you need more total CPU horsepower than the 3700X, you can jump up to the 12C/24T Ryzen 9 3900X or even to the 16C/32T Ryzen 9 3950X.
Ryzen 7 3700X Reviews
- AMD Ryzen 7 3800X vs. 3700X Review: Don’t Waste the Money
- The AMD 3rd Gen Ryzen Deep Dive Review: 3700X and 3900X Raising The Bar
- AMD Ryzen 7 3800X vs. 3700X, What’s The Difference?
- AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Review
Best Gaming CPU
If gaming is all you really care about, and you want the absolute best single-threaded CPU performance, then you still want an Intel CPU. The two best Intel Comet Lake-S processors for gaming are the flagship 10C/20T Core i9-10900K and the more mainstream 6C/12T Core i5-10600K.
Neither of these processors is widely available yet, although that should change in the next month or two. So far, they are not even listed on Amazon, NewEgg or Micro Center.
Depending on the game, these two Intel processors can beat anything AMD currently sells, even if it is by only a small margin. For some people, that is all that matters. Serious or competitive gamers are looking for every single improvement and advantage. They are using willing to spend a lot of extra money on special high refresh rate monitors, special wired gaming keyboards and mice, whatever it takes.
Most people either won’t care or simply won’t notice that small margin. I think a lot of people are more casual gamers, using older hardware and peripherals, playing older, less demanding games. They might have wireless keyboards and mice, 60Hz monitors, etc. Maybe they are using a WiFi connection to an old ISP-supplied router with mediocre broadband performance.
Intel Core i9-10900K Reviews
- The Intel Comet Lake Core i9-10900K, i7-10700K, i5-10600K CPU Review: Skylake We Go Again
- Intel Core i9-10900K Review – World’s Fastest Gaming Processor
- Intel Core i9-10900K Review, Gaming & Application Benchmarks
- Intel Core i9-10900K CPU Review & Benchmarks: Gaming, Overclocking vs. AMD Ryzen 3900X & More
Best High-End Desktop CPU
If you need (or just want) the absolute best productivity performance, a 3rd Generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor is the only choice right now. This family of HEDT processors has just three SKUs that go from expensive to very expensive.
The “low-end” model is the 24C/48T Ryzen Threadripper 3960X that has an SRP of $1,399.99. Moving up, the next SKU is the 32C/64T Ryzen Threadripper 3970X with an SRP of $1,999.99. Finally, there is a 64C/128T Ryzen Threadripper 3990X with an SRP of $3,990.00.
On the surface, that sort of pricing seems insane. And it is, for most workloads. But for people who literally make their living doing time-consuming processor intensive tasks, these are great investments. These processors are so much faster than any other alternative, that the ROI for that high platform cost is very good.
If you are looking for a processor in this category, the Ryzen Threadripper 3970X seems to be the sweet spot. Some current software doesn’t scale very well with 64 cores.
BTW, the recent Intel Cascade Lake-X HEDT processors were deemed dead on arrival by most reviewers. The top-end 18C/36T Core i9-10900X is easily beaten by the mainstream AMD Ryzen 9 3950X for both ST and MT performance. This situation is even worse when compared to 3rd Generation Threadripper.
- AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X (Amazon)
- AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X (Amazon)
- AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X (Amazon)
AMD 3rd Gen Ryzen Threadripper Reviews
- The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and 3970X Review: 24 and 32 Cores on 7nm
- AMD Threadripper 3970X and 3960X Review: High-End Domination
- AMD Threadripper 3970X & 3960X Review, Total Intel HEDT Annihilation
- Threadripper 3960X / 3970X Review — No Compromises. Multicore Monster!
Intel fans may be unhappy that nearly all of my recommendations are AMD CPUs. Unfortunately for Intel, they are in a weak position right now, and they know it. Intel’s CEO Bob Swan was recently quoted saying:
“We should see this moment as an opportunity to shift our focus as an industry from benchmarks to the benefits and impacts of the technology we create,”https://www.pcgamer.com/intel-tiger-lake-move-away-from-benchmarks/
Intel is currently losing on the performance and value fronts in nearly every CPU market segment, from mobile, desktop, HEDT, to data center. They still have a minor ST performance advantage with some specific SKUs. But, this advantage is so small that you probably won’t notice it in most real life workloads.
In the client desktop segment, existing AMD Zen 2 processors simply offer better performance and better value in nearly every scenario. AMD appears to be getting ready to rub salt in the wound by releasing three Zen 2 “Matisse Refresh” SKUs in July. If the rumors are true, these will have 200-300 MHz higher base and turbo clock speeds, but will otherwise be unchanged.
Looking further out, it looks like AMD will release their next generation Zen 3 desktop processors before Intel releases their next generation Rocket Lake processors.
If you have any questions about the Top 5 Best CPUs in 2020, please ask me here in the comments or on Twitter. I am pretty active on Twitter as GlennAlanBerry. Thanks for reading!