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CPUs
AMD has shaken up the high-end CPU market for the first time in years with its Ryzen 7 family of chips. If you rely on your computer for heavy-duty productivity work in multithreaded applications, Ryzen 7 parts could be a solid choice for high-end desktop PCs. Our tests showed that Ryzen 7 CPUs can equal or beat some of Intel's much more expensive Haswell-E and Broadwell-E chips in many demanding applications. Impressively, Ryzen CPUs land in the same ballpark as Broadwell-E for power consumption, as well.

As we discussed in our review, Ryzen isn't a perfect substitute for Broadwell-E. If your application depends on memory bandwidth or floating-point throughput for maximum performance, Broadwell-E's quad-channel memory architecture and wider floating-point registers still can't be beat. Whether that extra performance is worth the extra money over a comparable Ryzen chip will require a good idea of where your application is bottlenecked.

Even so, Intel's pricing for Broadwell-E CPUs is hard to defend in this post-Ryzen world. The Core i7-6950X sells for $1650 right now, a considerable jump over the eight-core, 16-thread Core i7-6900K and its already eye-watering $1050 price tag. For perspective, consider the fact that you can build an impressive PC with AMD or Intel parts for just a little more than what the Core i7-6950X alone costs. Ryzen 7 chips will almost certainly outperform the six-core, 12-thread Broadwell-E parts lower in the range, as well. Assuming you don't need Broadwell-E's memory bandwidth or floating-point grunt, we'd look to Ryzen if multi-threaded performance is the goal.

We've never recommended Broadwell-E chips for PCs that will primarily run games, however, and Ryzen 7 chips' slower-and-wider approach versus Kaby Lake means they'll be in the same boat. Most AAA titles still favor fewer and faster cores, and Intel's less-expensive Kaby Lake chips still deliver some of the lowest 99th-percentile frame times around for a pure gaming PC. Kaby Lake chips will also shine in lightly-threaded workloads where single-threaded throughput matters most, like web browsing. If you're among the elite few that need to game, stream, and transcode video all at once, for example, more broad-shouldered chips like the Ryzen 7 family could bear that weight better than Kaby Lake quad-cores.

At the most budget-friendly end of the market, Intel's Kaby Lake Pentium chips continue to rule. For less than $100, the budget-inclined can get a fast four-thread chip that should be up to any gaming or productivity task one might want from a $500-ish PC.  AMD might offer some Ryzen competition in this space eventually, but buying into AMD CPUs on a budget right now means slow chips alongside dead-end memory and motherboards. Even cheaper Intel 200-series motherboards will still offer some sort of upgrade path for the foreseeable future.

As Kaby Lake chips become more widely available, prices for the accompanying 200-series motherboards have come off their post-launch peaks a bit. Although one can mix-and-match among 100-series and 200-series motherboards for both Skylake and Kaby Lake chips, we think builders will want a seventh-generation Core chip paired with a 200-series motherboard to lessen the potential for headaches.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Pentium G4620 $92.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard

In this price range, we think Intel's Pentium G4620 is a great buy. Its healthy 3.7GHz turbo clock speed should be brisk enough for most, and its Hyper-Threading support can boost performance in multithreaded tasks. It'll also appear as a quad-core CPU to games that require one. This Pentium is a good choice for non-gamers, too, since it has basic integrated graphics. For $93, it's hard to find anything to complain about with this chip.

You may be wondering why we didn't pick the Core i3-7100 for budget duty instead. That chip goes for $120—almost $30 more than the G4620—and it only has an extra 200MHz of clock speed, AVX support, and TSX-NI support to show for it. Given that every single dollar counts in a budget build, we think that money is better spent on a more powerful graphics card.

We used to recommend some of AMD's budget CPU options here, but honestly, the performance gap between the Intel and AMD's entry-level CPUs is simply too great for us to be able to recommend them. Socket FM2+ is a dead-end platform that uses dead-end RAM, and there's simply no reason to consider any existing FM2+ CPU or APU any longer for a gaming PC. Same goes for AMD's Socket AM3 platform and its FX CPUs. If you've gotta build around an AMD CPU for under $200, we'd wait for the more affordable Ryzen 5 family of chips.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Core i5-7500 $204.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard
Intel Core i5-7600K $239.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard, Z270 chipset for overclocking,
aftermarket CPU cooler
Intel Core i7-7700K $349.99

If you want more grunt from your Intel CPU, the Core i5-7500 looks like the Goldilocks CPU in this price range. For little over $200, the i5-7500 gives us 3.4GHz base and 3.8GHz turbo clocks in a trim 65W thermal envelope. The Core i5-6500 is also a great CPU for a VR-ready machine. We aren't as enamored of the Core i5-7400, though. Suffice to say, the $5 less it costs versus the i5-7500 isn't worth the performance hit of the lower-end chip's drop in clock speeds.

If the Core i5-7500 isn't enough power, Intel's unlocked Kaby Lake parts seem like logical steps up to us. The Core i5-7600K offers four unlocked Kaby Lake cores running at 3.8GHz base and 4.2GHz Turbo speeds. At the top end of the lineup, the beastly Core i7-7700K adds Hyper-Threading and turns the clocks all the way up to 4.2GHz base and 4.5GHz Turbo speeds. Overclockers are free to explore these chips' upper limits with a Z270 (or Z170) motherboard, too.

Since Intel doesn't include a stock cooler with its K-series CPUs any longer, be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler from our selections later in this guide if you're building with a Core i5-7600K or a Core i7-7700K—and make sure it's a beefy one if you're choosing the i7-7700K. Our experience with that chip has shown that it's quite the challenge to cool, even for large tower heatsinks. A 240-mm or 280-mm liquid cooler is not an unreasonable choice if you're building with Intel's top-end Kaby Lake CPU.

High end
Thanks to their copious core counts and aggressive prices, AMD's Ryzen CPUs are taking over our higher-end CPU suggestions. Even if these chips' prices overlap a bit with our Sweet Spot parts this time around, don't take that as a sign of equivalence. As we've been saying, "high end" in this context means "multithreaded power," not "gaming champion." If you're not sure whether your workload requires eight cores and 16 threads, we'd suggest taking a look at the in-depth tests in our Ryzen review and picking the chip that best fits your needs. For gaming alone, that chip might be a Kaby Lake quad-core, not a Ryzen 7 eight-core part.

Product Price Notable needs
AMD Ryzen 7 1700 $329.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard
AMD Ryzen 7 1700X $399.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket AM4 heatsink
AMD Ryzen 7 1800X $499.99

All three of AMD's Ryzen 7 CPUs have their merits, but their individual appeal will depend on your feelings about overclocking. The Ryzen 7 1700 has a sturdy 3.7 GHz single-core Turbo clock, but its modest 3.0 GHz all-core Turbo speed is the price one pays for packing so many cores into a 65W power envelope. Since the 1700 features an unlocked multiplier, one can push its all-core Turbo speeds as high as cooling and the silicon lottery will allow. We've gotten our Ryzen 7 1700 stable with all of its cores ticking away at 3.9 GHz using a modest heatsink.

Overclocking a Ryzen CPU disables the chip's Turbo intelligence, though, meaning that the all-core multiplier one sets is as high as a Ryzen chip can boost after an overclock. Higher-end CPUs in the lineup like the Ryzen 7 1700X and 1800X might actually perform worse in lightly threaded workloads if the all-core multiplier you choose ends up being lower than what the chips can reach after AMD's Extended Frequency Range (XFR) tech and stock single-core Turbo speeds are accounted for.

Folks using a CPU to make money on critical projects likely won't want to risk overclocking anyway, and our initial explorations of the Ryzen 7 1700X and 1800X suggests that AMD is tapping most of the extra frequency headroom one might get out of these chips to begin with. The Ryzen 7 1700X offers an appealing 3.8 GHz Turbo speed and a 3.4 GHz all-core clock, and AMD's XFR tech could boost those numbers to 3.9 GHz and 3.5 GHz with a reasonably-sized tower heatsink. The Ryzen 7 1800X offers an impressive 4.0 GHz Turbo clock and a 3.6 GHz base speed, and XFR will boost those numbers to 4.1 GHz and 3.7 GHz under a beefy-enough heatsink.

If you'd rather not bother tweaking a Ryzen 7 1700 and living with the higher temperatures and power draw that come with the bargain, one of the higher-end Ryzens might be a better fit. AMD is already discounting the Ryzen 7 1700X by $30 at the moment, making it a pretty sweet deal. The Ryzen 7 1800X's $500 price tag isn't the best value around, to be sure, but it looks pretty darn good next to the Core i7-6900K's $1050 sticker.