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CPUs
It should be of little surprise that the topic of the day in the CPU arena is AMD's Ryzen 5 lineup. Our benchmarking revealed that the Ryzen 5 1600X is a great all-around performer at its price point. This six-core, 12-thread chip challenges Intel's Core i5-7600K in gaming smoothness, and its copious threads are great for the times where you may need to do some serious work. Sure, there's just no catching the mighty Core i7-7700K when it comes to gaming prowess, but AMD has produced solid competitors for nearly every other price point.

AMD has also shaken up the high-end CPU market 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 7 chips aren't perfect substitutes 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 enviable 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 quads means they'll be in the same boat. Most AAA titles still favor fewer and faster cores, and AMD's affordable Ryzen 5 CPUs and Intel's mid-range 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, though, more broad-shouldered chips like those in the Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 families could bear that weight better than Kaby Lake quad-cores.

Budget

Product Price Notable needs
Intel Pentium G4560 $69.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard

In this price range, we think Intel's Pentium G4560 is a great buy. Its healthy 3.5GHz 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 $64, 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 here. That chip goes for $120—almost $60 more than the G4560—and it only has an extra 300MHz of clock speed plus support for AVX, Optane Memory, and TSX-NI 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 or other components in a system.

We used to recommend the Pentium G4620 for this spot, but we found that the $25 or so it costs over the G4560 only gets you an extra 100 MHz of CPU clock and 50 MHz on the IGP. Those dollars have a higher purpose in life than that.

We'd like to recommend some AMD chips in this segment, but the company's Ryzen 3 offerings have yet to show up. When they do, we'll be sure to take a look at them. Other AMD CPUs like the FX series and A-series APUs might tempt with their low prices, but those chips use dead-end motherboards and RAM that are well past their sell-by date. Those things aren't worth buying into, no matter how appealing the price.

Sweet spot

Product Price Notable needs
Ryzen 5 1500X $189.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard
Core i5-7500 $199.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard
Ryzen 5 1600X $249.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket CPU cooler
Intel Core i7-7700K $339.99 Intel LGA1151 motherboard, Z270 chipset for overclocking,
aftermarket CPU cooler

At last. Intel's CPUs dominated the Sweet Spot chart for longer than I care to remember, but that ends today. The Ryzen 5 1500X and 1600X are a nice one-two-punch combo, seeing as they offer solid performance for prices very similar to their direct competitors from Intel.

Compared to the Core i5-7500, the Ryzen 5 1500X has SMT support, so it boasts eight logical threads from its four cores. It also offers unlocked multipliers for those who'd like to overclock, and it comes with a nice cooler that's up to the task of some tweaking. The Core i5-7500 may offer a bit more performance in some tasks, but it's also a bit more expensive. We'd be OK building with either of these CPUs at their price points.

The Ryzen 5 1600X holds an edge over the Core i5-7600K, too. For about the same money, one gets six cores with SMT support in tow. We found that the 1600X is about as smooth as the i5-7600K in games, and it's unquestionably more powerful when one needs to bring many threads to bear. The i5-7600K may still hold a smoothness edge in older titles where single-threaded performance is king, but the gap isn't that wide, and we think most builders in this price range will enjoy the 1600X's all-around competence for just $10 more. Just be sure to factor an aftermarket cooler into the price of both of these chips.

What of the Ryzen 5 1400 and Ryzen 5 1600? Our gut feeling with Ryzen is that if you're going to run these CPUs at stock settings, clock speed is everything, and the non-X Ryzen 5s are a little lacking in that department. The higher stock speeds and extra XFR headroom of the Ryzen 5 1500X and 1600X will let them perform better than their lesser brethren in lightly-threaded workloads, and they'll sustain higher all-core multipliers under load, as well. The price differences between these lesser chips and the better-performing X models are small enough that we'd just spring for the faster stuff to begin with.

If you do plan to overclock, however, our experience has shown that all Ryzen CPUs top out at about 4 GHz for all-core loads, and non-X Ryzen chips handle those multiplier tweaks just as well as their more expensive brethren, if not better. We're still working on our review of the Ryzen 5 1400 and Ryzen 5 1600, but we got our 1600 up to 3.95 GHz on all of its cores with nothing more than the Wraith Max cooler on top. Since all of AMD's SenseMI and XFR magic goes out the window when one starts overclocking Ryzen chips, it's not worth paying extra for a wider XFR range or higher boost speeds when you're not going to use them.

AMD may have upset the $250-and-below CPU market, but the beastly Core i7-7700K still lords over the top of our midrange recs. This chip adds Hyper-Threading to its four cores 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 motherboard, too. If you want the smoothest gaming experience around and plenty of competence outside of games, the i7-7700K is hard to beat.

Since Intel doesn't include a stock cooler with its K-series CPUs, and neither does AMD for the Ryzen 5 1600X, be sure to grab an aftermarket cooler from our selections later in this guide if you're building with any of these chips—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 7 CPUs have taken 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 $314.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard
AMD Ryzen 7 1700X $397.99 AMD Socket AM4 motherboard, aftermarket AM4 heatsink
AMD Ryzen 7 1800X $489.99

All three of AMD's Ryzen 7 CPUs have their merits, but like the Ryzen 5 lineup, 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 can attain 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.