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The best Intel processors for 2019

Even if AMD’s Ryzen processors offered real competition to Intel when they debuted in 2017, Intel chips are still arguably the best for gaming and other predominantly single-threaded tasks. And the best of those, is the Core i5-9400F. It’s affordable and powerful, but if the former or latter of those benefits isn’t as important to you, we have some other recommendations too.

The best Intel processors are what’s going to best fit your needs and budget. If you need something fast, you might want the 9700K, or the 8100 if you’re looking to build something more modest. Whatever you’re after, our guide will have something right for you.

For a more varied look at great CPUs for any budget, check out our manufacturer-agnostic guide to the best processors available today.

Core i5-9400F

The best Intel processor

As great as Intel’s top of the line CPUs are, its 9400F is arguably the best CPU it’s released in years for its bang for buck. By ditching the on board graphics core, there are some savings to be made and the pricing for this chip puts it just north of the true budget entries, but with solid mid-range performance.

Although it lacks hyperthreading and the ability to easily overclock it, the i5-9400F comes with six cores, which is more than enough for most programs and a decent frequency of 4.1GHz when in turbo mode. Although its base frequency of 2.9GHz might look weak compared to previous generations, that helps keeps its TPD to just 65 watts.

In many benchmarks, especially in gaming, this chip easily outperforms the beloved Core i5-7600K from a couple of generations ago and even rivals the much heftier Core i7-7700K in some tests. That’s very impressive considering the 9400F’s significantly cheaper price than either of those options.

If you want an onboard graphics core for basic gaming or as a backup, the Core i5-9400 is also an option, but tends to cost around 20 percent more.

Core i3-8100

The best budget Intel processor

The best Intel processors for 2019

If you’re looking for an eighth-generation processor that doesn’t set your wallet on fire, the Core i3-8100 is your golden ticket. It’s a four-core chip clocked at a steady 3.6GHz that doesn’t provide any additional boost speeds, but is more than fast enough for most PC users.

As a quad-core CPU the 8100 does fantastically well at multithreaded workloads, despite its budget price and it’s no slouch at single-threaded tasks either. Combine it with an entry-level graphics card and it would make up a fantastic budget gaming system. Alternatively, the on board Intel UHD 630 graphics core gives you enough grunt for some indie gaming at low settings.

There are some Intel Pentium CPUs that come in cheaper than this model, but you’re likely only going to save $20 or so and the drop in performance is rarely worth it, unless you’re on an extreme budget.

Core i7-9700K

The best high-end Intel processor

The best Intel processors for 2019

If you want an awesome processor that doesn’t require selling your kidney on the black market, Intel’s Core i7-9700K is the ideal solution. Based on Intel’s ninth generation architecture, the only real difference between this chip and its higher-end, much-more-expensive cousin, the 9900K, is the lack of hyperthreading. It’s an odd loss and this is the first desktop Core i7 CPU to ship without it in a long time, but it doesn’t actually impact general performance much, especially in gaming.

It comes with eight cores and 12MB of onboard cache. Its base frequency sits at 3.6GHz, but when pushed into turbo mode it can hit up to 4.9GHz on a limited number of cores. Since this is a K-series processor too, it can be overlocked easily with an adjusted multiplier and with good cooling should be able to hit 5Ghz on a number of cores.

Its performance improvements over its predecessor aren’t dramatic, so we wouldn’t recommend upgrading to it if you have an 8700K already, but for anyone running older generations of hardware, it’s a decent upgrade. It has hardware fixes for Spectre and Meltdown bugs too, so if you’re security conscious that is worth considering.

Core i9-9900K

The best raw performance

The best Intel processors for 2019Luke Larsen/Digital Trends

It might be expensive, but Intel’s new Core i9-9900K is the best gaming CPU ever made. It ships with the ability to turbo up to 5GHz on a couple of cores and has eight of them to play with. Also, unlike its smaller sibling, the 9700K, it has full support for hyperthreading so can handle up to 16 threads at a time.

In our testing, we found it far more capable than even some of AMD’s Threadripper CPUs and although we wouldn’t say it’s as powerful as some early sources claimed, it’s definitely the best gaming processor we’ve ever used. It managed almost 120 FPS in Civilization VI at 1440P on Ultra settings when paired with an RTX 2080, and even a solid 68 FPS on average in the always-taxing, Dexus Ex: Mankind Divided at the same settings.

It’s also exceedingly powerful in multithreaded scenarios and when using professional tools. There are more extreme Intel CPUs that cost well north of $1,000 that would likely beat it in applications that can take advantage of more cores and threads than this CPU has, but there are few who will need more power than the 9900K has to offer.

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