As many will already know, Intel has recently released their latest 11th Gen Rocket Lake processors to the consuming public. The new series of processors includes their latest flagship gaming CPU – the 11900K – which has so far proved disappointing, and we hope that future software updates can unlock some of its potential. Other entries, however, like the 11600k have actually proved to be worthy additions.
With the arrival of Intel’s latest CPU line-up, we thought now would be a great time to do a comprehensive recap on the best Intel CPUs currently available. We’ll be taking all major factors into consideration whilst choosing the best Intel CPUs, ensuring all essential criteria and consumer needs are met.
So, that being said, let’s waste no further time and dive into the best Intel CPUs available.
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Best Intel CPUs: First Look
If you’re looking for excellent gaming performance out-the-box, but also like to have fun with overclocking, this chip is going to be the perfect all-rounder for your needs.
The i9-10900K is Intel’s flagship CPU from its Comet Lake, 10th gen processors, bringing with it all the power you’ll need for high-end gaming and workflow scenarios. It offers fantastic single-core performance, competing with any Ryzen counterpart as far as gaming is concerned, which can be boosted to 5.3GHz and above.
A superb CPU that puts Intel right back on the map.
With the ability to achieve i9-10900K single-core performance when overclocked, this is by far the best CPU for gaming.
Intel’s i5-11600K is by far the best in terms of price/performance, bringing with it the potential to reach i9-10900K speeds when overclocked if you’re lucky enough to win the silicon lottery and get a particularly good chip.
Out of the box it directly competes with, and occasionally beats, the AMD alternative the 5600X when looking at gaming performance, whilst coming in at a very affordable price point.
When it comes to sheer power, the Intel i9-10980XE is one of the most impressive CPUs in Intel’s arsenal. If you’re looking to do heavy workload style tasks, this could be exactly what you’re looking for.
With 18 cores and 36 threads, the 10980 Extreme Edition is the best Intel has to offer when it comes to productivity and workstation type tasks. It handles the highest level of rendering and 3D modeling with ease, with the added bonus of overclocking potential thrown in.
At the opposite end of the price spectrum lies the i5-10400, Intel’s latest low-end offering. Providing decent gaming performance at a cheap price is what this CPU is all about.
Intel’s latest budget CPU comes in the form of their 10400 CPU. Whilst it doesn’t offer any overclocking potential at all, it still provides pretty good gaming performance right-out-the-box. A fine choice for budget PC builders who want good entry-level gaming performance.
Choosing new hardware is never easy. It usually involves hours of intense product research, user feedback, and a whole host of other considerations to get anywhere close to a definitive decision.
If you aren’t tech-savvy and struggle to put the time aside to go through the above requirements, you may end up purchasing a piece of hardware that simply isn’t right for your specific needs.
Fear not though, friends! Here at WePC, we like to take the stress of research away, and transform the whole process into an easy-to-follow, complete buyers guide. That’s right, our team of PC enthusiasts has done all the hard work for you!
Understanding the fundamental specifications of a hardware component is one of the most important things to know when purchasing PC products. Learning the specifications of a processor (and how each spec affects the performance of your build) will ensure your next purchase is right for your specific needs.
Below, we’ve taken the time to layout most of the specifications that come with a processor, and how each can affect you from a gaming, workflow, and general-use scenario.
Cores And Threads
For the most part, modern-day processors are made up of cores and threads. A core is a physical processor within the CPU. A thread, on the other hand, is a virtual core designed to help the CPU handle multiple tasks.
In the 21st century, processors can be equipped with well over 16 cores (with double the threads), making them infinitely better than yesteryear’s offerings when it comes to gaming, workflow scenarios, and general use.
As a general rule, the following guidelines are recommended when purchasing a new processor:
- 4 Cores – General use, light browsing, and very light gaming
- 8 Cores – Decent for gaming, moderate multi-tasking, and all general-use purposes
- 16 Cores + – Enthusiast level CPU. Handles pretty much everything you can throw at it. Very good for rendering, multi-tasking, and other CPU intensive processes
Next up is the clock speed. Clock speed (or sometimes cycle speed) refers to how many cycles a core will perform every second. It’s the physical speed of your processor and is measured in gigahertz (GHz) – i.e. millions of cycles. So, a CPU that has a 3.6GHz clock speed, performs 3.6 million cycles per second.
A lot of modern-day processors come equipped with two separate clock speeds – a base and boost speed. This means a particular CPU can automatically overclock its core(s) to that particular speed in order to achieve optimal performance. It usually does this when in highly demanding CPU scenarios, such as gaming.
Another factor to consider when looking at clock speed is overclocking. When referencing Intel, overclocking can only be performed when using a “K” rated CPU. So, for example, take the 10900 vs the 10900K. In this scenario, these two CPUs are very similar. However, the 10900K is overclockable, whereas the 10900 is not.
Overall, whether you’re gaming or doing high-intensive workflows, you always want to get the highest clock speed your budget can afford.
Cores And Clock Speed Combined
Whilst both cores/threads and clock speed are important on their own, it’s safe to say that uniting them will give you a much better idea of how well they perform in different scenarios. Taking into consideration both specifications of a processor will not only tell you how good it is for gaming, but also how well it handles intense multi-tasking scenarios as well.
Generally speaking, if you’re into gaming, you can get away with fewer cores if the clock speed is fast enough. That being said, for multi-tasking and workflows, you want as many cores as possible. Whilst this might sound a little confusing, it’ll all become much clearer when we get to our recommendations.
Whilst most – if not all – of the CPUs in this guide are from the same socket family, it’s still worth discussing how it can affect your purchasing decisions. Basically, the socket is the mounting point on your motherboard that holds the CPU in place. It is one of the most important factors when pairing a CPU with a motherboard, as each socket is unique and will not support other types.
One area I feel Intel falls a little short when referencing socket type is backward compatibility. With AMD, they’ve ensured that their 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Ryzen CPUs are all designed using the same AM4 socket. That, in turn, allows consumers to use older, last generation motherboards with their new CPU.
However, Intel, on the other hand, are not so accommodating. Unfortunately, most of the time when Intel releases a new CPU, it comes equipped with a whole new socket to boot. That means users will have to physically go out and purchase a new motherboard if they want to use the latest hardware.
For example, the 9th gen Intel CPUs were designed around the LGA1151. However, the latest 10th gen CPUs are designed around the LGA 1200, meaning you can’t use your old Z470 motherboard with the newer CPU.
The same kind of rule applies for Threadripper motherboards too, with that range of CPUs having an entirely different socket altogether.
So, the lesson is, always to ensure the motherboard and CPU are compatible via socket type. If not, you could have a very expensive paperweight on your hands.
TDP stands for thermal design power (or sometimes thermal design point) and is the maximum amount of heat generated by the CPU itself. Basically, it’s telling you what kind of cooling solution you need to run this CPU efficiently.
Many low-end budget cooling solutions will only dissipate around 65W TDP. Meaning, if you buy a high-performance CPU that requires 95W TDP dissipation and decided to use a low-end 65W TDP cooler, your CPU won’t be running at optimal temperatures.
Remember to always check the specs of a CPU before you complete your build list. If not, you might end up with a slow running CPU that isn’t properly cooled – leading to a whole host of other issues.
Best Intel CPU In 2021
Great out-the-box gaming performance
A ton of overclocking headspace
Can handle pretty intense multi-tasking scenarios
Doesn’t match the 5900X for multi-core workstation loads.
The Intel i9-10900K is Intel’s latest flagship CPU, coming to the table boasting an abundance of high-performance benchmarking results and great overclocking potential – when paired with the right Z490 motherboard. Whilst Ryzen still holds the crown in terms of best overall CPU, the 10900K is more or less on par with the 5900X when it comes to out-the-box gaming and superior when it comes to overclocking. It destroys the Ryzen counterpart in gaming and is very efficient in multi-tasking – albeit nowhere near as good as the 3950X.
The new 10 core/ 20 thread processor is clocked at a base speed of 3.7GHz and can be boosted to 5.30GHz quite easily. It can smash pretty much everything you throw at it out of the box and will only be slowed by the inevitable GPU bottleneck.
That being said, the real fun comes when users want to overclock this CPU. It is one of the best out there for overclocking and initial reports have seen extreme cooling setups reach 7GHz on a single core. That’s pretty damn impressive, to say the least. If you don’t have liquid Nitrogen at hand, don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see healthy improvements in clock speed with a decent AIO cooler thanks to the Z490 being so supportive of overclocking.
Overall, whilst this probably isn’t the best value for money Intel CPU, it’s definitely the best right out the box.
Very good single-core performance
Excellent value for money
Very good single-core performance
Very good single-core performance
New socket requires a new motherboard
In terms of price-to-performance, Intel consumers will struggle to find anything more suited to the title than the i5-11600K. This thing is absolutely brilliant. In fact, it’s so good, it’s almost made the 10th gen i7-10700K completely irrelevant at the current pricing – something we’ll discuss shortly. It certainly beats the 11th gen i7-11700K which was generally found to be a lacking entry in the Rocket Lake series – the 11600K has comparable performance but for significantly cheaper, rendering the supposedly ‘more powerful’ CPU effectively pointless.
This hugely anticipated CPU comes equipped with 6 cores and 12 threads, which is the same as the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, however, this, unfortunately, does not mean it matches its rival in workstation tasks. The Ryzen definitely has the edge in terms of general-use and multi-tasking benchmarking, but the same can not be said when it comes to gaming.
The Intel is unbeatable from a gaming standpoint, providing fantastic single-core performance benchmarking results that would even give the 10900K something to think about. Over all cores, the i5-11600K can boast a 3.90GHz base clock frequency but a 4.90GHz boost frequency. With a bit of overclocking the i5-11600K can be boosted to almost i9-10900K levels of performance, in some cases matching it if you’re lucky enough to get a particularly high-grade silicon chip. Obviously, you’ll have to pair this with an equally impressive Z490 motherboard, but if done correctly, users can get premium single-core performance at a much lower price point.
Thanks to the addition of hyperthreading the i5-11600K is even capable of some moderately intensive creative workflow tasks such as video rendering and 3D modeling. That being said, if this is your main agenda, you still want to be looking at the Ryzen alternative.
Overall, a really impressive CPU that gets our best gaming CPU award and for good reason.
Excellent multi-tasking performance
Good overclocking potential
Outperforms all other Intel processors in multi-tasking and rendering
New socket requires a new motherboard
Intel’s leading workstation style CPU comes in the form of the i9-10980XE – a refresh of the 9980XE which, for lack of a better word, was pretty much the 7980XE with a slightly better clock boost. With Ryzen performing so highly on the multi-tasking and workstation benchmarks, it’ll be interesting to see how Intel has responded. Let’s dive into it.
The Intel i9-10980XE is Intel’s latest 18 core 36 thread processor, bringing with a base clock frequency of 3.0GHz and a boosted frequency of 4.60GHz across all cores. It’s Intel’s answer to the latest Threadripper CPUs from AMD that are taking the multi-tasking benchmarks by storm. Whilst this CPU still falls a little short of the Ryzen counterpart, it is still Intel’s best CPU as far as heavy multi-tasking workflows are considered.
As far as benchmarks go, the i9-10980XE in the stock configuration just edges the Ryzen 9 3950X in tasks such as Adobe and Blender. That being said, when overclocking to past 4.5GHz, users will see a decent jump up in performance when compared to the similarly “cored” Ryzen. In other workflow benchmarks such as 7-Zip, AIDA 64, and Handbrake, the I9-10980XE outperforms anything with the Intel ranks.
If you’re adamant about sticking with Intel and need a processor for heavy workflow type scenarios, the i9-10980XE is definitely the processor to go for.
Very affordable price point
Offers decent gaming performance for the price
New socket requires a new motherboard
Not integrated GPU
Can’t be overclocked
Finally, we have the best budget Intel CPU, their i5-10400. Intel’s latest budget CPU may have been the recipient of a bit of criticism from some reviewers, but for the most part, we think it’s a pretty good option for people on a budget. It may not win any awards when it comes to multitasking scenarios, however, it’s pretty handy when it comes to lesser intensive gaming.
The 10400 is a 6 core processor that, like the rest of the 10th Gen Intel CPUs, does come with hyperthreading support. It has a 2.90GHz base clock frequency which can be boosted to 4.30GHz right out the box which makes it, fairly low-level when compared to today’s offerings. From a gaming standpoint, this is a pretty good choice for gamers wanting to play less-intensive titles such as CS:GO, Rainbow Six Siege, and the likes. It’ll easily push the previous gen Ryzen 3600 in terms of FPS figures, making it a fairly interesting prospect for Intel gamers.
However, this chip does come with its downfalls. For a start, it isn’t overclockable. Users will not be able to overclock this processor, meaning they’ll have to be happy with the 4.30GHz boost frequency the processor offers out-the-box. Furthermore, you’ll need to pair this CPU with an H or B series motherboard which, as some will know, doesn’t like to support faster speed memory modules.
Overall, however, if you are looking to put together a low-level budget Intel build, we feel the i5-10400 is a fantastic option.
One of the big questions we get asked here at WePC is, what exactly is the difference between K, KF, KS Intel SKUs?
It’s a fairly common question because there’s very little in the specs list that suggests what the difference is. Fear not though, the difference isn’t all that technical – and understanding the difference could actually make you reconsider your next CPU purchase.
K is the most common SKU and simply refers to an Intel CPU that can be overclocked. Unlike AMD, where all of their latest CPUs are unlocked for overclocking, the same can not be said for Intel’s. If you come across an Intel CPU that isn’t a ‘K’ SKU, that simply means it isn’t overclockable.
KF is very similar to the K SKU, however, the KF does not come equipped with integrated graphics. Whilst this has no real performance impact on your PC’s performance, it could come in handy if your standalone GPU decides to break.
KS is a little more confusing. KS CPUs are carefully selected SKUs which have the ability to go above and beyond the expectations of that particular CPU. So, for example, a 10900KS will be the same as a 10900K CPU, however, it’ll have a much higher headspace when it comes to overclocking.
Looking for more information on CPUs and which one to choose from your next build? Then why not take a look at some of our best CPU guides below:
You can also check out our great CPU cooler guides:
As we come to the end of this comprehensive guide, it’s time to ask yourself the big question surrounding some of these CPUs. Whilst we’ve tried to keep the review portion of this article as short as possible, we understand it still might be a little overwhelming for some individuals.
That being said, here’s the final roundup in short:
If you’re looking for the best of the best when it comes to overclocking and out-the-box gaming performance, look no further.
As far as gaming is concerned, you’ll do well to find anything more suited to the role than the 10600K. Whilst it isn’t as impressive as the 10900K in factory settings, it has the potential to reach i9-10900K speeds with a simple overclock.
Intel’s best high-end desktop CPU comes in the shape of their 10980 extreme edition. With 18cores and 36 threads, this thing can handle highly taxing workflows with ease.
Budget PC builders will be happy to see Intel have released a CPU that not only comes with an extremely affordable price tag but offers good gaming performance too.
So, there you have it guys, our comprehensive breakdown of the best Intel CPUs for 2021. It’s safe to say; after Ryzen came crashing onto the scene with their hugely impressive 3000 series CPUs, Intel has definitely taken a hit in market share. That being said, this feels like the first proper step back towards Intel dominance. The Intel 10th Gen CPU lineup has once again taken a firm grip on the best gaming CPUs out there, leaving only marginal differences in the multi-tasking and rendering workstation tasks.
Hopefully, this guide has made your next purchasing decision that much easier, however, if you’re still confused on which one is best for your needs, feel free to drop us a comment in the section below. Better still, why not head on over to our Community Hub where you can discuss everything PC related with like-minded individuals.