We’re the first to admit that it’s easy to get caught up in all the hype and excitement when new processors hit the shelves. You get so thunderstruck that it can feel like your current LGA 1151 build is some sort of stone-age relic, but there’s no need to give up on it just yet.
Considering Intel are infamous for dropping new sockets every five seconds, the LGA 1151 is a fairly versatile design in their extensive back catalog. Designed from the ground up to accommodate their Sky Lake family of CPUs, Intel then released Kaby Lake in the same format, and then, in a shock move, the LGA 1151 socket was revised to accommodate Coffee Lake too.
So, with three whole CPU families and a whopping eighteen chipsets to choose from, there really is no doubt that your LGA 1151 is far from retired, and we’ve found the processors that prove it!
Our Top Picks
Up until pretty recently, the i9 9900K was considered the crème de la crème of CPUs. Famous for its magnificent 5GHz overclock potential and fiery yet tameable thermals, this CPU still has tons of clout for modern AAA gaming.
Featuring eight super-speedy hyperthreaded cores, it’s not strictly just a gaming CPU but a highly versatile workstation too, so if you want maximum LGA 1151 computational power, you’re looking at it!
Don’t be put off by the single-threaded core DNA of the i7 9700K. It’s even faster than the 9900K for gaming, perfect for blowing away some of the LGA 1151 cobwebs.
With ridiculous peak frequencies reaching a stable 4.6GHz across all eight of its uber-fast cores, the i7 9700K has often been the gamer’s processor of choice even amongst other more technologically advanced options.
When the i5 9600K was first released, it was the best CPU for gaming at that price point. Now it’s had time to settle in the market, it’s even more of an enticing prospect.
With six single-threaded cores and clock speeds far exceeding the required amount for responsive AAA gaming, the 9600K packs a punch on stock settings alone. Plug it into a Z-series motherboard, hit it with some manual overclocking, and you’ll be able to near 9700K performance levels.
The i5 9400F is very similar to the i5 9600K, but by switching up that ‘K’ suffix for an ‘F’ you save a bunch of money on superfluous features such as the integrated graphics card, while its six single-threaded cores ensure it fits right into a medium to high power build.
We’d be remiss not to mention that slightly decreased 2.9GHz base clock speed. This isn’t ideal for gaming, but flick on Thermal Velocity Boost in the BIOS and you can lift that frequency to 4.1GHz and send your fps through the roof.
While we can’t recommend the i3 9100 as a workstation or really even as a leisure use desktop CPU, it’s the perfect standalone gaming processor for LGA 1151 motherboards.
The quad-core architecture may be a turn-off for some, but the essentialists out there will know that four cores and juiced-up clock speeds are all you really need for some seamless and immersive gaming.
How We Choose
We may get to play with some pretty high-spec gear in a professional capacity but for our own personal rigs, we too are trying to wring every last morsel of performance from our motherboards before the light speed advancement of gaming technology forces our hands and empties our bank accounts.
We knew exactly which products to show you because they’re the ones still nestled in our cases fighting the good fight, still full of gaming potential, even when paired with powerful GPUs and monitors. These are the best of Coffee Lake that refuse to go gentle into that good night.
Things to Consider
Just so you understand what we’re prattling on about come the reviews, let’s briefly run over some of the defining characteristics of a CPU.
Cores and Threads
The cores of a CPU are the components that do all the processing. In charge of data transfer and problem-solving, they’re the lieutenant generals of your whole computer system. The more you have, the more processes and applications they can support.
There are two main types of CPU core, single-threaded and hyperthreaded. Single-threaded cores focus on single sequence instruction execution. They’re extremely efficient when focused on singular tasks. Hyperthreaded cores can execute two concurrent execution sequences. They exhibit slightly increased latency, but they’re awesome at multitasking.
You can think of clock speeds as the second in command after cores and threads. They work alongside CPU cores to maximize efficiency, speeding up instruction execution sequencing.
Many people erroneously lump cores and clock speeds together, but they’re very different. Say you have a dual-core processor with high clock speeds. You can run a single program incredibly fast, but running simultaneous programs is out of the picture. If you have a hyperthreaded octa-core processor with low clock speeds, you could open tons of programs, but the running speed of each would be sluggish to the point of uselessness. Balance is key!
Just like a building, the architecture of a CPU refers to the blueprint of its structure. It encompasses rules, processes, and organization of the CPU. It determines what kind of software and hardware is compatible. This is the reason new CPUs require new sockets to be developed alongside them.
Different architectures are referred to by codenames such as ‘Sky Lake’ or ‘Coffee Lake’, and the idea is that each new generation of CPUs outperforms their predecessors.
Generational changes can be quite small, perhaps just the capacity to carry a greater amount of cores, or they can represent a complete overhaul involving physical and functional changes throughout the whole design.
Multitasking in a computational sense is exactly what it sounds like. The ability to do multiple things at once. This could be listening to music, opening some tabs, streaming, downloading all at the same time. As mentioned already, CPUs with hyperthreaded cores are much better at multitasking.
It’s not that single-threaded cores CPUs can’t multitask, they can, just nowhere near as well. They’ll be fine for the average user, but for professional content creators, media editors, and animators, pristine multitasking is essential.
Best LGA 1151 CPU
Coffee Lake (Refresh) Architecture – 8 hyperthreaded cores are perfect for gaming and multitasking.
3.6 – 5GHz Clock Speeds – This is more than you need for some buttery smooth gaming.
Integrated Graphics Processor – Comes loaded with an Intel UHD 630 graphics card.
Price – It’s gone down in price over the years, but it’s still not cheap.
Thermals – Needs a decent cooler.
Nearing three years old, the i9 9900K is one of the newest CPUs you can pair with your LGA 1151 motherboard, and it’s a total beast!
An octa-core design with insane single-core speeds, it’s primed for some high-tier hardware pairings. Take the RTX 2080 Ti for example. The 9900K presents an infinitesimal 0.84% bottleneck in 1080p, and a negligible 2.5% bottleneck in 1440p.
It also features hyperthreading, so you can pile on the tabs, throw on a tune, download a film, and play your game at the same time without diminished capacities. The i9 9900K does have quite a fiery temperament, so if you do plan on pushing it, make sure you’ve got one of these
Coffee Lake (Refresh) Architecture – 8 amazingly fast single-threaded cores provide the fastest LGA 1151 gaming performance you can buy.
Clock Speeds – 3.6 – 4.9GHz ensures responsive, high frames per second gaming.
Integrated Graphics Card – Comes loaded with an intel UHD 630 graphics card.
Price – Performance like this doesn’t come cheap.
Thermals – This thing runs hot!
You can think of the i7 9700K as a Single-threaded version of the i9 9900K, but that’s in no way a declaration of inferiority. Quite the contrary. Due to those hyper-focused cores, the i7 is actually quite a bit faster for gaming. This exquisite performance comes at the expense of hardcore multitasking, but the eight individual cores should be more than enough for everyday usage.
The i7 9700K’s clock speeds are also nothing to scoff at. Boasting the exact same 3.6GHz base clock speed as its hyperthreaded i9 equivalent and just 0.1GHz off the fabled 5GHz boosted rate, even demanding, high octane games feel responsive and crisp.
Much like its hot-headed i9 cousin, the 9700K can run hot, especially when pushed with some manual overclocking. We recorded temperatures around 90°C under 100% load, so you may want to pair this purchase with a quality cooler.
Coffee Lake (Refresh) – The two extra cores make all the difference.
Epic Clock Speeds – Both base and boost frequencies shatter the desired rate for gaming.
Price – This is an awesome value for money CPU.
Integrated Graphics Processor – Includes Intel 630 UHD graphics card.
Multitasking – It’s not really suitable for productivity workflows.
Hothothot – It’s not as spicy as our top picks, but it can still reach 90°C when pushed.
We have a real soft spot for the i5 9600K. Due to the runaway performance of the 9700K and the expansive multithreaded architecture of equivalent AMD CPUs, it always exhibited something of an underdog vibe, but good grief can this thing move.
With six single-threaded Coffee Lake cores at its heart, it’s arguably even more of a ‘gaming’ CPU than our other top picks, which isn’t to say it’s incapable of multitasking. Six cores can handle standard parallelizing workflows, but gaming is its primary function.
It won’t stand in the way of a powerful GPU either, which is essential if you want to maximize your build’s performance. Paired with an RTX 2080, widely considered one of the best graphics cards on the market, it will impart a 1.72% bottleneck in 1080p, which is nothing really.
This awesome gaming power is largely down to the 3.7GHz base speed (faster than our top picks) and 4.6GHz boosted rate. These frequencies ensure visuals are always silky smooth and enthralling as heck!
Coffee Lake (Refresh) Architecture – six cores are better than four for gaming.
Boost Clock – Turbo Boost pushes peak frequencies to 4.6GHz. That makes for some smooth gaming.
Price – As it doesn’t come with a GPU, it’s a great budget option.
No Integrated GPU – Who really cares, though?
Base Clock – 2.9GHz isn’t enough for gaming.
All the ominous ‘F’ suffix means in the 9400’s name is that it’s a little cheaper, mostly because it doesn’t come with an integrated Intel graphics processor. Realistically, to unlock any of these processors’ full potential, you’ll need a discrete card anyway, so it’s essentially just a nice discount that has no impact on your system. Nice, ay?
It’s a single-threaded Hexa-core processor, which makes it incredibly fast for gaming applications. Like our top picks, it doesn’t stunt GPU performance and is more than capable of facilitating 1080p averages of 100+fps.
The 2.9GHz base clock isn’t ideal, but that’s easily remedied by turning on Turbo Boost in the BIOS and accelerating the frequency to 4.6GHz amounting in some beautiful gameplay, duping observers into believing it’s a much more expensive card than it is.
Our final caveat is that OC multipliers are locked on the i5 9400F, which means manual overclocking is prohibited, but if you were into all that, you wouldn’t be interested in this CPU in the first place.
Quad-Core – Four cores make this a fantastic standalone gaming CPU.
Clock Speeds – 3.6-4.2GHz frequencies suit gaming to a tee.
Price – It’s a great budget option.
Lack of Versatility – The 9100 is very much just a gaming processor.
If you’re on the lookout for a pure gaming machine, then you’ll want to pay close attention to the i3 9100. With 4 core single-threaded cores, it doesn’t exactly have Atlas-like strength able to shoulder tons of concurrent operations, but it chews through a focused gaming workload without breaking a sweat.
with the 3.6 – 4.2GHz frequency range resting right in the gaming sweet spot, it’s clear Intel developed this to be the ultimate standalone gaming CPU. When we teamed it with the mid-range GTX 1650, we discovered that it can reach 70fps 1080p averages, with a tiny 1.73% bottleneck. As long as it’s an easy-going game, you can even use this combo to reach perfectly playable 1440p averages.
Unlike the 9400F, the 9100 does come with an integrated UHD 630 graphics card, so even if you haven’t settled on a discrete GPU yet, you can enjoy some light gaming.
The i9 9900K is by far the best LGA 1151 CPU if you’re looking for versatility. It’s awesome for gaming, but 16 threads also make it a highly proficient workstation. It’s the quintessential work hard, play hard processor. It does it all and it does it well.
The i7 9700K has the widest appeal as it’s more than capable of everyday multitasking like listening to music, hoarding tabs, and streaming, but the single-thread build also makes it the fastest LGA 1151 processor for gaming. This will be the weapon of choice for those who subscribe to the notion that every frame counts.
If the 9700K is a little rich for your blood, we recommend the i5 9600K. It has epic clock speeds, super-fast single-core performance, and it won’t stifle a powerful GPU.
Dropping the dead weight that is Intel’s integrated graphics card, the i5 9400F is a great value for your money option, just make sure you keep Turbo Boost switched on. However, if gaming is your only computational requirement, the 9100 is hands down the best processor for you. It features all the gaming essentials and cuts out all the unnecessary bloat.