11/21/2017 Update: Replaced all Kaby Lake-based Intel Core processors with their newer Coffee Lake counterparts. Changed format to reflect $100 price brackets and reduce the overall number of picks. Named the Intel Core i7-8700K Best Overall and the Intel Core i5-8400 Best Value in the CPU category.
If you don’t feel confident enough to pick the right processor on your own, we’ve compiled a simple list of the best CPUs offered for the money. This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money, so if you don’t play games, the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for you. The criteria to get on this list is a mixture of price and performance, but cost and availability change on a daily basis, and while we can’t offer up-to-the-minute pricing information in text, the prices in green are current. These are new retail CPU prices for the US – prices will most certainly vary in other regions and on used or OEM markets.
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$300+ Best Pick
Flagship mainstream desktop processors come with the highest price tag of our recommendations, but those searching for the best performance to push the beefiest graphics cards will be rewarded with chart-topping performance. Both Intel and AMD offer high-end desktop models that scale beyond 16 cores, but those premium processors often don’t deliver the same amount of gaming performance as the mainstream models. Also, they come with expensive platforms and typically support quad-channel memory, which adds yet more cost to the equation. The picture changes if you need more performance for other types of applications, like rendering or encoding, but the mainstream processors offer the best value for strictly gaming.
For most high-end gamers, the flagship mainstream models in Intel’s Core i7 and AMD’s Ryzen 7 product families offer the best value. Intel’s Coffee and Kaby Lake models offer the best absolute gaming performance, but AMD’s Ryzen 7 series comes with more cores, which you might find attractive if you have more demanding requirements, such as streaming or intense multi-tasking. You can also often find the Ryzen processors well below MSRP.