Know the best of computer processors

jkWhat makes a processor look so great? Somebody saythat it’s how expensive it is, while others suggest it’s the number of cores or its overclockability that determines the quality of a CPU. In reality, it’s a matter of personal preference backed by some hard numbers.

You would likely be disappointed if you shelled out a small fortune just to build a machine that only ends up being used for typing up documents. Likewise, thinking you could save some money by skimping out on the CPU in your gaming rig would be an equally misguided decision.

Here are our picks for the top 10 best processors you can find right now for your desktop PC.

1. AMD A8-7670K

If you are an AMD enthusiast (or like rooting for the underdog), these are interesting times. AMD is about to launch a series of processors based on a new architecture (Zen) which will obliterate the current generation of CPUs. So prices are falling accordingly. The A8-7670K remains one of the rare bright spots in AMD’s lineup despite being more than two years old.

It is built on a newer 28nm manufacturing process which kind-of explains why it has a 95W TDP – thermal design power, or a part’s share of your power supply’s available Watts – despite a relatively high base and turbo clock speed (3.6GHz and 3.9GHz). Its graphics performance is where it shines thanks to an onboard GPU that is slightly more powerful than the Radeon R7 240 GPU (six compute units, 384 shader cores, 757MHz GPU clock speed).

2. Intel Xeon E5-2670

One of the best kept secrets in the world of computer hardware is that, every now and then, data centers around the world, operated by some of the biggest tech companies in the world, dump hundreds, if not thousands of processors as they migrate to newer, faster and more power efficient models.

When that happens, they usually end up on eBay or on Amazon, where you can buy them for a fraction of their price (usually one tenth). The Sandy-Bridge E5-2670 v1 is one of them; it’s second-hand price is one-tenth of its retail price. Grab a pair of them to construct a workstation rig that would put Intel’s current finest CPU to shame with a total of 16 cores, 32 threads and 40MB cache.

3. Intel Core i3-6100

If you want to do some heavy lifting but don’t want to blow your savings on a piece of silicon, then check out this chip. The Intel Core i3-6100 is the cheapest Core processor based on the new Skylake architecture, and you don’t have to fork out a fortune for it.

True, you’ll want to pair it with a motherboard with a decent chipset (Z710) in order to run faster memory (2.66GHz), but that isn’t necessary. It is not a K-model, and there are two SKUs, the 6100 (higher TDP and higher clock speed) and the 6100T (lower TDP, lower clock speeds) so make sure you choose the right one.

Using a 14nm node, it reaches 3.7GHz with a 65W TDP; its dual-core/4-thread configuration should make for a decent gaming rig, and the 4K-capable Intel HD 530 GPU is clocked at 350MHz. Oh and it should make a fairly good overclocker as well.

4. AMD Sempron 3850

At the other end of the spectrum is the Sempron 3850, one of AMD’s cheapest quad-core processors. It sports a Kabini core and is built on a 28nm process, which explains why its TDP only reaches 25W, almost one seventh of the FX-9590.

Obviously, the fact that it runs at only 1.3GHz also helps a lot. Add in the fact that it comes with an integrated AMD Radeon HD 8280 GPU (basic, but decent) and you get something that’s better than most Baytrail-based systems at least. The best part though has to be the price; it is cheap especially, as it includes the heat sink and the fan; that means that you can envisage getting a motherboard bundle for less than Intel’s cheapest CPU. A shame that it has only one memory channel though.

5. Intel Core i7-6700K

This is Skylake, Intel’s sixth Core generation. The i7-6700K, which cost just under $345 (£290, about AU$463), is the company’s most powerful Skylake model set to replace the Broadwell-based desktop processors in the short term.

Here we’ve got a pretty powerful processor boasting four cores, eight threads, 8MB cache, a base clock speed of 4GHz, a turbo-boost of 4.2GHz and an Intel HD Graphics 530 subsystem inside. Overclocking is what may get some of us excited, however, as it’s the distinguishing feature of the “K” models such as itself.

Pair that with a decent 100-series chipset, an oversized HSF and a couple of overclocker-friendly DDR4 memory modules, and watch it fly. And, although you’ll want to pay close attention to that 91W TDP, 5.0GHz isn’t a lofty goal with the 6700K.

6. Intel Core i5-4690K

There is a good reason why the Intel Core i5-4690K is among the best-selling processors on Amazon.

This Devil’s Canyon part is one of the most, if not the most affordable K-series processor from Intel’s Core range at $239 (£182, about AU$321) and as such can overclock fairly easily with modest efforts. It has a base frequency of 3.5GHz with many users reporting being able to hit 25% increase in speed using a decent aftermarket HSF.

The 4690K doesn’t come with hyper-threading, but for the price it wasn’t expected. The processor, bilt on the 22nm fabrication process, packs 6MB of L2 cache, an 88W TDP and even an Intel HD Graphics 4600 onboard GPU.

8. AMD FX-8320E

Meet the AMD FX-8320E; this is one of the cheapest eight-core processors on the market and costs a smidgen under $110 (£108, about AU$148) on Amazon.

Built on a mature 32nm node, it’s clear why the FX-8320E has such a high TDP (95W). Then again, maybe it’s not an unusual spec given the 3.2GHz clock speed. Plus, when needed, it can even boost all the way to 4GHz.

But don’t get your hopes too high, though. On most tasks, the FX-8320E will be outperformed even by a modest Haswell Core i3. Where it truly shines is when you throw multi-threaded jobs (encryption, encoding etc) at it, where it can beat even the more expensive Core i5 parts. What’s more, many users have been able to overclock the chip easily using a non-stock heatsink fan, some all the way up to 4.8GHz.