Best CPUs of 2020 So Far (Gaming, Workstation, Overclocking Round-Up)
Steve Burke
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With the new influx of CPUsfrom AMDandIntel, and more rumored on the horizon, we wanted to round-up all of our recent testing into one concise piece for people looking for recommendations on the best CPU for different tasks. We’ve published several hours’ worth of content in the form of reviews, tuning, and follow-up coverage, so if you want the full details and depth for anything check those pieces. We’ll be focusing more on firm recommendations for each category in this video and less on the deeper details, with our categories including: Best gaming CPU, best budget gaming CPU, best small business or hobbyist production CPU, best workstation CPU, best overall, most fun to overclock, and most disappointing.
This content is intended to be a simpler buyer’s guide to the best CPUs in 2020 (so far). We’re not going to run this one as data-heavy as our reviews, so if you’re after really detailed information and all the charts and CPU benchmarks possible, check the individual reviews. This round-up will offer the only form of shortcut we ever publish, helping to cut through the heart of the hours of content we’ve published over the last few months.
Recent reviews will be linked below to help get to more details. CPUs are linked to retailers, from whom we may receive a commission for the sale, as is standard at this point. Our reviews and recommendations aren’t influenced by this. A few charts will be included from various reviews, but some may be from older content and so might not be ‘compatible’ between test methodologies for direct comparison chart-to-chart. For that, you’ll want to see the standalone reviews.

Resources: Recent Reviews for More Depth

If you want additional resources on any individual CPU, including a more data-centric approach, we’ve linked our reviews below. Note that some are video-only right now.On the AMD side, we’ve recently looked at:

Best Gaming CPU - Intel i5-10600K

Start video at 03:22
Intel’s newIntel Core i5-10600K on Amazonis the one we’re giving “Best Gaming,” despite the 10900K running higher performance stock. We have good reasons, the first of which is that it can achieve 10900K levels of performance with an overclock, particularly when considering the inevitable GPU bottleneck in many games. That’s not to discredit the 10900K, but we’ll come back to that.
The 10600K is a genuine leap for Intel, which has been stuck for multiple generations on unsellable i5 CPUs. This one, we think, redeems the i5 lineup and is the most compelling buy for someone heavily focused on gaming performance, maybe even with a minor, non-daily focus on video production, 3D modeling, or similar. Although the R5 3600 may be more well-rounded, particularly at its price-point, the 10600K is often within 4-5% of production-level performance of the 3600, while managing potentially significantly higher framerates. The 3600 is plenty capable to game, but if you really only care about gaming and don’t use workstation applications, the 10600K makes the most sense.
The 10600K combines well with Z490 for its overclocking support, discussed later, and is a good tuning base that can reach performance levels AMD can’t yet claim. Further, regarding the common misconception that AMD Ryzen CPUs are somehow “smoother” or “more consistent” in frametime delivery, our data doesn’t support that. The 10600K is higher in average FPS and also outmatches similarly priced Ryzen CPUs for frametime consistency, with overall few excursions from the interval n-1. Our criteria for the best gaming CPU includes price, but also absolute performance and ability to tune. In this regard, the 10600K can achieve 10900K stock performance in most games, and can be tuned until both hit a GPU limit. Until more threads are needed in games, this will be true in most cases, and so we give the 10600K our nod for best gaming CPU, particularly impressive at its price. Intel did well here to get back in the game, but it’s not uncontested. AMD still has a long way to go to compete head-to-head with Intel for the gaming crown.

Best Budget Gaming CPU - AMD R3 3300X

Start video at 06:15
Next up, our recommendation for Best Budget Gaming CPU. Where we might recommend the Intel i5-10600K for gaming with less restrictive of a budget, or the 10900K for the absolute peak of FPS for the few competitively privileged enough to really need it, we’d recommend something else for more budget-conscious gamers. The AMD Ryzen 3 3300Xgets that recommendation. This CPU, with its pricing at $120 MSRP, is able to achieve 80-85% of the performance of higher-end CPUs in most games. It’s significantly better than the $100 3100 thanks to its 4+0 CCX configuration, rather than the 2+2 CCX configuration of the 3100, where cross-CCX latency affects performance. The 3300X, critically, can also be coupled with nearly any current generation video card without significant bottlenecking on the CPU for higher graphics settings. This becomes less true if you care more about low graphics, high-FPS competitive gaming, at which point our recommendation will shift toward the Intel parts. If you want more of a GPU-bind, though, meaning higher graphics settings and potentially resolutions higher than 1080p, GPU will rapidly become more limiting than the CPU, and so the 3300X makes sense as a starting point on the platform.
We’ve been flashing through some of our bottleneck charts, and you can check the previous content on that for more information on which GPUs make the most sense. Although we absolutely do not recommend coupling a $1200 2080 Ti with a $120 CPU, you could do it and get at least half the performance in most scenarios. The 2080 Super is about the peak for full performance, but something more reasonably priced makes more sense since GPUs are often easier to upgrade than CPUs. Either way, the 3300X offers plenty of room. If you want to get more out of it, look into our coverage with memory tuning and infinity fabric overclocking for AMD Ryzen CPUs. That’ll get you more mileage and increase FPS headroom.
Honorable mention: As an honorable mention, we’ll point out theAthlon 3000G. This is a good stopgap measure if you’re playing simpler games with less of a graphics slant. We’ve tested this one a lot over the years, so we’ll leave it as an honorable mention and just note that you can watch our previous content to get an idea of ideal use cases. It’s not what we’d call “good,” but it can certainly get you by if $100 on the CPU is out of reach.