Processor Buying Guide: What CPU to Choose in 2019
In this guide, we selected the best AMD and Intel models and prepared some advice on building a gaming PC to help you choose the best components for your needs
Last fall, Intel, and this summer, AMD, released new generations of their processors. Intel’s came down to rebranding and minor modifications to the predecessors. The ninth generation of Core was named Coffee Lake Refresh and only slightly increased in frequency. Meanwhile, CPUs on the fresh architecture from AMD — Zen 2 — surprised us with their prices and performance. For instance, the 6-core Ryzen 5 3600 with a ridiculous cost of $200 is on a par with 8-core Intel flagships in professional applications and in games with the latest Core i5. A 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X for $500 easily bypasses even such a titanium as the Core i9-9900K in most tasks.
Thus, the computer components market changed markedly by the middle of the summer of 2019. Therefore, we prepared this selection guide to help you choose a processor that will suit your needs and budget.
Intel or AMD?
In terms of pricing, Intel products are still very detached from AMD. So, paired up with the recent $150 GeForce RTX 1660 Ti, quite weak Ryzen 5 1600 can be easily overclocked up to 4.2 GHz even on inexpensive motherboards. And if you turn to the "Blue", you will have to pay at least $200 for the overclocked processor and a little less for a suitable motherboard. As a result, a "motherboard + Intel CPU" combo will cost twice as much as an AMD analog.
If quite recently, AMD processors didn’t fit enough to build a top-end AMD-based PC, now the aforementioned 12-core Ryzen 9 3900X appeared. In conjunction with it, you can assemble a system of even the most top-level with the trendy GeForce RTX 2080 Ti video card and comfortably play anything in the glorious 4K. Besides, in September, an even more interesting model will be released — the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X at a price of just $750. Meanwhile, its main competitor, a 16-core Intel Core i7-9960X, now costs $1700.
Thus, today there is a good choice for fans of both camps — even if you build up an extremely expensive dream computer. So we divided the entire market of actual processors for gaming PCs into price segments and selected the most successful models from each one.
Price range: $20-100.
- AMD Athlon 200GE — $60;
- Intel Celeron G4900 — $50.
Let's start with the so-called “starters”. Today, you can buy an actual CPU for less than $30. However, it is better to pay a little extra and get at least some margin in performance (even for office tasks) and relatively good integrated graphics in addition. For example, you can look at the Athlon 200GE from AMD or Celeron G4900 from Intel. Both processors are not inferior to the good old quad-core AMD FX but cost only $60.
Then, you just need to buy a cheap motherboard and slowly save up for a GPU like Radeon RX 560 or GeForce GTX 1050. As a result you will get a great “machine” for most online games.
Price range: $80-150.
- AMD Ryzen 3 2200G — $85;
- Intel Core i3-8100 — $130.
Starting with the budget segment begins a notable skew in prices. For instance, the quad-core AMD Ryzen 3 2200G and Intel Core i3-8100, which are approximately equal in power, differ in cost almost twice in favor of the “Red” one. At the same time, both processors can easily take even in tandem with graphics of the level of GeForce GTX 1660 or Radeon RX 590. Except, perhaps, poorly optimized games like the latest Assassin’s Creed.
However, if you take at least a mid-class motherboard, in the future you can upgrade to a flagship GPU like the recent RTX 2080 Ti and replace the processor with some fresh Ryzen 9 or Core i7. This will allow you to play honest 4K with a stable frequency of 60 FPS or switch to 144Hz monitors.
Middle class CPUs
Price range: $140-300.
- AMD Ryzen 5 1600 — $150;
- Intel Core i5-7600K — $255;
- Intel Core i3-8350K — $195;
- Intel Core i5-9400F — $155.
Among the middle class processors, it is generally unclear what is happening. If you are totally satisfied with your favorite Full HD monitor, then you can purchase AMD Ryzen 5 1600 for $150 paired with the GeForce GTX 1660 Ti — this will get you an excellent reserve for the future. At the same time, the second generation Ryzen 5 2600 will cost 30% more.
Other variants are 4-core Intel Core i3-8350K for $195 and 6-core Core i5-9400F for $155. Overclocked i3-8350K is worth taking if you need maximum performance per core — due to overclocking, it can be significantly increased. In other cases, it will be better to purchase i5-9400F.
If you need to upgrade the three-year-old system, you can take the Core i5-7600K. But the price is slightly mad — $255 for only 4 physical cores and no virtual ones. While even "unreal" additional cores give a noticeable performance boost in professional applications and multitasking.
Advanced level CPUs
Price range: $200-350.
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600 — $200;
- Intel Core i7-7700K — $335;
- Intel Core i7-8700 — $305.
At the advanced level, fresh third generation Ryzen helps out much. For ridiculous $200, you can buy a decent 6-core R5 3600, which will suit in overclocking even the increasingly popular GeForce RTX 2060 Super. The QHD (2560x1440) resolution will be subdued here without any problems, and if DLSS is introduced in most of the new games, then you can try some 4K.
Meanwhile, the “Blue” team asks almost $335 for the slightly rotten Core i7-7700K. At the same time, the more modern Core i7-8700, which gives almost no increase in games compared to any six-core Ryzen, costs even less. Equal in power, Core i5-9600K is much cheaper but has 2 times less threads. Therefore, we would not recommend it to build a powerful and moderately expensive configuration.
So at the advanced level, AMD has a flawless victory. But for Intel followers, it is still better to take either one of the middle-class “Blue” processors (for a future upgrade) or go directly to the flagships.
Price range: $350-500.
- AMD Ryzen 9 3900X — $500;
- Intel Core i7-9700K — $380;
- Intel Core i9-9900K — $485.
When you build the fastest gaming computer for yourself, then fooling out every dozen bucks is stupid. Therefore, even though the gaming performance of Core i7-9700K is not very far from its predecessor’s, and it is 20% more expensive, we still include it in this segment. Here, we have honest 8 cores versus i7-8700K’s 6, and solder instead of cheap thermal grease. All this means that the overclocking potential of the new product is much better.
If you do not want to bother with overclocking, you can add about $100 and get i9-9900K. This is the most top-of-the-line processor among home-based ones, which keeps frequencies close to 5 GHz even under maximum load without any overclocking.
AMD lovers can take a glance at the 12-core newcomer Ryzen 9 3900X. Mind you, it has some problems in working with memory since it is poorly compatible with modules faster than 3600 MHz. So you need to be careful when building a top PC with it. The performance, however, will leave only pleasant impressions, especially when using professional software.
In almost all segments, AMD processors please us with their prices, sometimes even offering a solution for only half the price of an analog from its main competitor. Nevertheless, we are waiting for the first gaming 16-core processor in September, Ryzen 9 3950X. So let's see how the market changes.
Also, be sure to check out our GPU buying guide for 2019.