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Best CPU 2022: Our top rated processors

Introduction

A CPU is one of the most important parts of a PC, being a huge factor that informs how well a machine will do key things such as running games, video editing and general web browsing.

As a result, when planning to build or purchase a new PC, it will likely be one of the first components you pick. But which to get? There are currently loads of different options on the market, each with very different prices and intended uses.

To make sure you avoid all these potential pitfalls, we’ve created this guide detailing the best desktop CPU options we’ve tested that are still on sale. Every CPU on this list has been benchmarked in one of our lab’s test benches using a mix of synthetic and real-world checks to ensure our buying advice is accurate and backed up with hard data.

It’s also worth remembering that each CPU comes with some potential caveats. These include which motherboards they’ll fit into, their power demands and thermals. If you’ve already bought or got a spare motherboard lying around, you’ll need to make sure the CPU you’re looking at fits into its socket.

If you’re planning a small build, thermals will be a key challenge. Based on experience reviewing CPUs, many top-end parts run very hot and require powerful coolers to run effectively. They also have high power consumption requirements, meaning they don’t play nice with lower capacity power supplies (PSUs). There’s nothing more frustrating than buying a new chip and it not working properly because you bought a low-capacity PSU.

And before you go rushing off to buy one of our recommendations, be warned, we are expecting both Intel and AMD to unveil new chips in the near future. Specifically, Intel’s expected to launch its 13th Gen Raptor Lake desktop CPUs in mere months, while AMD has confirmed it will release its Ryzen 7000-series chips in Fall 2022.

Information on the chips is limited, but rumors suggest both will offer much more developed architectures and radically better performance. Though we can’t confirm this, we’d suggest waiting to see what the two bring to the table before buying a new CPU, as based on our experience older chips prices tend to plummet the moment newer ones are released. So if you wait a few months you could get a much better deal on one of the chips in this list.

With that caveat out of the way, scroll down to see our picks of the best CPUs we’ve reviewed that are currently on sale.

How we test

Learn more about how we test CPUs

We always review multiple CPUs at once to compare data, using consistent components for fair testing where possible.

We use a mix of both synthetic and in-game benchmarks to gauge performance, while also considering additional features and pricing.

We also measure the likes of power consumption and peak temperature under stress to get an idea of performance efficiency.

Intel Core i5-12600K

Best value CPU
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Pros

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Huge improvements to multi-core performance
  • Future-proofed with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5
  • Great power efficiency

Cons

  • Teething issues for game compatibility
  • Requirement of Z690 motherboard drives up cost

Intel’s Core i5 line has consistently been the chips we tend to recommend to most buyers. This is because they typically offer the best value for money, providing a competitive performance and price. Following our latest string of benchmark tests, this remains the case with the Intel Core i5-12600K, which is the CPU we’d recommend to most people.

The chip’s based on the same architecture as the more expensive i9, which gives it the same future-proofed DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 support, letting you enjoy truly next-generation performance and loading speeds.

But what truly blew us away during testing is quite how good it is at gaming. Running big name titles, like Horizon Zero Dawn, Borderlands 3 and Total War: Warhammer 2, the i5 managed to offer radically better speeds than its predecessor. In 1080p resolutions, we regularly saw 30fps gains on the older i5. But more impressively, the CPU also came close to matching the gaming frame rates of the more expensive i9.

Despite this, the Intel Core i5-12600K also delivered one of the lowest peak power consumption of all the processors we’ve tested, meaning you won’t need an uber-expensive, high-capacity PSU to get it running smoothly. As a result, this is a much more cost-effective option, especially if you just want a CPU for gaming.

The only serious downside we detected while benchmarking the chip, is that despite offering near 30% improvements on the previous generation Intel i5, the multi-core speeds we recorded were still well below the i9. This isn’t a surprise as the latter has significantly more cores and threads but it means the i5 isn’t the best option for hardcore creative professionals.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Intel Core i5-12600K review

Intel Core i9-12900K

Best for hardcore gamers
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Pros

  • Huge gains in multi-core performance
  • Most powerful gaming CPU performance
  • Very good for streaming games
  • Future-proofed with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5

Cons

  • Expensive
  • High peak temperature
  • Only slightly better than i5 for gaming

If you’re a hardcore gamer looking for the best possible performance, regardless of cost, thermal performance and power consumption, then the Intel Core i9-12900K is the best CPU we’ve tested that’s still on sale.

During our benchmark tests, we found the Intel Core i9-12900K to offer incredibly competitive multi-core speeds as well as top-end gaming performance. As well as offering the best frame-rate performance on games (with the i9 adding 10fps to most titles compared to Intel’s cheaper i5 option) the chip also delivered a near 2x multi-core performance increase on its predecessor according to our Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23 results. These speeds don’t match AMD’s high-end Threadripper line, but they make the i9 once again competitive with its Ryzen rivals and an easy recommendation for power users and gamers in general.

We were also very pleased with the chip’s new PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support which lets the 12900K work with the latest and greatest SSDs and RAM currently available.

The only downside is that, during our checks, we found it’s still an outright power hog and requires an incredibly powerful CPU cooler to run efficiently. The 335.5W peak power draw we detected while benchmarking is also a sizable 100W-plus increase on what we measured reviewing more mainstream chips, such as the Intel i5-12600K and Ryzen 7 5800X. But if you’re craving one of the most powerful consumer chips around, you’re going to have to settle for a high power draw.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Intel Core i9-12900K review

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Best for creaotrs
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Pros

  • Fantastic all-round performance
  • Great multi-threaded performance
  • Low power consumption
  • Supports PCIe 4.0

Cons

  • Fairly expensive
  • Intel still has the edge for gaming

AMD’s Ryzen line of CPUs has earned a strong reputation as the best option for creatives, with every generation we’ve tested delivering significantly better multi-core performance than their direct Intel rivals. This is important as improved multi-core speeds let a wealth of creative packages run better, including Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro and 3D Studio Max.

The Ryzen 7 5800X continued this trend when we benchmarked it, but it also managed to offer surprisingly competitive gaming performance and thermals during our checks, making it a great option for general PC builds as well.

During our tests, the chip beat its 11th Generation Intel Core i5 and i9 rivals in creator-focused tests including Cinebench R23. With real-world use we found it easily blitzed through all the creative workloads we threw at it. Paired with a AMD Radeon RX 6800 GPU, we happily ran multi-layer vector art projects, edited 4K video and dabbled in 3D modeling in Blender with zero issues.

Gaming performance remained slightly behind its Intel rivals during our checks, but not to the point where it wasn’t competitive. We easily ran Horizon Zero Dawn, Borderlands 3 and Total War: Warhammer 2 with their graphics settings maxed out at frame rates over 60fps with zero issue using our test setup.

This adds up to make the Ryzen 7 5800X a fantastic option for creatives that can double as a reliable performer while gaming.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X review

We also considered…

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FAQs

How much RAM is enough?

We recommend having at least 8GB of RAM for general tasks, but if you’re looking to play games or edit video etc, then we suggest upping that to 16GB of RAM and beyond.

What is better GHz or cores?

It really depends on your workload. Having high frequency speeds is obviously very important, especially for intensive tasks such as gaming and content creation. But it’s also important to have multiple cores to improve the efficiency of multi-tasking, especially when using apps such as Adobe Premiere Pro.

Can CPU affect FPS?

Yes, a more powerful CPU can have a positive impact on your FPS when gaming, but a GPU will be more influential here.

Full specification

USA RRP
Manufacturer
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Power Consumption
Boosted Clock Speed
Architecture
Base Clock Speed
Number of Cores
Number of Threads
Motherboard Chipset
Manufactoring Process
Graphics

Trusted Reviews test data

Borderlands 3 frame rate (Quad HD)
Borderlands 3 frame rate (4K)
Peak temperature
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (4K)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Quad HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Full HD)
Dirt Rally (4K)
Dirt Rally (Quad HD)
Dirt Rally (Full HD)
Power consumption
Borderlands 3 frame rate (Full HD)
Geekbench 5 multi core
Geekbench 5 single core
Cinebench R23
PCMark 10

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