If you’re looking for a CPU hierarchy list to help you find the right processor for your needs and budget, in this post, we’ve listed four tiers of CPUs and provided commentary on which options make the most sense for different use cases.
Putting together a CPU hierarchy seems like a straight-forward task… just list all of the processors out there from the best-performing options to the worst-performing options.
But, what performance would you rank the processors by? Gaming performance? Single-core performance? Multi-core/multi-thread performance? As we’ve seen over the past couple of years, both Intel and AMD have carved different paths for their processors. Intel still beats AMD in single-core performance and AMD still outperforms Intel in multi-threaded applications.
So, putting together a CPU hierarchy list isn’t as simple as saying “processor x outperforms processor y and, therefore, processor x deserves to be placed higher.” And, that doesn’t even consider the increased price-to-performance value a cheaper CPU might have over a more expensive option.
In this list, we’ve tried to simplify the process by breaking down the CPUs into four different tiers: extreme options, high-end options, mid-range options, and budget-friendly options. We’ve listed the processors in each tier from the highest priced option to the lowest priced option and have mainly focused on newer generation processors that are still readily available. We’ve even excluded some newer generation CPUs (namely, Intel’s 9th Generation Core i3 processors—with exception to the i3-9100f) because their current price tags and the price of their competitors makes them obsolete.
We’ve also made our picks for our favorite processor from each tier and we’ve provided commentary under each tier comparison chart to give you an idea of which processors make sense for which use cases.
So, if you’re looking for some guidance on choosing a processor for an upcoming build or upgrade, the content below should help you out.
Table of Contents
1. Tier 1 CPUs: Extreme Options
2. Tier 2 CPUs: High-End Options
3. Tier 3 CPUs: Mid-Range Options
4. Tier 4 CPUs: Budget-Friendly Options
Top CPU Picks Right Now
While we can’t say what the best processor for your needs will be in a simple chart, we have provided our favorite options for each tier in the table below. These processors do not necessarily represent the best-performing processor for each tier, but, rather, an option that has a good price-to-performance ratio and can fit the needs of a variety of users.
AMD Threadripper 2970WX
Intel Core i9-9900K
AMD Ryzen 5 2600
Intel Core i3-9100F
Tier 1 CPUs: Extreme Options
|Intel Core i9-9980XE||18(36)||3.0GHz||LGA2066||165W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Threadripper 2990WX||32(64)||3.0GHz||TR4||250W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9960X||16(32)||3.1GHz||LGA2066||165W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9940X||14(28)||3.5GHz||LGA2066||165W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9920X||12(24)||3.5GHz||LGA2066||165W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9900X||10(20)||3.5GHz||LGA2066||165W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Threadripper 2970WX||24(48)||3.0GHz||TR4||250W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Threadripper 2950X||16(32)||3.5GHz||TR4||180W||Yes||Check|
If you’re considering a Tier 1 extreme CPU, then A) you have a large budget and, B) you are probably looking for a processor that can regularly handle CPU-heavy tasks well. Whether you’re looking for something that can handle 3D rendering, scientific modeling, design work, software compiling, etc., the processors in this tier are the best suited for the job.
And, if you do have the budget to accommodate one of these processors (and the compatible hardware to pair with them), then you really can’t go wrong with any of the options above—unless you’re just looking to build a high-end gaming PC. If that’s the case for you, you could save a lot of money and opt for a Tier 2 processor and get similar levels of performance.
We chose the AMD Threadripper 2970WX as our top Tier 1 CPU, not because it outperforms the other options on this list, but because of the price it comes in at and the insane amount of cores (24) and threads (48) it offers. At just under $1,000, it’s nearly half the price of both the Intel Core i9-9980XE and the AMD Threadripper 2990WX.
Of course, if you do have the budget to bump up to an Intel Core i9-9980XE or an AMD Threadripper 2990WX, those options will give you more performance. Just note, though, that it won’t be a huge performance increase—especially for the additional amount you’ll have to shell out to jump up to those higher-end options. But, if you have an unlimited budget and the need for as much performance as possible, the 9980XE and 2990WX are worth considering.
The i9-9960X, 9940X, 9920X, and 9900X are all worthy options as well if you want to save a little bit of money without sacrificing too much performance. And, the AMD Threadripper 2950X is an intriguing option, too, because, at just a little under $700, it offers people with less extreme budgets the chance to land a CPU with high-end multi-core and multi-thread performance.
Tier 2 CPUs: High-End Options
|AMD Ryzen 9 3900X||12(24)||3.8GHz||AM4||105W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9900K||8(16)||3.6GHz||LGA1151||95W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9900KF||8(16)||3.6GHz||LGA1151||95W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i9-9900||8(16)||3.1GHz||LGA1151||65W||No||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3800X||8(16)||3.9GHz||AM4||105W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i7-9700K||8(8)||3.6GHz||LGA1151||95W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||8(16)||3.6GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i5-9600K||6(6)||3.7GHz||LGA1151||95W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600X||6(12)||3.8GHz||AM4||95W||Yes||Check|
If you’ve got a decent-sized budget and you’re looking to build a high-end gaming computer that can offer workstation-like performance, these Tier 2 CPUs are right up your alley. We chose the Intel Core i9-9900K as our favorite Tier 2 CPU, but there is a big case for the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X as well.
Both of those options are plenty good enough to handle any game you throw at them and both offer excellent multi-core and multi-thread performance. If you want an edge in gaming performance, the i9-9900K is probably the better option for you. If you want more multi-core and multi-thread performance, you can’t go wrong with the 3900X.
The Intel Core i9-9900KF is worth considering as well, as it’s basically just an Intel Core i9-9900K without integrated graphics. It’s only ~$10 less than the standard 9900K, though, and I think that for that amount, you might as well just get the option with intregrated graphics so that you have a backup in case your dedicated graphics card gives you trouble. You can also get the i9-9900, which will offer a bit less performance than the 9900K and 9900KF and cannot be overclocked, but comes in at about ~$40-$50 cheaper.
After those options, the AMD Ryzen 7 3800X and 3700X and the Intel Core i7-9700K are great options that will offer nearly as good of in-game performance as the 9900K and 3900X (in fact, the 9700K outperforms the 3900X in pure gaming performance) at lower price points. Again, the 3800X and 3700X are the right choices if you need more multi-core/multi-thread performance, and the 9700K is the right choice if you need more gaming performance.
Finally, the Intel Core i5-9600K and the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X serve as the in-between point between the higher-end Tier 2 CPUs and the top Tier 3 CPUs. If you can’t stretch your budget to get once of the above-mentioned options, but you want a performance bump over the Tier 3 CPUs listed below, these two processors are likely what you’re looking for.
Tier 3 CPUs: Mid-Range Options
|Intel Core i5-9400||6(6)||2.9GHz||LGA1151||65W||No||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600||6(12)||3.6GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 7 2700X||8(16)||3.7GHz||AM4||105W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 7 2700||8(16)||3.2GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600X||6(12)||3.6GHz||AM4||95W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i5-9400F||6(6)||2.9GHz||LGA1151||65W||No||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600||6(12)||3.4GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
While nobody strives to be in Tier 3 in any other aspect in life, for processors, Tier 3 is kind of the place to be. At the moment, Tier 3 is packed with some incredible price-to-performance value. We chose the AMD Ryzen 5 2600 as our favorite option in this tier, mainly because of its ridiculously low price tag.
The 2600 can be had for a little under ~$120 at the moment and you can pair it with a mid-range to high-end graphics card and a 1080P 144Hz monitor for an incredible gaming experience.
Of course, the newer AMD Ryzen 5 3600 outperforms the 2600 by a decent amount. However, the newer Ryzen processors have had out-of-the-box BIOS compatibility issues with B450 motherboards and if you want to guarantee that you’ll avoid those issues, you’ll have to pony up extra money for an X570 chipset board—which hurts the Ryzen 5 3600’s price-to-performance value a bit.
AMD does offer kits to help get around the BIOS issue, and there are B450 motherboards that promise out-of-the-box compatibility. But, even with that in mind, as long as the Ryzen 5 2600 maintains a ~$80 price difference between the 3600, it will remain a phenomenal option for budget-oriented gamers and system-builders.
If you don’t want to have the option to overclock and you want as much single core performance as possible for under $200, then the Intel Core i5-9400 and 9400F are worth checking out. And, while the 9400F doesn’t come with integrated graphics, it does come in at over $60 cheaper than the standard 9400. So, if you’re going to get a dedicated graphics card and you don’t mind losing the integrated Intel HD graphics as a backup option, you can save a good chunk of change by going with the 9400F over the 9400.
The AMD Ryzen 7 2700X and 2700 are also excellent options in this Tier as they offer more cores and threads than the other choices. While they won’t quite match the single core performance of the i5-9400, 9400F, and 3600, they still should provide enough performance to where you likely wouldn’t notice the difference anyways.
The AMD Ryzen 5 2600X is worth considering as well, as it will provide you with a slight performance boost over the 2600. However, it’s only ~$10 cheaper than the Ryzen 7 2700 and for that price difference, you’d be better off with the extra cores and threads.
Tier 4 CPUs: Budget-Friendly Options
|AMD Ryzen 5 3400G||4(8)||3.7GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2400G||4(8)||3.6GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 3 3200G||4(4)||3.6GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
|Intel Core i3-9100F||4(4)||3.6GHz||LGA1151||65W||No||Check|
|AMD Ryzen 3 2200G||4(4)||3.5GHz||AM4||65W||Yes||Check|
Finally, we have Tier 4 CPUs. Most of the CPUs in this price range are AMD’s APUs and will serve well for gamers who are working with a tight budget.
The Ryzen 5 3400G and Ryzen 5 2400G are both more expensive than the Ryzen 5 2600, but, because they come with capable integrated graphics, there is a case to be made for using them over the 2600.
However, with an option like the Intel Core i3-9100F, (which has been available for under $90) you can pair it with a budget-friendly graphics card like an AMD RX 560 and get more performance than the 3400G or 2400G will offer.
For users with even more restricted budgets, though, the Ryzen 3 3200G and 2200G make a lot of sense. We feature the Ryzen 3 3200G in our $300 gaming PC build, which is capable of running non-demanding esports titles (like Rocket League, Dota 2, League of Legends, etc.) on medium settings on a 1080P monitor.
The Ryzen 3 3200G will provide a decent performance boost over the 2200G, but it does cost ~$25 more than the 2200G and you do have to deal with the BIOS compatibility issue on the B450 chipset motherboards.
Which CPU Tier is Right for You?
The right processor for you is really going to come down to how much you have to spend and the kinds of tasks you want to carry out. If you have a limited budget and your main goal is gaming performance, an affordable option like the Intel Core i3-9100F or the i5-9400F might make the most sense for you.
If you have a larger budget and you’re looking to build a gaming PC that will also allow you to handle multi-threaded tasks (like design work, 3D rendering, live game streaming, etc.) something like the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, Ryzen 7 3800X, or 3700X might be a better option for you.
In any case, regardless of you needs or budget, this CPU hierarchy list should help you find the right processor.