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The 5 Most Expensive Gaming PCs Worth Buying in 2021

Most Expensive Gaming PC

The Most Expensive Gaming PCs Worth Buying in 2021

Kaelum Ross

I

Mar 2, 2021

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With the latest RTX 3000 series GPUs hot on the market, now is a great time to buy a gaming desktop.

And with the premium RX 3090 being one of the most impressive powerhouse options in a long time, buying a high-end PC is even more of an attractive option.

But there are several listings out there overcharging for gaming PCs with lesser GPUs/CPUs and other hardware.

Which is why today’s feature is here to guide you through the most expensive gaming computers actually worth buying today for those after the most powerful setup possible.

Top Picks

Most Expensive Gaming PC Top Pick: ASUS TUF GT301

We’ll start by saying this is the most expensive pre-built gaming PC on the list, and arguably overkill for some needs (our next pick is for the best value premium gaming PC).

However, if you’re after the most powerful gaming computer today regardless of cost, then the ASUS TUF GT301 will not only meet your expectations but likely exceed them.

Boasting possibly the best specs you’ll find on the market today, the GT301 is led by the unmatched RTX 3090 GPU which, when tied with the right CPU/RAM/Motherboard, outputs incredible performance.

Not only do you have a gaming PC capable of unrivaled ray-tracing, high FPS, and maximum settings in practically every game today (and undoubtedly many well into the future), but the hardware on offer here is enough to support a very premium monitor setup for immersive titles or esports.

Options like 1440p 240hz, 4k 144hz, 1440p ultrawide 144hz & the highest Hz monitors available aren’t just possible with the GT301, but recommended to maximize your setup and show you just how amazing the 3090 can be.

But as good as this GPU is, this is the card shared by most of our top choices. What sets the GT301 apart are its other specs.

With an AMD Ryzen 9 5950X, you have the best premium CPU on the market today for gaming. This is the perfect processor to match up to the great power of the RTX 3090 and ensure you get the best performance across games (and pretty much any other type of task you can throw at it).

Elsewhere is an X570 motherboard, the high-end choice for AMD’s AM4 chipset (perfect to host such a powerful build) and 128GB DDR4 3200MHz RAM.

128GB is an insane amount and you’ll be hard-placed to find a gaming PC with more RAM than this.

With that said, this spec is where we see a bit of overkill with the GT301, you’re not going to see any real-world performance increase creative to the cost over the 64GB version for gaming. We’d go with the cheaper model (or our pick directly below) if your only concern is a future-proof gaming PC. The only exception to this rule is if you’re looking for a high-end production/video editing PC, then this extra RAM can help (but isn’t required, the cheaper models on this list are still very powerful).

Finally, the storage on the GT301 is what you would expect for a premium gaming computer; with 2TB NVMe + 4TB HDD installed in the 128GB RAM version, this is an insane offering and even with today’s enormous titles, it’s hard to imagine you’ll need more.

All tied together in an extremely durable ASUS case & appropriately powered by an 850W PSU, the GT301 really feels like the full package.

Note: It’s worth adding that while we like the power of the high-end AMD processor and think it provides the best capability for someone after the best gaming desktop possible, there is an Intel version of this desktop which is only slightly behind in power (we’re talking a few average FPS in games) and worth considering for slightly lower budgets.

Yes, you’ll find some even more expensive gaming desktop PCs on the market, but anything past this line is of no real-world benefit to you; the GT301 is today’s best pre-built gaming computer.

Best Expensive Gaming PC Value Pick: HP OMEN 30L

As we alluded to in the GT301 review, we appreciate some readers may have a large budget, but still want some semblance of finding the best value gaming PC in the high-end price range (minimizing diminishing returns, etc.).

If that is you, then the HP OMEN 30L is the perfect pick.

Hitting the sweet spot between performance, build quality, and price, the 30L represents the best balance for a premium gaming desktop that doesn’t go heavily into the “overkill” territory.

Boasting an RTX 3090 graphics card, i9-10850K CPU & 32GB RAM @ 3200MHz, not only are these specs more than capable of high-end gaming and pretty much all of the high-end resolution/Hz setups we detail for our top pick, but you also have a powerhouse machine here for anything else you need to do (from general use to production work).

We have gone with the liquid-cooled i9-10850K version as we believe it’s the best value, but you can choose a version with the i9-10900K, which will perform nearly on par with our top choice’s processor. In gaming, this difference will likely only amount to 2-5 average FPS depending on the game; with the 10850K/RTX 3090, you already have enough power for any modern game at high specs (Cyberpunk 2077, Red Dead Redemption 2, and future titles for at least the next few years).

One of the more notable spec drops compared to our top pick is the 1TB SSD. Don’t get us wrong, this is still plenty of space and more than enough to get you started; but if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep all your games installed, we expect you’ll want a little more storage.

The good news is you can very easily upgrade the storage in the 30L and it’s a much cheaper option than buying more pre-built. Picking up say, a 2TB HDD would likely be the perfect secondary storage solution for most gamers.

Lastly, the build quality and design on the 30L work to its credit, with a minimalist aesthetic and good cooling for a pre-built machine, with all the usual ports you’d expect (including a USB type-C on the back) and Windows 10 pre-installed.

What else is there to say? With the best balance in the high-end market, the 30L is a beast of a computer.

If you’re looking at the most expensive choices but still want the most bang-for-your-buck, then this is, without doubt, our top pick for the best value premium gaming rig today.

Most Unique Expensive Gaming PC: CUK Continuum

We know that an important part of buying one of the most expensive gaming PCs on the market for some readers will involve picking up an offering that is not just powerful, but visually striking.

No offering fits the bill better than the CUK Continuum Micro computer.

Yes, you’re seeing the picture right; this unit is built with a custom infinity mirror PC case.

Stock photos do not do it justice, this unit is simply stunning.

Not only is the chassis a Micro ATX form factor, meaning it’s smaller than the ATX units on the list (aside from the MSI Trident) but is also still built with a good amount of airflow and 6 RGB fans pre-installed. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more impressive gaming PC aesthetic than this that still balances good cooling.

But the reason we love the Continuum is that it’s not just a pretty face.

On top of its build quality/fan cooling, the specs in this machine are some of the best on the list and come close to rivaling our top pick, with:

  • The wonderful RTX 3090 capable of 4k, high refresh rates, and very high settings across all titles
  • Intel Core i9-10900KF, the most powerful gaming CPU on the list with the exception of the Ryzen 9 5950X (however, they are very close, and the Intel represents better value)
  • 128GB DDR4 RAM, an insane amount and suitable for much more than gaming (production/rendering usage, etc.)
  • 2TB NVMe SSD and a 4TBHDD, matching our top pick’s storage, it’s hard to imagine ever needing more (but upgrade space is there if so)
  • Z490 motherboard designed for high-end Intel desktops
  • A decent 850W PSU appropriate to power this top-end machine

For the price, this is a really impressive list of specs, and out of all the options on the list, this is the pick that comes closest to matching the hardware of the top ASUS pick at a lower price tag.

The only difference is the CPU choice, with our top ASUS pick going for the best gaming CPU on the market; the 5950X.

But (and it’s a big but), at the time of reviewing these options, the Continuum is a few hundred dollars cheaper. The difference in CPU performance isn’t worth that much unless you simply don’t care about the budget.

If you’re after a unique aesthetic that doesn’t compromise in any spec area, this CUK offering is easily one of the best premium gaming computers on the market and will be perfect for anything you can throw at it.

Most Expensive Compact Gaming PC: MSI MEG Trident X

If you’re interested in a premium gaming rig that is a little smaller, either for aesthetics or portability, the Trident X is a great option.

Boasting an RTX 3090 GPU, an Intel Core i9-10900KF & 64GB of RAM, you have some very powerful specs to achieve max-setting gaming and high-resolution/FPS setups.

Tied with its thin form factor, the Trident X is one of the best-looking gaming PCs around; with a beautiful build quality and changeable RGB lighting through MSI’s custom software.

While it’s not tiny, it’s certainly small enough to act as a portable rig for VR demos, LAN parties, etc. Its thinness also makes it very flexible for limited-space setups.

We also appreciate how the unit includes a 2TB HDD on top of the 1TB NVMe SSD base-storage to ensure you have plenty of room for gaming.

This combination of specs at the price is a fantastic deal for a high-end gaming computer.

So with all that said, for its great price, why do we not rank this about the 30L for the best value premium gaming desktop?

The main reason is that although this unit is usually capable of coping with the demanding needs of high-end gaming, we worry that its modest cooling solution and tight internal space for airflow is a slightly risky setup when looking at the most expensive gaming PCs because these units demand a lot of power and output notable heat.

The concern here is that users may run into issues with uncomfortably high temperatures when running demanding games/software.

Usually, we wouldn’t highlight this as a factor, as we don’t believe this will be a common occurrence for the Trident X and is more of a minor risk.

But when we think of readers looking for the most expensive gaming computers on the market, we imagine part of that pursuit is finding a computer that ticks all the boxes, so even an increased minor risk over another choice is something noteworthy.

Additionally, although the Trident X has twice the RAM, its base clock speed is 2933MHz as opposed to the 30L’s 3200MHz – both setups are going to provide very similar results, but when we get into this RAM sizing, you can expect the RAM speed to matter more than the RAM size for gaming (and 3200MHz is a nice sweet-spot speed for larger RAM profiles).

The battle between this and the 30L was close, however, and we’ve included it in the feature for a reason.

The Trident X still represents a fantastic selection of top-end parts to create a build that is somehow compact and still one of the most powerful gaming PCs on the market.

Most Expensive Quiet Gaming PC: VCI Vulcan 3090 

Last but not least, we’ve included an option that matches many of the similar specs as our other top offerings and combines them with a Fractal Define R-Series case, which is, by far, our favorite chassis for silent gaming PC builds.

The VCI Vulcan is lead by the RTX 3090 GPU, an Intel Core i9-10850K processor, and 64GB DDR4 RAM. If you’ve been reading through this list, you’ll know that this is a great combo for a high-end gaming machine and can easily handle all modern (and many future) gaming titles at very high settings, resolutions, and frame rates.

The unit also comes with all the usual extras you would hope for in a gaming PC; decent ports (including USB type-C on the back I/O panel), Windows 10, Bluetooth & a Wi-Fi adapter (Intel 6 AX201).

Despite being designed for noise-dampening, the beautiful minimalist case the VCI Vulcan runs in doesn’t just very impressively minimize decibel output but manages to still be well equipped for decent cooling and airflow, even for a build of RTX 3090 caliber.

The only reason we put this offering towards the bottom of the feature is because its price is not as fair for the provided specs as our other options.

Yes, these are all the most expensive gaming desktops around, but there is still a value consideration in this article – and the Vulcan seems a little more pricey for what you are getting.

But if your singular focus is on ensuring a silent gaming computer setup, then this is easily the best high-end option available to you.

If for whatever reason, the Vulcan is out of stock/not matching your requirements, it’s worth noting our top value pick, the HP OMEN 30L, is also hosted in a decently quiet chassis (and only really makes notable noise if you’re playing very demanding titles).

Most Expensive Gaming PCs Final Word

And there you have it! After much deliberation, the above choices are our top picks for the most expensive gaming computers worth buying today.

We always emphasize “worth buying” because we’ve focussed on ensuring we’re not recommending an expensive pre-built gaming PC that bloats the price tag of its premium offerings (as many we came across did).

We chose based on finding high-end choices that hit the sweet spot between balancing top budgets with the best gaming CPU, GPU, RAM configurations & other secondary considerations (cooling, build quality, etc.).

If these are a little outside of your budget, then don’t fret! We have features around a larger budget range of gaming PCs, and also gaming desktop bundles for those also after a monitor/keyboard & mouse inclusion.

But if you can stretch to the above choices, then you’re in for a fun time! There isn’t a gaming title today that these choices can’t handle!

What's Next?

The 8 Best Quiet Laptops for a Silent Setup in 2021

Quiet Laptop

The 8 Best Quiet Laptops for a Silent Setup​

Kaelum Ross

I

Feb 22, 2021

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Hear a noise?

Me neither, because today’s feature is about finding peace and quiet!

Many laptop options look beautiful and run well, but unfortunately come at the cost of obnoxious decibel levels when performing tasks.

This guide will take you through the quietest laptops available today for a variety of needs and budgets.

Top Picks

Best of the Rest: Quick-Fire Picks

Quietest Laptop for General Use: Microsoft Surface Pro 7 i5

For those serious about a quiet laptop that still offers great performance for the average user, nothing comes close to the Surface Pro 7.

The i5 & i3 editions are, what we consider, the best fanless laptops on the market. This means instead of using traditional loud fan cooling, the Surface Pro 7 is intelligently designed to operate on passive cooling alone even at high loads (it’s able to maintain great temperatures during most activity, which is impressive in itself).

The Pro 7 is sharply designed to be incredibly light and portable while still offering a decent amount of screen real-estate with a fantastic 2736 x 1824 resolution; great for anything from general/business use to media viewing.

We specifically cite the 16GB i5 version as the best value for someone after a silent laptop with a bit of longevity. The mid-range 10th gen Intel CPU and 16GB RAM hit the sweet spot between price and performance. 256GB is also plenty of space in today’s cloud storage/streaming world providing you’re not playing many big games (if you’re after the best gaming laptop, see our next pick).

On a budget? We have cheaper quiet laptop choices further below, but if you still want the unparalleled design of the Pro 7, you can go for the 8GB RAM and/or the i3 processor and still expect a decent machine for general use. We just encourage users to pick the i5/16GB to get a smoother experience and a laptop that will last longer.

It’s worth noting that the i7 version of the Pro 7 is not a fanless laptop and will produce more noise. The i5 still has all the specs you’d want for a general-use laptop and there is no significant need for this extra power unless you’re after gaming or production work like video editing (with picks further below designed for that).

Ports are one of the only areas we wish were a little stronger, with the Pro 7 having 1 x USB-C and 1 x USB-A outputs. It would’ve been good to see an extra port of either one, but most users will still have enough for key accessories (or failing that, a USB hub).

We’ve specifically included the version without a keyboard or pen because these accessories tend to be cheaper individually, some users may be fine with budget versions of the keyboard and pen, and we appreciate others may actually be perfectly fine without one/both and could act perfectly as a quiet tablet, or a tablet/laptop hybrid.

We will say that one of the other great USPs for the Pro 7 is that the official keypad (and probably many of its budget versions) is incredibly quiet, much more so than a traditional keyboard, yet still remains comfortable to type on.

We love that this Microsoft offering doesn’t compromise in any major way for the general user looking for one of the quietest laptops on the market.

And not just general users, with its decent specs to boot, the Pro 7 is a great studio option for someone after a quiet laptop for audio recording or voice-over work.

With great performance capability, portability, a fantastic screen, and (of course) very low decibel production all for a very decent price, this is easily our choice for the overall best quiet laptop available today.

Best Quiet Gaming Laptop: MSI GL65 Leopard

Shopping for the best quiet gaming laptop? The market is a completely different ballgame.

We’ll start by saying there is nothing close to a silent gaming laptop; PCs designed for games come with powerful GPUs and other specs designed to run titles at acceptable setting/framerates which you simply cannot achieve without active cooling (there is no fanless gaming laptop on the market today).

The good news is, some gaming laptops are way better than others at providing low decibel outputs with the right settings.

This is where the MSI GS65 Leopard comes in.

With an excellent design that is thick/large enough to provide both a decent screen size (with thin bezels) and, most importantly for noise reduction, a great internal layout for heat dissipation.

The laptop is portable, but not ultralight, and we say this to its credit; it allows the GL65 to have enough inner airflow that it only needs 2 larger fans. Big fans are actually an advantage for a quiet setup, as they can spin at lower RPMs to achieve the same as a very fast-spinning set of small fans (it’s the RPM that usually dictates the noise-level).

This setup means that the MSI GL65 is deceptively quiet compared to its competitors when performing general use/average tasks.

For gaming, you will, of course, hear the fans kick in, and there is no decent gaming laptop where this isn’t the case.

But not only does the GL65 run on better internal heat dissipation than many other fan-dependent gaming laptops, but MSI also offers one of the best control suites of all the PC gaming brands with its Dragon Center software.

This will allow you to customize and control your fan speeds, set limits to what you want them to go even when playing games, which is the cherry on top of an already quiet gaming PC when compared to its counterparts.

But we love the GL65 for so much more than just low-noise output.

It’s worth noting that this MSI pick is one of our favorite gaming laptops in any category and has been previously featured in our Amazon and 144hz spotlights, as well as our breakdown of the best laptops for longevity.

The GL65 Leopard offers incredible value across the board:

  • One of the cheapest laptops with an RTX 2070
  • Perfect secondary specs to complement the GPU; with a Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM & 512GB NVMe SSD (the quietest storage solution available)
  • A fantastic screen for the price-range with 144hz, 3ms response time, and an IPS panel with decent color accuracy (great for esports or more immersive titles)
  • Gorgeous individually-customizable RGB keyboard (that is also rather quiet while still providing the tactile feedback needed for gaming)

With these specs, you won’t just get fantastic performance in any game available today (and likely well into the future), you’ll also have a PC perfect for general use and even production tasks; this doubles up as the best quiet video editing laptop on the list.

As we said before, you won’t get a fanless/silent gaming offering.

But how about a low noise laptop with a quiet keyboard that also doubles as the best value in terms of specs and builds quality in its price range?

If quiet gaming is your goal, we don’t think you’ll find better than this.

Quietest Macbook: Apple MacBook Air 2020 Edition

If you are of the Mac persuasion and are looking for a silent Macbook, the closest you’ll come is the new 2020 edition of the Macbook Air.

Lead by the powerful new Apple M1 chip, this is a fanless Macbook and a self-proclaimed “no-noise laptop” which runs entirely off of passive cooling due to the great internal architecture of the device.

This is a really impressive feat, given the ultra-portable lightweight nature of the 2020 Air, we can’t overstate how hard it is to get a product this small that also keeps a level temperature without noise.

Tied with its 256GB SSD, you can expect quietness even under heavy loads. 

This laptop also comes with an impressively quiet keyboard. With its focus on thinness, the keys are very light and therefore have short press-travel/produce very low decibels compared to most market competitors.

The 2020 Macbook Air also comes with some nice specs for general use and light to mid-range work, with:

  • Apple’s gorgeous retina display technology on a 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 screen, one of the most stunning displays at its price-range
  • 8-core Apple-designed CPU with both great processor power and an impressive integrated GPU (for light gaming/editing, serious production users and gamers will want to look at our MSI pick or the Macbook Pro).
  • 8GB RAM and a very fast SSD in either 256GB or 512GB
  • 2 USB-C ports

Bearing in mind this isn’t a MacBook Pro and the Air has serious limitations on what specs it can run with its tight space, this is an impressive offering; tied with macOS and their various well-optimized in-house software, this is easily one of the best laptops for general use & media (especially with its fantastic screen).

What’s more to say? This is, without doubt, the best quiet MacBook on the market, and perfect for anyone who doesn’t need the more advanced capabilities of the Pro (we cover the best Pro option below if you’re a power user).

Best Quiet Budget Laptop: ASUS Chromebook Flip C434

The last of our top picks is for those who are looking for the best cheap quiet laptop on the market, while still meeting the needs of most general use consumers

The Flip C434 meets that feat very well, with the specific model we are recommending being another fanless laptop.

This ASUS offering is a Chromebook, meaning it runs off of Google’s Chrome OS as opposed to the usual Windows 10 choice.

If you are just a lightweight general user, ChromeOS can be a perfect solution, as it is a less demanding operating system than Windows that can run on cheaper PC hardware and still provide you with all the mainstream applications you’d expect (anything from internet browsing to media/Netflix to Office applications). The main exceptions (i.e. where you’d want Windows) are PC gaming and production work like video editing/animation – we recommend our other picks for such tasks.

With an M3-8100Y processor, 8GB RAM & 64GB eMMC storage, these secs are on the lower end.

But again, with ChromeOS, you can still expect a relatively smooth experience for general and standard business use.

The C434 has great secondary hardware/build quality for its price also; with a bright, full-HD touchscreen and a 2-in-1 laptop design, we love that you can put this laptop into a tablet orientation for media watching, presenting, or simple touch activities.

With an all-metal exterior, backlit keyboard, and beautifully thin bezels around its screen, you may not be getting the most powerful pick, but as far as silent budget laptops go, this is the closest you’ll get with some great value.

Note: we have provided cheaper options further below which are perfectly capable, but we’d recommend this as a minimum if your budget can stretch as far.

If you don’t have the budget for the Surface Pro 7 but noise is still important to you, know that the C434 is somewhat close to the Pro 7 in noise output (minus a less-quiet keyboard); you lose some specs/longevity, but it’s easily the best quiet budget laptop choice today.

Alternative Picks – Best of the Rest

While the top 4 are our top picks for the best quiet laptops available today, we’ve included a few more worth your consideration if your requirements are a little more unique/your preferred laptop above is out of stock.

Quietest 17-inch Gaming Laptop : HP Omen 17-cb1080nr

We choose the MSI GL65 Leopard as the quietest gaming laptop overall. But if you’re after a larger screen, this HP omen pick is a great option.

With its larger space for heat dissipation and similarly great mid-range specs, it’s a powerful gaming PC with HP software to control fan speeds for noise reduction as required.

Cheapest Quiet Laptop: ASUS VivoBook Flip 14

If you want to go even cheaper than our top budget pick and would value the full utility of a WIndows OS, the VivoBook Flip 14 is another impressively valuable fanless laptop.

It’s worth noting that the specs on this device are very basic, but if your needs are too (say, a budget quiet student laptop), this may be all you need.

Cheapest Quiet Chromebook: Acer Chromebook 514

Very close to ranking as our best quiet budget pick, the Acer 514 is an impressively cheap quiet laptop. The reason we don’t give it the top budget accolade is its disappointing 4GB RAM, but if you only have very basic requirements, this is an excellent choice (you can expect it to run faster than the VivoBook Flip 14 if you don’t need Windows).

Quietest Macbook Pro: Apple MacBook Pro M1 Edition

To wrap up our list is what we’d recommend for those users after the best quiet Macbook with performance in mind. Yes the Pro M1 edition isn’t fanless like the Air, but still runs impressively quiet in most processes and is a powerhouse in comparison (this is what you’ll need if you’re looking at production work or video editing on top of day-to-day laptop use).

Tips for Buying a Silent Laptop

Although we’d recommend the picks above, we wanted to share some tips as part of this buying guide and also offer some of the methodologies behind how we picked our top quiet portable PCs.

First: no laptop is truly silent, this is a figure of speech.

But many of the above picks come quite close, and the decibel levels (of the non-gaming choices) aren’t anything anyone would complain about in a library.

What tends to create the more note-worthy dB output is using a keyboard, which is why our top picks (especially the Surface Pro 7) are tailored towards keyboards known for lower travel than similar counterparts.

Avoiding Fans

Usually, the main perpetrator of noise in a PC is loud fan cooling. If you are serious about creating a very quiet laptop setup, you should focus on our fanless PCs above which use clever internal layout/heat dissipation to not rely on fans.

If you want a higher-end machine for a lot of longevity, then you can still keep an eye out for machines that have decent thermal performance. More power does not automatically mean louder; even if a machine has fans, it may only need them for the kind of activity you couldn’t do on fanless PCs anyway, so don’t fret too much if you like our top gaming/MacBook Pro picks.

Avoid HDDs

3.5″ hard drives are notorious for being one of the nosiest parts of a PC; when data is collected from them, the discs spin loudly and often create a decibel level even higher than loud fans.

So a simple tip from us if you’re looking for a low noise laptop: ensure the storage is either a 2.5″ or NVMe solid-state drive.

None of our picks above use 3.5″ HDDs, and the good news is many laptops today don’t, but it’s still worth checking. 

Integrated GPU

If you are not a big gamer, the next big way to cut down on noise is by buying a laptop with an integrated GPU (like all of our non-gaming picks above).

This means that your CPU is effectively designed to also provide graphical capability. For most needs, including 4k video, software use (even light gaming at times) this is all you need. The only exception being GPU-intensive work like video editing and, of course, gaming.

For Gaming

All the above rules are worth bearing in mind if you’re after a quiet gaming laptop (except you do want a separate GPU in a gaming PC), but there are a couple more points to consider too.

While not a universal truth, a good rule of thumb is that larger/thicker gaming laptops tend to run quieter. This is because the internal layout has more space for airflow and heat dissipation, meaning their fans don’t have to engage for lower workloads. Additionally, large gaming laptop shells can hold big fans which can spin at lower RPMs during low-mid activity.

Additionally, look for what kind of design is in place for the laptop you’re looking at: how many fans/heat pipes does it have, what are existing users calling out (including if the keyboard is quiet, etc).

As we’ve said in this guide though, don’t expect a silent gaming laptop, a PC with a decent set of specs (particularly a GPU) capable of playing titles well is always going to make some noise, but you can mitigate it with the points above, and also if you’re purchasing our recommended picks, you’ll be in a good place to use fan control software to maximize what noise you’re willing to accept.

Alternative: Noise Cancelling Headphones

This may sound like a dramatic solution, but on the off-chance you want a laptop that makes a lot of noise and is mainly bothered about its sound for your own ears, then getting a nice pair of noise-canceling headphones like the fantastic Sony WH-1000XM3s can be an amazing option.

This may sound like an expensive solution, but they are simply fantastic headphones for anybody remotely worried about noise (not just in a laptop setting, as someone easily distracted by noise, I can personally attest to how life-changing the XM3s have been for me, amongst the many, many others who have them).

If you don’t want to fork out that much, some nice audiophile headphones for media/gaming usually provide enough isolation to cut out most noise, if you’re interested, check out our feature on them here (we also talk about the 1000XM3s here).

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The Easy Guide to CPUs – Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core

Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core

The Easy Guide to CPUs

Kaelum Ross

I

Feb 18, 2020

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Ah, the central processing unit; this integral part is at the heart of any PC build.

Despite that, it can be deceptively hard to learn about what makes a CPU good and which one you should buy for your next build.

That’s why today’s feature is here to guide you through

  • The makings of a CPU
  • What elements to focus on depending on your needs (e.g. gaming, production)
  • Some FAQs (i3 vs i5, dual-core vs quad-core, etc.)

We’ve also included our top recommendations if you’re just after the best CPU for your budget/requirements without being bogged down by the details!

Table of Contents

Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core 6

What makes a CPU good?

The easiest way to answer this question is to break-down the main parts that make up a CPU.

Clock Speed

If you’ve seen processors advertised before, you’ll be familiar with seeing clock speeds (or the clock rate) in GHz.

What this indicates is how many times per second your CPU can perform tasks. So, if your processor has a speed of 3GHz (3,000,000,000 hertz), it can perform up to 3 billion cycles a second (more is better).

Base Clock vs Max Clock (or Boost Clock)

Most Ryzen/Intel CPUs today record their clock rate with multiple figures, usually “base speed” and “max speed”/”up to”.

Essentially, CPUs today are intelligently built to only use the clock speed that is required for the tasks at hand in order to conserve power.

If you have an expensive processor and are just running Netflix, there’s no reason for the hardware to heat up and run at max capacity!

The base clock, as the name suggests, is what your CPU runs at when idling/during low intensity.

The max clock is how much individual CPU cores can climb up to in power when performing intensive tasks (e.g. gaming, rendering).

Both are important, and a higher value for either means a faster system in different circumstances (in most cases, the 2 values increase at a similar rate to each other with more expensive CPUs).

Cores

The other term you’re probably already familiar with when seeing CPUs on Amazon; a core is an integral part of buying a processor today.

Essentially, each core is its own individual processor within your CPU.

So, for example, a quad-core CPU is essentially 4 CPUs in one, each capable of performing its own tasks.

Most processors today are between 4 and 8 cores, but the full range is anything from 1 to 128.

Sounds pretty awesome right? Well, for the most part, it is!

But there is an important point to make, using quad-core as an example: 4 x the cores does not mean 4 x the power in individual processes.

In simplistic terms, having 4 cores means you can perform 4 independent operations as fast as 1 core can perform 1 operation.

If you’re trying to get 4 cores to target the same task (e.g. playing a game), then the clock speeds, IPC, and other aspects of how your CPU works for a single core will be integral too.

That’s not to say having more cores doesn’t help individual processes, many applications (including games, as we’ll discuss further below) are developed with multi-core use in mind and can utilize some of their power.

Cores are important, and the days of single-core are over (with dual-core also on its way out), but we’re just trying to stress that there is no reason to go too crazy with cores. We expect 99% of readers would see close to 0 benefits from more than 16 cores, and many will see diminishing returns past 4-8 (we break this down for each PC type further below).

Threads

Multithreading is a technology that is used by Ryzen (SMT or simultaneous multithreaded) and Intel (hyperthreading) to allocate multiple  “virtual cores” (i.e. threads) inside each core.

In simple terms, this allows cores to split up certain types of workload (e.g. when 1 thread is waiting on information to complete a task, the second thread can be busy doing “prep work” for that task).

They both share the same physical specs of the core, so real-world performance gains are usually only marginal from your thread count.

There’s good news for learners too: nearly every mainstream CPU today has 2 threads per core. Therefore there’s no significant need to focus on thread count when you’re already considering cores.

Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core 9

IPC

The IPC is best described as the “hidden ingredient” for what makes a CPU good, as it is often not as discussed as the more marketable specs above and below.

Despite that, it’s very important in establishing speed; IPC stands for instructions per cycle/clock.

As you might expect from the name, IPC indicates how many tasks/instructions your CPU can perform for each cycle.

This is an underutilized spec as you could have a CPU with a very high clock speed, but if its IPC is low, it will be slower than a low-clock speed CPU with notably higher IPC.

IPC is often indicated or tested in CPU reviews/benchmarks as opposed to product listings.

The good news/rule of thumb is that newer generation processors from Ryzen and Intel will provide better IPCs than their predecessors, so although this spec is integral, you don’t have to overthink it too hard.

TDP

Thermal design profile (or TDP) is how much power your CPU demands in watts (e.g. 65W).

If just one TDP figure is provided, this is nearly always the max wattage required by your CPU (under heavy loads). Sometimes listings also include the idle/base TDPs, which refer to how much power is drawn at calmer usage.

In terms of performance, TDP does not directly affect your CPU (yes, higher TDP tends to mean a more powerful processor, but this isn’t a great metric, focus on the specs above).

Instead, what TDP is good for is understanding what level of CPU cooling you need and the PSU requirements of your CPU.

It’s also the best indication of how much you can expect your CPU to increase your energy bill (higher = more) but the difference between a modest and high TDP usually won’t mean more than $5-$20 per year.

Cache

Processor cache is the onboard caching system on a CPU that is used to interact with your RAM and access frequently used information from it as required.

The cache is important, but the values between modern CPUs are going to be very similar, and any differences are going to have immense diminishing returns in real-world performance compared to clock speed, core count and IPC. We included this for completeness but would recommend most users to not worry about this spec in their buying decision.

Integrated Graphics

Depending on the model of CPU you’re purchasing, you may have a processor designed to also do the job of a GPU included.

This is more useful if you are building a very budget/basic general use PC or a smaller computer with less graphical requirements to avoid the spatial needs of a graphics card (a common example is building a home theatre PC in a horizontal case).

If you’re building a mid-range desktop or something for gaming, you’ll definitely want a graphics card over integrated graphics; an independent GPU provides much more power (having the integrated functionality may still be useful to have as a backup if your GPU has issues and you need to troubleshoot, but isn’t essential if you’re on a budget).

The same logic goes for laptops, many have integrated GPUs to save on space; this is fine if you are a general user, but you’ll want a laptop with a GPU for gaming, video editing, or longevity.

Which CPU specs are the most important?

We’ve included all the main parts for completeness, but the short answer is how good a CPU is for most users is mostly determined by a mixture of its clock speed, IPC, and core count.

If you’re confused, a great rule of thumb to follow is that the latest generation of Intel and Ryzen processors will be the best “bang for your buck” at each of their respective price ranges and contain the latest innovations in clock speed, IPC, and core counts (we’ve provided some of the best options below).

Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core 5

How to choose the right CPU for your needs

The utility of a CPU usually overlaps into multiple areas (i.e. a processor good for gaming will be good for general use and media).

The question on how to chose is really around how much power you need.

If you do high-end development (rendering, intensive video editing, etc.) you’ll need a more powerful CPU than the average gamer.

This section is about providing a guideline depending on your individual requirements.

Choosing a CPU for Gaming

How many cores do you need for gaming?

4 is the absolute minimum today, as many developers have begun to use multi-core technology in the fundamentals of their game engines. If you’re using a single/dual-core, you’ll likely not meet the minimum specs for many titles.

While 4/quad core is the minimum, we’re now past the days where it’s recommended. We’ve noticed other resources saying “4 cores are all you need” – but this is an outdated statement.

Many PC gaming benchmarks have tested the average FPS of new popular titles at 1080p, 1440p, and 4k and it’s clear there can be a significant difference between 4 and 6 cores, a notable increase from 6 to 8, and a lesser-but-fair improvement from 8 to 10/12 (above this amount is when diminishing returns really settle in).

Now, benchmarks are examples, and of course don’t reflect your exact setup (GPU, motherboard, cooling, graphics settings, etc.). Additionally, each game has different CPU requirements (with simulation/larger-scale games usually benefitting more from increased processor power).

But the differences noted in various benchmarks demonstrate that the average user is likely to see real-world improvement above 4 cores.

Bear in mind all this advice is about shopping with the latest generation of Intel/Ryzen CPUs (10th gen and 5000 series); a previous-gen 8 core CPU may run slower than a current-gen 6 core CPU.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the latest generation consoles (PS5 and Xbox One X) are built with 8 core/16 thread CPUs. This doesn’t mean that you need this for gaming, but there will likely be some advantage to having a similar architecture in your gaming PC once developers begin to focus on this layout with major cross-platform titles.

With all that said, a good rule of thumb for gaming core requirement is:

  • 4 cores at a bare minimum 
  • 6 cores as a good standard for budget/lower mid-range 
  • 8 cores for the optimal sweet-spot/mid-range and to match the new console gen standards
  • 10/12 cores for a premium gaming desktop

How many threads do you need for gaming?

We see this question asked a fair bit, but as mentioned in the first section: nearly all mainstream CPUs (especially those focused on gaming) have 2 threads per cores, with the latter half being a more important overall indicator.

In other words, don’t focus on threads, focus on cores.

What other CPU specs are important for gaming?

Clock speed and IPC are also very important, but it’s harder to break these down in the same way as threads/cores (as they vary notably between choices). 

The easiest suggestion is to focus on the latest generation CPUs which will be tailored for the optimum clock speeds/IPCs at each price-range (we list the best for different budget types just below).

Ryzen vs Intel for gaming

No CPU discussion would be complete without a word on Intel vs AMD processors for gaming!

It’s a very close race for the most part.

AMD tends to have a focus on increased core/thread count, while Intel’s focus is on achieving the highest single-core clock speed.

For gaming, single-core clock speed is very important, and typically you’d expect Intel’s approach to win out here.

However, AMD sometimes offers better prices for similar performance and as we’ve seen from benchmarks, core/thread count does also play a notable role in avoiding bottlenecking a GPU’s performance.

We would say it’s usually common for AMD to come out on top, but right now, it’s really too close to call for gaming. As you’ll see in our recommendations below, we choose CPUs from both vendors and the best value is really going to depend on the state of the market at any given time (ignore CPU brand loyalty, it’s a waste of time!).

Best CPU for Gaming (Mid-Range): Intel Core i7-10700K

It’s a very close race for the best gaming CPU between the 10700k and AMD’s new 5800X.

The 5800X usually averages 2-3% FPS improvement in gaming benchmarks but comes at a near 20% increased cost (and is short in stock) therefore we give the crown to the 10700k.

This beastly Intel processor hits the sweet spot with 8 cores/16 threads to match new console architecture, and with fantastic clock speeds/IPC, it’s one of the best CPUs for RTX 3070 & 3080 builders.

Best CPU for Gaming (High-End):
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

For those after a high-end gaming desktop CPU, we give this accolade to the fantastic new 5900X.

With an impressive 12 cores & 24 threads alongside immense clock speeds, the combinations on offer here is what we consider the maximum you need in a CPU today for gaming (anything more is where you start to see notable diminishing returns), with the right GPU you’ll be able to throw pretty much any game at this CPU and get a great result in 1440p or 4k.

You don’t just have one of the best CPUs for RTX 3090 builds (and other premium gaming machines) but also a CPU capable of working alongside other high-end parts for intensive production work (be it development, rendering, or high-scale video editing).

After the best high-end Intel gaming CPU? Your best option will be the i9-10900K.

Best Budget CPU for Gaming: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

For cheaper builds, the new budget offering in AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series is a fantastic choice.

The 5600X still hits 6 cores / 12 threads with the excellent clock speeds and IPC you expect from the latest generation of gaming processors.

What’s more, unlike the other 5000-series CPUs, the 5600X comes bundled with AMD’s Wraith Cooler, which is a pretty decent option as far as stock coolers go (especially for a budget build).

We would say, however, that if you could stretch that little bit further and get our top i7-10700K choice (or the Ryzen 7 4800X), we think that is the best value for money in the gaming space today.

But rest assured; if not, this is still a great processor and would work well alongside an RTX 2000 series GPU or even the RTX 3060 when released.

If you’re looking for something even cheaper while still hitting our recommend 6 cores for a budget build, the Core i5-10600K is your best bet.

Choosing a CPU for Streaming

If you’re looking to stream on Twitch or another platform, you can usually expect a couple of cores to be pre-occupied with the streaming tasks.

So as a rule of thumb; follow our gaming core requirements above and +2 for streaming (6 minimum, 8 budget, 10/12 mid-range, and more for premium).

Best CPU for Streaming: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

With AMD’s focus on cores, you not only have a great CPU for gaming here but something that has enough spatial capacity to handle even demanding streaming requirements.

If you’re after an option that’s cheaper, Intel, or more readily in stock right now, the i9-10900K is a good second place.

Choosing a CPU for General Use

If you’re after a non-gaming CPU and your tasks aren’t much more than internet browsing, Netflix, and business applications (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) or an HTPC/media build, then you can get away with a significantly cheaper processor.

We never recommend too cheap of course, even decent budget CPUs today with the latest motherboard sockets still offer decent core/thread counts to make sure you have a relatively smooth experience, you can just afford to lose the high clock speeds/IPC offered by the more expensive options.

Note: by general use, we do not mean more hefty production tasks like video editing or development work (those are discussed below).

Best CPU for General Use: Intel Core i5-10400

At a fantastic low price-point, the 10400 has enough juice to run a smooth budget non-gaming build.

One of the really nice things about this processor is the integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics, which have enough capability to act as a GPU solution for a basic build (and can reportedly run/stream 4k video, so could be a great option for a budget HTPC).

Choosing a CPU for Video Editing (or Production)

Although people think that a GPU is the be-all-end-all for video editing, most popular software, including Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro & Sony Vegas, are all designed to make good use of high core/thread counts.

Therefore, you benefit significantly from the newest generations of CPUs with their excellent core/thread provisions (the same advice goes for other medium intensity software requirements like mid-range animation or development work).

So how many cores for video editing are recommended? We would advise at least six, but more will improve your experience notably too.

Best CPU for Video Editing: Ryzen 9 5900X

It’s another win for the fantastic 5900X, its 12-core 24-thread capability simply provides so much performance potential for a video editing desktop (including 4k/8k).

Do you need to spend this much on a video editing CPU? Of course not, you could still manage edits on a lesser CPU (like the 5600X from our budget gaming picks) but if you’re serious about a productive rig, this is an ideal choice.

The i9-10900K is your best choice for something mid-range or for those after Intel and is still a great choice with its 10 core/20 thread setup.

HEDT CPU for High-End Development & Production

To be clear; an overwhelming majority of users do not need a high-end desktop CPU (HEDT).

HEDT CPUs are specifically designed for very high-end production work; think industry-standard rendering, server builds, and other intensive requirements.

That said, if any of these sound like you, there is a select set of CPUs designed for some incredible levels of computation going up to 64 cores/128 threads while still retaining great clock speeds and enormous caches.

Best HEDT CPU: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

Arguably the most powerful CPU on the market today, the 3990X includes an immense 64 cores and 128 threads while still retaining other decent specs.

Of course, its single-core clock speeds are not as high, but this isn’t a chip for gaming, it’s about large-scale production work; its productivity potential will be pretty much unmatched by any mainstream CPU line.

Bear in mind that the Threadripper series runs on the TRX40 chipset and requires a different motherboard type to many mainstream choices, we have a recommendation on a good option in our EATX motherboards feature.

Needing a budget HEDT CPU? The best we’d recommend is the brand new Ryzen 9 5950X which is still a productivity machine (with less diminishing returns).

Other Build Types

We’ve aimed to cover a large majority of build types in the picks above, but appreciate some of you may have very refined requirements.

We’d reiterate an earlier point made: if you’re focussing on the latest generation of Intel and Ryzen chips (10th gen and 5000 series) then you’ll be in a good spot to get the best value for whatever budget you have.

The processors this gen are also fairly well balanced between various spec types, so you can take our above gaming/production picks as a template, and we’d expect they would apply to most other purpose you’re looking for (as a rule of thumb).

Dual Core vs Quad Core vs Six Core vs Eight Core 4

CPU FAQs & Head-to-Heads

There are not many things more common in the CPU space than people asking questions like:

What’s the difference between dual-core and quad-core?

or:

What’s better, a core i3 or core i5?

And we’re not surprised! The processor industry doesn’t always do a great job of making what actually makes a CPU good clear.

The answers to these questions aren’t always clear-cut, but we’re going to give you the best summation for someone after the essential knowledge when buying a CPU.

Note: don’t feel inclined to read through all of the FAQs to learn about CPUs; our key knowledge/recommendations are above. These are specifically here for those of you who want a little more clarity on certain areas.

Intel Core i3 vs i5 vs i7 vs i9 CPUs

This i naming structure is how Intel allows users to have a quick reference point to compare CPUs in the same generation depending on their needs as follows:

  • i3 CPUs are the cheapest/budget options (still fairly powerful with the current 10th gen CPUs)
  • i5 CPUs are budget/low mid-range options
  • i7 CPUs are the higher mid-range choices
  • i9 CPUs are for enthusiasts and professionals (i.e. maximizing your productivity or gaming capability, with some diminishing returns for the latter).

These aren’t definitions set in stone, but usually how the I-series go and is a good guideline for you to make sense of all the different offerings (i.e. the higher the number, the better the processor usually is).

There are other non-i processors (like the Pentium series) but in today’s market, for anyone reading this list (providing you have the budget) it’s good to stick to at least i3 for a somewhat smooth experience.

It’s key to remember that these comparisons only make sense for Intel CPUs in the same generation. 

For example, an i5 9400F (9th gen) will provide about the same performance as an i3-10100 (10th gen). This is because the 10100 comes from the next generation which is created using more efficient practices than the 9th gen.

Any resource that says i3 “has X cores or Y clock speed” is false. i3 (or any of the i CPUs) have lots of different meanings depending on the generation, only use these terms as a guideline!

Ryzen 3 vs 5 vs 7 vs 9 CPUs

Very similarly to the Intel naming standard, AMD uses these terms as a guideline naming convention in place to allow you to compare same generation CPUs with some ease:

  • Ryzen 3 CPUs are the lower end choices (still capable for general use)
  • Ryzen 5 CPUs are budget/ lower mid-range choices
  • Ryzen 7 CPUs are the mid-range choices on the premium-side
  • Ryzen 9 CPUs are the enthusiast options

It’s worth noting that we don’t know if there will be a Ryzen 3 5000 CPU as of yet, AMD has only announced Ryzen 5, 7 & 9 5000 series CPUs.

Remember, the terms only work for comparison if the Ryzen CPUs are from the same series.

Intel vs Ryzen CPUs (Non-Gaming)

We touched on Intel vs Ryzen early, specifically for gaming, where the winner isn’t too decisive.

Now, what about other areas like general use, business productivity, and production (mid-range or high end)?

Well, both companies do still have great options.

However, with non-gaming software, it is a lot more common to see more beneficial use from multi-core/thread performance that AMD specializes in (as opposed to Intel’s single-core performance gains).

So generally speaking, AMD comes out on top for providing the best value for non-gaming desktops.

But this is not universal, which is why we highly recommend sticking to our recommended CPU picks above, where both brands are offered for different requirements.

dual core vs quad core vs six core vs eight core

Core head-to-heads

We see many users asking questions about values of specific core quantities and how they compare to others, so we’ve put together a quick-fire reference for some of the most common “battles”.

These head-to-heads are for a rule of thumb only because in reality, for example, a 4 core and 8 core will nearly always have different clock speeds, IPCs, etc. These examples are based on the assumption that all the other specs of the CPUs are identical (other than threads, which we are assuming will be 2 x the core quantity).

Dual-Core vs Quad-Core / 2 Cores vs 4 Cores

While Quad-core processors are becoming less used, dual-core is, in a larger way, on its way out as a valid option for modern desktops.

One of the only CPUs we would consider a valid option for very basic workstations is AMD’s Athlon 3000G (which is nicely on the modern AM4 motherboard socket, but was released in 2019, so is still becoming dated).

Sure, you could build a basic general use PC with dual-core. But for only a tad extra, a quad-core CPU like the i3-9100 will offer significantly more value with its slightly higher price tag. Quad-core is definitely the better choice for even a basic workstation (even 6 core if you can stretch to it, as we detail below).

For gaming, we would pretty much not consider dual-core a valid option as quad-core is the bare minimum for a gaming PC nowadays due to the number of games that require 4 cores / 8 threads as a minimum. Bear in mind that 4 cores are still a tad low for games too (though perfectly doable if you are on a very tight budget).

Dual-Core vs Six-Core / 2 Cores vs 6 Cores

The difference between dual-core and six-core is very significant in modern-day computing. The key change is that 6 cores are way more of a leading market force with more supply/options, so you’ll nearly always be getting way better value with a 6 core processor (even if its price-tag is higher).

Yes, some will argue you can still get away with dual-core for a very basic workstation and we don’t disagree. But our counter would be why not invest a little more for a CPU that will be dramatically more future-proofed for building a long-lasting machine (even for basic use)?

This is why our top general-use/budget recommendation above is the 6-core i5-10400, which still comes on the new LGA 1200 socket and has integrated graphics for a ridiculously low price-tag.

For gaming, this question is a no-brainer; 2 cores is not good enough for modern gaming, 6-8 cores is the sweet spot, with six being perfect for those a little more budget-conscious as we point out in our recommendations above.

Dual-Core vs Octa-Core / 2 Cores vs 8 Cores

At this point, the battle between 2 and 8 cores barely feels fair; with most 8-core options today being premium choices that pack serious power for productivity workstations.

We will say that 8-cores may begin to be the point where your CPU may be overkill if you’re just building a web browsing, media, and/or basic work software computer (where you can get away with a quad-core like the i3-9100 as a budget choice or the 6-core i5-10400 as our recommendation).

If you’re after a machine for productivity, video editing, or mid-range production however, 2 cores is not a good option for you, and 8-core CPUs like the 5800X will provide fantastic utility for more intensive software.

For gaming, 2 cores are below our minimum recommendation of 4 cores; an 8 core processor is what we consider to be on the high-end of the sweet spot of FPS performance gains for most gaming titles (i.e. perfect for mid-range gaming desktops looking for the most value before diminishing returns kick in).

Quad-Core vs Hexa-Core / 4 Cores vs 6 Cores

An argument can be made both ways for a general use PC, but we think the value and longevity a 6-core will provide is the better option for a larger majority of desktop builders even if your needs are simple.

This is largely because modern generations of CPUs are moving to 6-core as one of their standards, so the available options tend to offer better value per dollar.

This is, of course, a rule of thumb only; but taking examples of two of the best value processors for budget builds, the i3-10100 vs the i5 10400. Both of these processors are perfectly suited for a cheap PC, and if your budget is really tight, we can happily recommend the 10100 as a valid option. The reason we focus more on the 10400 as the best budget CPU is because we think that for its modest price increase, having the extra 2 cores will provide you with better longevity that is worth the small price jump.

For gaming, we’d recommend a 6 core processor with better clock speeds like the 4600X if possible. You absolutely can get away with a quad-core CPU if needed, but 6 cores will be better suited to match what games will likely move to in the future as they continue to focus on multi-core/threading optimization.

On a gaming note, while in a perfect world you will have a decent spec GPU and CPU, if your budget is very tight, it will usually be more beneficial to sacrifice CPU specs over investing in a better graphics card.

Quad-Core vs Octa-Core / 4 Cores vs 8 Cores

For a general use PC, we’d definitely recommend four cores over 8 cores, the latter being overkill even for somebody focussed on providing some longevity.

For productivity/production/video editing, 8 cores will usually provide a notable benefit over a 4-core setup.

For gaming, 4-cores is our minimum recommendation, and 8-cores is on the higher mid-range side of the gaming “sweet-spot”, so while we would of course recommend Octa-core processors if possible, it really comes down to if you have the budget as there is certainly a stark difference in cost between the two.

Hexa-Core vs Octa-Core / 6 Cores vs 8 Cores

General workstations with basic internet/software/media needs will usually be fine with the modern 6-core options.

For productivity users, it really depends on how demanding your needs are; there are certainly plenty of 6-core processors that can handle things like 4k video editing, significant compiling, etc. but 8-core options, especially something like the 5800X, will certainly provide you a worthy boost if you can stretch further.

For gaming, 6-8 cores is what we consider the “sweet-spot” for modern-day gaming CPUs; with 6 being on the lower budget side, and 8 being for mid-range users who can fork out for something extra performative.

6 cores would be sensible for someone who needs to invest more in their GPU and there is no shame in settling for something like a Ryzen 5 5600X.

That said; one big reason it would be great to push your build to an 8 core/16 thread CPU if possible as you are then working with a gaming PC that has the same core/thread specs as the new PS5/Xbox Series X. This might not mean much for a little while, but over the console generation, developers will likely start utilizing this architecture layout. Having a CPU that shares these qualities isn’t necessary but will likely open up some better optimization for you on AAA titles made with consoles in mind.

It’s really a close call for gaming, and purely comes down to your budget; we think you’ll be satisfied with the value both options provide.

Hexa-Core vs Deca-Core / 6 Cores vs 10 Cores

Now that our head-to-heads are looking at 10 cores and beyond, we’re really getting into the power-users who are either running intensive workstations or want the absoloute best quality even with diminishing returns.

If you are running demanding production applications with high requirements in rendering, compiling, etc., you will find some value in 10+ core options, but 6 core processor with good specs elsewhere will be more than fine for a budget/mid-range production machine.

For gaming, 10+ cores is where the diminishing returns really settle in. Yes, there will be improvements over 6-core, but most of these will be shared by 8-core processors, so we’d only recommend 10+ for high-end streaming or those who want the absolute best quality regardless of price.

Octa-Core vs Deca-Core / 8 Cores vs 10 Cores

For users with very intensive production requirements, you can expect to see some improvement during your most demanding processes between 8 and 10 cores (but not so much that its a requirement to have those 2 extra cores, 8 will still cope with even some demanding needs).

For gaming, we would recommend sticking to 8 cores unless you are happy with paying significantly more for very minor gains.

Octa-Core vs Dodeca-Core / 8 Cores vs 12 Cores

With AMD being the only player with mainstream 12 core options right now, if you’re interested in this question, we imagine you’re looking at the difference between something like the Ryzen 7 5800X vs Ryzen 9 5900X.

In this case, we would say the 12-core option is reserved for those after a premium productivity machine who significantly rely on intensive processing throughout their day-to-day operations.

For gaming, we would only recommend 12 cores to those who absolutely want the most power out of their desktop, as there are some diminishing returns for the price-tag.

That’s the best way to sum up this head-to-head for most users; 8-core is the better value option for mid-range builds, 12-core is for those more interested in maximum performance over budget concerns.

Octa-Core vs Hexadeca-Core / 8 Cores vs 16 Cores

Although we see this question asked, the difference between 8 cores and 16 cores is becoming so much that it’s a bit of an “apples and oranges” question.

All general users and most productivity users should stick to 8 cores between these two options, which will already provide fantastic power for a large majority of operations.

16 core+ is only recommended today for advanced users with dramatic production/server requirements; we do not recommend going as far as 16 cores for gaming (unless you don’t really care about your wallet!).

Deca-Core vs Dodeca-Core / 10 Cores vs 12 Cores

This head-to-head is a little hard to quantify, as 10-core is where Intel has focussed their higher-end 10th gen options, and 12 core+ is where AMD has defined their premium 5000 series CPUs.

So really, the battle will usually be if you are after a CPU that focuses more on single-core performance (Intel) or more cores/threads (AMD).

In general, we’re more impressed by AMD’s latest 12+ core options and think this will suit more users in this price-range who are likely looking at productivity builds that will benefit from an increase in cores.

Dodeca-Core vs Hexadeca-Core / 12 Cores vs 16 Cores

The only users this question should apply to are those after a very high-spec production machine. Gamers (with finite wallets) will be fine with 12 cores or less, and even advanced productivity machines will get a lot done on 8-12 cores.

So 16 cores and beyond are really reserved for HEDT CPUs that may be needed by large software companies, animators, high-spec production users, and similar. Our honest opinion is that if you’re an individual builder, you almost certainly don’t need 16 cores and we’d only get it if it’s a luxury you can afford comfortably.

Single-Core vs Dual-Core / Multi-Core

We wanted to add this head-to-head just for completeness but realistically, nobody today should build a single-core desktop PC (unless you have some weird nostalgia for it, you may have a hard time finding them though!).

Gaming or not, most applications take advantage of multi-core/threading capabilities and the industry has moved well away from 1 core CPUs, so whatever your build requirement, go for 2 as an absolute minimum.

Final Word

And there you have it! The above is everything we think you need to know about what makes a CPU good and how to pick for your next build.

Feeling overwhelmed? We understand!

We’ve mentioned this point a few times in the feature but it’s worth re-iterating one last time: you don’t need to know every part of the CPU to make a good purchase.

Stay close to our recommendations above depending on your type of build, you can’t go too wrong as long as you’re buying a CPU that’s current-generation (Intel 10th gen/Ryzen 5000 series) and in your budget!

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