At the heart of every good gaming system is a CPU capable of juggling a lot of numbers in a short space of time. As much as the GPU attracts all the plaudits, the CPU often has a crucial role to play in simulating physics and AI. And in database-driven games like Football Manager, it’s the star player.
But which processor is the fastest? If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’ll realise this is a difficult question. Different CPUs are
optimised for different tasks, and different games are optimised for different CPUs. Even if your CPU ships with two dozen cores, many of them won’t get used it the program hasn’t been written to take advantage of them.
As you might imagine, there’s significant variety in the processor market, and new chips are being added all the time. This can make it difficult to choose one to sit at the heart of your system. But fear not: we’ve got you covered. In this round-up, we’ll look at five processors toward the high end of the market, and examine their vital statistics.
Intel Core i7 9700K
+ Brand new i7
+ Marginally faster max turbo speed
– No hyperthreading on this generation of i7s
First up, we have the replacement for what has been the flagship Intel chip for several generations: the i7. This time, Intel has packed two extra cores into the package – but it’s also dropped hyperthreading, and thus we end up with four fewer threads. This move puts a little bit of distance between the i7 and the i9, which now occupies a space at the top of the range.
What we gain is an integrated heat-spreader last seen on Sandy Bridge, which will address some of the cooling complaints levied at the 8700k, and allow for superior overclocking performance. The base clock rate is a tick lower than the previous generation at 3.6GHz, but the Max Turbo Frequency is higher at 4.9GHz, so you’ll get superior power when you need it.
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
+ Great price
+ Bundled cooler
– May be outpaced by new Intel chips
AMD’s AM4-socket Ryzen chips have caused a considerable stir by offering exceptional performance at a much more reasonable price than their rivals. The 2700X sits at the top of the Ryzen 2 range, and boasts eight cores and 16 threads.
To make the price even more appealing, the package includes a Wraith Prism cooler with exceptional performance and RGB lights, and thus you won’t need to invest in a third-party cooler. With that said, if you’re shopping for high-performance, an aftermarket liquid cooler will probably be high on your list of purchases, and so this advantage is slightly less compelling.
Intel Core i9 9900K
+ Most powerful of the newer chips
– Yet to be tested
In contrast with the i7, the i9 does get hyperthreading, and so ends up with a considerable 16 threads. The price tag matches the performance; it’s not quite in the same league as the more prestigious ‘extreme’ models, it’s still way ahead of AMD’s Ryzen chips, which sport similar specs.
At the time of writing, the ninth generation of Intel chips has yet to be released and tested independently, and thus it’s difficult to see exactly
how big a performance improvement we’re getting over the eighth-gen chips. If you’re willing to put your faith in Intel by adopting early, the chances are strong that you’ll be rewarded with hitherto-unheard-of performance.
Intel i9 7960X
+ Generous L3 Cache
+ 32-threaded performance
– You’ll need an LGA 2066 motherboard and deep pockets
If you want extreme performance, you need to look for processors with ‘extreme’ written on the side of the box. That’s what we have here from
Intel’s 7th generation processors, which support the LGA 2066 socket. This processor comes with 16 physical cores, and thus 32 threads. It supports up to 128GB of DDR4 clocked to 2666MHz, and thus makes a fantastic match with high-end workstations.
If you’re shopping for a processor in the Skylake-X bracket, then you’re going to be forking out more for a single component than many of us pay for just one chip. What you get in return is near-unparalleled performance in a range of applications.
Very, very powerful
- The best option for professional creatives
- Very, very expensive
Packed onto this chip you’ll find a frankly ludicrous 32 cores, and thus you’ll get 64 threads. It’s designed for digital artist and video editors,
and comes with a price tag to match. This is probably the most powerful CPU that money can buy, and it’ll chew up just about every task you throw to it – although given that few games are optimised with 64 threads in mind, it’s unlikely that you’ll get a performance increase over the more mainstream chips. Such firepower, naturally, comes at a price – and you’ll need to factor in the cost of a Threadripper-compatible motherboard, too.
Shopping for the most powerful CPU can be tricky – especially when some of the candidates haven’t yet been released. We can’t just compare
clock-speeds and core-counts: that would ignore crucial features like cache memory and hyperthreading, and support for extra PCI-E lanes and overclocking. Plus, some processors are just better designed than others, even if the relevant features are consistent. The only way to be sure of fantastic performance is to take a look at how each chip performs in the real world.