In our series of Buyer Guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended CPUs list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing (3/19). Numbers in graphs reflect MSRP.

CPU Buyer's Guide: Q1 2017

As we move through to the second quarter of the year, we have had two major updates to the desktop CPU landscape. First, Intel launched its Seventh generation of Core-based CPUs, known under the Kaby Lake name, using a refined version of their 14nm process that allowed for some frequency gains over the previous generation Skylake microarchitecture. Then AMD made their biggest CPU launch in five years, with a renewed attack on high-performance computing with the Ryzen 7 family. After spending so many years fighting 32nm and 28nm on Bulldozer based microarchitectures, AMD introduced not only a new core design but also a new process (GlobalFoundries' 14nm) with FinFET based technology. Both of these launches have drastically shaken up our recommended CPU lists moving into Spring and Summer. 

For all the information about Intel's Kaby Lake and AMD's Ryzen, our deep dive reviews are open to all readers and we highly encourage enthusiastic users to give them a once over, to understand how the hardware performs and why. 

The AMD Zen and Ryzen 7 Review: A Deep Dive on 1800X, 1700X and 1700
AMD Announces Ryzen 5 Lineup: Hex-Core from $219, Available April 11th
The Intel Core i7-7700K (91W) Review: The New Out-of-the-box Performance Champion
The Intel Core i5-7600K (91W) Review: The More Amenable Mainstream Performer
The Intel Core i3-7350K (60W) Review: Almost a Core i7-2600K
Intel Launches 7th Generation Kaby Lake: 15W/28W with Iris, 35-91W Desktop and Mobile Xeon

In our CPU Guides, we consider certain environments and budgets and give you our pick of some of the best processors available, supplying data from our Benchmark Database where possible.

As a result, our recommendations are as follows:

CPU Recommendations: Q1 2017
AMD Segment Intel
Ryzen 7 1700 $330 Peak Gaming / VR $349 Core i7-7700K
(Ryzen 5 1600X) $249 Smart Gaming / VR $200 Core i5-7500
FX-6300 $81 Smarter Gaming $120 Core i3-7100
Athlon X4 860K $65 Cheap Gaming $80 Pentium G4560
A10-7890K
A10-7860K
$149
$115
Integrated / eSports - -
Ryzen 7 1800X
Ryzen 7 1700
$500
$330
CPU Workstation - -
- - Memory Workstation $405
$1022
Core i7-6800K
Core i7-6900K
Ryzen 5 1600X $249 One to Watch - -

The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well. Here's a breakdown of those recommendations:

Peak Gaming / VR

In the midst of the launches this quarter, the talk of CPUs that are suitable for Virtual Reality has died down to some extent. Now that AMD has parts on the shelf that are unquestionably suitable, it just comes down to what price can you enter into VR, or at what level can you be future proof as VR gaming becomes more demanding. Even with this is mind, a non-VR gaming machine that wants to be ahead of the curve has similar demands, especially as DirectX12 titles are in the pipeline. Single thread performance still helps here, especially for the simpler casual games and driving high frame rates. 

The king of the crop is the Intel Core i7-7700K. It boasts the highest per-core performance of any x86 processor, and then heaps on a lot of frequency as a result. A good processor will run up to 5 GHz with a nod for overclocking, giving a user the best premium VR experience today. At $350 list price, plus some more for a good cooler and a decent motherboard, an i7-7700K should provide a premium gaming system for several years to come. 

If you want to go through AMD, then the latest Ryzen 7 1700 is a good option here at $329. It doesn't quite match the single threaded performance of the Intel CPU, but offers double the threads which will be more important as games get more complex. A good 1700 can also overclock near to 4.0 GHz, saving some money over the more expensive 1800X are $499. As an added benefit, the price of the 1700 also includes AMD's Wraith Spire stock cooler, suitable for high ambient environments, and has RGB lighting. 

Smart Gaming / VR

For users looking for a nicer price on their wallets, moving slightly down the stack can retain most of the expected performance and retain some significant savings. It won't give you the premium frame rates, but the cost savings can easily be justified for user budgets where it could mean the difference for the next GPU upgrade. 

For this segment from Intel I've chosen the Core i5-7500. At a list of $202, it provides four full cores at 3.4 GHz with a turbo up to 3.8 GHz, but also has 6MB of inclusive L3 cache. With no hyperthreading, each thread gets the full use of all the cores resources, ensuring fewer potential bottlenecks. The Core i5-7400 would be another option, however the difference in frequency (400 MHz base, 300 MHz turbo) in favor of the i5-7500 is worth the $10 difference. The i5 will happily power the biggest GPUs on the market, only breaking a sweat with the most demanding titles at extreme settings. 

For AMD, no current CPU on the shelves really fits the bill here. So it puts me in an awkward position of pointing to a CPU that isn't out yet: the Ryzen 5 1600X. AMD has announced that this CPU will be on shelves on April 11, and based on our Ryzen 7 testing, we can make good estimates on performance. The 1600X is a six-core processor with hyperthreading, giving a full twelve threads, and runs at the same frequencies as its bigger brother, the 1800X. In our performance/price predictions, it sails above any other AMD offering, and should be highly competitive on single thread performance with the low-end Intel Core i5 parts. We really want to get this part in for testing ASAP. 

Smarter Gaming

For users after a sub $1000 monster rig, or something a bit more conservative around $700, here are our 'smart' gaming recommendations. The CPUs here will still drive a single graphics card at near peak performance at higher resolutions and good settings, although cranking up the details on AAA games might be a selective process. Nonetheless, eSports titles will still run as smooth as you like with these processors. 

 

Again, starting with Intel, I've pulled out the Core i3-7100 at $117. This is a dual core part with hyperthreading, running at 3.9 GHz. At that frequency it rises high up the charts for single thread performance, nearly matching the vastly more expensive Core i7 and Core i5 overclockable processors. For DirectX9, DirectX10 and DirectX11 games, where single thread performance helps drive a good GPU, something like the i3-7100 can provide best-in-class results. 

For this segment, AMD does have much to play with right now. At this level of performance AMD's strength is price, so as the FX CPUs are being sold at low cost, something like the FX-6300 on sale and a cheap AM3 motherboard can be picked up for very little. The FX can't compete on single threaded performance with Intel, but by having three modules and six threads, it might be happy when users require multitasking during their gaming, such as watching video on a second monitor or light streaming with eSports. 

Cheap Gaming

For those on a tight budget, where trying to get a reasonable gaming system under $300-$500 is a must, we have to look at the entry level processors. A number of system integrators will use these parts for their entry level builds, often paired with cards such as an RX 460, or a second-hand GTX 700-series card, a standard hard drive, some small amount of memory and a generic PSU/case. Having a base level of performance is critical here though, given the type of games these systems are designed for tend to be several years old, or indie titles.

Starting with Intel again, and to be honest they have recently launched somewhat of a surprise processor for this market. The Pentium G4560 is essentially a Core i3 by any other name, given it has two cores and four threads, but a slightly reduced L3 cache. The G4560 has a list price of $64 (retails at $80) and runs at 3.5 GHz - that's a dual core Kaby Lake processor only 900 MHz off of the top Core i7 for less than one-fifth of the price. Previous Pentium processors did not have hyperthreading, but this one does - Intel hasn't given any specific reason for the change, but it's one we will gladly take.

Intel's Pentium is hard to beat in so many ways, AMD does not particularly have an answer. The nearest thing we can get to it, until we see what price points Ryzen 3 will hit, is the Athlon X4 860K. This is one of AMD's APUs with the GPU disabled, but also comes with AMD's 95W near-silent cooler. While the last iteration, called Excavator, performs quite well in the context of AMD's APU line, but there's still a sizeable jump north of 40% performance gap that Intel can take advantage of. The upside here is perhaps the motherboard could be cheaper.

Integrated Graphics 

Not many users take the line of integrated graphics because GPUs like the RX460 are relatively cheap and usually outperform what is on offer. Nonetheless, almost all mainstream CPUs come with integrated graphics for several reasons: invest now in a good CPU then later in a GPU, or the amount of space limited in the system is small, or features such as QuickSync or OpenCL are needed for the user workloads.

Grand Theft Auto V on Integrated Graphics

The champion of this world is the AMD A10-7890K. Technically Intel has higher performing parts in Broadwell-based eDRAM processors, but these are 3x the cost and difficult to find anywhere due to the limited launch. AMD's A10-7890K thus sits at the top of that stack, giving somewhat near RX460 levels of performance that is more than suitable for eSports such as League of Legends, DOTA2, CS:GO or Rocket League at very honest settings.

Users who still need to save a few $$ from the A10-7890K can look the A10-7860K instead. This APU offers a small step down in performance, but was one of the last A10 parts produced fully aimed at PC builders trying to hit the performance/price metrics.

CPU Workstation

Sometimes all you need is raw CPU power. Whether it is rendering, compute, encryption, or a varied office or enterprise load, CPU performance is king. This is where the worlds of the mainstream processors and the high-end desktop collide, given that the high-end usually gives more cores and more performance, but the price rises faster than you can think. Finding the right balance is key, especially when a user can potentially justify spending above the odds if it means processing their clients faster.

Rendering: Corona Photorealism

For this segment, AMD recently blew the doors wide open. With the launch of Ryzen 7, in software that likes to scale across cores and threads, the Ryzen 7 1800X was the winner. With its eight cores and 3.6G/4.0G arrangement, it matched Intel's latest 8-core part at only half the cost: $499 instead of $1049. If what you need is pure horsepower, the Ryzen 7 1800X is the processor to get.

While the Ryzen 7 1800X is fun, it is actually the lower ranked Ryzen 7 parts that are better for performance per dollar. The Ryzen 7 1700 has a slight performance deficit to the 1800X, by virtue of being 3.0G/3.7G rather than 3.6G/4.0G, but it comes in at only two-thirds of the price. At $329, and coming it at 90% of the overall performance of the 1800X, the 1700 is a better choice for workstation users that still look to save a few pennies.

Memory Workstation

One of the downsides of the Ryzen 7 CPUs is that they only have dual channel memory controllers. At two modules per channel, that lends them to 64GB for maximum DRAM capacity. Sometimes a workstation needs so much more, and that is where the only direction to turn is Intel, but there will be a platform premium on CPU and motherboard as a result.

Intel has a few options, and users willing to trawl through the second-hand market can find some HEDT bargains, but for users buying new there are a couple of options. First up is the Core i7-6800K, which is Intel's low-end HEDT part from the latest launch. This is a six-core processor on Intel's Broadwell microarchitecture, with 28 PCIe 3.0 lanes, but will run up to 128GB of un-buffered memory. It runs at the same price as AMD's Ryzen 7 1800X, but in exchange for two cores the user gets double the memory capacity and a few more PCIe lanes. It is worth noting that the cheapest platform cost for this CPU, the X99 platform, will also be higher than the cheapest AMD variant.

Consequently, if you want 1800X performance but still need more than 64GB of DRAM or more than 16 PCIe lanes, then Intel's i7-6900K is your option. It has an MSRP of $1049, although at the right moment it might be on sale for just under $1000. This 140W TDP part will require a decent cooler, as well as an X99 platform underneath it. For a workstation user that needs it all, the Core i7-6900K will be overly sufficient, unless you try and find something like the Core i7-5960X (the previous generation 8-core CPU) on sale.

One to Watch

I'll be honest, the initial plan was to launch this Q1 list last week. I'm in a little bit of trouble for delaying, but I think it was worth it as we can now talk about AMD's latest announcement on Ryzen 5. The Ryzen 5 processors are quad-core and hexa-core parts using AMD's latest Zen microarchitecture, and are available at prices such that where Intel offers four cores and four threads, AMD can offer six cores and twelve threads. This 3x difference is somewhat neutered by Intel's Kaby Lake having better single core performance, but overall the Ryzen 5 CPUs are predicted to make a splash on the scene. Here is our graph of predicted performance per dollar for these CPUs:

For this chart, we can basically draw a straight line from the Ryzen 7 1800X to the Ryzen 5 1500X, which covers five of AMD's new CPUs. The major outlier is the AMD Ryzen 5 1600X, which sits way above this line. We're desperately waiting to get hold of one, to see if it can live up to predictions. We'll see where the data takes us for final conclusions, but this processor is definitely on our one-to-watch list. The Ryzen 5 family will be available from April 11th.

 

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  • Death666Angel - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    It used to be that you had to go by the specific, vendor supplied list of "good RAM" for your motherboard in order to get anything working. And when it comes to HEDT CPUs, anyone willing to fork out at least 500USD for the whole package should be assumed to have half any idea of what he is getting into. Or at least be able to use a PC to get the information he needs. Like from a comment section under a buyers guide and a quick copy-paste to Google.
    Even Ryzen R5 will not be "everybody", that should be R3 and the APUs.
    Reply
  • bji - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    Knowing the specs of your CPU and what it is supposed to be compatible with (according to those specs) *IS* having "half any idea of what he is getting into." Having to know specific details of what problems to expect with the motherboard/memory combo you are also going to buy is the other half, and I still think it's not a good recommended buy in general if it requires this kind of expertise.

    I wouldn't recommend a new car that requires specific workarounds and fixes to get it to work properly, even if those are "well known" in the sense of being posted in auto enthusiast forums online. Just wouldn't do it, it's a degree of hassle well beyond what most people should be expected to put up with. I'd make the same determination for Ryzen CPUs at this point.

    If you're an enthusiast who is savvy enough to read and understand technical forums about motherboards and memory, then you don't really need an Anandtech article telling you what CPU you should buy. If you are just looking for guidance from a tech site like Anandtech, then that guidance should not come with the caveat that "you really should become an expert in the infrastructure surrounding this processor before you buy it".

    That's obviously my personal opinion. Anandtech clearly differs in their feelings on this as do you, which is cool too.
    Reply
  • Holliday75 - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    If we are talking about people building their own computers then these issues are not that big of a deal. Sure there will be a few out there that don't bother reading, but overall its not a big deal.

    As to recommending it for the average user I do not see an issue. I doubt a system integrator will be pushing units out the door before they make sure they actually work.

    I don't care for the car analogy here as those are pre-build just like what Dell, HP and the like do and they will make sure they have the right RAM before shipping them. Non-issue.
    Reply
  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, March 21, 2017 - link

    If you're building your own rig, you should KNOW to get the BIOS flashed. Especially if the entire platform is new - the processors, the chipsets, the boards. If you ALSO are seeking to maximize performance on a new platform you're unfamiliar with, you should KNOW to seek guidance on memory and overclocking.

    If you're buying a prebuilt system, THAT is more akin to the "buying a new car" analogy.
    Reply
  • BurntMyBacon - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    @bji
    The average consumer or "everybody" target group doesn't generally build their own system to begin with. They are going to buy a prebuilt machine from an OEM like HP, Dell, Lenovo, Toshiba, Asus, et. al. These OEMs will be more than capable of sourcing memory modules to work with their mainboards and it will not take a lot of effort to write a BIOS to work at the desired speed with a very limited set of supported memory prior to release of the system.

    For those of us that build our own system, best practices suggest that you look at the mainboard's memory support list before procuring your memory. Some may come with a BIOS revision caveat. I would not consider a BIOS update procedure to be esoteric knowledge to a system builder. Likewise, failure to do due diligence on parts is likely to cause problems with more than just memory e.g. heatsinks that interfere with memory slots, VRM heatsinks, or don't mount to the socket, memory modules that run at a voltage not supported by the board/processor, video cards that require power connectors your power supply doesn't have.

    It is a negative that AMD's new platform didn't work with the existing supply of memory immediately out of the box. However, the situation is being resolved quickly and the solution should not be a significant impedance to system builders (the people this mainly affects). If you as a system builder do not know how to consult a memory support list or update a BIOS, then this is a perfect excuse to learn. Neither present a formidable challenge and both are skills that system builders should have.
    Reply
  • fanofanand - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    My understanding is that the RAM issues are related to overclocking, which the 'average' consumer won't do. So no, selecting Ryzen for the masses was not a mistake. Reply
  • arayoflight - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    I think just like the 1700, the 1600 will be better than 1600x since it will probably OC just as well and comes at a lower price with a wraith spire cooler included.

    6 cores 12 threads for $210 is going to blow the socks off the 7600k or any CPU in that range.
    Reply
  • zepi - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    Ryzens certainly look appealing for OEM machines, because the current Intels they have are much lower clocks than 7700K and don't overclock. Similarly prized Ryzen offers more cores and is much closer to per-thread perfomance parity vs. i5-7400 or i5-7500 than 7700K.

    7700K still has upper hand in many benchmarks, but the way Intel has limited their mainstream processors makes AMD quite competitive.
    Reply
  • silverblue - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    The Athlon X4 860K is a Steamroller-based CPU; the closest Excavator model is the 845, isn't it? Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, March 20, 2017 - link

    Yup, that's correct! The 860K is a pretty unexciting processor. As late as summer of last year, I was running one in a desktop paired up with a Geforce GT 730 1GB GDDR5 GPU. With such a low end graphics card, I was surprised to find I was CPU-limited in a few games like From the Depths (though I think it was built on Unity 4 and depended heavily on single threaded performance where the 860K is very weak) and GTA4 (when it could be bothered to run around the awful DRM Rockstar slapped on the PC version). For comparison, a Core i3-2120 and a Core2 Quad Q6600 were both GPU limited using the same graphics card. The 860K was actually supposed to be an upgrade to replace the Q6600, but the performance difference was pretty small, only slightly favoring the 860K. I was sort of disappointed.

    Don't get me wrong, we're talking about the difference between a $800 CPU in 2008 (~estimates...don't really remember the exact price or when I bought it) and a $70 CPU in 2016. You're getting a fair bit of performance for the cost if you get the 860K, but I think there are better deals to be had in spelunking for used Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge chips in retired business desktops if you have the technical knowledge to cobble together something second-hand around one.
    Reply

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