Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Choosing a desktop CPU: three recommendations

Building a new computer? Want to know the best CPU choices for your budget? In this article I apply an objective and replicable method to the 58 CPUs currently available on the consumer market. I'll give you twelve good options before recommending the best three.


I've written on computer hardware in the past, for example when documenting my Heldscalla build last November. But nothing ever stays constant for long; new CPU lines are introduced regularly. However, the hype around these products is not always deserved. As a rule, progress is incremental. The one exception in recent memory being the Apple M1 chips. But the successors (M2, etc.) once again conform to the rule of incremental value.

I generally look at computers on a five year cycle, since it takes that long for the cumulative benefits of new technology to (maybe) become relevant to my day-to-day work. You should never buy a new computer or upgrade components "just because", despite what YouTube pundits promote, but only if you have real requirements that need fulfilling.

Nonetheless, the introduction of three new chip lines in the past year encouraged me to update my spreadsheets. Intel introduced their 12th generation, code named Alder Lake, exactly a year ago, too late for my last computer build. Recognise these chips by their model numbers, in the 12000s. The 13th generation have more recently appeared at retail. These Raptor Lake CPUs have model numbers in the 13000s, as expected.

The other thing you need to know about Intel model numbers are the suffix letters. A "T" indicates a lower power model that will have lower performance, without much reduction in price. That's a bad deal. The "F" suffix indicates that the chip has no built-in GPU. This is inconvenient in two cases: during a build, or when your actual GPU card goes on the fritz. In these cases it's handy to be able to use the graphic circuits on the CPU chip to get some output. Performance of these is on par with the "normal" chip (without suffix) and you save only circa €20. (If you saved significantly more money, I could recommend the F chips, despite those rare use cases.) Finally, the "K" suffix means that the frequency is unlocked. These variants inevitably have the best performance.

The third line that was introduced in the past year is AMD's Ryzen 7000 series. The new Zen 4 architecture is available in four chips, distinguished by their core count. This simplicity contrasts with the maze of Intel's offerings. I've never understood why it makes financial sense for them to manufacture so many near-identical products.


My detailed spreadsheet contains all consumer-grade desktop CPUs currently on the market that have at least 4 cores. My method begins by looking up prices and filtered the products to those currently available through retail. A number of Intel chips find their way into OEM machines but can't readily be purchased by consumers.

The best way to rank performance is to use standardised tests. I collect data from Passmark and Cinebench R23 (multicore) tests. Each score is scaled against the Core i3-10100 as a baseline, resulting in a simple ratio that's easy to eyeball. These scores are added, meaning that I am giving equal weight to the two tests. This results in a simple performance metric for that CPU. Some applications will run faster; some slower. Not every combination of hardware and software can ever be taken into account. But these tests are the best available baseline. 

Chips without performance scores are omitted at this stage. My assumption is that these are niche models (why else wouldn't they be tested?) that won't be good value in any case.

In order to determine value, I simply divide the performance score into the price in Euro, then scale the result to get simple scores. I use Case King in Germany to determine prices in Euro. But please be aware that prices are volatile at the moment, with some deep discounts on certain Ryzen chips. These might be a response to the Raptor Lake release, in which case they may be permanent. Or they might simply be part of the usual November sale frenzy. Time will tell.


Of the 37 available CPUs, 12 have a value score of at least 2. These are ranked by performance in the following table.

Model CoresPrice (€)PerformanceValue
Ryzen 9 7950X1665014.02.2
Ryzen 9 7900X1252011.22.1
Core i7-13700K849010.82.2
Core i5-13600K63708.62.3
Ryzen 9 5900X124108.02.0
Core i7-12700K84008.02.0
Ryzen 7 7700X83907.72.0
Ryzen 5 7600X62855.92.1
Ryzen 7 5800X82705.92.2
Ryzen 5 5700X 82535.52.2
Ryzen 5 5600X 81804.52.5
Core i3-12100F41201.53.1

The performance winner is the Ryzen 9 7950X by a significant margin. This justifies the high cost of this CPU, compared to the next two entries. If you are already considering paying €490 for the Core i7-13700K, an extra €160 gets you a 30% performance boost. The high core count can also be important in certain scenarios: serious multitasking or use of programmes that make use of many multiple threads.

The fourth chip in the chart is better value than any above it. The Core i5-13600K can be recommended if you don't see yourself needing more than 6 cores. The value proposition is clear, since the next three ranked chips in the table actually cost more.

But even better value can be found in the lowest cost chips. The Ryzen 5 5600X has performance 4.5, only one-third of the top rank. But it only costs €180 and has eight cores. This is the best budget choice.

I had to include the lowly Core i3-12100F since it achieves the highest value rating of any CPU at 3.1. But the performance rating is too low to recommend this chip for the media tasks most of my readers perform. An extra €60 to buy the 5600X will triple performance, which is well worth the investment. At a certain point the price of the CPU becomes insignificant next to the other components of your computer. The i3-12100F is certainly past this threshold.

For my Heldscalla build last year I chose the Ryzen 9 5900X. At that time, none of the chips that rank higher were on the market, so I remain happy with that past choice. No doubt any chip on this table can be justified depending on your exact requirements an the price you can get it for.

Upgrade Factors

CPU price is only part of your cost when building a computer, since different chips require different motherboards. If you are upgrading an existing system, large savings can be made by considering only those CPUs that you can be slotted into your existing setup. This table shows recent CPU generations and the corresponding socket that they fit into.

CPU generationsocket
Rocket Lake (gen 11)LGA 1200
Alder Lake (gen 12)LGA 1700
Raptor Lake (gen 13)LGA 1700
Ryzen 4000AM4
Ryzen 5000AM4
Ryzen 7000AM5

Hence upgrading from a gen 12 to gen 13 Intel chip won't incur the expense of a new motherboard. But upgrading an AMD chip from the 4000 or 5000 series to the 7000 series will.

As explained above, I don't upgrade on a manic schedule, but only when enough generations have passed that the benefits are significant. Hence this has always required that I change both CPU and motherboard.

Comparing to other studies

Gamers Nexus [sic] is a popular YouTube channel that produces ridiculously detailed technical examinations of products aimed at the gamer community, where obsessing over a few frames in performance is the norm. A recent video titled Best CPUs of 2022 attempted a similar summary to this article, though without the concrete methodology. It's intriguing to compare the results, since the knowledge base represented by that channel is enormous.

GN had several award categories. The Ryzen 7 7950X won as "Most Efficient", the Core i5-13600K as "best overall", and the Core i3-12100F as "best budget". They chose the Ryzen 7 5700X as "best upgrade value", a category that IMO depends too much on other factors to make such a determination. Nonetheless, it's gratifying that our results conform to this extent. This justifies my chosen metrics and methods

There is one outlier. GN chose the Core i9-13900K  as "best gaming CPU." This might be the case in the USA where prices are different. But this chip doesn't even make it into my chart, since its value is 1.8. The performance lies below that of the Ryzen 9 7950X, though it costs €100 more. Stick to my recommendations

I hope this article has been of help, since it took a while to put together. If there's interest, I will update annually. Here are the top three recommendations again:

Model CoresPrice (€)PerformanceValue
Ryzen 9 7950X1665014.02.2
Core i5-13600K63708.62.3
Ryzen 5 5600X 81804.52.5


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