Best Desktop CPU for Virtualization

Core i3-7100 Athlon X4 860K Cheap Gaming Pentium G4560 A10-7890K
A10-7860K Integrated / eSports Ryzen 7 1800X
Ryzen 7 1700
CPU Workstation Memory Workstation Core i7-6800K
Core i7-6900K Ryzen 5 1600X 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 9. 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.

Grand Theft Auto V on Integrated GraphicsSmart 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 2, 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.

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