Best CPU: 10 top processors reviewed and rated

What's the best CPU for you?

AMD A10-5700

Price: £90
Socket: FM2

A10 5700

This is a chip we're desperate to like. For starters, it's the most technically interesting CPU here. You've got AMD's latest Piledriver architecture and all its funky hybrid core technology. Then there's an AMD Radeon HD 7660D graphics, the most powerful integrated core on Earth.

In the end, however it's cold, hard numbers and practicality that counts, not intellectual niceties. On the latter point, the A10 falls at the first hurdle. Thanks to that integrated graphics core, it has different pin-out requirements to other AMD chips. And that means a unique socket, known as FM2.

That's a bit of a bummer because it means you can't buy an A10-based system and retain the option of upgrading to heftier hardware later on. And trust us, pretty soon you'll want heftier hardware.

Read the full AMD A10-5700 review

AMD FX-4300

Price: £95
Socket: AM3

AMD FX 4300

There's nothing we love more than a giant-killing budget special. So, the AMD FX-4300 ought to be right up our alley with its double-digit price tag. But the problems begin as soon as you look at the price.

The gap to the FX-6300 is a little bigger in AMD's own price lists. But in the end, what matters to us (and, obviously, to you) is full retail pricing. And as we go to press, the 4300 just happens to be under £10 cheaper than the 6300.

If the 4300 was just clocked a little slower or short on cache, that might actually make sense. You could clock it up and spend that tenner down the pub. In reality, however, the 4300 is missing a pair of cores and that really is awfully hard to make up for.

Read the full AMD FX-4300 review

AMD FX-6300

Price: £102
Socket: AM3

AMD FX

Picking between the AMD FX family is mostly about making finely balanced judgements on performance and price. Well, it is when you compare this six-core FX-6300 with the eight-core 8350.

As those who read from top to bottom will already appreciate, the quad-core 4300 pretty much implodes by virtue of being far too close to the 6300 on pricing. So, in AMD terms, it's 6300 versus 8350. Time for a fight.

For gaming, it's a knock out in the first round. After much gameplay, we can confirm that the 8350's extra cores don't land any punches, so the £50 premium is hard-earned money much better invested in a faster graphics card.

Read the full AMD FX-6300 review

AMD FX-8350

Price: £153
Socket: AM3

AMD FX 4300

Per-core performance. Single-threaded grunt. Instructions per clock. Call it what you will, but the amount of work done by a single core each cycle is AMD's big problem right now.

Of course, defining what a core is has become a little murky since AMD released the Bulldozer architecture in late 2011. With shared floating point resources for each pair of integer units, you can argue this chip is both quad-core and eight-core. In reality, it's somewhere in between.

Like the other AMD FX chips, the 8350 has the new-specification Piledriver cores. But they're only a fairly minor derivation of Bulldozer, so AMD's best hope with this generation was always going to be clockspeeds.

Read the full AMD FX-8350 review

Intel Core i3-3225

Price: £109
Socket: LGA1155

Intel Core i3 3225

Once upon a time, during one of the golden ages of home-brew computing, the difference between a high end CPU and a £100 poverty chip was nothing that you couldn't fix with a big fan, some thermal paste, and maybe a pencil. If you want to know just how much things have changed. Look no further than the Intel Core i3-3225.

The poverty stricken bit it's got nailed, even if £109 isn't exactly chump change. But the sad fact is that there's nothing you can do to bridge the gap between the 3225 and even a mid-range chip like the Core i5-3570K, much less a six-core Extreme processor or the outrageous £1,500 Xeon monster.

Read the full Intel Core i3-3225 review

Intel Core i5-3470

Price: £145
Socket: LGA1155

Core i5 3470

The Intel Core i5-3470 is a pain in the arse. In many ways, it's a very compelling chip that offers nearly everything you get with the Core i5-3570K for a little less cash. So it puts you in a real quandary. Should you spend £145 on the 3470, or should you pony up £175 for the 3570K?

For some the answer is actually pretty easy. If you're absolutely sure you're not going to overclock your CPU, go for the 3470. The stock clock comparison is 3.2GHz nominal and 3.6Ghz Turbo for the 3470 and 3.5Ghz nominal, 3.8GHz Turbo for the 3570K.

In either case, you get quite fabulous single-threaded performance, very good multi-threaded throughput and gaming that's about as good as it gets. In fact, in the here and now, it's all you need for quality gaming.

Read the full Intel Core i5-3470 review

Intel Core i5-3570K

Price: £175
Socket: LGA1155

Core i5 3570K

The marketing men of Intel don't half wind us up. But there is one upside to the endless artificial variants on Intel's Ivy Bridge micro-architecture theme. There's bound to be something that fits into just about any usage-model slot you can think of.

When it comes to gaming, that something is undoubtedly the Core i5-3570K. It's the full quad-core Monty, none of this dual-core, quad-thread nonsense served up by cheaper Core i3s and indeed one or two Core i5 models. What it doesn't have is HyperThreading, so it's not the sharpest tool in the box when it comes to heavily threaded apps like video encoding.

To put that in context, it's no slouch. Indeed, it's quicker than a six-thread AMD FX processor in Cinebench and x264 HD video encoding.

Read the full Intel Core i5-3570K review

Intel Core i7-3770K

Price: £255
Socket: LGA1155

Core i7 3770K

There are some things in life you really want to hate. Like massively successful people. Or new variants of the Porsche 911 with electric steering (sorry, that one will probably take a bit too much explaining). But then they turn out to be really nice and amazing fun to drive. And you just bloody well can't.

That's pretty much the case for the Intel Core i7-3770K. At around £250, it's over £100 pricier than the Core i5-3470. But it's based on precisely the same silicon. The main difference is that Intel has flicked a few switches, fully exposing the Ivy Bridge architecture's goodness.

So, you get HyperThreading and thus a grand total of eight threads. The CPU multiplier has been fully unlocked, too, so you can clock the twangers off it at whim. And the cache has been fully enabled, so you've got the full 8MB.

Read the full Intel Core i7-3770K review

Intel Core i7-3970X

Price: £820
Socket: LGA2011

i7 3970X

High-end CPUs used to be a tough sell back when Intel produced a single processor core and simply differentiated with clocks and cache. There wasn't much you could do about the latter, but overclocking a budget chip usually produced something surprisingly comparable with the flagship Extreme effort.

Then Intel started doing things differently - like the six-core Gulftown chip. With an extra pair of cores and a unique triple-channel platform, it was a different proposition from Intel's mainstream desktop CPUs.

Intel's high-end platforms have been thinly disguised workstation-cum-server tech - that's added complexity and cost in areas that don't benefit desktop users. And yet, you could still argue that they're something special.

Read the full Core i7-3970X review

Intel Xeon E5-2687W

Xeon E5 2687W

Price: £1450
Socket: LGA2011

Eight cores. 16 threads. This is the way Intel's Sandy Bridge-E was supposed to be. But it's only available in Xeon trim.

You could ask what's in a name? After all, the Intel Xeon E5-2687W will drop into any old X79 motherboard, just like a Core i7 desktop processor. So if you want the full eight cores, you can have them. But that Xeon moniker comes with a pretty punitive price tag. In this case, we're talking £1,450. If that seems ridiculous, it probably is.

However, in Intel's defence, Xeons are aimed at a different market. In the desktop context, that means you're paying for redundant features, most notably validation for enterprise workloads. The other unwanted corollary of the Xeon's workstation-ness is that it's irreversibly locked, so you can't adjust the CPU multiplier.

Read the full Intel Xeon E5-2687W review