Your CPU has a huge effect on overall performance and, to many, is a computer’s most important component. But when it comes time to buying a CPU for your desktop, you’ll find a dizzying collection of model numbers and specs from both Intel and AMD. We’ve listed our the best CPUs for gaming and best processors for work in other articles, but if you want to know how each chip stacks up against all the others and how we come to our decisions, this CPU Hierarchy is for you. We will talk about CPU Hierarchy.
Below, we’ve ranked all the consumer Intel 9th, 8th and 7th Gen processors, along with AMD’s Ryzen and Threadripper chips from all three generations. We determined the order in the first table based on a geometric mean of gaming performance in four titles: Grand Theft Auto V, Hitman 2, Final Fantasy XV, and World of Tanks.
We also include an application performance metric in our application score tables, which we’ve split up into single- and multi-core measurements (below gaming table). We generated the single-threaded metric via a geometric mean of performance in single-threaded LAME, Cinebench, POV-Ray and y-cruncher applications, giving you a good idea of performance in everyday desktop PC applications. The multi-threaded workload column is based on performance in Cinebench, POV-ray, vray, Blender, y-cruncher, and Handbrake x264 and x265 workloads represent performance in productivity-focused applications that tend to require more compute horsepower.
The most powerful chip gets a 100 and all others are scored relative to it. If you want our recommendations for specific price bands, please check out our Best CPUs for gaming page.
This update of CPU Hierarchy finds the Core i9-10850K making an appearance with almost identical performance to Intel’s flagship 10900K, but with a $30 discount. Better yet, you can now find the chip on sale and with a free game – at least for now. You can see how the chip stacks up in the broader scheme of things below, but be sure to check out our review for a closer look.
The Ryzen 7 Pro “Renoir” 4750G recently landed in our lab. This chip for professional users is functionally the same as the consumer Ryzen 7 4700G, so it gives us an accurate representation of the consumer chips. Unfortunately, AMD hasn’t brought these chips to the retail market, instead of delivering them to OEMs and SIs for pre-built systems only. Like us, you can pick the chips up on the grey market, and they are now the uncontested king of the hill in terms of iGPU performance. We included the processor to our gaming and application hierarchy below, but be aware that we used a discrete graphics card to test gaming performance for the values listed below.
Nvidia’s Ampere lineup has arrived, setting a new bar for high-performance GPUs. The new level of GPU performance obviously could expose new CPU limitations and increase the delta between competing processors. As such, we’re preparing to retest all of our gaming performance benchmarks below with a faster Ampere graphics card. Stay tuned.
CPU Hierarchy: Intel and AMD CPU Gaming Hierarchy
You can use the Nvidia GTX 2080 Ti GPU for our tests at HD resolution. We have also included several newer processors that we haven’t tested yet, but we’ve assigned them basic positions in our hierarchy based on their capabilities. Naturally, this list will grow as we add more processors.
You may be surprised to find that some less-expensive chips ranked above their upscale siblings. For example, the Core i7-9700K comes out ahead of the Core i9-9900K on this list because it offers better performance in some games due to its lack of hyperthreading, which was enough to help it do better on the overall suite of tests. However, depending on the application, you may see stronger results from the higher-end chip.
Single-threaded performance is often tied directly to the responsiveness and snappiness of your PC in any number of daily applications, like loading an operating system or surfing the web. This metric largely depends upon a mixture of instruction per cycle (IPC) throughput (the number of operations the chip can execute in one clock cycle) and frequency, which is the speed at which the transistors switch between on and off states. However, a whole host of other considerations, such as cache, architecture, and interconnects (like rings, meshes, and infinity fabric) impact this measure of per-core performance, so these results do not align perfectly based upon clock frequency. Instead, performance varies with each application and how well it is tuned for the respective architectures.
Like we see with single-threaded performance metrics, multi-threaded performance, which is a measure of a chips performance in applications that utilize multiple software threads, varies based upon a whole host of architectural factors. It also depends heavily upon how well the software scales with additional compute cores. As such, these results do not align perfectly based upon core/thread count, though it does serve as a decent litmus of multi-threaded performance. Be aware that architectures, caches, and interconnects also have a profound impact on these results, as all of these factors impact how well performance scales with additional threads. Performance rarely scales perfectly with the addition of more cores/threads, so the scaling factor of each processor architecture weighs in heavily on the value proposition of going with a higher core count processor for your specific application.
These factors impact the Threadripper lineup in our charts. With an industry-leading slathering of core counts, these processors offer the utmost performance in many different threaded workloads, but can suffer in some less-demanding desktop PC-class applications that either don’t utilize the cores and threads fully, or aren’t optimized for the architecture. That reduces the gap separating the rankings in the mainstream applications we use for this list, but in many cases, you can see much larger deltas with specific applications. You should view individual reviews and our best processors for applications list for a better sense of how those processors fare in professional workloads.
CPU Hierarchy: Legacy Desktop Processor Hierarchy
Recognizing that a lot of older platforms are going to be paired with graphics subsystems multiple generations old, we wanted to define the top of our range to encourage balance between host processing and complementary GPUs. At this point, anyone with a Sandy Bridge-based Core i7 would realize a gain from stepping up to Coffee Lake or Kaby Lake, for example. And putting AMD’s top FX CPUs next to a handful of Core i7s and those older Core i5s represents an upgrade to their status.
Currently, our hierarchy consists of 13 total tiers. The bottom half of the chart is largely outdated; you’ll notice those CPUs dragging down performance in the latest games, regardless of the graphics card installed in your PC. If you own a CPU in that range, an upgrade could really take your experience to another level.
Really, it’s the top five tiers or so that remain viable. And in that top half of the chart, an upgrade is typically worthwhile if it’s a least a couple of tiers higher. Otherwise, there’s just not enough improvement to warrant the expense of a fresh CPU, motherboard, and RAM (not to mention the graphics card and storage solution you’d be considering as well).
Hopefully, this article was informative. Let us know in the comments if you have any doubts regarding this.