Intel desktop CPU buyers guide

What is a CPU / Processor ?

Serving as the brain of any PC, the Central Processing Unit, or the CPU, is one of the most important components to consider when buying or building a new desktop computer. Intel is undoubtedly the biggest player in this market and in this buyer's guide we'll provide an overview of the key Intel desktop CPU families with suggestions of which to choose depending on your needs and usage – from simple web browsing right through to content creation and VR gaming Another thing to consider when choosing the right CPU is making sure you choose a compatible motherboard and we'll indicate this for each processor family as we go through them. Intel is constantly updating their product range which could make it confusing to know if you're buying the latest and greatest version.

The easiest way to tell is to look at what architecture the processor is, this essentially refers to the generation of that product which you'll always find in the product description and in this buyers guide we'll highlight which is the latest architecture for each processor family.

From Celeron to i9 CPUs

To help consumers pick an Intel processor, their chips are split into unique families whose characteristics best represent.

Celeron and Pentium
Entry Level
Core i3 and Core i5
Mid Range
Core i7 and Core i9
High End

Intel Celeron Processors

At the entry-level end of the scale are the Intel Celeron processors which are priced from as little as £35 and these processors are best suited to light computing tasks such as web browsing, online communication, streaming multimedia content and word processing.

These dual-core CPUs work together with the included Intel HD graphics so you don't need to buy a graphics card.

Gaming 2
Virtual Reality 0
Content Creation 3
Multitasking 3
Value 7
0 5 10

Latest achitecture Coffee Lake

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z270 / Intel Z170 / Intel H270 / Intel B250 / Intel Q270 / Intel B150 / Intel H110 / Intel Z370 / Intel H370 / Intel H310 / Intel B360

Intel Pentium Processors

A big step up from Celeron, today's Intel Pentium processors are ideal for small, low-power desktops, and for managing photos, staying in touch with friends, enjoying high-quality multimedia, creating and editing documents as well as casual gaming.

They are dual-core CPUs but this time they support HyperThreading which is a technology which allows a CPU to do more at once, giving them more performance than their Celeron cousins.

Gaming 3
Virtual Reality 0
Content Creation 4
Multitasking 4
Value 10
0 5 10

Latest achitecture: Coffee Lake

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z270 / Intel Z170 / Intel H270 / Intel B250 / Intel Q270 / Intel B150 / Intel H110 / Intel Z370 / Intel H370 / Intel H310 / Intel B360

Intel Core i3 Processors

Entering into the mid-range territory, the Intel Core i3 is a sizeable step up from Pentium because these CPUs are quad core. They offer a perfect solution for editing photos, creating videos, streaming 4K multimedia, multi-tasking and playing the latest games in VR.

Gaming 5
Virtual Reality 5
Content Creation 5
Multitasking 5
Value 7
0 5 10

Latest achitecture: Coffee Lake

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z370 / Intel H370 / Intel H310 / Intel B360

Intel Core i5 Processors

A superb mid-range choice would be the Core i5 which offers enough power for effortless multi-tasking along with creating, editing and sharing 4K content and immersive experiences such as virtual reality.

The latest Core i5 processors offer 6 cores so will appeal to power users compared to the previous generation Core i5s which were quad core and were much slower.

And if you're looking to overclock, which makes games and application to run faster, then look out a K-Series chip – this is indicated by a K on the end of model number.

Gaming 7
Virtual Reality 7
Content Creation 7
Multitasking 6
Value 7
0 5 10

Latest achitecture: Coffee Lake

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z390 / Intel Z370 / Intel H370 / H310

Intel Core i7 Processors

Moving up to Core i7, and this is a go-to solution for enthusiasts seeking unprecedented speed and responsiveness. In many ways the Core i7 is one of the best all-round processors to date and this is a chip for those who want to create and play with stunning 4K visuals on a PC that can do it all. Core i7s provide excellent performance in all types of application and game.

Core i7 processors feature more cores and cache, giving them more performance that Core i5s, and some also support HyperThreading for an additional speed boost. And again if you're looking to overclock then look out a K-Series chip.

Gaming 9
Virtual Reality 10
Content Creation 8
Multitasking 7
Value 5
0 5 10

Latest achitecture: Coffee Lake

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z390 / Intel Z370 / Intel H370 / Intel H310 / Intel B360

Intel Core i9 Processors

If you regularly juggle multiple CPU-intensive workloads at the same time such as rendering 4K video while crunching numbers and competing with thousands in online games then the top of the range Core i9 is for you.

It's the new kid on the block and the Core i9 CPUs are available with up to 18 cores. There are currently two families of Core i9 CPUs, those based on the Coffee Lake architecture with up to 8-cores and require an Intel Z390 motherboard, and those based on the Skylake X architecture with up to 18-cores and require an Intel X299 motherboard.

Hyperthreading comes as standard, and the Skylake X versions also support more memory and graphics cards than lower-spec Intel CPUs, making them a great choice for content creation workstations. All Core i9s are overclockable.

Gaming 9
Virtual Reality 10
Content Creation 10
Multitasking 10
Value 3
0 5 10

Latest achitecture:Coffee Lake / Skylake X

Compatible motherboardsIntel Z370 / Intel X299

Summary

Still not sure which Intel CPU is right for you? This table shows the key characteristics, rated out of 10, of the main processor families.

Celeron Pentium Core i3 Core i5 Core i7 Core i9
Gaming 2 3 5 7 9 9
Virtual Reality 0 0 5 7 10 10
Content Creation 3 4 5 7 8 10
Multitasking 3 4 5 6 7 10
Value 7 10 7 7 5 3

We hope you've found this buyers guide helpful. Don't hesitate to speak to one of our friendly advisors for more advice if you still have questions on how to select the perfect CPU for your needs.