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Computing

Think it’s time to upgrade your gaming CPU? Read this first

We’re on the edge of a new generation of gaming CPUs — 13th-gen Raptor Lake from Intel and Ryzen 7000 from AMD. If you’re reading this on the day it’s published, in fact, AMD is set to launch it’s next-gen processors tomorrow. But should you care?

AMD and Intel will undoubtedly both come out claiming ownership over the best gaming CPU, but testing consistently shows that gaming CPU upgrades don’t have the biggest impact on your frame rate. There’s a lot going on in the next generation of processors, so I’m going to help break down how to understand your CPU’s role in games and how you can determine when it’s time for an upgrade.

A layman’s guide to CPU bottlenecks

Taylor Frint / Digital Trends

Gaming CPU upgrades all come down to bottlenecks in your PC. A bottleneck is when one component in your PC is limiting the performance of another, and CPUs have a dirty secret when it comes to gaming — they don’t do much. Of course, your CPU is active and critical to playing games, but its main role is to get out of the way of your GPU.

A CPU bottleneck is when your processor is limiting your graphics card, and it’s easy to check if that’s going on with your PC. Load up a demanding game you like to play with Task Manager open in Windows, click More details, and check where your CPU and GPU utilization are at. You have a bottleneck if your CPU utilization is above your GPU utilization.

CPU and GPU usage in Destiny 2.
This is ideally where you want to be, where your GPU has headroom and isn’t waiting on your CPU.

Most systems have bottlenecks at various places, so you’re mainly looking for large discrepancies (like your CPU at 100% while your GPU is at 60%). The goal with most games is to have your GPU running at full 100% utilization regardless of where your CPU is at. Your graphics card is the most important component when playing games, so it should be in use more than your CPU.

There’s some complexity here, though. For starters, 100% GPU utilization doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t need to upgrade your PC. It just means you should upgrade your GPU instead of your CPU, which is especially true if you’re pairing a weaker graphics card with a powerful processor.

The resolution you play at is a determining factor, as well. The Core i5-12600K is about 15% faster than the Core i5-10600K at 1080p, for example, but there’s only around a 3% difference at 4K. The money you would spend upgrading your CPU is better spent on a new graphics card (or maybe even a 4K gaming monitor if you were already planning on upgrading).

Even with that, most of the complexity comes down to the games you play. There isn’t a hard rule for which games use the CPU more, but you can break down the titles you play to understand the role of your processor.

Dispelling gaming CPU myths

Someone holding the Core i9-12900KS processor.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

There are a lot of misguided ideas about gaming CPUs because, frankly, they’re complex. Some say you only need a quad-core CPU for gaming, others say gaming performance is all about frequency, and gaming processors like the Ryzen 7 5800X3D would have you believe gaming performance is all about CPU cache size.

The reality is that core count, frequency, cache, and all the other specs of your CPU matter; it just depends on which of those things is most important. As AMD’s Robert Hallock explained to me, games largely break down into three buckets. A game can be sensitive to frequency, latency, or graphics, and identifying the sensitivities in your favorite games can tell you a lot about what you need out of a new gaming CPU.

In general, competitive multiplayer titles like Rainbow Six Siege and Fortnite are sensitive to latency. The instructions for these games are simple for your CPU to execute, but they’re random and based on player choice. Your CPU gets the instructions finished quickly, but it needs those instructions as quickly as possible. This bucket of games is latency sensitive, which is why the increased cache on the Ryzen 7 5800X3D offers such a big boost in games like Fortnite.

Gaming CPU benchmarks in Fortnite.

Frequency-sensitive games don’t have a lot of random instructions. The games are fairly predictable, but they have a lot of instructions that need to be executed very quickly. You can see an example of that in Red Dead Redemption 2, where the increased core count and clock speed of the Core i9-12900K beats out the boosted cache on the Ryzen 7 5800X3D.

Red Dead Redemption 2 benchmarks for gaming CPUs.

Finally, graphics-sensitive games just aren’t too concerned with your CPU. These games lean heavier on your GPU, so different CPUs won’t provide much of a benefit. Some examples include Cyberpunk 2077 and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, but it’s important to keep bottlenecks in mind with graphics-sensitive games. These games may not see a big boost with clock speed or increased cache, but they’ll see a massive jump if your GPU is being bottlenecked.

You won’t find a game that’s only focused on frequency or only concerned with latency, but it’s good to identify where the games you play lean. If you play a lot of Rainbow Six Siege, for example, you’ll see a benefit from a newer CPU with a larger cache pool, but in a relatively straightforward shooter like Borderlands 3, you only need six cores at most on a fairly recent generation.

Platform features make a difference

Corsair DDR5 RAM inside a PC.
Corsair

AMD Ryzen 7000 and Intel 13th-gen Raptor Lake present a unique hurdle for CPU upgrades. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend you upgrade to a new generation if you’re focused on gaming (assuming you have a balanced PC otherwise). These two generations present the introduction of DDR5 and PCIe 5.0, however.

DDR5 memory isn’t as important as it might seem. I’ll dive deeper into DDR5’s role in gaming in my next column, but it isn’t a reason to upgrade your CPU alone. The more interesting platform feature is PCIe 5.0.

PCIe 5.0 still has a lot of maturing to do, but it was only a couple of generations ago that we were locked to PCIe 3.0. Intel 10th-gen and AMD Ryzen 2000, and older processors, are locked to PCIe 3.0. That means you won’t get the best performance out of features like DirectStorage, and it could be downright disastrous depending on the GPU you have (read my RX 6500 XT review for more on that).

Should you upgrade your gaming CPU?

Core i9-12900KS processor socketed in a motherboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

If you should upgrade your gaming CPU comes down to what you have now, what games you plan to play, and what graphics card you’re pairing the CPU with. There’s a lot of advice in this entry for understanding your gaming CPU, but I didn’t want to leave it without offering some buying advice, too.

I went through all major game releases in 2022, and none of them call for more than six cores. Six cores with one of the last three CPU generations is where you want to be. Some games can take advantage of eight cores, like Cyberpunk 2077, but the differences are much smaller once you hit six cores.

Your pairing of CPU and GPU plays a big role as well. My rule of thumb is to have my GPU and CPU within two generations of each other and to balance where they are in the product stack. If you upgraded to a card like the RTX 3060 Ti but are still sitting on a Ryzen 7 1700X, for example, swapping out your CPU will provide a massive uplift in performance. If you already have the newer Ryzen 5 5600X, though, you probably won’t see much of a boost.

There aren’t any hard rules for upgrading your gaming CPU. Ultimately, the best way to avoid unnecessary upgrades is to develop a deeper understanding of the role your CPU plays in games and pay close attention to how your own PC handles them.

This article is part of ReSpec – an ongoing biweekly column that includes discussions, advice, and in-depth reporting on the tech behind PC gaming.

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Computing

What is CPU cache, and is it important?

With products like the Ryzen 7 5800X3D earning the crown as the best CPU for gaming, you’re probably wondering what CPU cache is and why it’s such a big deal in the first place. We already know that AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 7000 CPUs and Intel’s 13th-generation Raptor Lake processors will focus on more cache, signaling this will be a critical spec in the future.

But should you care about CPU cache? We’re going to break down what CPU cache is, why it’s so important, and how it can make a massive difference if you’re gaming.

What is CPU cache?

Cache is the amount of memory that is within the CPU itself, either integrated into individual cores or shared between some or all cores. It’s a small bit of dedicated memory that lives directly on the processor so that your CPU doesn’t need to fetch information from your system RAM every time you want to do something on your PC. Every processor has a small amount of cache, with smaller CPUs getting perhaps just a few kilobytes while large CPUs can have many megabytes worth of cache.

But you might be wondering why cache is necessary at all when we have RAM, especially when a single stick of RAM can have several gigabytes of memory. It’s all about performance. In the 1990s, the pace of performance improvements between CPUs and RAM started to become apparent. After all, CPU designers were focused on increasing speed, while RAM designers wanted to increase capacity and neglected speed. For the CPU designers, this was a problem because RAM speed is a crucial factor in CPU performance for many applications, and the bigger the CPU-RAM gap got, the harder it would be to improve performance.

Cache was the solution. Although cache has little capacity compared to RAM, its high speed makes up for it in most cases. Cache isn’t perfect, however. Its main weakness is size; cache is physically large for how little it can store. Cache is also resilient to node shrinks, so while the cores and other components in a CPU can shrink quite easily from one generation to another, cache shrinks much less. This makes cache a very expensive component of a CPU, which is one of the main reasons why cache usually has such a small amount of storage.

How does cache work?

The mainstream adoption of cache resulted in more nuanced implementations of cache and RAM until we ended up with the memory hierarchy, with cache at the top, RAM in the middle, and storage at the bottom. This tiered approach allows critical data for the CPU to be physically closer to the processor, reducing latency and helping your PC feel snappy.

The modern memory hierarchy.
Carlos Carvalho

Cache has its own hierarchy, or cache levels, which are split into L1, L2, and L3 cache. These are all kinds of cache, but they perform slightly different functions.

L1 cache is the first level of cache and also the smallest, usually divided into L1 instruction or L1i and L1 data or L1d. Each core within a CPU has its exclusive chunk of L1 cache, which is usually only a few kilobytes large. The kind of data stored in L1 cache is stuff that the CPU just used or expects to use imminently. If the CPU needs data that isn’t in the L1 cache, it goes to the next level: L2.

Like L1 cache, L2 cache is often exclusive to a single CPU core, but in some CPUs, it’s shared between multiple cores. It’s also much, much larger; for example, each P-core in the Core i9-12900K has 80 kilobytes of L1 cache, as well as 1.25 megabytes of L2 cache, nearly 16 times as much. However, larger caches have higher latency, which means it takes more time for communication to happen between the CPU core and the cache. When CPUs want to accomplish things in a matter of microseconds or even nanoseconds, the slightly higher latency of L2 cache does matter. If a CPU can’t find requested data within L2 cache, it asks the next level: L3.

L3 cache is a big deal: it’s shared between some or all cores within a CPU, and it’s big. The 12900K has 30MB of L3 cache, for example, 24 times the amount of L2 cache. The latency of L3 cache is even worse than L2, but having a large L3 cache is really important to prevent the CPU from needing to ask the RAM for needed data. Except for storage, RAM has the worst speed and latency in the memory hierarchy, and whenever the CPU needs to access the RAM for required data, things grind to a halt. Ideally, anything important is going to be stored at least within L3 cache to prevent a massive slowdown.

Some CPUs even have L4 cache, but it usually functions as RAM that’s on the CPU package. Some of Intel’s first 14nm CPUs based on the Broadwell architecture included 128MB of embedded DRAM, and the company’s upcoming Sapphire Rapids server CPUs can come with HBM2, which is kind of used like an extra level of cache.

Does CPU cache matter for gaming?

AMD CEO holding 3D V-Cache CPU.

CPU cache makes a big difference for gaming. Although single-threaded performance, instructions per clock (IPC), and clock speed have traditionally been said to be the most important factors in gaming performance, it’s become very clear that cache is probably the most important factor of all in the rivalry between AMD and Intel.

Cache is so important for gaming because of how games are designed today. Modern games have a lot of randomness, which means that the CPU constantly needs to execute simple instructions. Without enough cache, your graphics card is forced to wait on your CPU as the instructions pile up and cause a bottleneck. You can see an example of how much of a difference that makes with AMD’s 3D V-Cache technology in Far Cry 6 below.

Ryzen 7 5800X3D performance in Far Cry 6.

We’ve seen a trend toward more cache for gaming in recent years. AMD’s Ryzen 3000 CPUs had twice as much L3 cache as the previous generation and were much faster for gaming, almost catching up to Intel. When Ryzen 5000 launched, AMD didn’t add more cache, but it did unify the two blocks of L3 cache within the CPU, which greatly reduced the latency and put AMD in the lead for gaming performance. AMD doubled down with its 3D V-Cache technology on the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, which stacks a 64MB chip of L3 cache on top of the CPU for a total of 96MB, more than even the flagship Ryzen 9 5950X.

Intel has been playing catch-up with AMD, and its current-generation Alder Lake CPUs have up to 30MB of L3 cache, which is significantly less than most Ryzen CPUs, but they also have lots more L1 and L2 cache. However, Intel’s disadvantage in L3 capacity doesn’t mean Ryzen 5000 CPUs are much faster for gaming. In our Core i9-12900K review, we found that the 12900K was tied with the Ryzen 9 5950X for gaming performance.

The race for cache will almost certainly continue with the upcoming Ryzen 7000 and Raptor Lake CPUs. Ryzen 7000 is confirmed to have twice the L2 cache of Ryzen 5000, and we will probably see more CPUs using V-Cache. Meanwhile, Intel doesn’t have its own version of V-Cache, but Raptor Lake is rumored to have much more L3 cache than Alder Lake, just in the CPU itself.

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Game

Dell’s affordable G16 gaming laptop features a 12th-gen Intel CPU and NVIDIA RTX graphics

New Alienware laptops with optional 480Hz displays aren’t the only computers Dell announced today. The company also has a new option for those looking for something more affordable. The G16 represents the first 16-inch laptop for the company’s Dell Gaming brand. Dell went with a 16:10 panel that features a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution, 165Hz refresh rate, G-Sync compatibility and a modest 300 nits of peak brightness. 

No word on response rate or panel type, but the company notes the decision to go with a 16:10 aspect ratio allowed it to fit the G16’s display into a 15-inch chassis. As a result, the laptop has 11 percent more screen space than the G15.

Internally, the G16 comes with Intel’s 12th-generation Core i7 12700H processor. The 14-core, 20-thread chip features a maximum boost clock of 4.70GHz. Straight from the factory, Dell will let you configure the G16 with up to 16GB of 4,800MHz DDR5 RAM. You can add 16GB of RAM on your own to max out the laptop’s memory. Storage starts at 512GB via a Class 35 M.2 NVMe. You can configure the G16 with up to 2TB of total storage.

As for your video card options, you have three. The base model has an RTX 3050 Ti with 4GB of GDDR6 memory that can draw 90 watts of power. Alternatively, you can buy the G16 with either an RTX 3060 or 3070 Ti. The latter can pull up to 140W of power and features 8GB of GDDR6 memory, making it the most sensible option for a gaming laptop with a QHD display. Your GPU will also decide whether the G16 comes with a Thunderbolt 4 port. The connection is only available on models with an RTX 3060 or 3070 Ti. Otherwise, both variants come with HDMI 2.1, three USB-A connections, a headphone jack and an Ethernet port. WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity are also standard across all variants. Powering everything is either a 56WHr or 86WHr battery.

You also have three options when it comes to G16’s typing experience. By default, the laptop comes with a one-zone RGB keyboard. You can upgrade to a model with per-key lighting, with the option to add CherryMX switches as well. The Dell G16 will start at $1,400 when it goes on sale on July 21st.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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Computing

How to Overclock Your CPU

By overclocking your CPU, you can squeeze extra performance out of your PC without spending any money. Most processors have a little extra headroom, and if you know how to overclock your CPU, you can take advantage of it for higher frame rates in games, faster renders in Adobe Pro, and everything in between.

Although overclocking may seem scary, the reality is that it’s not too difficult and it doesn’t pose much of a risk if you know what you’re doing. In this guide, we’ll run you through the basics for how to overclock your Intel and AMD CPU. Remember though, CPU overclocking is only half the battle for maximizing your PC’s performance; you can also overclock memory, too. And if you aren’t sure which processor to get, check out our guide on AMD Vs. Intel desktop and laptop processors.

A word of caution

When you overclock a processor, a couple of things happen. The chip runs hotter and uses more power. Both factors can lead to problems if you’re using the stock cooler supplied with the CPU. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t overclock, but your potential overclocking headroom is much lower than using a more advanced air or liquid cooling system in your PC.

You’re operating outside of the limits of your CPU when overclocking, which could lower its lifespan. After all, increased power and heat will degrade most PC components faster. That said, most moderate overclocks won’t impact the lifespan on your processor in any meaningful way.

If you want to overclock a laptop CPU, you’re probably out of luck. Few allow it, and fewer still possess the thermal headroom to make it viable. But even if you can, we caution against it for your first overclocking venture.

Finally, overclocking your CPU can void its warranty. AMD and Intel typically don’t cover overclocking, though they would be hard-pressed to prove overclocking killed your CPU — unless you pushed way too much voltage through the chip.

Motherboard manufacturers may or may not cover overclocking. If you’re concerned, check the warranty before trying.

Identify your CPU

Comet Lake S 10400

Before you start overclocking the CPU, figure out what you have — the chip may not even support overclocking in the first place. If it does, determine its theoretical maximums with a little research.

Which processors you can overclock is an area where AMD and Intel differ significantly. You can overclock the most recent Ryzen CPUs from AMD. Typically, you can only overclock the Intel K and X series CPUs.

Below are several recent unlocked Intel processors primed for overclocking. If your CPU isn’t on the list and doesn’t have a K or X suffix in its name, overclocking may not be possible. Double-check if you’re unsure.

SKU Base clock Turbo clock
Core i9-11900K 3.5GHz 5.3GHz
Core i7-11700K 3.6GHz 5.0GHz
Core i5-11600K 3.9GHz 4.9GHz
Core i9-10900K 3.7GHz 5.3GHz
Core i7-10700K 3.8GHz 5.1GHz
Core i5-10600K 4.1GHz 4.8GHz

AMD processors have remained completely unlocked and overclockable for generations. The last several generations of Ryzen CPUs support overclocking, including the recent Ryzen 5000 chips. Many FX-series processors support overclocking, too, if you’re still holding onto one.

If you’re not sure, don’t fret. The worst thing that can happen if you can’t overclock your CPU is that you try, and it doesn’t work. The software we recommend will tell you as such, so at worst, you’ll face some disappointment.

Housekeeping

Since overclocking increases your system’s operating temperature, it forces both your CPU and system cooling to work harder than usual. If this is your first overclocking attempt, give your PC a spring cleaning. You can clean the dust filters on your front intake fans or remove all hardware and wipe down every surface inside.

Ultimately, you want to make sure clumps of dust aren’t blocking air flowing in and out of your PC. Also, make sure dust doesn’t collect on your CPU cooler. That’s where the majority of the additional heat accumulates.

Before cleaning, turn off the PC and wear an anti-static wristband. We also don’t recommend using a vacuum cleaner to remove dust due to the potential for static buildup. If dust is hard to reach, use a can of compressed air.

When you’re finally ready, skip ahead to the section for the brand of CPU you have, and follow the instructions there.

Intel CPU: Extreme Tuning Utility

You can overclock Intel CPUs using the BIOS. Since this is a beginner’s guide to overclocking, we recommend Intel’s Windows-based Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU), which you can download here. It’s a free software suite explicitly designed to overclock your Intel CPU.

Unlike some third-party software, the Intel XTU is stable, reliable, and unlikely to cause problems independently. It gives you a detailed look at your CPU’s current state. Even if you’re not overclocking, it’s a great little utility providing loads of information about your system.

Intel XTU Main

Intel XTU may look a little intimidating at first, given its many highly-granular options. But once you grow familiar with the tool, everything makes sense. The reams of information become highly useful.

Step 1: Baseline temperatures and performance

The first time you start XTU, take a few baseline readings to make sure your CPU is ready to overclock. Start by running Stress Test located on the left-hand menu. Run this test for at least an hour.

Intel XTU Stress Test

You can sit and watch the test or do something else. If you leave, return toward the end of the hour and look at the system information in the window’s base.

Take note of the Package Temperature. If your CPU is hotter than 80 degrees, you don’t have the thermal headroom to overclock. We recommend improving your cooling before continuing any further.

Intel XTU Package Temp

If your temperature is below that — preferably well under it — you have some thermal wiggle room to push your chip at a higher frequency (with relative safety).

Step 2: Multipliers

Although you can overclock your CPU using the Basic tab, learning about the different components of an overclock will help you better understand what’s happening with the chip. It also makes it easier to achieve a stable overclock. Select the Advanced Tuning tab from the left-hand menu and then look to the section headed Multipliers.

Multipliers (or CPU ratios) correspond to the speed you’re getting out of the CPU. It’s a multiplication of the BCLK frequency or reference clock. A x32 multiplier would typically mean a turbo frequency of 3.2GHz.

Raise your multiplier by one number (x33 in our example) across all cores. Although you can adjust frequencies individually on different cores, we’ll push for an all-core overclock to keep things simple.

Intel XTU Overclock

Now test the overclock’s stability. Select Stress Test from the left-hand menu and rerun the test. In this case, you only need to run the test for 10 minutes. If it completes without a problem, increase the multiplier by another step. Rinse and repeat. Eventually, the test will report a fail result, or it will cause your computer to crash. When that happens, step back to the previous multiplier setting.

If you’re happy with the final overclock, run more extended stress tests and play a few games for several hours to the overclock remains stable. If not, reduce the multiplier another step and begin the stress testing process again. When you reach a point where you can happily use your PC as usual at a higher frequency, pat yourself on the back for a successful overclock!

If you run into difficulty trying to stabilize your overclock or want to see if you can push the system further, try adjusting its voltage.

Step 3: Core voltage

Many voltage parameters can affect a CPU’s operation, but arguably the most important and impactful is core voltage (VCore). You can adjust the voltage using Intel’s XTU, similar to how you changed the multipliers. This process can differentiate between unstable and stable overclocks, or even the difference between modest and much higher overclocks.

But be warned: You need to take more care when adjusting the CPU voltage than you do with multipliers. If you push the CPU to run at a ridiculously high multiplier, it will just crash and restart your system. If you try and force too much voltage through your CPU, it can kill it, so proceed with caution.

Use Google to see what settings other people use for your specific CPU, especially for VCore settings, given its potential to damage the chip. Reddit’s r/Overclocking is a great resource to see what other people generated from the same CPU configurations.

A general rule of thumb is that anything over 1.4 volts is dangerous. However, it is very much dependent on the particular chip in your PC, so additional research is worth considering.

When ready, select the Advanced Tuning tab in the left-hand menu of the XTU and increase your core voltage by about .025. For example, If you’re starting at 1.250, move to 1.275. Select Apply. If the system doesn’t crash, you can rerun the stress test to you’re still within a safe temperature range.

You can also try increasing the multiplier to see if the additional voltage improves your CPU’s overclocking ability.

Step 4: Tweak, test, repeat

At this point, you have all the tools for finding your CPU’s stable overclock. Take it steady. Change settings only in small increments. Run at least one short stress test after each change. Make sure your CPU temperatures do not exceed 80 degrees after a lengthy stress test. Finally, don’t set your voltages too high.

If your system crashes or restarts, that’s a telltale sign you’ve pushed something too far. Go back and make some adjustments. The most important outcome is that you find a safe and stable frequency for your CPU. It’s fun to push it to run at a much higher frequency, but if it’s not sturdy enough to run applications or play games without crashing, it’s not much use outside of bragging rights.

Once you’re happy with a stable frequency, take note of your settings so that you can reapply them later on if needed.

AMD: Ryzen Master

Ryzen Master

If you have a recent generation of AMD Ryzen CPU and want to overclock it with the least effort, you can use the ClockTuner automatic overclocking tool from 1usmus. If you want to learn how to do it manually, to help better understand what AMD overclocking is all about, follow the steps below.

AMD CPU overclocking is very much the same as Intel chips, but the software is different. If you have an AMD Ryzen processor from 2017 onward, the software we recommend for beginners is Ryzen Master. You can download the utility from AMD here.

For older AMD processors, we recommend AMD Overdrive instead. The following instructions still apply, but the software layout differs slightly. Make sure to double-check what you’re doing before making any changes.

Step 1: Stress test

Before you begin overclocking the CPU, make sure that it won’t exceed safe temperatures. Although Ryzen Master has its built-in stress test, it doesn’t last very long. Instead, we recommend the AIDA64 Extreme tool and its stability test (free trial). If you like this tool, a full license costs $40, covering up to three PCs.

Open it and select Tools from the top menu, followed by Stability Test. Press Start when ready and leave your PC for around an hour. Make sure that at no point during testing do the temperatures exceed 80 degrees. If they do, improve your CPU cooling before trying to overclock. If you have some temperature headroom, move on to overclocking your system.

Step 2: Frequencies

The latest Ryzen Master software is packed with options, the majority of which you don’t need for a basic overclock. To keep things simple, make sure you’re in the Basic View. If your software matches the screenshot above, you’re all set. If not, select Basic View from the bottom left corner of the expanded interface.

First, switch the Control Mode from Default to Manual. This will allow you to manually adjust clock speed and voltages, which you’ll need for the overclock.

Unlike the Intel software, you can adjust the clock speed directly instead of using a multiplier. Boost the CPU Clock Speed by 50MHz, then select Apply & Test. Ryzen Master will boost your processor’s frequency and test it. If your computer is stable and the temperatures aren’t too hot — again, the goal is to stay under 80 degrees — you can go through the same process again. Boost the clock speed by 50MHz, run a stress test, and verify that everything is cool and functional.

Ryzen Master’s built-in stress-testing utility is decent, but we recommend running a test through AIDA64 after you’ve reached the speed you want. Again, run the test for about an hour and pay close attention to your temperature.

Continue this process until you’ve reached the speed you want or you experience a crash. After that point, dial it back to the last stable setting and use your computer for several hours (or maybe even a day or two). If it crashes again, step it back again and test again. When it’s able to run all day while stressed, this is your base overclock, which you may be able to fine-tune for a little extra speed using voltage control.

Step 3: Voltage control

Increasing the CPU’s voltage can improve the stability of an overclock. It also allows you to overclock even further. The drawback is that it can dramatically increase temperatures. Pushing the voltage too high can damage your processor as well, so proceed with caution. Only make small adjustments at a time.

A safe voltage for most AMD CPUs shouldn’t exceed 1.4 volts, but we recommend researching your specific CPU to make sure you don’t set the voltage too high.

If you’re happy to take the risk, using the CPU Voltage section to push up your voltage by a .025 increment. After that, hit Apply & Test to make sure the system is stable, then go back and repeat the process. Keep an eye on your temperature here and make sure you don’t exceed 1.4 volts.

After you’ve reached a stable voltage, run an AIDA64 stress test for at least an hour, keeping an eye on temperatures.

Step 4: Rinse and repeat

Once you find a stable frequency and voltage, give yourself a pat on the back. Now you can increase frequencies further, provided you have additional headroom for voltage and temperature. Save your profile to lock in all these settings so you can use them in future sessions.

When Ryzen Master loads with Windows, it will prompt you to provide your admin approval to apply the overclock. You can start the app and manually apply the overclock if it doesn’t ask for your permission.

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Computing

Intel’s New Meteor Lake CPU May Be the New Apple M1 Max

Intel Alder Lake processors have taken the market by storm, securing their place among the best processors of the year. However, it’s no surprise that Intel is already looking to the future.

The 13th and 14th generations of Intel processors are in the works. New images have emerged, showcasing the upcoming 14th-gen Intel CPUs. The photos display several different chips that are likely to release in 2022 and 2023.

Image credit: CNET

Stephen Shankland from CNET took a tour of the inside of Intel’s chipmaking factory, the Intel Fab 42 located in Chandler, Arizona. He came back with several high-quality images of the upcoming chips that won’t hit the market for at least another year, and in some cases, even two years.

The first chip is dubbed Sapphire Rapids and is a server processor set to release in 2022 as part of Intel’s Xeon server CPU lineup. It includes four larger chiplets that contain processing engines and four smaller memory modules. The entire infrastructure is connected with Intel’s Embedded Multi-die Interconnect Bridge (EMIB) links.

Among the upcoming chips, Shankland also found an Intel Ponte Vecchio CPU that’s set to release in 2022. This is a high-performance data center accelerator that Intel claims is going to be twice as powerful as initially planned.

A 300mm wafer of Meteor Lake test chips.
Image credit: CNET

Perhaps the most interesting reveal is the wafer of the upcoming Meteor Lake chip. Pictured above is a 300mm wafer that features hundreds of test chips of the Intel Meteor Lake-M, which is likely going to be Intel’s power-efficient series of 14th-Generation processors. Although it’s not confirmed whether these chips are part of the M-series of CPUs, their size definitely hints toward just that.

Meteor Lake-M processors are rumored to operate on ultralow power requirements, needing only between 5 watts and 15W to function. While the images are clear, it’s hard to judge the purpose of each and every tile on the chip.

The chip has previously been confirmed to be built using Foveros packaging technology, allowing the use of up to three tiles through stacking chiplets into a full processor. The first tile used would be the computer die, followed by a system on a chip (SoC) LP die, and lastly, a graphics die. Meteor Lake-M might also feature anywhere between 96 and 192 execution units (EUs).

The design of Intel’s 14th-Generation of processors is interesting. The use of SoC ( makes it similar to Apple’s latest and greatest, the M1 Max chip, which was also the brand’s first SoC-based system. Intel’s 12th-Gen CPUs currently perform very well when compared to Apple’s M1 Max. As Apple has plans of its own when it comes to improving its signature chip, it’s likely that the two tech giants will continue to go head-to-head when it comes to the CPU race.

Considering that the current-generation Intel Alder Lake processors feature up to 96 execution units, Meteor Lake with its rumored 192 EUs has the potential to be incredibly powerful. However, before these CPUs ever see the light of day, Intel Raptor Lake will be released first — likely in the last quarter of 2022.

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AMD Now Controls Its Largest CPU Market Share In 15 Years

It’s official: AMD has secured its second-highest CPU market share since 2006. It’s been an excellent last few years for AMD, and the latest reports prepared by analyst firm Mercury Research show just how far the rival to Intel has come.

The reports were first shared by HardwareTimes, and according to the market analysis, AMD continues its climb in terms of overall x86 market share, increasing by 2.1 points quarter-over-quarter. This adds up to a total 24.6% market share compared to Intel’s 75.4%. That’s inching closer to beating its own market share record.

AMD

Aside from the success that AMD has seen on the overall x86 market, it also continues making gains on the notebook x86 unit share. AMD has hit 22% in this sector, a new all-time high and an improvement of 1.8% over the previous year.

The increase in laptop market share comes along with a new sales record. In the third quarter of 2021, AMD achieved a 16.2% revenue share when it comes to the notebook x86 sector. This is a jump both in quarterly and yearly sales — 1.3 share points quarter-over-quarter and 3.9 share points year-over-year.

The x86 processor market continues to be a two-horse race, so a gain for AMD means a loss for Intel. Seeing Team red make gains on Team Blue is not surprising, as AMD has definitely released some of the best processors in recent years. After a definite lull forAMD and total domination for Intel, AMD is now almost back at its highest point ever, with considerable gains over the last years.

AMD’s highest overall x86 result was all the way back in the fourth quarter of 2006 with a 25.3% share. This puts the company just 0.7% shy of beating its all-time record, and with the sales continuing to grow quarter-over-quarter, AMD just might hit that number soon.

Render of an AMD Ryzen chip.

Intel is likely to see some gains due to the recent release of its next generation of processors, Alder Lake. The new 12th-gen Intel processors have been performing excellently, beating both Intel and AMD predecessors by miles. On the other hand, AMD is rumored to follow up Intel’s success with the launch of Zen4 CPUs in 2022, which will undoubtedly propel it further up the list in terms of CPU market share.

While the release of Zen4 is unlikely to happen before the second half of 2022, AMD is not resting on its laurels until then. The company is rumored to release Zen 3 processors with 3D V-Cache technology, new Rembrandt APUs, and Milan-X server chips in 2022.

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The Best Intel Processors for 2021: High-End CPU Performance

Although we haven’t had a ton of options for our list of the best Intel processors over the past few years, that changed with the arrival of the 12th-generation Alder Lake platform. Intel is back on top in gaming and productivity, with a range of new chips that massively improve on the previous generation while outperforming the AMD competition.

The Core i5-12600K tops the list thanks to its aggressive price and high performance. It’s the best CPU you can buy right now, not just the best Intel CPU. With 10 cores available, it has plenty of room for productivity work, and the performance cores offer enough juice to outpace the competition in games.

The best Intel processors at a glance

Intel Core i5-12600K

Why you should buy this: It’s the best Intel processor on the market right now.

Who it’s for: Gamers who need a little extra bandwidth.

Why we chose the Core i5-12600K:

The Core i5-12600K is the best CPU you can buy right now. It’s not just the best Intel processor or the best gaming processor, but the best processor overall. It comes packed with 10 cores for around $300, with six performance cores and four efficient cores. The performance cores shred through games, while the extra efficient cores provide some extra bandwidth for more demanding workloads.

The single-core improvements with Intel’s 12th-gen processors shine with the Core i5-12600K. In games, it can outpace even the Ryzen 9 5950X in some cases — and that processor is nearly three times as expensive. Overall, it manages to top the gaming charts, only playing second fiddle to the more expensive processors from Intel’s 12th-gen lineup.

It also benefits from the hybrid 12th-gen architecture. This class of CPU is usually best for pure gaming. For gaming and streaming, we usually recommend bumping up a step. That’s not the case with the Core i5-12600K. The 10 cores provide plenty of bandwidth for gaming and streaming, which is something we rarely see on a $300 processor.

Intel Core i5-11600K

Intel Core i5 11600K in box.

Why you should buy this: It’s still a solid midrange CPU, and you can usually find it on sale.

Who it’s for: Gamers looking for a deal.

Why we chose the Core i5-11600K:

Intel’s 11th-gen Rocket Lake platform isn’t perfect, but the Core i5-11600K is still a decent option. It’s worse than the Core i5-12600K by a long shot, but you might be able to snag a chip for cheap — which will open up a little more budget for one of the best graphics cards.

It depends on the game, but the 11600K maintains a small but measurable lead over the 10600K in most titles. In some games, such as Death Stranding, the 11600K actually beats last-gen’s 10700K and can match the 10900K in others. Although not quite the generational improvement Intel fans hoped for, the 11600K proves that you don’t need a high-end processor for gaming.

The gen-on-gen improvements are clearer in non-gaming tasks. The 11600K blows past Intel’s last-gen offerings and offers more credible competition to AMD’s mid-range chips in productivity tasks, leveraging application-specific accelerators to great effect. Single-core performance is up, too, without a big trade-off in multi-core performance.

The 11600K is a great gaming processor. It comes with enough juice for gaming while offering decent power for productivity tasks, and that combination is tough to find under $300. That said, the 12600K is a better option overall, so only go with the 11600K if you can find it at a steep discount.

Intel Core i5-10400F

Intel Core i5 10400F box in front of a PC.

Why you should buy this: It’s still a decent performer in 2021, and it’s a great budget option.

Who it’s for: PC builders on a tight budget that only need a few cores.

Why we chose the Core i5-10400F:

Despite not sporting the Core i3 tag, the 10400F is one of Intel’s cheaper processors. It’s an incredible value at around $150, packing in six cores and 12 threads, a base clock of 2.9GHz, and a boost clock of 4.3GHz. It’s around $80 cheaper than the 10600K while sporting similar specs. The biggest difference is the “F” suffix, meaning that the 10400F requires discrete graphics.

Even with the low price, the 10400F performs well. In tasks like rendering, the 10400F is able to match the 9700K while surpassing AMD’s budget Ryzen 3000 chips. Although the 10400F is underpowered for most CPU intensive workloads, it’s still a great Intel processor for web browsing, light image editing, and office applications.

If you’re a gamer, the 10400F is an even better choice. With plenty of cores and a solid boost clock, the 10400F can put CPUs three times its price to shame. If you pair it with a nice graphics card, you can achieve gaming performance on par with an i7, and sometimes even an i9.

The 10400F marks a sweet spot in Intel’s range. Below it, performance drops significantly without much cost savings, and above it, price scales faster than performance. If you’re looking for an everyday CPU with enough power for light productivity and gaming, it’s hard to beat the 10400F.

If you can afford it, a viable alternative is the new-generation 11400F. It is slightly faster, but it runs about $80 more than the last-gen part.

Intel Core i9-12900K

Intel Core i9-12900K in a motherboard.

Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful Intel processor you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: Anyone who needs the best of the best.

Why we chose the Core i9-12900K:

Intel’s flagships haven’t been impressive over the past couple of generations, but the Core i9-12900K changes that. It’s the flagship of flagships, sporting 16 cores and single-core boost speeds of up to 5.2GHz. It blows past everything else on the market, making it a great choice for gaming, content creation, and everything in between.

Our testing shows that the Core i9-12900K can outperform AMD’s competing Ryzen 9 5950X by as much as 30% in some cases. And keep in mind that the Ryzen 9 5950X is anywhere from $100 to $200 more expensive. It holds a solid lead in gaming, but the Core i9-12900K really shines in content creation workloads, where it’s much faster than the competition.

It’s power-hungry, but most Intel chips are these days. The Core i9-12900K is a clear showcase of Alder Lake’s hybrid architecture and what it can do for PCs, offering up a high core count and plenty of bandwidth for multitasking.

Intel Core i7-11375H

Laptop built with an Intel Core i7-11375H under the hood.

Why you should buy this: It’s the most powerful mobile Intel chip, at least until 12th-gen mobile chips come out.

Who it’s for: Mobile users that demand a little more power than a normal mobile CPU.

Why we chose the Core i7-11375H:

Although a new Intel desktop processor can have some problems, the Tiger Lake mobile processors are excellent. For a great balance of performance and power, we recommend the i7-11375H. It comes with four cores and eight threads, a base clock of 3.3GHz, and a staggering boost clock of 5GHz, all while keeping power demands under 35 watts. The i7-11375H leads Intel’s new Tiger Lake H35 processors, which target portable gaming laptops with 14-inch screens.

The processor shows up in laptops like MSI’s Stealth 15M, but many manufacturers are still shipping notebooks with last-gen CPUs. Despite sporting similar specs, the i7-11375H passes even the top Tiger Lake chips with its extended power budget. That translates to some performance improvements in single-core performance. With the same underlying architecture, however, you should expect more of a performance benefit in multithreaded tasks.

It’s hard to say anything definitive about a mobile CPU, though. The wrong build can make even the best processors look weak, and a decent configuration can make underpowered CPUs shine. The i7-11375H is undoubtedly the most powerful mobile Intel CPU available, but it’s important to consult individual laptop reviews.

If you’re looking for more raw power, Intel also offers the Core i9-11980HK in premium gaming laptops. It comes with eight cores and 16 threads and a turbo speed of 5GHz, so it’s certainly faster than the i7-11375H. However, it mainly shows up in high-end gaming machines, so it’s not for everyone.

FAQs about Intel processors

What’s the difference between K and F Intel processors?

Intel uses multiple suffixes to indicate different features, but “K” and “F” are among the most common. “K” processors are unlocked, so you can overclock them with a compatible motherboard. “F” processors don’t come with integrated graphics, so you’ll need a dedicated graphics card. You may even find a “KF” processor, indicating that it’s unlocked and requires discrete graphics.

You can usually find variants of Intel’s leading i9, i7, and i5 processors with either or both suffixes. If you’re planning on building a gaming computer, you can save a few dollars by purchasing the “F” variant of a processor. On the other side, “K” processors are slightly more expensive with their overclocking capabilities. If you want a full breakdown on Intel’s naming scheme, make sure to read our CPU buying guide.

How good are AMD processors compared to Intel?

Intel and AMD both offers excellent processors at different price points and in different forms, so one brand isn’t definitively better than the other. That said, if you’re shopping for a desktop processors in the second half of 2021, AMD generally has better options. The newer Ryzen 5000 processors have better single-core performance and pack more cores compared to the Intel competition, making them great for gaming and content creation.

In the mobile world, Intel used to dominate. Now, you can find machines with AMD Ryzen processors, too, and they perform great. That said, there is still a far greater number of machines that come with Intel processors, and they stack up well against the AMD competition.

In short, an AMD processor is generally better on desktop, and Intel and AMD are evenly matched on mobile, though Intel has more options available. Keep in mind that the power balance between Intel and AMD changes with each processor release, so although AMD is better right now, it may not always be that way.

How do you know which processor is best for your needs?

To find the best processor for your needs, you need to consider the applications you want to run. If you’re into gaming, for example, a processor with strong single-core performance is a good choice because games usually stress only a handful of cores at a time. On the hand, content creation applications like Adobe Premiere Pro and DaVinci Resolve can take advantage of a greater number of cores, so a processor with a lot of cores is better for them.

Those are good rules to follow. Games like a fast processor over one with a lot of cores, and content-creation apps like more cores over faster ones. Some processors, such as the Intel Core i9-10900K and AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, offer both. If you want a processor for browsing the internet and using basic apps, any processor with four or more cores from the last few years should work well.

How can you tell if a PC processor is any good?

The best way to tell if a PC processor is good is to look at individual benchmarks. Specs like core count and clock speed don’t tell the full story — they only show what the processor is capable of within its own range of products. If you’ve settled a certain brand or series, however, looking at core counts and clock speeds can show you where the processor sits in the range.

If you want to test your own processor, there are plenty of tools available. Cinebench is a great benchmarking tool that focusing solely on the processor, while PCMark 10 provides an overview of performance across a suite of day-to-day tasks.

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The Best Processors for 2021: CPU Showdown

Although many components go into building a PC, few are as important as the processor. As the heart of your system, the CPU handles most of the actual computing that your computer does. With multiple options from AMD and Intel, however, finding the best processors is more difficult than it may seem.

We’ve rounded up the best desktop CPUs for your next build, with a balance between Intel and AMD options. Although Intel releases have been disappointing over the past few years, its recent 12th-generation Alder Lake chips top the charts. That’s why we recommend the Core i5-12600K as the best processor you can buy right now.

The best processors in 2021 at a glance

Intel Core i5-12600K

Why you should buy this: It’s the best CPU to balance price and performance today.

Who it’s for: Gamers and PC builders that want a performant processor without overspending.

Why we picked the Core i5-12600K:

The Intel Core i5-12600K is the perfect gaming CPU for around $300. Although it draws more power than the competing Ryzen 5 5600X, it performs much better as well. For around $300, you’re getting a 10-core CPU that carries six performance cores and four efficient cores. That’s a significant bump over the Ryzen5 5600X, and that difference shows in performance.

Across the board, the Core i5-12600K outperforms AMD’s competing chip. In some cases, the Core i5-12600K even outperforms AMD’s $800 Ryzen 9 5950X. Particularly in productivity benchmarks, this chip can destroy everything else on the market. And if you’re a gamer, you can expect higher average frame rates than 5950X, which is nearly three times as expensive.

Perhaps most impressive, this chip manages to universally perform above last-gen’s Core i9-11900K, showing just how much of an improvement Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors bring. The Core i5-12600K is power-hungry, drawing up to 150W when turboing, but that extra power is put to good use.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X processor.

Why you should buy this: It’s the best AMD CPU on the market.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want a Ryzen CPU but don’t need a lot of cores.

Why we picked the Ryzen 5 5600X:

For a balance of price and performance, it’s hard to beat the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X. It clocks in at only $300 and comes with six cores, 12 threads, and a boost clock speed of up to 4.6GHz. Although it doesn’t boost as high as Intel’s competing Core i5-12600K, the Ryzen 5 5600X manages to stay cooler and consumes about half the power.

You’re not getting eight cores like you’d get on the Ryzen 7 5800X, but that doesn’t matter much in games. It features the same Zen 3 architecture as the rest of the Ryzen 5000 range, so you get about the same single-core performance as even the Ryzen 9 5900X. That makes the Ryzen 5 5600X a great choice for gaming.

Six cores might limit you in some tasks. However, that’s still more than enough for gaming and day-to-day tasks, as well as some light video or photo editing. The Ryzen 5 5600X is everything you need and nothing you don’t, making it an easy recommendation for the mainstream gaming crowd.

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X.

Why you should buy this: It’s the best budget CPU you can buy.

Who it’s for: Gamers and PC builders who don’t need more than four cores.

Why we picked the Ryzen 3 3300X:

It’s tough finding a budget CPU in 2021. The cheapest options are more expensive than they should be, and many of them are out of stock. That leaves us with the Ryzen 3 3300X, which is a decent deal at only $30 above its list price. Although more expensive than it should be, the Ryzen 3 3300X isn’t a bad buy.

It’s a low-end chip that does the trick for gaming, offering four cores, eight threads, and clock speeds up to 4.3GHz. It’s based on the older Zen 2 architecture, which isn’t as fast the Zen 3 architecture on recent Ryzen chips. However, Zen 2 still includes solid single-core performance, which is great for gaming.

Although the four cores might feel limiting for video or photo editing, the Ryzen 3 3300X can still handle light productivity tasks, as well as any day-to-day work you may have. Budget CPUs aren’t $100 like they used to be, but the Ryzen 3 3300X still manages to feel worth its asking price.

Intel Core i9-12900K

Intel Core i9-12900K in a motherboard.

Why you should buy this: It’s the fastest desktop CPU you can buy right now.

Who it’s for: Content creators and productivity wizards who like to multitask.

Why we picked the Core i9-12900K:

Although the Core i5-12600K is the best CPU you can buy right now, the Core i9-12900K is the highest performer. It doesn’t represent as good of a value, but it still manages to beat AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X — a chip that’s anywhere from $100 to $200 more expensive. If there’s one processor that shows Intel’s 12th-gen architecture in action, it’s the Core i9-12900K.

In our testing, the chip managed to outperform the Ryzen 9 5950X by as much as 30% in some benchmarks. Although both the Intel and AMD parts sport 16 cores, the Core i9-12900K doesn’t have 16 full cores. Instead, it has an even split of eight performance and eight efficient cores, showing that Intel is able to achieve what AMD can with only half of its core running at full power.

Unsurprisingly, gaming performance is off the charts — though that’s true for the much cheaper Core i5-12600K as well. The Core i9-12900K shines in productivity and content creation workloads, where it can utilize the hybrid core design to delegate work to the proper cores.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X processor.

Why you should buy this: It’s a workhorse 12-core CPU that clocks in at a reasonable price.

Who it’s for: Gamers who want to use their PC for more than just gaming.

Why we picked the Ryzen 9 5900X:

Two chips are topping AMD’s current lineup: The 5900X and the 5950X. The 5950X is undoubtedly the more powerful processor, sporting 16 cores and 32 threads to the 5900X’s 12 cores and 24 threads. The 5950X is also $250 more expensive, and in the vast majority of applications, that’s wasted money.

The 5900X far exceeds the last-gen 3900X, as well as Intel’s former frontrunner, the 10900K. The underlying Zen 3 architecture is the reason why, with excellent single- and multi-core performance. In rendering and encoding, the 5900X matches or exceeds the last-gen 3950X in most benchmarks. In some cases, the 5900X even exceeds the 5950X.

Like all 5000-series processors, the 5900X is available from most retailers. It really is the best mainstream AMD processor currently available, so we’d recommend hunting one down if you can.

Best processor for productivity work: AMD Threadripper 3990X

AMD Threadripper 3990X.

Why you should buy this: It’s the fastest high-end desktop CPU around, and it comes with an astonishing 64 cores.

Who it’s for: Professionals who need a high core count CPU.

Why we picked the Threadripper 3990X:

If AMD changed the conversation with its mainstream Ryzen 3000-series processors, it flipped the script with Threadripper 3000. Even among that ridiculously powerful generation of high-end CPUs, the Threadripper 3990X stands alone. It is a genuinely ludicrous and unnecessary CPU. But if you can take advantage of its 64 cores and 128 threads, there’s no other CPU out there quite like it, outside of the server space.

The 3990X, like most Threadripper chips, favors quantity over quality. The cores themselves are impressive, built on the same Zen 2 architecture as third-gen Ryzen chips. However, the newer Zen 3 architecture in Ryzen 5000 processors has faster single-core performance, making those CPUs better for things like gaming, which usually stress a dominant core or only use a limited number of cores.

The 3990X shines in tasks that demand a lot of cores, such as visual effects rendering or dense video editing. Sitting between the consumer and professional space, the 3990X is the perfect processor for professionals that need the best performance but don’t have the money to invest in server-grade hardware.

This model’s price is an obvious downside—it’s just under $4,000. However, that’s still far less expensive than Intel’s 50+ core models. If having a ton of cores isn’t essential, you can get the 32-core AMD Threadripper 3970X for half the price while still spending less than you would with other models. Keep in mind, though, that the 3990X is a productivity workhorse. If you make a living from your computer—say, in CPU-heavy tasks such as CAD and video encoding—the higher priced option might pay for itself.

Intel is back on top

Intel Core i9-12900K box.

Although Intel has taken a beating over the past few generations, its 12th-gen chips prove that the company is still competitive. AMD’s Ryzen 5000 chips aren’t far behind, but Intel holds the performance crown for now. It holds the price crown, too, which is a situation Intel hasn’t been in for decades.

Still, PC builders are spoiled with CPU options in 2021. As long as you pick up a processor from the latest generation, you’re destined to get excellent performance across games and productivity workloads.

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Best Tools to Stress Test Your CPU

If you’ve recently upgraded your processor, or are overclocking it, it can be a good idea to know the best tools to stress test your CPU to check how stable it is. There are a number of CPU stress tests out there, but we have a few favorites you should check out.

The goal of stress testing is to push the computer to failure. You want to see how long it takes before it becomes unstable. It’s usually a good idea to run tests for at least an hour or two, though some can take longer.

Before starting these tests, we’d highly recommend tools like HWMonitor, HWiNFO64, or Core Temp for keeping track of CPU temperature, clock speeds, and power. These can be a valuable resource for making sure your cooling solution is doing its job as these stress tests push your CPU quite literally to the limit. It’s so important that we have an entire guide on how to check your CPU’s temperature.

Here’s the list of four favorite CPU stress tests.

Prime95

Prime95 is one of the most well-known free CPU stress tests out there. It was developed as part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS), in which the processor is used to find large prime numbers. Though Prime95 is not originally made to stress test the CPU, the strain in using the processor’s floating point and integer capabilities make it an excellent way to see what your CPU is capable of.

You can run different “torture tests” depending on what you’re trying to stress. The small fast fourier transforms (FFTs) can be a good way to see if there are any issues. The large FFTs really punish your CPU, while the blended tests push RAM usage. A word of caution with Prime95: It has a somewhat negative reputation of putting unnecessary stress on the CPU.

Download Now at Prime95

AIDA64

AIDA64 CPU stress test.

Unlike the other tools on our list, AIDA64 is not free to use. The cheapest version is AIDA64 Extreme, which will run you about $50 for three PCs while the Business and Engineer versions go for $200. This tool is geared more toward engineers, IT professionals, and enthusiasts (as indicated by the various download options). Instead of purely stressing the CPU like Prime95, it simulates a more realistic workload that a CPU is likely to have. This is excellent for gauging workstations or servers that are meant for sustained, high-performance workloads.

AIDA64 is an all-in-one diagnostic tool that can be used to look at details of your particular system. In the System Stability Test, you can choose which component (CPU, memory, local disks, GPU, etc.) you want to stress. While the test is running, there’s a Sensor tab that lets you view the temperature of each CPU core and fan speeds. This can be invaluable to see if your system is being properly cooled and stressed.

Download Now at AIDA64

Cinebench R23

Cinebench stress test.

Cinebench is another well-known free benchmark utility that you may have seen in various reviews. It was created by Maxon, the developer behind 3D modeling application Cinema 4D. Cinebench simulates common tasks within Cinema 4D to measure system performance. Specifically, the primary test renders a photorealistic 3D scene and uses algorithms to stress all CPU cores. The render is about 2,000 objects comprised of over 300,000 polygons.

The most recent version, R23, is able to run a 10-minute thermal throttling test instead of doing just one single run. This can be useful in seeing how much you can push a particular system before it gets too hot. The single run is still available in the advanced options. The newest version also adds support for Apple’s M1 silicon.

Download now at Maxon

CPU-Z

CPU-Z stress and monitoring tool.

This is great all-around stress test software that’s easy to use and free. Like AIDA64, CPU-Z can also gather detailed information on your system, including CPU processor name, cache levels, and even what process node it was manufactured on. You can also get real-time measurements of each core’s frequency. The primary drawbacks are that it doesn’t stress GPUs, though it can stress RAM. It’s focus is CPU stress testing and it’s a very useful tool in that respect.

Download Now at CPUID

HeavyLoad

HeavyLoad CPU stress test.

HeavyLoad is a stress tool developed by JAM Software that features a handy graphical user interface (GUI) to visualize the tests being run. The software allows you to test the entire processor or just a specific number of cores. One useful feature of HeavyLoad is that you can install the tool on a USB drive and use it on multiple computers. This avoids having to install HeavyLoad on every single computer. It’s seful for IT professionals who need to ensure numerous servers are able to handle heavy processor loads. HeavyLoad is also able to stress other components such as GPU, RAM, or storage.

Download Now at Jam Software

IntelBurn Test

IntelBurn CPU stress test.

Despite it’s name, the IntelBurn Test isn’t made by Intel. However, it uses Intel’s Linpack benchmark to measure the amount of time it takes to solve a system of linear equations and then converts that into a performance rate. This is generally the same engine that Intel uses to stress its own CPUs before shipping them out. The interface is pretty simple and easy to use. You can set the level at which the CPU is stressed, how many times to run the test, and how many threads to run.

While this could actually be more accurate than Prime95, it also has the same reputation for pushing a CPU way past its normal limits, perhaps even more than Prime95. Keep tabs on the heat output while running tests. Also, while you can technically use it with AMD CPUs, it may be better to use other benchmark tools instead.

Download Now at Jam Software

OCCT

OCCT stress test software.

You can’t talk about CPU stress testing without including the OverClock Checking Tool (OCCT). It may be the most popular stability-checking tool out there. This is an all-in-one tool that includes four tests for gauging performance: Two for CPU, one for GPU, and one for the power supply. It also embeds the HWiNFO monitoring engine that we mentioned earlier, and it includes a temperature fail-safe that immediately stops the test should a certain component reach an unsafe temperature.

There is a free version of OCCT, but you’re limited to a one-hour test. The Personal edition removes that limitation and also includes the ability to save a full graphical report of the test. The Pro edition adds the ability to run on domain-joined computers and generate CSV files to build customized graphs. Finally, the Enterprise edition allows you to build your own test suite using a drag-and-drop system for easier configuration. Even better, those who prefer a command line will be able to use that in the Enterprise version as well.

Download Now at OCBase

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Intel Alder Lake Mobility CPU Victorious Against AMD & Apple

Intel Alder Lake processors are almost here, not just for desktop users, but also for laptops. The upcoming Intel Core i9-12900HK processor is likely to be one of the best processors for laptops.

An early benchmark has leaked, showing fantastic results for the Core i9-12900HK — the processor beats every single other CPU out there, including Apple’s latest M1 Max chip.

The 12th Generation of Intel processors, Alder Lake, is set to release in the fall. (Image credit: Intel)

According to the Geekbench test that emerged today, the CPU in question has 14 cores — six performance cores and eight efficiency cores — and 20 threads. The processor appears to have a base clock of 2.9GHz, but no accurate information as to its boost clock has been found. Considering that it’s part of the HK series of processors, it should be unlocked and offer turbo mode.

The Intel Core i9-12900HK has a long list of competitors to beat, and in this benchmark, it outperformed them all. With a single-core score of 1851 and a multi-core score of 13,256, it’s safe to say that the processor did a great job. Compared to its predecessor, the current-generation Core i9-11980HK, the new Alder Lake CPU performed 14.5% better in the single-core benchmark and a whopping 44.8% better in the multi-core test.

The new Intel CPU also stands victorious against AMD’s notebook king, the Ryzen 9 5980HX. The upgrade in performance is even more noticeable here, with a lead of 22.9% in single-core and 61.3% in multi-core for the Core i9-12900HK.

It was also compared to Apple’s M1 Max chip, which is the closest thing to Alder Lake, considering that it’s freshly released and AMD has no same-gen equivalent to the Intel Core i9-12900HK just yet. Intel’s new laptop CPU still won in this test, with a 3% lead over the M1 Max chip. AMD will start having a real horse in this race when the new Zen 4 processors are released next year.

Intel Core 12th-gen processor boxes.
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Apple has released a powerful chip in the M1 Max, but it’s good to see that Intel is rising to meet the increasing standard in laptop performance. It’s possible that while the Alder Lake HK processor will be equally powerful  as the M1 Max, Apple’s processor will remain the more power-efficient of the two.

The screenshot of the Geekbench test was first posted by Wccftech. Geekbench no longer displays benchmarks of unreleased hardware to the public, so this is likely a private benchmark that is difficult to verify. However, it won’t be long now before these processors are released and the benchmarks will start rolling in.

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