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Best cheap processors 2020: get the fastest clock speeds for your dollar

Processors are the most important component of any computer system, so it might not seem like the place to look for savings, but you’d be surprised. Some of the best cheap processors are still plenty fast for most users, while keeping an accessible price tag. 

Still,many of these chips come with necessary trade-offs, making it important to know what you’re looking for before you invest in a cheap processor. So if you’re looking for an all-in-one CPU for everyday use or a budget gaming processor so you can invest more into a discrete graphics card for gaming, we’ve picked some of the processors to fit whatever your needs.

Best cheap processors at a glance

  1. AMD Ryzen 3 3200G
  2. Intel Pentium Gold G5400
  3. AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
  4. Intel Core i3-9100
  5. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

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There aren’t a lot of $100 CPUs that put in decent gaming performance, but the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G is one of those CPUs. With an integrated Radeon graphics processor, the Ryzen 3 3200G outperforms the cheapest “discrete” GPUs out there, making it a no-brainer for our list of the best cheap processors for gamers. 

That said, while it performs competently, we’re not talking exceptional performance; don’t expect miracles from it when cranking up the graphics settings on a AAA game. It still has some issues with finicky drivers as well that haven’t been fully ironed out since the Ryzen 3 2200G we tested, but still, that isn’t enough to keep us from recommending the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G to any gamer on a seriously restricted budget.

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If you’re looking for a general-purpose CPU and you really don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can hardly do better than the Intel Pentium Gold G5400. You might be surprised to hear the name “Pentium” nowadays with all the Core-branded chips on the market, but the Pentium brand still has some life left in it yet. 

While still only a dual-core processor, the Pentium Gold G5400 supports hyperthreading and a clock speed to rival the Core i3. For everyday home or office use, this processor is more than adequate and for the almost obscene price point, it’s impossible not to recommend it as one of the best cheap processors.

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Processors with integrated graphics are always an exercise in compromise. While not having to invest in a discrete GPU can save you a ton of money, this inevitably comes at the cost of performance. The AMD Ryzen 5 3400G manages to strike an excellent balance between the two and this makes it one of the best cheap processors out there for those who don’t have a ton of money to spend on a separate graphics card.

You won’t get away that easy though. This is an APU, after all, so it’s going to need to use some of the available system memory rather than the dedicated video memory that comes with a discrete GPU. So, if you don’t have a lot of RAM – and the faster the better if you’re looking to get the most out of the integrated Vega 11 graphics –you will need to invest some of that extra money you saved in upping your memory. Fortunately, an extra 8 GB of RAM will still cost less than buying a graphics card with the equivalent amount of VRAM, so you’ll still come out ahead.

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When it comes to a general-use processor, the Intel Core i3 has always reigned supreme, and the Core i3-9100 is no exception. With integrated graphics and a base clock of 3.6 GHz (boostable to 4.2 GHz), this processor was built with the average office and home user in mind but has a little something for gamers and creatives thrown in. 

It doesn’t throw in a whole lot, though. The Core i3-9100 is perfect for office tasks, web-browsing, and 1080p streaming video, but you won’t get high-performance gaming from this processor. Heavy-duty video or audio editing will also struggle here, but if you’re building a cheap computer for a parent or to help manage orders in an office, then the Intel Core i3-9100 is just about the best cheap processor you’re going to find, hands down.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

If there’s some slack in your budget for a gaming PC processor, then you need to look long and hard at the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X. Its six cores put out some of the best performance in the mid-range processor class that we’ve ever seen and its price puts it right on the line between the mid-range and the budget processor classes, which technically qualifies it for a spot on our list of the best cheap processors out there.

While Intel’s Core i5-9600K might perform better in terms of single-core performance, Ryzen 5 3600X 12 processing threads doubles-up on Intel’s competing chip, putting it far out in front of Intel for most tasks and then some. Multitasking is key nowadays, even for gaming, so AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600X comes out ahead on the merits even before taking into account significantly lower price point. For the money, you’re not going to find a better gaming CPU. 

Read our full review: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

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