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Best cheap processors 2021: get the fastest clock speeds for your dollar

Best cheap processors
(Image credit: Future)
PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

The best cheap processors will indeed save you some cash while still offering the type of performance that most users need or want. Considering how central processors are to any computer, you would be forgiven for thinking you couldn’t save any money when shopping for one. On the contrary, there are quite a few budget-friendly options out there that can deliver in performance.

Of course, since the best cheap processors cut a few corners to fit into the budget, it’s vital that you know what you’re searching for before you jump on any cheap CPU. Maybe you’re looking for a budget gaming processor so you’ll have money left over to invest in a discrete graphics card for gaming, or you want an all-in-one CPU for regular everyday use. 

Regardless, we’ve rounded up the best cheap processors to help you find the one that works best for your needs.

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

(Image credit: AMD)

1. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

The new budget gaming champion

Specifications
Cores: 4
Threads: 8
Base clock: 3.5GHz
Boost clock: 4.3GHz
L3 Cache: 16MB
TDP: 65W
Reasons to buy
+Excellent multi-core performance+Affordable+Mid-range gaming performance for cheap
Reasons to avoid
-Not a huge jump over Ryzen 3 3100

It’s releases like the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X that really push gaming PCs forward. This processor may not technically beat the likes of Ryzen 9 3900X and the Intel Core i9-9900K, but its excellent performance, coupled with its affordability, brings downs the barrier to entry on heavy multi-threaded performance. Suddenly, people don’t have to break the bank to experience what it’s like to have top-end hardware powering their PCs. Is it a wonder that the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X has to be one of our favorite CPU releases in 2021?

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

(Image credit: Intel)

2. Intel Pentium Gold G5400

Core i3 performance at a Pentium price point

Specifications
Cores: 2
Threads: 4
Base clock: 3.7 GHz
L3 Cache: 4 MB
TDP: 58W
Reasons to buy
+Supports hyper-threading+Crazy affordable
Reasons to avoid
-Limited to DDR4-2400 memory-Only two cores

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.

AMD Ryzen 3 3100

(Image credit: AMD)

3. AMD Ryzen 3 3100

PC gaming just got cheaper

Specifications
Cores: 4
Threads: 8
Base clock: 3.5GHz
Boost clock: 3.6GHz
L3 cache: 16MB
TDP: 65W
Reasons to buy
+Excellent performance+Affordable+Doesn't suck up much power
Reasons to avoid
-Not as fast as the 3300X-May bottleneck high-end GPUs

Budget-minded consumers who missed out on all the 3rd-generation Ryzen excitement will appreciate AMD’s latest attempt in the entry-level sphere. There’s no denying that the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 is appealingly cheap, but it does so without compromising on performance. In fact, this chip delivers a performance that could almost rival that of processors double its price, without sucking up much power. And, it’s an excellent choice for budget gamers who are looking for something that can handle 1080p gaming.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

(Image credit: Intel)

4. Intel Core i3-9100

Incredible value for a general-use processor

Specifications
Cores: 4
Threads: 4
Base clock: 3.6 GHz
Boost clock: 4.2 GHz
L3 cache: 6 MB
TDP: 65W
Reasons to buy
+Very affordable+Integrated graphics+Dependable, every-day performance
Reasons to avoid
-Will struggle with more demanding applications

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

(Image credit: AMD)

5. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

Possibly the best "cheap" processors for gaming, period

Specifications
Cores: 6
Threads: 12
Base clock: 3.8 GHz
Boost clock: 4.4 GHz
L3 cache: 32 MB
TDP: 95W
Reasons to buy
+Incredible performance+Includes a CPU cooler
Reasons to avoid
-On the high-end of affordability-Only 6 cores

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