Building your own PC is one of the most satisfying things you can do if you're a technology enthusiast. Not only can you save a huge amount of money, but you can also get features and capabilities that big-box manufacturers simply do not offer. The market for desktop PCs is tiny compared to demand for laptops, but the DIY scene is still thriving with major retailers in big Indian cities and plenty of online stores that will deliver your choice of components to all corners of India. Sometimes, choosing parts can be daunting, with lots of brands and not much to differentiate products – a lot of your choices will also come down to personal preferences and styles.
When it comes to CPUs, things are fairly straightforward with only two companies, Intel and AMD, to factor in. For the most part, choosing a CPU for a mainstream of gaming desktop PC is pretty easy and you should just go for the best option you can afford. However, when calculating costs, you need to consider your CPU and motherboard together, since higher-cost motherboards can outweigh the savings of lower-cost CPUs (and vice versa). Some CPUs, especially high-end ones, don't come with cooling fans so you might need to account for that cost in your budget as well.
Best CPU under Rs. 5,000
We recommend: AMD Athlon 200GE (Rs. 4,600)
Lots of cheap but very old CPUs are available in the market and you should avoid them all. AMD's A-series and older Athlons, and Intel's older Pentiums and Celerons are much weaker than the current crop released over the past year or two. AMD has revived its Athlon brand and is now using the new Zen architecture, though with only two cores (plus multi-threading) running at 3.2GHz.
The Athlon 200GE is the only model currently available in this series in India, and should not be confused with older Athlons. It's extremely affordable and has a competent integrated Radeon Vega GPU. Combine this with an inexpensive A320-based motherboard and entry-level RAM, and you have a neat little machine for basic use and even some casual gaming, without spending a lot of money.
Upgrade pick: Intel Pentium Gold G5400 (Rs. 5,150)
Intel's most affordable current-gen offering also has two cores with Hyper-Threading with a base speed of 3.7GHz and no boost functionality. The integrated Intel UHD 610 GPU is more than enough for an office or home productivity PC and can also handle high-quality, high-resolution video streaming. It's priced only a hair above Rs. 5,000 making it an excellent value pick.
Best CPU under Rs. 10,000
We recommend: AMD Ryzen 3 3200G (Rs. 8,500)
This model is the successor to the Ryzen 3 2200G, which we were impressed with when we reviewed it. The Ryzen 3 3200G benefits tremendously from its integrated Radeon Vega GPU compared to Intel's offerings in the budget segment, but it uses the Zen+ architecture, not Zen 2 despite its 3000-series model number. It has four cores without multi-threading and runs at a base speed of 3.6GHz with a decent boost speed of up to 4GHz.
Four physical cores is pretty good in the low-cost CPU space, where we have been stuck with two cores for many years. The main attraction is its eight Radeon Vega compute units which give you enough graphics power to run modern action games at 1920x1080 using low quality settings. Slightly older and less demanding games will be playable, which means that budget PC builders won't need to buy a graphics card.
The Ryzen 3 3200G comes with a capable cooler in the box, which also saves you some money. We'd advise picking up the fastest RAM you can afford, preferably rated DDR4-3200 or above, since this will have an effect on performance.
Upgrade pick: Intel Core i5-9400F (Rs. 12,600)
If you can go a little above the Rs. 10,000 budget, the Intel Core i5-9400F could be a superb pick. It's based on the recent Coffee Lake architecture and has six physical cores without Hyper-Threading, which is more than Intel has offered in the budget segment before. It runs at 2.9GHz and can boost itself to an impressive 4.1GHz. The price is very tempting but you don't get integrated graphics with any Intel CPU that has an F at the end of its name.
If you're building a low-cost gaming PC with a graphics card, this CPU offers outstanding value right now – it was selling for around Rs. 20,000 just four months ago. Needless to say, avoid Intel's older budget processors at this point, even the 8th Gen 8xxx series.
Value Pick: Intel Core i3-9100F (Rs. 7,700)
With the Core i3-9100F, you get four modern cores without HyperThreading, running at base and boost speeds of 3.6GHz and 4.2GHz. This choice also lacks integrated graphics, which means an added expense for a graphics card when considering your overall budget. Even so, the value is unbeatable. Gamers on a very tight budget could choose this CPU in order to free up money for a better GPU.
Best CPU under Rs. 20,000
We recommend: Intel Core i5-9600K (Rs. 20,100)
We're sneaking the Core i5-9600K in even though it's Rs. 100 over our self-imposed budget right now, because that price is within the margin of fluctuation you'll see in shops. This model has six cores without HyperThreading, running at a base speed of 3.7GHz with a boost speed of 4.6GHz.
Thankfully, the integrated GPU has not been axed. Intel's price inflation problem is largely over now, but strangely the non-K Core i5-9600 is either unavailable or actually costs more in some shops we've seen, so supply issues seem to be ongoing for now.
If you don't want to overclock (or spend on a motherboard that will support it), keep an eye out for a good price on the Core i5-9600.
Upgrade pick: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X (Rs. 21,000)
AMD's Ryzen 5 3600X is part of its brand new Ryzen 3000-series lineup. We haven't tested this CPU but AMD claims performance that matches or exceeds that of the Core i5-9600K in 1080p gaming, as well as over 40 percent better performance with content creation workloads and up to 22 percent better power efficiency.
There's no integrated GPU but you get six cores with multi-threading for 12 threads in total. The base and boost clock speeds are 3.8GHz and 4.4GHz. If you're buying a graphics card anyway, this is a better pick for only marginally more money.
Value pick: AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (Rs. 17,100)
You can shave a few thousand rupees off your bill by going for the Ryzen 5 3600, which has a lower 65W TDP and less overclocking potential. You still get six cores and 12 threads, at slightly lower 3.6GHz and 4.2GHz base and boost speeds. You also get a smaller Wraith Stealth cooler in the box. If your work involves a lot of media encoding, the extra threads will come in handy.
Best CPU under Rs. 30,000
We recommend: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X (Rs. 29,500)
Our review has shown how AMD's Ryzen 7 3700X can use its eight cores and 16 threads to its advantage in most kinds of workloads, and Intel might need to rethink its strategy of restricting Hyper-Threading to its top-end models. The new Ryzen 7 3700X doesn't quite match the Intel Core i7-9700K's single-threaded performance in games, though.
Enthusiasts who want an all-rounder, especially for things like video encoding or 3D modelling, will like the significant performance improvement that this CPU offers over last-gen's Ryzen 7 2700X. The included Wraith Prism RGB cooler will also save you a few thousand rupees.
Upgrade pick: Intel Core i7-9700K (Rs. 31,500)
If you can raise your budget a little, the Core i7-9700K will deliver strong performance in single-threaded applications, especially games. It also has an unlocked multiplier for great overclocking potential, but the non-K version seems to be missing from Indian shops. You get eight cores, which is better than the four cores plus Hyper-Threading that Intel used to offer enthusiasts even with its top-end Core i7 models prior to the 8th Gen.
The base frequency is 3.6GHz and this chip can boost itself up to 4.9GHz on demand. The 95W TDP is very manageable with the right cooling, but you'll have to choose your own air or liquid cooler because you don't get one in the box. The Core i7-9700K also has an integrated GPU which won't suffice for gaming, but is always nice to have in a pinch.
Best CPU over Rs. 30,000
We recommend: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X (Rs. 42,500)
AMD is hitting Intel where it hurts – the core count. For the first time, consumers and enthusiasts can have up to 12 CPU cores with 24 threads, and this chip doesn't cost much more than Intel's 8-core top-end Core i9-9900K. That said, Intel still steals victories in many tests, especially in games.
The Ryzen 9 3900X runs at 3.8GHz with a 4.6GHz boost clock, and has a whopping 70MB of combined cache memory, while still running at a comfortable 105W TDP. This is the chip to get right now (at least until the 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X goes on sale later this year) if you want top-quality performance in content creation, and if you want to play games while encoding and broadcasting them at the same time.
Value pick: Intel Core i9-9900K (Rs. 40,200)
The Core i9-9900K commanded well over Rs. 60,000 at the beginning of this year but it's now down to a more reasonable level (with rumoured price drops on the horizon to make it even better). This is still the single fastest consumer CPU on the planet right now in lightly threaded workloads. It has eight cores with Hyper-Threading, which is the most Intel has ever offered mainstream users.
The blistering maximum turbo boost speed of 5GHz can even be surpassed with overclocking, and there's a serviceable integrated GPU. Intel says this CPU is perfect for pro-level gaming and streaming, and you'll be happy with it for years to come.
Upgrade pick: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X (Rs. 74,500)
More cores aren't necessarily better, but the Ryzen Threadripper series was created for those building a workstation-class PC for heavy content creation, multitasking, and of course gaming. With the second-gen Ryzen Threadripper 2950X you get 16 cores and 32 threads, running at base and boost speeds of 3.5GHz and 4.4GHz respectively, plus a huge 32MB L3 cache.
A key platform advantage is support for 60 PCIe lanes, which means you can have loads of graphics cards or high-speed SSDs for hardcore data crunching. You'll need to spend quite a bit for a compatible X399 motherboard and a heavy-duty cooler.
If money is truly no object, you could also consider the truly outrageous 32-core Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX. Do keep in mind that the latest mainstream Ryzen models have closed the gap a little, so upcoming Threadrippers will most likely up the ante even further.
How we picked the best CPU for every budget
We chose these CPUs primarily based on our own reviews and experiences using them. Our review process involves multiple synthetic benchmarks as well as real-world tests that challenge CPUs (and the platforms they require) in multiple ways, including raw single-threaded and multi-threaded power, multi-tasking, memory bandwidth, and integrated graphics capabilities across different types of workloads. We also considered things like rated power efficiency, and whether buyers will need to spend extra on a cooler.
For CPUs that we have not reviewed ourselves, we extrapolate information based on the most similar products within each generation that we have tested, and also referred to trusted third-party sources such as AnandTech, Tom's Hardware, TechSpot, and The Tech Report.
Prices in India are not necessarily in sync with prices in other parts of the world. Our final evaluations take into account current street prices sourced and averaged between multiple online and offline vendors with national footprints. We have excluded short-term discounts and bundle offers, but buyers should look out for these when arriving at their own final purchase decisions.
Outlook for the future
The year 2019 has been very interesting for CPUs so far. Intel has finally begun shipping 10nm chips to OEMs after delays spanning several years, and slim laptops and ultraportables will be the first segments to be refreshed later this year. The next generation of Intel's desktop CPUs might not benefit from 10nm manufacturing, but Intel continues to do very well at 14nm and most customers won't care either way. We just hope that Intel's supply woes ease up, because even though prices have stabilised, many key models are simply missing from the Indian market.
AMD has just released its 7nm Zen 2 products, and the company has come closer than ever before to pulling off a complete coup. It's a very good time to buy PC hardware now, with new CPUs and GPUs in the market and RAM and SSD prices dropping regularly.
Do let us know in the comments section what components you choose and what you're looking forward to.