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The 6 Best CPUs Under $250: Ultimate Guide

The CPU is the most important component of a PC that essentially controls everything – your PSU, GPU and RAM. There are tons of great processors or CPUs out there in the market but this list compares all of them under $250 to ensure that you get the best processor you deserve. If you’re on an even tighter budget, consider our guide to the best CPUs under $150.

The Top-Rated CPU Under $250

Editor's PickCPUScore
Top PickAMD Ryzen 5 360092%
Runner UpIntel Core i5-1040091%
Budget PickIntel Core i5-9400F86%
Luxury PickAMD Ryzen 5 3600XT93%
Most CoresAMD Ryzen 7 2700X92%
Best Integrated GraphicsAMD Ryzen 5 3400G90%

Top Pick: AMD Ryzen 5 3600

AMD Ryzen 5 3600
  • The world's most advanced processor in the desktop PC gaming segment
  • Can deliver ultra-fast 100+ FPS performance in the world's most popular games
  • 6 cores and 12 processing threads bundled with the quiet AMD wraith stealth cooler max temps 95°C
  • 4 2 GHz max boost unlocked for overclocking 35 MB of game cache DDR4 3200 support
  • For the advanced socket AM4 platform can support PCIe 4 0 on x570 motherboards

For so many years, Intel were the ones dominating when it came to the CPU space but ever since AMD unveiled their Zen series of chips, AMD have reached performance parity with Intel and even surpassing them at a lesser price. The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is no slouch either when it comes to gaming and even all around tasks (including VR!). It is a 65W TDP chip which would be great for almost any form factor. Small form factor enthusiasts would certainly love this cheap as it doesn’t dissipate so much heat. It is based on the Zen 2 architecture, AMD’s latest and greatest at the time of writing, and it makes everything from streaming to editing to gaming so much faster. After all, it is expected of it thanks to the 6 cores and 12 threads available in this processor.

It does have a decent headroom for overclocking and after overclocking, it reaches performance levels of its X based counterpart, the 3600X. It comes with a Wraith Stealth cooler that does a good job of cooling the CPU. The only issue with this is that you need a GPU to get some sort of display output but that’s the case when it comes to most modern CPUs. The best bang for buck CPU, this one is the top pick.

Runner-Up: Intel Core i5-10400

Intel Core i5-10400
  • 6 Cores / 12 Threads
  • Socket type LGA 1200
  • Up to 4. 3 GHz
  • Compatible with Intel 400 series chipset based motherboards
  • Intel Optane Memory support

The Intel Core i5-10400 is a good CPU with 6 cores and 12 threads with a 65W TDP. It’s great for starter builds since this does come with Intel UHD 630 which is Intel’s integrated graphics. It basically means that this doesn’t really need a GPU for display. It is still based on Intel’s older 14nm process but it still holds up to today. As a matter of fact, this still beats the Ryzen 5 3600 in certain games in FPS or Frames per Second. It is a great chip for gaming alone.

Sadly, it doesn’t allow for overclocking as it tends to heat up, and it can only support up to 2666Mhz of RAM, which is certainly not as good as the Ryzen 5 3600 which can support upto 3200Mhz of RAM. Faster RAM does make a difference when it comes to gaming. The Intel Core i5-10400 also comes in a cheaper variant, the 10400F which doesn’t have integrated graphics. It also has a much lower base clock compared to the Ryzen 5 3600 but still tends to perform well. If you need a CPU exclusively for gaming, this is the one to get.

Budget Pick: Intel Core i5-9400F

Intel Core i5-9400F
  • 6 Cores/ 6 Threads
  • 2.90 GHz up to 4.10 GHz Max Turbo Frequency/ 9 MB cache, Bus Speed: 8 GT/s DMI3
  • Compatible only with Motherboards based on Intel 300 Series Chipsets: Intel B360 Chipset, Intel H370 Chipset, Intel H310 Chipset, Intel Q370 Chipset, Intel Z390 Chipset, Intel Z370 Chipset
  • Discrete GPU required No integrated graphics. Max Memory bandwidth - 41.6 GB/s. Max Memory Channels - 2
  • Intel Optane Memory supported

If you thought that getting a 6 core processor at low rates is hard, think again. The Intel Core i5-9400F is a little older than most other processors in the list but it still does the job well, especially since it is a 6 core and 6 thread processor. The Core i5-9400F doesn’t come with integrated graphics, like all other Intel processors that have the suffix F, but it shouldn’t be an issue for gamers who have a discrete graphics card anyways.

It cannot be overclocked but it does boost upto 4GHz which should kick in under heavy loads and games. It also doesn’t have hyper-threading, an important feature that essentially allows for more things to be done at the same time. A great processor that has budget gamers in mind, this is the one to get.  

Luxury Pick: AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT

AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT
  • AMD's fastest 6 core processor for mainstream desktop, with 12 procesing threads
  • Can deliver fast 100+ FPS performance in the world's most popular games
  • Bundled with the quiet, capable AMD Wraith Spire cooler
  • 4.5 GHz Max Boost, unlocked for overclocking, 35 MB of GameCache, DDR-3200 support
  • For the advanced Socket AM4 platform, can support PCIe 4.0 on X570 and B550 motherboards

If the basic Ryzen 5 3600 doesn’t meet your needs, meet the AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT, which boasts a much higher base clock compared to its little brothers. The Ryzen 5 shares a lot of similarities to its little brothers like the 6 core and 12 thread design. Most people who are into overclocking and have an AIO to back it up will get the best from this chip. It does do a great job and it also comes with the Wraith Spire cooler which is a really good cooler as well, compared to what Intel usually offers. It also supports PCIe Gen 4 which basically promises high speed with compatible components like SSDs and GPUs.

It is based on the Zen 2 architecture which means it doesn’t have integrated graphics with it but at this price, most people would own one. If you need the extra horsepower after overclocking, this is certainly a great processor.

Most Cores: AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
  • 8 Cores/16 Threads Unlocked
  • Frequency: 4.3 GHz Max Boost. Base Clock 3.7GHz
  • Compatibility : Windows 10 64 Bit Edition , RHEL x86 64 Bit , Ubuntu x86 64 Bit
  • 20MB of Combined Cache
  • Socket AM4 Motherboard Required, Supports Windows 10 - 64-Bit Edition RHEL x86 64-Bit Ubuntu x86 64-Bit

Looking for an 8 core CPU below $250 might be a really hard task but the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X is a processor that has exactly that. Most content creators on a tight budget would certainly appreciate this since the extra cores and threads would come in handy as well. The Ryzen 7 2700X has seen a massive price drop in the wake of the new Zen 2 based CPUs. It is based on the Zen+ architecture which would get the job done for most people and it doesn’t feature integrated graphics.

It also beats out most of Intel’s high end and budget offering which makes this a really strong processor despite its age. The only minor issues most people would find is that this draws a lot of power under heavy loads and it is very reliant on faster RAM. Nonetheless, if you need so much power, the Ryzen 7 2700X is something to seriously consider.

Best Integrated Graphics: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
  • Includes Radeon RX Vega 11, the world's most powerful graphics on a desktop processor, no expensive graphics card required
  • Can deliver smooth high definition performance in the world's most popular games
  • 4 Cores and 8 processing threads, bundled with the powerful AMD Wraith Spire cooler
  • 4. 2 GHz max Boost, unlocked for overclocking, 6 MB Cache, DDR 2933 support
  • For the advanced socket AM4 platform

The AMD Ryzen 5 3400G boasts one of the most powerful desktop graphics on a processor, and it does deliver in most AAA titles. It does feature a 4 core and 8 thread processor and comparing this with the other processors in the list, this does fall short in terms of raw power but what it makes up for in lack of raw power, it crushes the rest of the list by having the best integrated graphics. It does incredibly well with dual channel RAM (basically two RAM sticks) and it also games fairly well. In most eSports titles like Valorant and Counter Strike: Global Offensive, it easily gets to 80+ fps in 1080p with pro or medium-high settings.

The processor does come with the Wraith Spire cooler which is a much better cooler compared to the ones that come with the mid end ones like the Ryzen 3 3200G, Ryzen 5 3600 etc. The Wraith Spire cooler does allow for some overclocking, especially since the Ryzen 5 3400G does allow for a little overclocking. If you don’t have the money to spend on a dedicated GPU, this is one to get.

What to Look for in a CPU

Before buying a CPU, there are a couple of things to keep in mind to avoid purchasing something that is incompatible or something that might lead to a disaster.

Socket Compatibility

Socket is basically something that allows you to connect your CPU to the motherboard. All CPUs operate on different sockets. AMD usually operates on an AM4 right now whereas the latest 10th generation of Intel processors are based on LGA 1200. Always ensure that you have the right motherboard with the right socket that supports your CPU.

Number of Cores and Threads

Each CPU comes with a particular number of cores and threads. At the time of writing, most games utilise a maximum of 4 cores. But thanks to the rise of Ryzen (no pun intended), 6 cores and 12 threads have become the norm thanks to the affordability of those processors. If you are someone who wants to future proof the PC, it’s always recommended to purchase a 6 core processor or at the very least, avoid dual core processors as they tend to be incredibly slow.

Core Clock

Core clock is the frequency or rate at which the PC runs. It is recommended to choose a CPU which is unlocked as it essentially allows for overclocking as ‘locked’ processors run on their own speed depending on the kind of work or gaming one might do and there’s a ceiling as to how fast the PC can run at.

Last Updated on March 1, 2021 by Thomas Bush