One of the most expensive components of any computer– gaming PCs, in particular, would be the CPU. This is the workhorse of any gaming or work system, and it’s important for you to know which ones are the best right now especially if you’re planning to purchase one. Your best indication would be the CPU model name.
The trouble with that is technology moves fast and it seems now, there’s a new generation of CPU models every other year or so. It keeps getting harder for the average consumer to keep track of which is which, more so after certain brands have made their processor naming schemes more convoluted.
So to give you a good idea of how it works for the CPU model name, for Intel, here’s a quick and simple (as can be) primer on how to discern good computer components.
Let’s start with Intel’s CPU model naming schemes.
Intel CPU Naming Scheme
At the moment, the only processors you should be concerned about as a first-time PC buyer need to have a ‘Core i’ or a ‘Ryzen’ in their name. These are from either Intel or AMD.
‘Core’ followed by an ‘i’ is Intel’s product line for its most powerful consumer CPUs.
Meanwhile, for AMD, it would be its ‘Ryzen’ product line.
Each of these has its own classification system for the current generation (and perhaps for future generations as well. It’s worth noting that both Intel and AMD can also launch a new product line to replace the old and aging one and along with this, a new generational naming scheme might also be introduced.
Let’s move on over to Intel’s classification or tier system for their Core CPUs.
The Intel Classification
Let’s set a current-gen example here.
Intel Core i5-13600KF
We’ve already explained the ‘Core’ part, so next comes the ‘i’ followed by the single-digit number. This can range from i3, i5, i7, and i9. The numbers next to the ‘i’ represent the tier of the CPU. Here’s what each tier means:
- i3 – usually for budget computers and these typically have four cores. They’re viable for gaming, but expect lower performance, especially from CPU-heavy games.
- i5 – usually for mid-range computers; these typically have six cores. They’re the best option for gaming PCs since a lot of games rely on the GPU instead for performance. Still, having an i5 CPU gives more performance overhead.
- i7 – usually for mid-to-high-end computers or something in between. They have eight or more cores, making them perfect for multitasking and digital work such as video editing.
- i9 – the highest tier reserved for high-end or enthusiast computers. They’re ideal for digital work as well and offer the best CPU performance in the Intel generation. You can also use them for gaming, but a lot of people deem them as overkill for that task.
Now, what about the next part of the naming scheme, 13600KF? Let’s start with the first two digits since this will determine the price and the freshness of the tech.
The ‘13’ in 13600KF indicates the generation number. In this case, Intel Core is now on its 13th- generation, which is the current latest. Expect this to range to 14XXX, 15XXX, and so on as the years go by and newer generations are introduced. Of course, you’d want the current-gen for better future-proofing and a longer relevance, but you also can’t go wrong with one generation behind.
As for the ‘600’ in 13600KF, that’s the SKU Numeric Digit, that corresponds to the tier as well. Because in each i3, i5, i7, or i9 tier, there might be several models.
i5, for example, has several models under its tier such as the 13400, the 13600, and the 13600K (more on the letters later). It’s a way for users to distinguish the sub-tier of their CPU. Higher numbers, of course, equate to better processing performance and consequently, higher prices.
As for the letters, those have their own specific meanings. Here’s what they all mean:
- K – means the CPU is unlocked and can be overclocked to squeeze out more performance at the cost of higher wattage and heat output.
- F – means the CPU has no integrated graphics chip and needs a discrete GPU
- S – means special edition.
- T – means power-optimized lifestyle (basically lower-power models).
- X/XE – corresponds to the highest performance in the generation and is usually unlocked like K suffix models.
- HX – is for laptop CPUs and they also mean the highest performance and unlocked but for laptops.
- HK – is a lower-tier version of HX for laptops, it’s still unlocked and can be overclocked.
- H – means high-performance model, typical for five-digit Intel laptop CPUs in the Core lineup.
- P – means performance and is usually reserved for thin and light laptops, these are weaker chips.
- U – means power efficient, these are processors which have sacrificed performance for better power saving.
- Y – means low-powered, lower than U, at least.
- E – stands for embedded, usually found on laptops
Which Is Best for Your Use Case?
Your budget will ultimately decide which Intel CPU model you’ll buy, but to give you a rough idea of what’s the best for each budget range, here’s a quick recommendation:
Low-end PCs will have to settle for current-gen i3 processors. They’re affordable, low-power, and also allow you to save a bit of money for other components such as the GPU. This is especially crucial for gaming PCs since they need the most powerful GPU they can afford on a budget.
At the moment, these are the best Intel CPUs for low-end or budget PCs:
- Intel Core i3-13100/F
- Intel Core i5-12400/F
- Intel Core i5-12500
- Intel Core i5-12600
You might have noticed the 12th-gen processors in there, that’s because the 13th-gen i3 processors are on the same level as the previous generation’s i5 non-K CPUs. That’s how generation performance jumps happen. Moreover, 12th-gen and 13th-gen share the same motherboard socket anyway so both will work on the same motherboard.
Mid-range is where the fun begins for most gaming PC consumers as this is one of the vastest markets for PCs. You have plenty of options here, but to narrow them down, here are the best:
- Intel Core i5-13500
- Intel Core i5-13600K/KF
- Intel Core i7-13700/F
- Intel Core i7-13700K/KF
- Intel Core i5-12600K/KF
- Intel Core i7-12700/F
- Intel Core i7-12700K/KF
There are plenty of budget wizards out there that manage to squeeze in an i7 in a mid-range PC build (ranging from $1,000 to $1,500). You can utilize sales and other discounts for this, but generally for gaming, you don’t want to go above an i7 due to diminishing returns in CPU performance.
High-end / Enthusiast PCs
For high-end PCs or even those in the enthusiast class, the sky is the limit here– and your wallet’s depth. Take your pick:
- Intel Core i7-13700K
- Intel Core i9-13900
- Intel Core i9-13900KS
- Intel Core i9-13900K
This time, we’re not recommending anything from the previous-gen because an i7-13700K beats them, anyway. And besides, you want the best of the best here either for digital work or the most jaw-dropping gaming visuals. Best to stick to the current generation for that kind of need or want.