What is the best budget CPU? It is important that a model has a good speed that is expressed in GHz, multiple cores, caching and should be compatible with a power source. In our view, Intel Core i5-8400 Coffee Lake fits these criteria best.

Why have we chosen this model? With the APU chip type, it has an LGA 1151 socket, 6 cores and works at the speed of 3.6Ghz. The item has a 6MB cache and a generic cooling. With this model, you can build a decent gaming rig and handle almost all modern games.

This guide covers TOP-5 best budget CPUs and the difference between its 3 common architectures: ARM, x86/x64, and MIPS. You will also learn why the architecture is that important for this device, how it works as well as about the difference between vacuum tubes and transistors. Take a look at a comparison chart at the end of the article to pick up a model that will work best for you.

What You Will Learn From This Guide:

The invention of the CPU changed the world in ways they at the time simply couldn’t fathom. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Let’s turn the clock back to the 1940s, when electronic calculating machines were first being tested, and put to practical use for the war effort.

These machines were gigantic, filling aircraft hangars with towering boxes of blinky lights, and putting out tremendous heat from the arrays of vacuum tubes that they used for calculations. In a bit, we’ll get into tubes versus transistors, and you’ll see what makes integrated circuits so special. But for now, this is a time when these large components slowly plodded away at simple calculations, taking hours for advanced physics calculations for bomb trajectories, and much more.

Proving useful, they were innovated further, and in the 1950s, more compact ones were built, used by big companies for inventory, order management, and other big numbers things. Around this time, primitive databasing also took off.

However, it was the 1960s, with the bringing in of transistors, that computing exploded. Transistors became small very quickly after their invention a couple decades previously, and the first soldered circuits with arrays of gates appeared. These were still big machines, usually the size of large appliances, but much smaller, faster, and capable.

Still, this solid state revolution couldn’t achieve what computers do today, until the CPU (commonly called microchips at the time), came out. A CPU replaces the layers of discrete gates with a lot of transistors laid out in various logic sequences that can be attached to a single board, and comply with standard architectures.

With that, compact, faster, more innovative CPUs came along over time, leading to today’s vastly powerful computing technology. But this shows the impact CPUs have, but not what they really are.

Tubes Vs. Transistors

So, the big thing is the use of tiny, nano-scale transistors laid out in specific ways, that produce logic inside the CPU. We’ll talk about how these layouts achieve this (at least, the beginner’s course) in a moment, but first, the transistor itself.

Vacuum tubes, which were eventually replaced by transistors, were initially used to amplify radio signals. The signal doesn’t carry enough energy to drive a speaker if just converted to an electrical signal.

Vacuum tubes allowed two voltage lines, one flat, and one shaped like the signal, into it. Tiny wafers apart from each other oscillated as the signal went through, creating a reverse image of the signal made out of that stronger flat voltage supply. A rectifier would flip it back to its proper orientation, and a signal powerful enough to drive the speaker, was produced.

Vacuum tubes are big, heat-belching things that made portable radios impossible. Transistors, which produced a similar phenomenon, changed that as early as the 1950s. These actually broke the current when voltage was applied, producing a non-inverse amplified signal, which in turn needed no rectifier.

Transistor radios were all the rage for understandable reasons, and “transistorizing” was a buzzword (with meaning) for making things compact, no longer needing non-solid-state components. Combined with other components like diodes, capacitors, relays, and so on, and modern circuit board concepts became possible.

How Does a CPU Work?

So, it turns out that the ability to regulate voltage directly with vacuum tubes, and later transistors, could be used to produce binary states – 0 and 1 respectively. Binary could be used to represent any number, and numbers could represent any form of data if abstractly handled.

To achieve computing, where instructions and comparative logic is performed, a series of gatekept paths can be made out of these on and off switches. These gates are NAND, AND, XOR and several other comparisons of incoming signals. With enough of these interlinked gates running fast enough, and you go from a high-level computer instructional language, to electron physics producing logic that mirrors the intent.

Are you just as confused as you were two paragraphs ago, or worse? Yeah, that’s not unusual, as even designers of CPUs find it hard to explain in simple terms, how binary state switches can combine to produce comparative logic. Just know that it does. There are excellent YouTube videos out there that can provide more masterful explanations.

What are the Types of CPUs?

All CPUs work on the hard-to-grasp science mentioned above. They all do, and for the time being, they will continue to do so. The differences in CPUs are architecture, number of cores, amount of caching space, and so on.

We’ll cover the implications of architectures in a moment, but for now, just know that there are basically three common architectures commonly used.

  • ARM – ARM is a very common CPU architecture which is popular for its ease of programming on a machine language level, and for its better power efficiency. ARM chips are not as powerful as their main competition, at least for now. They are commonly seen in tablets, smart phones, some handheld game consoles, and some set top boxes and other hobby devices.
  • x86/x64 – x86 is the descendent of the “IBM” PC architecture, and is what all PCs now use. X64 is the 64-bit variant which has replaced x86. Every PC uses this, even Macintosh, though Mac used to use a now extinct architecture called PPC (PowerPC).
  • MIPS – MIPS is an old architecture which ARM replaced in a lot of handheld devices. Older flip phones and the like, running J2ME, often had a MIPS chip in them. The Nintendo 64 famously used MIPS, and was a weak version of the computers used to make the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park (the very computers used, were showcased in the “Unix System” scene. Yes, that 3D interface existed on those computers). MIPS is only seen in embedded things like IOT stuff, the display/menu system on printers, and inside routers and other low-profile devices. 

Obviously, building a PC, you’re going to want an x64 CPU.

Another difference is manufacturer. There are two primary chip manufacturers for x86/x64, though there used to be others at one time.

  • Intel – Intel is the most widely-known brand in the public eye, due to their commercials, marketing and infiltration at the beginning of the PC revolution. Intel chips tend to be more expensive, but more powerful as well.
  • AMD – AMD is less known by non-nerds, but their CPUs are famously cheaper, for a mild power sacrifice, though the power difference between the manufacturers is a rapidly-closing gap these days.

The different manufacturers use different sockets – affecting what chip will fit on what motherboard. Different chips by the same manufacturer can even have varied sockets.

What to Look For When Buying a Product

So, there are a host of things to consider with a budget CPU, which will be a cheaper CPU than the average. However, cheap doesn’t mean bad, or necessarily even weak. So, you can still uphold these important factors despite being on a budget.

  • Clock Speed – CPUs list their speed in gigahertz (GHz). This is how many cycles it performs in an amount of time. One Hz is one cycle per second, so millions of these cycles happen per second, and a single cycle (or clock) can perform a lot of operations, meaning these machines can do things in milliseconds.
  • Cores – Having multiple cores means basically having multiple CPUs in a single unit, though they share cashing often times. The more cores, the more you can do at a time, improving multitasking, or the scope of calculation needs as a whole.
  • Caching – Caching is a little bit of onboard memory inside the CPU. It’s not much, but data being actively shifted around can be stored in this area, making the CPU faster, so it doesn’t have to use smoke signals to communicate with slow RAM. There was a time when they didn’t have this, long ago, and man, you’d miss it if it went away.
  • Socket – We talked about sockets, and it’s important to pick a socket that matches your board, or vice versa.
  • Power Needs – I have a beefy CPU – one you will not see on any list in the near future, it has sixteen cores. And it raises my power bill by 60 dollars a month, and produces so much heat that this home office is sweltering most of the year. Beware of that even with these CPUs.

A Note on Architecture

Just to clarify architecture and its role, so you’re properly informed, architecture defines the precise layout of the transistors. There are a lot of configurations that could work by the science we discussed.

As a result, the machine language a CPU speaks is determined by the architecture. While all modern devices are programmed using higher level languages (C, C++, C#), the different CPUs all expect a different machine language these are converted to. ARM and x64 are very different, for example.

TOP-5 Best Budget CPUs

Below, you will find a review of TOP-5 best cheap CPUs at a price ranging from $80 to $200. Some models are useful for compact machines and handheld design while others are more powerful, with built-in graphics, and will be great for an office computer or gaming.

Budget CPUs Under 100

AMD RYZEN 3 2200G Quad-Core 3.5 GHz

AMD RYZEN 3 2200G Quad-Core 3.5 GHz: photo

The Ryzen line of CPUs is popular, and is often looked at as a name in significant power and potency. Ryzen is actually not that expensive, as long as you aren’t going for the latest model. This one is actually an APU, or a combination of CPU and GPU in a single chip.

I have my issues with that concept, and I’ll come to that. But for a budget media machine or cheap light casual gaming PC, this would work pretty well. The Ryzen line is one of AMD’s flagship products at this point.

Features

  • Chip Type – APU (Radeon Vega graphics chipset).
  • Socket – AM4 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
  • Speed – 3.7Ghz.
  • Cores – Four.
  • Cache – 6MB.
  • Cooling Provided – AMD Wraith.

Performance

Okay, the guts of this chip perform fine, they really do. Ryzen processors are snappy, they run pretty cool, and I’ve had positive experiences with them when I have encountered them. But, my problem is, I don’t like APUs.

So, if your GPU and CPU are a single chip, then whenever you need a better GPU or CPU, you have to replace both. And neither has the room or full optimization they get when they’re discrete components.

However, this is useful for compact machines, or perhaps a handheld design that uses x64, which is something I’d love to see. Too bad it’s a bit power hungry, and would eat batteries alive pretty much.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • High clock rate.
  • Decent caching.
  • Common socket.
  • Ryzen reputation.
  • Built in graphics chipset is at least a decent one.
  • APUs are just not a great idea most of the time.
  • This one doesn’t thread that well.
  • The model 3 is legacy hardware according to AMD’s catalog, which could result in hassles.

Conclusion 

This wouldn’t be my number one choice, but for the price, yeah, okay, give it a shot.

AMD RYZEN 3 2200G: Check the current price

Under 200

Intel Pentium Gold G5400 Coffee Lake Dual-Core 3.7

Intel Pentium Gold G5400: photo

This is a relative of my beastly SkyLake. Intel’s line of these CPUs is tremendously powerful, but it also has this annoying APU obsession, with built in graphics, and this is surprising for something in this price range.

At least the APU nature doesn’t get in the CPU’s way like with a lot of these solutions.

Features

  • Chip Type – APU (Intel UHD … no thanks).
  • Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
  • Speed – 3.7Ghz.
  • Cores – Two.
  • Cache – 6MB.
  • Cooling Provided – Generic fan.

Performance

Now I know what you may be thinking. This has fewer cores than the previous one, but costs more. How does that work? Well those two cores can do the work of six of those Ryzen cores from the model 3.

These “lake” CPUs, a popular line released by Intel, are massively powerful. If you’re building a gaming machine on a budget, these are actually pretty good choices, even with the fewer cores. I’ve seen these run circles around CPUs with higher core counts. I don’t entirely know how they managed this, but they did.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • High clock rate.
  • Decent caching.
  • Common socket.
  • APUs are just not a great idea most of the time.
  • The built in graphics on this one are crap.
  • This CPU is still a bit overpriced, nowadays.
  • It doesn’t overclock well

Conclusion 

Again, I don’t like APUs, so this isn’t my favorite but, I can see it working well for a lot of people nonetheless.

Intel Pentium Gold G5400: Check the current price

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G Processor with Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G Processor with Radeon RX Vega 11 Graphics: photo

It’s at this point you will notice that all of these under 200 CPUs are APUs. I don’t care for that, but from here on, we’re just going to focus on how well the CPU feature functions, and here we have the Ryzen 5, which is much better at not letting a deadbeat integrated GPU get genuinely in its way.

I’ve seen this Ryzen compete with that Intel, and that’s quite an achievement.

Features

  • Chip Type – APU (Vega 11 … not bad for what it is).
  • Socket – AM4 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
  • Speed – 3.9Ghz.
  • Cores – Four.
  • Cache – 6MB.
  • Cooling Provided – Wraith Stealth.

Performance

So, when we look at this Ryzen ignoring the GPU, we still see a pretty damn good CPU, to be honest. This is good for a budget gaming machine, and AM4 boards are bountiful and diverse.

It’s actually easier to find the appropriate board for AMD chips than with Intel, because of broader use of a socket for lines of product – Intel likes to reinvent the socket nearly every time, and that’s kind of a bone headed thing, isn’t it?

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • High clock rate.
  • Decent caching.
  • Common socket.
  • Really representing that Ryzen name now.
  • APUs are just not a great idea most of the time.
  • A little overpriced perhaps.
  • These have fragile pins on them, be very careful installing these things.

Conclusion 

To be honest, if you want to use the onboard graphics in this chip, they work pretty well for the generation they’re from. Chances are, though, you’ll use a discreet card, and not bother. It still works fine nonetheless.

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G: Check the current price

Intel Core i3-8100 Coffee Lake Quad-Core 3.6 GHz LGA 1151

Intel Core i3-8100 Coffee Lake Quad-Core 3.6 GHz: photo

Oh, come now, you knew the Intel Core line of CPUs was going to show up on here somewhere. Our last two are both Core chips. Why is that? Well, this CPU line is very powerful, and gets a lot of juice out of its four cores. This, again, is in the same family as my massive CPU.

I used to be an AMD fanboy once upon a time, balking at Intel chips and Nvidia GPUs. I currently use Intel and Nvidia. I will use either, and it took the Core series to convince me of that. Silly in retrospect but …

Features

  • Chip Type – APU (UHD 630 … meh).
  • Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
  • Speed – 3.6Ghz.
  • Cores – Four.
  • Cache – 6MB.
  • Cooling Provided – Generic.

Performance

Alright, so the problem with these Intel chips being APUs is that you’re guaranteed to have a deadbeat GPU. Oh, Intel GPUs have the power, but their architecture and so forth are obtuse. Support for Intel graphics is usually third place to Nvidia and AMD.

This isn’t too big a deal on the surface, because the GPU doesn’t crowd the CPU’s caching if you turn it off, with this one. However, you’re paying something for that inline GPU, and definitely not using it, and that irks me, and it should irk you a wee bit too.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • High clock rate.
  • Decent caching. 
  • Common socket.
  • Core line reputation.
  • APUs are just not a great idea most of the time.
  • Intel graphics just don’t tow the line, so the GPU in this is a waste of germanium that you do pay for. Intel should buy Nvidia, but let them keep running their own show, and just integrate their graphics into their chips.

Conclusion 

This isn’t my favorite, we’re getting to it. GPU issues being really irksome aside, this is great for an office computer, an art computer, or a really budget gaming computer. But for gaming rigs, that brings us to our final contender.

Intel Core i3: Check the current price

Intel Core i5-8400 Coffee Lake 6-Core 2.8 GHz

Intel Core i5-8400 Coffee Lake 6-Core 2.8 GHz: photo

This is my favorite one on our list. Yeah, it has the same Intel graphics problem, and it’s the principle with that. But, this is a beefy CPU, clocking in at 4GHz, with six cores. You can build a pretty godly gaming rig with this CPU.

Yeah, there are beefier CPUs, such as the i7, i9 and so forth, but this i5 will probably be the most CPU you need for gaming for a long time. It’s all about stressing GPUs with increasingly convoluted render system and shader script now.

Features

  • Chip Type – APU (UHD 630 … meh).
  • Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
  • Speed – 3.6Ghz.
  • Cores – Six.
  • Cache – 6MB.
  • Cooling Provided – Generic.

Performance

So, there’s a limit to how much CPU you need, to keep up with current gaming. Yes, a CPU is important, given CPUs compute physics and game logic, while graphics is handled by the GPU. Obviously, logic complexity doesn’t necessarily increase in time with graphical complexity. It in fact seldom has. 

With a few exceptions, this i5 can handle modern games, at max settings. That is, if you’re using an Nvidia or AMD GPU alongside it. Because Intel graphics can’t usually handle new games until they’ve been out forever first.

Pros Cons
  • Affordable.
  • High clock rate.
  • Decent caching.
  • Common socket.
  • Core line reputation.
  • APUs are just not a great idea most of the time.
  • Graphics being a waste yet again. I can’t really think of further creative ways to complain about this, and I think the point has been gotten.

Conclusion 

Of the ones on the list, this is my favorite. This can do your modern gaming, you can build a gaming rig, a capable one, with an under two hundred dollar CPU. But, expect to pay high prices for a GPU to handle the graphical strain.

Intel Core i5: Check the current price

Comparison Chart of Budget CPU Effectiveness

Product Features

AMD RYZEN 3 2200G Quad-Core 3.5 GHz

AMD RYZEN 3 2200G Quad-Core 3.5 GHz min: photo

Chip Type – APU (Radeon Vega graphics chipset).
Socket – AM4 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
Speed – 3.7Ghz.
Cores – Four.
Cache – 6MB.
Cooling Provided – AMD Wraith.

Effectiveness: 9

Intel Pentium Gold G5400 Coffee Lake Dual-Core 3.7

Intel Pentium Gold G5400 min: photo

Chip Type – APU (Intel UHD … no thanks).
Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
Speed – 3.7Ghz.
Cores – Two.
Cache – 6MB.
Cooling Provided – Generic fan.

Effectiveness: 8

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G

Chip Type – APU (Vega 11 … not bad for what it is).
Socket – AM4 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
Speed – 3.9Ghz.
Cores – Four.
Cache – 6MB.
Cooling Provided – Wraith Stealth.

Effectiveness: 10

Intel Core i3-8100 Coffee Lake Quad-Core 3.6 GHz LGA 1151

Intel Core i3-8100 Coffee Lake Quad-Core 3.6 GHz min: photo

Chip Type – APU (UHD 630 … meh).
Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
Speed – 3.6Ghz.
Cores – Four.
Cache – 6MB.
Cooling Provided – Generic.

Effectiveness: 10

Intel Core i5-8400 Coffee Lake 6-Core 2.8 GHz

Intel Core i5-8400 Coffee Lake 6-Core 2.8 GHz min: photo

Chip Type – APU (UHD 630 … meh).
Socket – LGA 1151 (Easy to find boards with this socket!)
Speed – 3.6Ghz.
Cores – Six.
Cache – 6MB.
Cooling Provided – Generic.

Effectiveness: 10

My Personal Experience with Budget CPUs

So, I have two simple stories to take something away from. The first is thinking that a good GPU on its own will cut the mustard for gaming. Okay, to make things clear, I don’t do modern AAA gaming, as the games are too gritty and edgy for my tastes, and too arduous to play, really.

But I do emulate older games (as new as Wii U), and I play older PC games from time to time. I once had a PC that had a beefy GPU in it for the time, but the CPU was really, really lackluster. Old games ran at the speed of smell. The graphics rendered quickly, but the logic would run slow, causing the whole thing to very smoothly be a slow motion show.

You need a good CPU to game.

The other one is a warning about cooling. I had a CPU not too long ago, that had a far-too-sensitive heat sensor on it, that made its overheat protection go off way too easily, causing the machine to arbitrarily shut down whenever it started doing any real work.

FAQ 

What is the best cheap CPU?
The Intel i5.

Which one is better for gaming?
Once more, the Intel i5 by a landslide.

Where is it located in the computer?
On the motherboard (the large circuit board). It will usually have a big fan system mounted on it, or coolers. It will stand out. You can’t see the actual CPU unless you take all the cooling off. Don’t.

Can CPU affect FPS?
Yes, but the i5 is competent enough to give you solid 60.

When CPU is not working?
If your CPU isn’t working, you’ll know. Pushing the button to turn the computer on may start fans, it may even light up some RGB. It will go no further if the CPU isn’t running – the BIOS doesn’t execute and so the machine does not post.

Conclusion

Choosing a CPU is a big decision, especially when you’re on a budget. So, shop smart, but I think one of these will serve you well enough.