Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Best Overall: Intel Core i7-9700K at Amazon
"Hits right on that performance sweet spot for many users."
Best for Gaming: Intel Core i7-8700K at Amazon
"The first of Intel's consumer processors to increase the core count from four to six."
Runner-Up, Best for Gaming: Intel Core i7-7700K at Amazon
"This flagship product from that line continues to serve gamers and power users alike."
Best for Content Creators: Intel Core i7-9800X at Amazon
"Delivers high-powered creative workstation performance worthy of a high-end desktop."
Runner-Up, Best for Content Creators: Intel Core i7-7820X at Amazon
"Built for photographers, video editors, and other content creators."
Best Budget: Intel Core i7-3770 at Amazon
"A solid processor that gets the job done."
Best Splurge: Intel Core i7-6950X at Amazon
"A beast at heavy-duty video encoding, 3D image rendering, and other multi-threaded processes."
Best Collector's Item: Intel Core i7-8086K at Amazon
"Comes at a lightning-fast 4.0GHz base frequency and a maximum single-core Turbo Boost speed of 5.0GHz right out of the box."
If you're a gamer, a video or photo editor, or are simply building or upgrading your own desktop, you'll likely be looking at Intel processors to get the job done. While there's some competition in the market with Ryzen, the Intel i7 series is still dominant in terms of multitasking processes and gaming. However, there's quite a lot of them, and it isn't always clear which one is best for you. We've researched each Intel i7 processor you can get to decide what best fits your use case.You should also check out our general list of best processors if you want to try out AMD.
Fast and overclockable
Eight physical cores
Better value for gaming than higher-end i9s
It's hard to go wrong with an Intel processor, but which chip do you choose? If you'll be doing any significant mix of multi-tasking, media work, and gaming, you'll appreciate the extra performance that Intel's Core i7 processors harbor over i5 ones, without the extra cost of the i9 silicon. The i7-9700K, specifically, hits right on that performance sweet spot for many users.
Part of Intel's 9th-generation refresh of its Coffee Lake microarchitecture, the i7-9700K runs at listed thermal design power (TDP) of 95W with a base clock rate of 3.6GHz. With Intel's built-in Turbo Boost technology, it's able to jump up to a blazing 4.9GHz. The "K" in the model number indicates that it's an unlocked CPU, one that can be easily overclocked to reach even faster rates. It also features 12MB of L3 cache and supports dual-channel DDR4-2666 memory.
Those specs add up to a processor with the speed to deliver excellent PC gaming performance. It also has an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 that can handle plenty of titles even if you don't have a separate discrete graphics card (though you'll want one for serious gaming). But the i7-9700K marks a departure from the premium Intel CPUs before it lacking the hyper-threading technology that doubles the number of virtual cores. It instead gives you more physical cores, and unless you're doing a lot of video editing or content creation that calls for heavy multithreading, the i7-9700K's eight powerful cores are more than enough for most purposes.
"If you're a heavy user, the 9th gen i7-9700k offers better performance than the comparable Ryzen 3900X for both multitasking and gaming. It also won't hit your wallet as hard as an i9 or Threadripper." — Ajay Kumar, Tech Editor
Six cores with 12 threads
Fast gaming performance
Other options offer similar performance
To keep pace with the powerful Ryzen processors from rival AMD, Intel introduced its Coffee Lake architecture and 8th-generation chips, headlined by the Intel Core i7-8700K. These were the first of Intel's consumer processors to increase the core count from four to six. Hyper-threading also allows each of the cores to function as two virtual cores, for a total of six cores and 12 processing threads. This lets the i7-8700K work more efficiently by running more processes at the same time.
There are CPUs today from both Intel and AMD that boast more cores and more threads, but the i7-8700K's impressive single-core performance still makes it a fast, reasonably priced option, particularly if you're focused on gaming. Its formidable 3.7GHz base rate can be boosted to 4.7GHz, and it tends to stay cool enough that you could overclock it to 5GHz in the right setup without too much difficulty. Even though it comes with UHD 630 integrated graphics, you'll want to pair the i7-8700K with dedicated graphics card to see its full potential. Coupled with the right GPU, you'll be able to handle high-quality 4K games with ease and hit blazing-high frame rates at 1080p.
"The i7-8700K is likely the most common processor to find on a gamer's rig, for good reason. With its ability to overclock to 5GHz with the right setup, it can keep your gaming futureproof for years." — Alan Bradley, Tech Editor
Fast 4.2GHz rate out of the box, boostable to 4.5GHz
Good performance for the price
Some newer, faster alternatives
Only four cores (eight threads)
Can run hot
Intel's Core i7-7700K might be a quad-core Kaby Lake processor from a couple of generations back, but this flagship product from that line continues to serve gamers and power users alike. It runs at a fast single-core frequency of 4.2GHz, going up to a 4.5GHz stock speed thanks to Intel's Turbo Boost feature. There's some room to overclock the unlocked processor if you can successfully manage the power usage and temperature, which tends to run fairly hot.
Even out of the box, the speedy base clock speed and hyper-threading capabilities give the i7-7700K the versatility and power necessary to take on high-end games and other tasks. Your graphics card often plays a bigger role in creating a smooth gaming experience than the CPU does, so the i7-7700K is fast enough for a lot of setups. You'll get performance similar to newer processors while potentially saving money for your graphics card, cooling system, and other components of your gaming rig.
High-end performance from 8 cores and 16 threads
Fast single-core speeds
Soldered heat spreader for cooler temps
No integrated graphics
For things like 4K video editing, 3D rendering, and streaming while you game, you'll benefit from as much processing power and as many cores as you can get. The Intel Core i7-9800X, one of the company's premium X-series CPUs from the Skylake architecture, delivers high-powered creative workstation performance worthy of a high-end desktop (HEDT). With eight cores and 16 threads, it's ideal for multitasking and running applications that support multithreading. It has a TDP of 165W, is compatible with X299 motherboards, and supports a full 44 PCI Express (PCIe) lanes, letting you connect more video cards and other components at higher speeds.
The i7-9800X is fast enough to game on, too, with a 3.8GHz base rate that can be upped to 4.4GHz with Turbo Boost. Plus, by attaching the CPU to its heat spreader using solder thermal interface material (STIM) instead of thermal paste as it did with previous chips, Intel helped the i7-9800X run cooler and introduced more opportunities for overclocking.
Powerful octa-core performance with hyper-threading
Fast 3.6GHz rate, boosts to 4.3GHz
Thermal paste may limit overclocking
Built for photographers, video editors, and other content creators, Intel's X-series HEDT processors offer high frequencies and core counts to tackle demanding digital workloads, including everything from 4K video rendering to 360-degree video and VR. A prime example is the Intel Core i7-7820X, a Skylake CPU with eight cores and 16 threads for top-end multitasking and multithreading performance, rated at a 140W TDP. Like other X-series chips, it works with the LGA 2066 socket and Intel's high-end X299 chipset. With 28 PCIe lanes available, there's plenty to work with in terms of integrating it into your setup.
Enthusiasts looking to overclock the i7-7820X, the use of thermal paste instead of soldering the heat spreader may not be the preferred approach for optimal cooling. Still, it can run at a decent 3.6GHz clock rate, which goes up to 4.3GHz with Turbo Boost 3.0, plenty enough for most games and creative applications.
Solid quad-core, hyper-threaded performance
Nice value for the price
Outclassed by newer models
If you're looking to trim down your CPU budget and save money for other components, you can turn to the Intel Core i7-3770, a solid processor that gets the job done.
The 3rd-generation Ivy Bridge chip, the first one to be built on the older 22nm process, uses four cores and supports hyper-threading for a total of eight threads. While these cores can't quite match modern CPUs in pure processing power, they still operate at a quick 3.4GHz (3.9GHz boosted) clock speed.
Only the 3770K version comes unlocked and ready for overclocking, but even the base model comes with a stock CPU cooler in the retail box. It's also equipped with Intel's HD 4000 integrated graphics, but you'll want to spring for a dedicated GPU to properly handle most modern games.
Impressive 10 cores and 20 threads
Excellent media-creation performance
Somewhat lower single-core speed
Intel's i7 CPUs tend to represent something of a middle ground among processor options. But some i7 models do break into the premium level, with specs and price tags that keep them squarely in the enthusiast or creative professional market. For the Intel Core i7-6950X, falling under the company's Extreme Edition line, the high-end highlights come in the form of a whopping 10 physical cores and 20 threads, making it a beast at heavy-duty video encoding, 3D image rendering, and other multi-threaded processes.
It's also stocked with a roomy 25MB of L3 cache, up to 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes, and support for up to four channels of DDR4-2400 RAM. Although it makes some sacrifices in single-core clock speed to make up for the increased core count and overclocking can be a little difficult, it gets to a solid 3.0GHz clock speed, with a max stock speed of 3.5GHz. You'll be able to play games just fine, assuming you pair the i7-6950X with a discrete graphics card.
Can reach 5.0GHz clock rate out of the box
Strong six-core, 12-thread performance
Prices can get high
Not significantly different from the i7-8700
The Intel Core i7-8086K is both a high-performance processor and a piece of personal computing history. It's a 40th-anniversary limited edition based on Intel's iconic original 8086 processor that launched the x86 microarchitecture in 1978, but this 8th-generation Coffee Lake version isn't just for show. The six-core, 12-thread CPU stands as an intriguing real-world processor option on its own. It comes at a lightning-fast 4.0GHz base frequency and a maximum single-core Turbo Boost speed of 5.0GHz right out of the box, the first consumer Intel chip that can make this claim. It's also fully unlocked, so it has the potential to run even faster with proper overclocking.
Beyond the bump in frequency, the i7-8086K is essentially the same processor as the i7-8700K. It has 12MB of Intel Smart Cache, supports dual-channel DDR4-2666 RAM, and includes UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics. That still makes it an excellent CPU, though one that might be more for enthusiasts looking for a bit of a special touch.
If you're a heavy PC user with a demanding workflow, the Intel Core i7-9700K is the best CPU to buy. It's fast and overclockable with eight physical cores, allowing you to do media editing, multitasking, and gaming better than the AMD competition. Best of all, it won't cost you as much as an i9 while still giving you most of the performance. If you're more of a dedicated gamer, the i7-8700K is eminently overclockable up to 5GHz as long a you have the right cooling system. It's also reasonably priced for its six cores.
Anton Galang has been writing about tech since 2007. A contributor to PC Magazine, he's intimately familiar with computer hardware and has well over a decade of experience covering consumer technology.
Ajay Kumar is Tech Editor at Lifewire. With over seven years of experience, he's previously been published in PCMag and Newsweek where he reviewed thousands of products including PC hardware, monitors, phones, laptops, and other devices. He built his own gaming rig and though he uses a Ryzen 3700X, he has previously used Intel processors.
Alan Bradley is Tech Editor at Lifewire. He has over a decade working in the media industry and has previously been published on PC Gamer and GamesRadar+. With thousands of reviews under his belt, he's also built his own gaming rig and has used and tested various Intel processors.
Multitasking - The biggest factor that determines what processor to get is how much multitasking you need to do. i7 processors with more cores and features like multi-threading can run more programs at the same time. This is particularly useful for graphic designers, media editors, and other people who have work that requires a lot of numbers to be crunched or images to be rendered.
Gaming - A gaming processor doesn't need to have the top specs in terms of core count, but it should be able to handle heat and overclock well. Overclocking can significantly increase how capable your gaming PC is and extends its lifespan for several years. These processors that are overclockable are marked by having a "K" at the end of their name.
Budget - How much an i7 processor costs will be a major factor. These processors already tend to be on the more expensive end of the Intel lineup which consists of the i3 and i5. The i3 may be fine for basic browsing and word processing, while the i5 will work for a mix of workflows along with some gaming. The price difference is usually fairly significant. Depending on what you plan to do, these or AMD's more affordable Ryzen lineup could be better buys.