The 7 Best i7 Processors of 2021

Upgrade your computer with a powerful CPU from Intel

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If you’re building your own PC from scratch or if you’re planning to upgrade the CPU in your existing desktop or laptop, one of the best i7 processors might be a good option if you want something priced in that mid-range. There’s an i7 processor to fit just about every need and budget. You can find a lower-tier i7 from a previous generation for less than $200, while some of the newer gaming-grade i7 CPUs will cost you more than double that amount.

If you are an avid gamer, you’ll want to look for a CPU with higher clock speeds that supports high amounts of RAM. However, don’t get too caught up in the number of cores and threads, as this will likely have less impact than other factors like clock speeds, memory, and your overall system storage. For content creators, it’s probably worth it to shell out a bit more cash for extra cores. You’ll also want more RAM and 4K video support, but you don’t necessarily need those blazing fast clock speeds. Business professionals and home users need security and stability, as well as fast access to frequently used programs like Microsoft Office. If you’re using your PC for work, school, or home use, you can get away with a low of mid-tier i7, and you don’t always need to tack on those extra costs for more cores or lightning-fast clock speeds.

Whatever you need your computer to do, we have you covered with the best i7 processors in different categories and price ranges. Our top pick is the Intel Core i7-10700K because it’s a powerful processor at a reasonable price. If you’re looking for something different, we’ve also included budget picks, as well as our top picks for gaming, content creation, and other areas.

The Rundown
An excellent choice for gamers, or for anyone who wants to boost their PC’s performance.
Best for Graphic Design:
Intel Core i7-10700 at Amazon
The i7-10700 is an ideal option for content creators, or for anyone who performs a lot of graphically intensive design-type tasks.
The unlocked CPU has an admirable base clock speed of 3.7 GHz.
Saving a little on the CPU can help a lot when you go to purchase other parts like RAM.
Best Older Model:
Intel Core i7-7700K at Amazon
Sometimes older models stand the test of time, like Intel's Core i7-7700K.
Best for Content Creation:
Intel Core i7-9700F at Amazon
The Intel Core i7-9700K is a good option for creators who work with large, raw video files.
Best for Laptops:
Intel Core i7-9750H at Amazon
The Intel Core i7-9750H is the best 9th generation Intel CPU available for laptops.

Best Overall: Intel Core i7-10700K

What We Like
  • Optane Memory support

  • Integrated graphics

  • 4K ready

What We Don't Like
  • No thermal solution included

The i7-10700K provides a lot of value, and it’s an excellent choice for gamers, or for anyone who wants to boost their PC’s performance. It features 8 cores and 16 threads, with an impressive base clock speed of 3.8GHz. The unlocked CPU can be boosted up to 5.1 GHz with Turbo Boost Max 3.0. 

It supports up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM, and it works with Intel's Optane Memory technology to learn your most-used apps and programs to keep them at-the-ready for faster access. The i7-10700K is 4K ready, allowing you to future-proof your PC and take full advantage of the integrated graphics technology. With integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics, work and home users won't have to drop extra cash on a fancy, dedicated video card in order to get great images and framerates (you’ll still want to invest in a separate graphics card if you’re using your PC for gaming though).

Best for Graphic Design: Intel Core i7-10700

What We Like
  • Includes cooling fan/heatsink

  • 4K ready

  • Fast and powerful

What We Don't Like
  • Not unlocked

The i7-10700 is an ideal option for content creators, or for anyone who performs a lot of graphically intensive design-type tasks. This isn’t the best CPU for gaming, although the i7-10700 and the i7-10700K (which is for gaming) look similar. That “K” on the end makes a big difference, as it indicates the processor is unlocked for overclocking.

The regular “K”-less 10700 has a base clock speed of 2.9GHz that maxes out at 4.8GHz with Intel's Turbo Boost Max 3.0 technology. The CPU comes packaged with a heatsink and cooling fan for optimum operating temperatures. It supports 128GB of DDR4 RAM and Intel's Optane Memory for extra-fast access to frequently used files and programs. It also has integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics, and it supports 4K video. With this CPU, you can use up to three displays for better multitasking and media streaming.

Most Popular: Intel Core i7 8700K

What We Like
  • Six cores with 12 threads

  • Decent gaming performance

  • Reasonably priced

What We Don't Like
  • Other options offer similar performance

In 2017, to keep pace with Ryzen processors from rival AMD, Intel introduced its Coffee Lake architecture and 8th-generation chips, headlined by the Intel Core i7-8700K. The unlocked CPU has an admirable base clock speed of 3.7 GHz. It has six cores and 12 threads. Hyper-threading allows each of the cores to function as two logical cores. This lets the i7-8700K work more efficiently with certain applications.

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 base clock rate can be boosted to 4.7GHz, and it tends to remain cool and maintain its temp pretty well. Even though it comes with UHD 630 integrated graphics, you'll want to pair the i7-8700K with a dedicated graphics card to see its full potential. Coupled with the right card, you'll be able to handle high-quality 4K games with ease and hit blazing-high frame rates.

"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

Best for Gaming: Intel Core i7-9700K

Intel Core i7-9700K
What We Like
  • Fast

  • Eight cores

  • Better value for gaming than higher-end i9s

What We Don't Like
  •  No hyper-threading

When you’re building a gaming rig, budget is a huge factor. A CPU is important, but it’s not the only part you need. Sometimes, saving a little on the CPU can help a lot when you go to purchase other parts like RAM, a better power supply, or SSD storage. If you're looking to build a gaming rig and don't want or need the newest (and most expensive) CPU, the Intel Core i7-9700K is a great option that can save you a bit of cash. 

The 9700K features 8 cores and 8 threads, with a base speed of 3.6GHz. It’s a “K” model, so you can overclock it to 4.9GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0 technology. It supports up to 128GB of RAM, as well as 4K video and graphics. With integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics and 64GB of VRAM, you won't have to drop a ton of money on a discrete graphics card in order to play some of the lighter games in the Steam library. However, you’ll probably want a separate graphics card if you’re planning on doing any sort of heavy gaming. 

The i79700K is optimized for Optane Memory for faster access to your most-played games; it also supports DirectX12 and Quick Sync Video for editing and sharing your greatest gaming moments. This CPU can support up to three monitors so you can game, chat, and stream with ease.

"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

Best Older Model: Intel Core i7-7700K

What We Like
  •  Fast 4.2GHz rate out of the box

  • Unlocked (boostable to 4.5GHz)

  • Good performance for the price

What We Don't Like
  • Only four cores (eight threads)

Sometimes older models stand the test of time, like Intel's Core i7-7700K. A quad-core Kaby Lake processor from a couple of generations back, this flagship product line continues to serve gamers and power users alike. It runs at a fast rate of 4.2GHz, going up to 4.5GHz. There's some room to overclock the unlocked processor if you can successfully manage the power usage and temperature, as it tends to run fairly hot.

Right out of the box, the speedy base clock and four cores (with hyper-threading) give the i7-7700K the versatility and power necessary to take on high-end games and other tasks. Combine it with a good graphics card, plenty of RAM, and SSD storage, and you have a smooth gaming experience. You'll get performance similar to newer processors, while potentially saving money for your graphics card, cooling system, and other components for your gaming rig.

Best for Content Creation: Intel Core i7-9700F

What We Like
  • Optane Memory compatible

  • Built-in security

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Requires discrete graphics

The Intel Core i7-9700K is a good option for creators who work with large, raw video files. It has 8 cores and 8 threads (no hyper-threading), and it has a base speed of 3.0 Ghz with a max of 4.7GHz. This, along with support for up to 128GB of RAM, makes it great for rendering large video files and multitasking graphic design programs. 

Like the other i7 CPUs on this list, it's optimized for Intel's Optane Memory so you get fast, reliable access to your most-used programs like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. You can use this as a gaming processor, but you have to add a gaming-grade graphics card. This CPU requires discrete graphics anyway. If you spend in other areas (think SSD storage, cooling, RAM), you can end up with a pretty nice rig without overpaying for your CPU.

Best for Laptops: Intel Core i7-9750H

What We Like
  • Triple display support

  • Six cores

  • Good performance

What We Don't Like
  • Systems tend to be pricey

For those who prefer laptops to desktops, the Intel Core i7-9750H is the best 9th generation Intel CPU available for laptops. You can find this chip in the Acer Predator Helios 300 laptop, as well as some other gaming laptops. It has 6 cores, and it allows for Hyper Threading. The 9750H has a base clock speed of 2.6GHz, and it maxes out at 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost 2.0. 

With Flex Memory, you can add up to 128GB of DDR4 RAM to your laptop while having your CPU remain in dual-channel mode. It has integrated Intel UHD 630 graphics and 64GB of VRAM, letting you stream your favorite shows and movies or play popular games without a dedicated GPU. The CPU is also compatible with 4K video and graphics, so you get excellent detail and lifelike images. It supports up to three displays so you can connect your laptop and up to two external monitors if you need to multitask or prefer multi-monitor set-ups.

Final Verdict

The unlocked Intel i7-10700K is the best i7 CPU on the market. It's 4K ready, and it has a base clock speed of 3.8 (max 5.1GHz) and tons of power. The locked i7-10700 is a close second, as the i7-10700 comes packaged with a cooling fan where the 10700K does not.

How We Tested

We evaluate CPUs based on their ability to handle productivity, multitasking, and gaming. To test processors, we put them in our custom build, keeping all other components the same. Then we put the processor to the test by running benchmark tests like PCMark, Geekbench 5, Passmark to get objective scores. We also use the processors in our workflow, using them for video rendering and gaming, and other productivity tasks. Finally, we look at price and competitor benchmarks to get an idea of the value proposition and make a final judgment. Lifewire purchases all review products; we do not receive them from manufacturers.

About Our Trusted Experts

Erika Rawes has been writing professionally for more than a decade, and she’s spent the last five years writing about consumer technology. Erika has reviewed roughly 125 gadgets, including computers, peripherals, games, A/V equipment, mobile devices, and smart home gadgets.

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.

FAQs

Is Intel or AMD better?
Both AMD and Intel have some really great offerings, and are highly competitive with one another. The better brand often changes with each generation. The best brand can also change based on exactly what you’re looking for in your chip. One AMD CPU may score much higher in productivity, but not as good as Intel in gaming. It's best to research all available AMD and Intel chips in your price range before making a decision.


Should I buy Ryzen or Intel?

This depends on many factors. When deciding what to buy, first think about your current system. What chipset does your motherboard have, how big is your power supply, and what cooling do you currently have? Next, determine what your budget is, and what level CPU you want to buy, especially considering the main purpose for your CPU (gaming, productivity, content, or a combination). Once you have made these decisions and determined if you’re willing to swap out other parts of your rig to best fit your CPU purchase, you can then narrow down which brand to buy.


Which CPU is best for home use?

Many people like to game at home, so you may want to look at the AMD Ryzen 5800X or the Intel i9-10900K CPUs. If you work at home, you may want something that can handle everything, like our best overall choice: the AMD Ryzen 5900X.

What to Look for When Buying Intel i7 Processors

Multitasking and Usage

What do you use your PC for? Are you spending most of your time surfing the web and word processing, or are you performing heavier tasks like content creation? How much multitasking do you need to do? Higher end i7 processors with more cores and features like multi-threading might help boost your PC’s performance. This is particularly useful for graphic designers, media editors, and other people whose work 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 it should have fast clock speeds (and overclocking). Overclocking can significantly increase your gaming PC’s capabilities. Processors that are overclockable are marked by having a "K" at the end of their name.

Budget

These processors typically cost less than the i9 series, but they still aren’t cheap. You might be able to get away with an even more affordable CPU from Intel’s i5 or i3 lineup. 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. Depending on what you plan to do, these or an affordable model from AMD's Ryzen lineup could be better buys.

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