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The Most Practical Low-End Through High-End CPU's for a Standard PC

Front-center we have Intel's Coffee Lake Refresh platform. This is a platform that delivers unprecidented value to the masses. Examining any of the primary consumer objectives this platform wins. And from this platform, we have chosen three CPU's to consider in creating a highest-value practical PC.

It is important to first ask yourself what your PC bottleneck might be. There are three processing bottlenecks in a PC: raw core speed, single queue 4K random read, and virtual paging overflow.

It is very common for people to think that their CPU is the bottleneck when it is more likely the random read bottleneck. And most advice still focuses on fixing the virtual paging overflow bottleneck, which will in turn make the random read bottleneck worse, because their solutions are in a tug-a-war. This often confuses both experts and system optimizers, leading to the wrong configuration, which then makes a PC slow down prematurely.

How do you tell if its a CPU bottleneck? Software that is doing a lot with data in RAM, such as program data, and not with data on disk. An excellent candidate is CAD work. If your CAD drawings are quite detailed then you should look for a fast CPU.

CPU performance is for some people a very big factor. This is likely the bottleneck in CAD engineering, some types of games, servers generating pages dynamically, and large scale data analytics. So, what should we look for in a CPU to speed these up?

The vast majority of software on the planet makes use of just one core and just one thread. For this reason your CPU must have a very good sustained raw core speed. All the Coffee Lake Refresh CPU's are great in this department. The inverse of this is parallel processing, which requires software written for threading. And this software usually costs more. Today's PC architecture is quite good at handling threading, but you'll have to choose the right CPU for the amount of threading. The Coffee Lake Refresh i3 actually includes 4 cores, which is quite an improvement from the previous platforms. With 4 cores it can perform moderate threading, which makes a very big difference a lot of the time. However, if your software emphasis is threading then more would be better. In this case you should choose either the i5, which is very good if on a budget, or the i9, which is the very best.

AMD currently has Intel topped on the number of threads, but Intel has faster threads. So, if you are running multiple ordinary software packages at the same time then Intel is better because these threads likely require speed. But if your individual threaded tasks are light-weight, then AMD is better. For example: a busy threaded HTTP server that serves static pages will perform better with AMD, while a busy HTTP server that serves dynamic pages will perform better with Intel.

Today it is no longer just about the CPU. Instead we talk about the CPU platform, which includes all sorts of special technologies, some of which are quite important. Its for this reason that going back to an older platform is a bad idea. You'll lose out on so much. In the case of Coffee Lake Refresh, you get a new SSD interface called an "NVMe M.2" that delivers drive speeds that are 20x faster than a hard drive, and DDR4 capability, which is a new type of RAM that is way faster and more reliable than anything used previously. These capabilities combine to allow the operating system to produce a vastly better disk cache. (Remember how this is part of the solution to the 1 queue random 4K read bottleneck?) So, in choosing the best CPU to fix the CPU bottleneck, you are also helping to fix the other bottlenecks.

These are the winning CPU's...

The world's most practical low-end CPU: Intel Coffee Lake Refresh i3-9100. (NOTE: this i3 includes turbo and Quick Sync)

The world's most practical medium grade CPU: Intel Coffee Lake Refresh i5-9600.

The world's most practical high-end CPU: Intel Coffee Lake Refresh i9-9900.

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