One of the best things about modern gaming PCs is their ability to be multi-functional. Not only are modern PCs great at gaming, but they can also provide an excellent productivity experience if they are configured correctly. Most gaming machines can handle basic productivity tasks like video editing quite well in addition to their routine gaming tasks. That said, there is always room for specialized hardware that can be hugely beneficial in some specialized use cases.
There are some workloads that do require a lot of processing power and that can’t usually be delivered by mainstream gaming CPUs. These workloads often require a lot of processing cores in order to be executed efficiently, and those usually are not available on gaming CPUs. With the rise of Ryzen however, there are even some mainstream CPUs that have a good number of cores that will prove helpful in these scenarios. This gives the user choice which is always great to have in the CPU market.
There are specialized high core-count Workstation or High-End Desktop (HEDT) CPUs that are really expensive and have lots of cores, or there are the high core count Ryzen CPUs which even work on mainstream motherboards. With that said, here are the 5 best CPUs for productivity and content creation in 2021.
1. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Best of Both Worlds
- 16 Cores and 32 Threads
- Extremely High Productivity Performance
- Impressive Gaming Performance
- Ideal for Multi-purpose PC Builds
Cores: 16 | Threads: 32 | Base Clock: 3.4GHz | Boost Clock: 4.9GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 105W | Architecture: Zen 3
While there are many strong points about AMD’s desktop lineup, one of the best things about mainstream Ryzen CPUs is that they tend to bring a lot of cores to consumer desktop CPUs. In fact, Ryzen CPUs are the main driving force behind the push to 8-Core and 12-Core consumer CPUs that have come out in the last few years. Packing more cores in a consumer desktop CPU makes it particularly strong at certain productivity workloads that usually prefer a lot of cores.
AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950X CPU is one of the most powerful gaming processors on the market right now, but that is only one half of the story. The 5950X packs 16 Cores and 32 Threads with a top boost frequency of 4.9 GHz out of the box. These numbers are absolutely staggering and were unheard of in the consumer desktop space even a few years ago. Not only that, the 5950X possesses fast cores based on the Zen 3 architecture which dramatically reduces the latency between the cores and boosts gaming performance significantly. This makes the 5950X an ideal CPU for those creators who also want to leverage its amazing gaming performance.
The Ryzen 9 5950X can work on consumer AM4 motherboards and that is a big advantage in its favor. The HEDT/Workstation class boards for Threadripper and Extreme Edition CPUs tend to be significantly more expensive than consumer desktop motherboards, therefore the cost of entry is dramatically reduced if someone chooses to go with a 5950X. Moreover, going with a decent X570 board means that the 5950X can leverage the benefit of overclocking as well, which can further improve the performance of this chip.
Surely, the 16 Cores and 32 Threads on the 5950X cannot hold a candle to CPUs such as the Threadripper 3990X with its massive 64 Core layout in terms of raw compute performance, but what the 5950X does have is a much better value for money. The 5950X is not the fastest CPU for productivity in the world, but it has many advantages that make it a perfect CPU for a wide range of content creators and creative professionals. It is certainly powerful enough to breeze through tasks like 4K Video Editing, Rendering, 3D Animation, Photo Manipulation, etc with reasonable ease, and coupled with the cheaper price and powerful gaming performance, the 5950X is nearly the perfect CPU for content creators by day, gamers by night.
Overall, the Ryzen 9 5950X has few weaknesses when it comes to productivity. It is reasonably powerful in most productivity workloads, has a low cost of entry, and delivers industry-leading gaming performance as well.
2. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
Solid Productivity Option for Gamers
- Fastest Gaming Performance
- Impressive Productivity Performance
- High Boost Clocks
- Great for Overclocking
- 12 Cores May Not Be Enough for Professionals
Cores: 12 | Threads: 24 | Base Clock: 3.7GHz | Boost Clock: 4.8GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 105W | Architecture: Zen 3
Most of the strong points of the Ryzen 9 5950X also ring true for the Ryzen 9 5900X. AMD has always been an industry leader when it comes to productivity performance in their consumer desktop CPUs and Ryzen 9 5900X is no exception. At first glance, it may seem like the 12 Cores of the 5900X may not be enough for many core-intensive workloads, but you have to keep in mind the value for money that the 5900X brings to the table. Not only is the 5900X one of the most powerful productivity CPUs on the consumer desktop market, but it is also quite simply the fastest gaming CPU that you can buy right now.
This makes the 5900X an attractive buy for anyone that is looking at moderately demanding productivity work with a side of intensive gaming as well. The 5900X is also significantly cheaper than the 5950X, and while it does have 4 fewer cores, it does not lose a lot of the productivity performance by going to 12 Cores. Most of the workloads that work well on a 16 Core 5950X also work quite well on a 12 Core 5900X, and that really depends on the kind of workload that the user needs to run. This is one area where a lot of money can be saved by researching if your particular workload really needs more than 12 Cores.
While yes, the 5900X cannot be as fast or as powerful as the much more expensive Threadrippers when it comes to core-heavy workloads, chances are that the 5900X can still suffice in most productivity tasks that non-professionals might need to run. Add to that the immense value of the 5900X due to the fact that it is significantly cheaper than the 5950X and can run on the same consumer-grade AM4 motherboards, this makes the 5900X look rather strong in terms of value for the money.
So, if your targeted productivity workload does not require more than 12 cores (of which there are not that many), the 5900X may be an ideal solution for you. It has industry-leading gaming performance with strong productivity performance that overall adds up to an impressive value for the money.
3. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X
64 Cores for Serious Professionals
- 64 Cores and 128 Threads
- Industry Leading Workstation Performance
- Ideal for Serious Professionals
- Very Expensive
- Benefits a Narrow Selection of Workloads
Cores: 64 | Threads: 128 | Base Clock: 2.9GHz | Boost Clock: 4.3GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 280W | Architecture: Zen 2
For creative professionals that need more than the 12 and 16 core allocation of lowly consumer desktop CPUs, we have to browse the world of Threadrippers. The AMD Threadripper 3990X is the industry’s uncontested leader in multi-core workloads due to its monstrous core and thread count. Based on the brilliant Zen 2 architecture, the 3990X packs a mind-boggling 64 Cores and 128 Threads to make an absolute powerhouse of a processor.
In terms of raw processing power, there is no mere mortal CPU that can stand up to the Threadripper 3990X, at least from the consumer desktop and HEDT lines. The only CPUs that get close to the 3990X in terms of raw compute power are the EPYC and Xeon server processors that cost way more than the Threadripper. Not only that, but the Threadripper 3990X also has decently high boost frequencies of 4.3 GHz which also contribute to its above-average single-core performance.
The Threadripper 3990X is a highly specialized processor that provides incredible performance in a selection of workloads. Granted, not many workloads can take advantage of the monstrous core count of this CPU, but there are some specialized workloads like complex 3D animation or professional video editing that can give the 3990X something to work on. This CPU is recommended for the professionals who use their machines for actual work rather than casual consumer-level productivity tasks. Moving up to the Threadripper line from the consumer Ryzen CPUs is a commitment that needs to be considered seriously.
Unlike the Ryzen 9 5950X and the 5900X, the Threadripper 3990X cannot be installed into regular consumer motherboards. AMD has designed a special sTRX4 socket for the Threadripper line and those motherboards are exorbitantly expensive when compared with normal consumer boards. This is because the workstation boards are extremely specialized, low production units that have tons of features and can deliver a lot of power to these monstrous CPUs. Speaking of power, you will also want a beefy cooler to go with that 64-Core CPU.
Keeping in mind the $3990 price tag of the 3990X, and the expenses reserved for the motherboard and the cooling solution, it is safe to say that the Threadrippers require a high investment upfront, before you can enjoy their benefits. It is for this reason that the 3990X, despite being the most powerful productivity and workstation CPU, is only recommended for creative professionals.
4. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X
A Reasonable Threadripper Option
- Reasonable Price for 32 Cores
- Extremely High Productivity Performance
- Ideal for Professional Content Creators
- Expensive Motherboards
- Lack of Backwards Compatibility
Cores: 32 | Threads: 64 | Base Clock: 3.7GHz | Boost Clock: 4.5GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 280W | Architecture: Zen 2
If the $3990 price tag of the 3990X is a bit too much for you (as it is for most reasonable people), then the Threadripper 3970X is the next best thing. Based on the same amazing Zen 2 architecture, the 3970X cuts down the core-count of the $3990X in half, while bumping up the boost frequency of those cores by a little bit. The 3970X packs 32 Cores and 64 Threads with a top boost frequency of 4.5 GHz.
Just like the Threadripper 3990X, the 3970X is also suited to serious creative professionals and content creators. It is a proper workstation-grade CPU that needs a particular use case for it to be justified. Many casual productivity tasks like photo editing and basic video editing do not need 32 Cores and users of those workloads will be much better off with the Ryzen 9 5900X and 5950X for those types of workloads. The Threadripper CPUs are specifically designed for core-heavy workloads which include heavy 3D animation and complex video rendering to name a few.
Due to the nature of the Zen 2 architecture, the 3rd generation Threadrippers are also fairly decent gaming CPUs. In terms of raw gaming performance, the Threadrippers usually fall around the Ryzen 7 3700X or Ryzen 9 3900X levels of performance. Obviously, it would not be wise to buy a 32-Core Threadripper 3970X just for gaming, but it is a positive point that these CPUs can handle a bit of gaming as well which can come in handy in your off-time.
Just like the 3990X, the 3970X also requires a special sTRX40 motherboard which is not backward compatible with any other line of CPUs. The motherboard is also really expensive, so the potential buyer should keep its cost (and the cost of the cooling solution) in mind before taking the plunge.
5. Intel Core i9 10980XE
Intel's Best HEDT Offering
- A Solid 18 Core Option from Intel
- Lower Power Draw than Threadrippers
- Dead-end Platform
- Still Very Expensive
- No PCIe Gen 4 Support
Cores: 18 | Threads: 36 | Base Clock: 3.0GHz | Boost Clock: 4.8GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 165W | Architecture: Cascade Lake-X (Skylake)
While yes, the Intel HEDT platform is basically dead now, there are still a few options out there that can make sense in certain scenarios. One of them is the 18-core Core i9-10980XE that is part of Intel’s Extreme Edition lineup of CPUs. This 18-Core, 36-Thread CPU is also one potent productivity CPU, but it does have a few quirks that should be considered before buying into Intel’s HEDT platform.
While the 18 Cores and 36 Threads of the 10980XE do make it a powerful productivity and workstation CPU, it is nowhere near the performance of the Threadripper series from AMD. In fact, the Ryzen 9 3950X 16-Core Zen 2 processor is the closest performing chip in terms of raw productivity numbers, and that costs $250 less than the 10980XE. Moreover, the 3950X is also a mainstream chip that uses the AM4 motherboards, while the 10980XE is a HEDT chip that requires expensive motherboards with the LGA 2066 socket.
The 10980XE is definitely not a bad CPU in terms of raw performance. However, it is surrounded by many options from AMD that are either better in terms of performance, or better in terms of value. The 10980XE is also a decently powerful gaming CPU (often seen at the top end of benchmark charts) but it would be unwise to invest in this processor just for its gaming prowess.
One of the main advantages of the 10980XE over the Threadrippers is that it uses much less power. The 10980XE is rated for a TDP of 165W while the Threadripper 3970X has a TDP of 280W. Moreover, the 10980XE also has more overclocking headroom built into it thanks to Intel’s architectural design.
Intel’s flagship HEDT CPU, the i9 10980XE is a solid alternative to the much more powerful Threadripper CPUs at a much lower cost. However, with a dead-end HEDT platform with no future support, and lack of features like PCIe Gen 4, the 10980XE seems like a worse deal than some of AMD’s mainstream desktop CPUs like the Ryzen 9 3950X and 5950X in terms of value.