You couldn’t have guessed how things would end up for AMD or Intel’s best CPUs at the start of the year. Twelve months ago AMD was struggling to meet the demand for its new Ryzen 5000 chips, and basically, everything from the wonderful Ryzen 5 5600X right up to the Ryzen 9 5950X was completely out of stock this time last year. Intel, meanwhile, was struggling with its first bloodied nose in the gaming arena, having lost its gaming crown to AMD’s Zen 3 family.
Since then, chips have come back in stock for both sides, and we’ve seen not one, but two new architectures from Intel as well as AMD’s much-anticipated APU range finally making an appearance. The Ryzen 5000 APUs were initially solely for OEMs back in April, but with stock returning to reasonable levels, AMD made these chips available to DIY builders in August. Since then, the surprisingly capable onboard graphics have made them a bit of a hit, which isn’t too surprising in these GPU-starved times.
Intel’s Rocket Lake desktop chips launched at the end of March 2021, to little fanfare. The 14nm backport of what should have been a 10nm architecture got the blue corner upright again but didn’t do enough at the high-end to give them a real edge in gaming. Bizarrely, its 11th Gen Core series did make Intel the go-to option for budget builders, as Intel managed to sell its chips much cheaper than the AMD equivalent.
Things have shifted as the year comes to a close though, with Alder Lake finally giving Intel something serious to shout about. These are the first desktop chips to employ its hybrid design, which also just so happens to put in some incredible performance numbers. Support for DDR5 hasn’t been without its issues of course, as DDR5 is basically impossible to find in the wild, but the architecture still supports DDR4, which happens to be more affordable anyway.
Here are the standout CPUs from the last twelve months.
The best CPU of 2021: the nominees
The winner of the PC Gamer Hardware Award for the best CPU will be announced on New Year’s Eve. It’s all to play for, and any one of these three is completely deserving of the crown.