Best CPU for Photo Editing and Graphic Design 2017
I do a lot of photo and video editing each and every single day. I also build my own editing computer not only to save money, but to maximize my performance and in the end, save time.
For the most part, your processor is the most important part of a computer designed for editing. Unfortunately, a lot of the pre-built options out there simply don't come close to the potential performance you can get otherwise.
While Ram is a close second and crucial in combination with your CPU, most people buy enough Ram and then skimp on the processor simply because it's more expensive. In this post I'll take a look at the fastest processors for your photo editing computer and give you benchmarks to look at so you can decide what the best bang for your buck processor will be for your computer.
The Best CPU / Processors for Photo and Video Editing 2017
Budgets of $300 to Under $400
A lot less money with MOST of the performance.
Which brand of CPU do you prefer for photo editing?
Ryzen 7 1700 vs i7-7700k
At this price range you're likely looking at the Ryzen 7 1600 and the i7-7700k. If you were looking for more cores last year, I'd have told you to go with the Intel Broadwell-e i7-6800k which has 6 cores and 12 threads. In 2017, this no longer makes sense.
AMD's new Ryzen 7 1700 is not only cheaper, it's as fast and comes with 8 cores and 16 threads. I've done extensive testing with it compared to Intel's Kaby Lake i7-7700k. The Kaby Lake i7-7700k is a 4 core 8 thread processor for just around the same price.
However, even though the Intel Kaby Lake i7-7700k has fewer cores, it wins in IPC or instructions per clock. This means that in applications where faster cores matter more than more cores, it still beats out the Ryzen 7. However, if you're a photo editor that uses applications where more cores can be taken into consideration, the Ryzen 7 may win hands down.
Overall, you'll have to take a look your personal workload and decide which matters most in your photo editing PC.
Kaby Lake i7-7700k CPU
For around $340 you can go with a faster single core performer in the Intel Core i7-7700k for the LGA 1151 platform. For gaming it's truly unbelievable and for those of you who don't need the extra cores, it's a better performer and value. The base of 4.2GHz and max turbo frequency of 4.5GHz mean that you're closer to an ideal overclock out of the gate. If you do plan on tweaking the CPU, reaching speeds of 5GHz should be fairly simple using a good Z270 motherboard.
Compared to the Broadwell-E platform you'll also save some money on your motherboard when you go with this conusmer-focused option rather than the enthusiast platform of the i7-6800k. So, despite the $60 price differential between it and the i7-6800k, it'll most likely be more like $100 to $150 after the motherboard.
Best Processor for Video and Photo Editing Under $200
For Mid-Range PC Building
Intel i5-7500 vs i5-7600k vs AMD Ryzen 5 1600 Kaby Lake Processors
Even though the Ryzen 5 1600 is slower on instructions per clock, you get 6 cores and 12 threads to work with. As the i5 doesn't have hyperthreading, you just get 4 cores.
If you don't know what hyper threading is it essentially allows your 4 cores to act as 8 in certain situations where it would be faster. It's nice to have for multitasking and rendering, but even without it the i5 is still a good performer.
If you go with Intel:
If you don't plan on tweaking or overclocking your PC, go with the non "k" version of these processors. For processors "k" simply mean that it's unlocked for overclocking. So, if you're not going to use it, why pay for it? The i5-7500 is cheaper and performs very well.
If you go with AMD:
A lot of performance can be gained by using faster ram and overclocking the Ryzen 5 1600 here. In order to overclock, you'll need a B350 or good AM4 X370 motherboard. The B350 options are significantly cheaper. So, unless you need to go with a dual GPU setup, I'd point you in that direction.
If you don't care to overclock, the i5-7500 can save you around $30 and give you 4 cores with speeds up to 3.8GHz
For Entry-Level Editors
Wait for Ryzen 3 or i3 Kaby Lake?
With Ryzen 3 coming out soon, it's hard to recommend that you go with an i3 at this point in time. However, I will say that if it was between a Skylake i3 and a FX 8320, I'd go with the i3 even though it only has the 2 cores and 4 threads vs the 4 cores and 8 threads of the FX 8320.
So, if you have to build something right now, I'd go with Intel. In the future, it's very likely that the R3 will be my CPU of choice in this budget price range.
AMD FX 6300
Under $100 it's hard to beat the 6 core power of AMD's FX 6300. Seeing this as low as $80 in recent weeks was a shock to me as well as other budget builders. Give it a good overclock and you'll be working at a reasonable pace.
Does it keep up with #1-3 on the list? Not really, but it doesn't really lag that far behind in real world time and it gets you started if you're an entry-level user.
High-End CPUs for Photo and Video Editors
Not worried about how much it costs? Here's what you should be looking at in 2017.
Intel i7-6950X 10-Core / 20-Thread Broadwell-E Processor
I get the mentality.
You work every single day and if your processor can save minutes and hours of work time, then it pays for itself. If more cores are a requirement, go with the i7-6950x. It's a 10-core 20-thread powerhouse CPU that has great overclocking potential and should lay waste to any task you have.
It costs around $1,600. So, if that sounds like a lot, you can still get very similar perforomance out of the next CPU on this list. The 6950x features 10 cores, 20 threads, and a turbo frequency of up to 3.5GHz.
The much more reasonable $1,000 price tag of the i7-6900k gives you 8 cores, 16 threads, and a turbo CPU frequency of up to 3.7GHz. On almost every benchmark there's very little difference between this and the 10 core version that costs another $600 more.
Perhaps the most reasonable of the Broadwell-E lineup you can still get a 6 core 12 thread processor in the i7-6800k. If you're willing to overclock it, it'll give you a lot of the performance of the other CPUs in the Broadwell-E lineup while being much more affordable.
Those who need 40 PCIe lanes, rather than the 28 that the i7-6800k offers, should opt for the i7-6850k for around $200 more.
When Will Skylake-e Be Released?
Right now I'm hearing that Skylake-e will be released in the second half of 2017. Skylake-e will be on the new X299 LGA 2066 platform. So, it will require a new motherboard.
Intel vs. AMD for Photo Editing
I'm certainly not an Intel fanboy and have, for many years, routed for AMD's success which I believe to be crucial to not only keeping CPU prices down, but R&D and progress up.
That being said I'm still going to go with whatever CPU gives me the best bang for my buck. The one CPU that I might consider in an entry-level photo editing build would be the AMD FX-8320. However, anywhere near $200 and you'll want to go with one of Intel's newer i5 Skylake processors.
What Motherboard do you need?
Skylake: This is Intel's sixth generation of processors. It requires a socket 1151 motherboard. These motherboards are separated by various chipsets with Z97 being the most popular for those willing to tweak or overclock their PC for additional performance. Skylake motherboards may support DDR3 or DDR4 but are most often found with DDR4 RAM.
Broadwell Enthusiast: Broadwell-E processors will work with existing X99 motherboards with a firmware update or any of the newer LGA 2011-v3 boards.
Haswell Enthusiast: Haswell Enthusiast processors require a LGA 2011 X99 motherboard that's compatible with DDR4 memory.
Ivy Bridge: Ivy Bridge processors are compatible with a LGA 1155 GEN3 Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77 chipset motherboards. You can take a look at my post on the best Ivy Bridge motherboards for more information.
Sandy Bridge: For Intel's Second Generation Sandy Bridge: You can use any of the following chipsets; H67, P67, Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77. Keep in mind that a Sandy Bridge CPU will not allow you to take advantage of PCIe 3.0, but purchasing a GEN3 Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77 chipset motherboard will allow you to upgrade to an Ivy Bridge processor in the future.
For Intel's Sandy Bridge Enthusiast Processors: These 2011 pin CPU require an X79 motherboard and are compatible with PCIe 3.0. Ivy Bridge-e CPU will be compatible with the X79 chipset when they are released.
AMD FX Series: These require an am3+ socket motherboard. Here's a look at some of the top rated am3+ motherboards.
Criteria for Ranking
Before I begin it's important to realize that I'm not including Xeon CPUs in this analysis as they simply don't make practical sense for most that will read this post.
With that being said I'm using a number of factors in determining which processors I think give you the best overall value for what you spend. First and foremost, is value. For that reason, I'll be sorting this out by price points and give you my thoughts at each.
This was my top ten list based on a number of benchmarks that I've been through. This list is based on overall bang for your buck and value rather than what's simply the fastest.
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