Best CPU for Photo Editing and Graphic Design 2016

Intel's Skylake processors are here, but are they a good idea for your photo or video editing PC?
Intel's Skylake processors are here, but are they a good idea for your photo or video editing PC?

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.

Intel Vs. AMD
Intel Vs. AMD

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.

The Best CPU / Processors for Photo and Video Editing 2016

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.

Here's 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. If you want the fastest consumer CPU in general right now, then that is clearly the i7-5960x Haswell-e; however, I'd recommend you go with the i7-5820k Haswell-E which is about 40% of the cost and very similar in terms of performance for most tasks.

Budgets of $300 to Under $400

A lot less money with MOST of the performance.


If you've got around $400 to spend, I highly recommend the Intel i7-6800k. It gives you 6-core performance and all of the benefits of the newer Broadwell-E platform.

If that wasn't enough, it's a great overclocker. So, if you're willing to tweak your PC you'll get fast single-threaded performance as well as a rendering beast. Going with the i7-5820k you might get the benefit of cheaper Haswell-E X99 motherboards vs the Broadwell-E options that are available. So, keep that in mind if you can get it for a good deal.

Skylake i7-6700k CPU

For around $340 you can go with a faster single core performer in the i7-6700k. For gaming it's truly unbelievable and for those of you who don't need the extra cores, it's a great value.

Compared to the Broadwell-E or Haswell-E platform you can also save some money here on your motherboard. 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

i5-6500 and i5-6600k Skylake Processors

For a more moderately priced build consider the i5-6500 and Intel i5-6600k. These are 4-core processors that have fast single-threaded performance but lack the hyper threading that's found on the i7.

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 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?

Under $125

For Entry-Level Editors

FX-8320 - For the Entry-Level Builder

Don't have a ton of money to spend but still want something that's good at rendering? Consider the FX 8320. With an overclock it becomes as good as a FX 8350 and it's available in the $125 to $150 price range.

Bang for your buck it's one of the best photo editing CPUs on the market in 2016.

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.

No Budget

I don't care what it costs I just want the fastest CPU available.

CPU Poll

Which brand of CPU do you prefer for photo editing?

  • Intel
  • AMD
See results without voting

Intel i7-5960X 8-Core Haswell-E Processor

I get the mentality.

Just think about it. You work every single day and if your processor can save minutes and hours of work time, then it pays for itself. If you want the fastest, go with the i7-5960x. It's an 8-core CPU that has great overclocking potential and should lay waste to any task you have.

It costs around $1,000. If that sounds like a lot consider the next CPU on my list.

Intel i7-5930k 6-Core Processor

While the 5930k has only 6-cores it's just as good as the 5960X in almost every single situation. For others, it still lacks little.

It costs $400 less at just under $600.


Most recently the Broadwell-e lineup was released. It features some fantastic processors that are certainly worth your attention if you want the best.

i7-6950x 10 Core Haswell-E Processor

If you're willing to shell out over $1500 for your CPU, you're in the price range of the all new i7-6950x.

The 6950x feaatures 10 cores, 20 threads, a 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.


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.

© 2012 PCReviews

Reader Feedback and Comments 2 comments

ya mum 4 weeks ago


Tigerbob209 2 weeks ago

Skylake socket is indeed LGA 1151, but it has nothing to do with Z97. Z97 is the chipset of the overclockable boards sporting the LGA1150 socket. An overclockable board for Skylake would be the Z170.

Also, I wouldn't tell people that Skylake is either DDR3, or DDR4. Few manufactures offer anything other than DDR4. DDR3L is the other type that Skylake is able to support, and is different from DDR3. Hope that clears some things up.

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