More cores is the easy way to improve performance, and Intel gives us exactly that with its 8th Generation Coffee Lake processors—50 percent more cores than the previous generation, to be precise. But it's not just about cores, because clockspeed and per-core performance still matter, especially for games. While the Core i5-8400 has a base clockspeed that's relatively low (2.8GHz), on all the Z370 boards I've tried the chip runs at 3.8GHz when fully loaded, and up to 4.0GHz on two cores. Even better, it costs less than $200 and doesn't need any exotic cooling.
In performance tests, the i5-8400 basically matches the previous generation i7-7700K (running stock) in games and applications. It's clocked a bit lower, but the extra cores make up the difference. The only reason to go beyond the i5-8400 for a gaming PC is if you're thinking of running multiple GPUs, something we don't generally recommend, or if you like overclocking. For that, the Core i7-8700K is the way to go, but at double the price it's not something generally needed (and you'll still need to bring your own cooling solution).
Gear of the Year
Check out the complete list of all of our award winners for 2017. (The list will be updated daily as the winners are announced.)
Of course we have to give an honorable mention to AMD's Ryzen and Threadripper processors, without which we likely wouldn't have Intel's Coffee Lake or Core i9. Intel is still the best CPU choice for gaming, but the Zen architecture is a huge leap forward in AMD processor performance. 2017 was the year of the CPU, with five new platform launches and over 40 new individual CPU models—and that's not even counting mobile and specialized chips. It's the most excitement we've seen since the heady days of the race to 1GHz in 1999.
What does 2018 hold for us? There are rumors of an improved Ryzen architecture, 8-core Intel parts for the 300-series platform, and even processors with greatly improved integrated graphics. I'm not sure it can top 2017, but next year's CPUs should continue to bring more excitement to your PC's core component.