It’s currently quite difficult to choose the best gaming CPU – there are simply too many great options in 2020. Unlike a few years ago, four cores and eight threads is now par for the course, and people can buy affordable CPUs that dish out great single core gaming performance not only in less intensive games like CS:GO, but also in many triple-A games like Call of Duty: Warzone and CPU-intensive applications that utilise all cores. This means that more and more people can now create content, stream, play games, and use CPU-intensive applications for a relatively inexpensive cost.
Since AMD has decided to take the fight to Intel in terms of core count, even six-core CPUs are becoming more and more common thanks to this Intel vs. AMD battle. But despite the dominance of multi-core CPUs in today’s gaming rigs, the difficulty in optimising games and applications for chips with multiple cores has meant we’re still not seeing many modern game engines taking full advantage of the powerful CPUs many of us now have in our machines.
Having the best graphics card for gaming is still the best way to make games run as smooth as butter on your gaming rig. But that doesn’t mean any old processor will do – you still need a quality chip to get the most out of your graphics card.
Here are the best gaming CPUs:
The best gaming CPU is AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600.
The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 isn’t just a great gaming CPU with serious multi-threading chops, it’s also incredibly good value. The previous Ryzen 5 2600 remains a solid choice for the value-oriented PC builder while stocks last and prices are low, but the Zen 2 architecture adds more than enough value to justify the latest and greatest chip. And while the Ryzen 5 3600X has a slightly higher clock speed than its non-X little brother, in games this translates to only a minute increase in frame rates for a decent chunk more money.
With a 15% IPC increase over second-gen Ryzen and Zen+, the Ryzen 5 3600 brings even more affordable gaming power to the mainstream market. At this price point, it doesn’t just creep up close to Intel’s gaming lead, it outruns it – and does so without demanding a bucket of power or pennies. And its multi-core/threaded performance makes it a great performer in areas other than gaming, too.
What we like
Fantastic single core performance
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600 specs|
|Clock speed||3.6GHz / 4.2GHz|
Read the PCGamesN AMD Ryzen 5 3600 review for our full verdict and score.
The best high-end CPU is AMD’s Ryzen 9 3900X
The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X currently rules the Zen 2 roost and the multithreaded market. With 12 cores split into 24 threads, it’s got the raw power to chomp through almost any creative or professional workload. And thanks to Zen 2’s unique design, the 3900X’s dual chiplets manage to clock up to an impressive 4.6GHz. That’s enough to drive impressive frame rates in games, too.
There’s also little need to splash out on the latest motherboard. With an AM4 socket package fit for most Ryzen motherboards in the market, the Ryzen 9 3900X is not only in a league of its own, but a terrific value proposition, too. And while Intel’s Core i9 9900K and AMD’s Ryzen 9 3950X are faster, the Ryzen 9 3900X can’t be beaten for value at the top end of the market.
What we like
12 cores and 24 threads
Best value high-end processor
PCIe 4.0 support
|AMD Ryzen 9 3900X specs|
|Clock speed||3.8GHz / 4.6GHz|
Read the PCGamesN Ryzen 9 3900X review for our full verdict and score.
The fastest CPU for gaming is the Intel Core i9 9900K.
The Intel Core i9 9900K is the world’s fastest gaming CPU, but its painfully high price tag means it doesn’t take the spot as the outright best CPU for gaming. But if money really isn’t a thing for you then the octa-core from Intel is the best processor to pair with your high-end graphics card. But it’s inevitably in short supply right now, meaning prices are pretty ugly.
When it comes to GPU-bound games, which are the majority of titles, even with one of the best graphics cards there isn’t a huge amount of difference between the in-game performance of Intel’s top chip and AMD’s high-end octa-core CPU, the Ryzen 7 3700X, especially at 4K. It is a great chip from a technical and performance point of view, but as a value proposition – especially in the face of fierce competition from AMD – it’s a bit of a tough one to recommend.
What we like
The fastest gaming processor around
Perfect CPU for RTX 2080 Ti
Fantastic single core gaming performance
|Intel Core i9 9900K specs|
|Clock speed||3.6GHz / 5GHz|
Read the PCGamesN Intel Core i9 9900K review for our full verdict and score.
The best CPU for overclocking is Intel’s Core i5 9600K
This CPU would be first in line as a go-to recommendation for most PC gamers. But because the Ryzen 5 3600 has the multithreaded chops, and still manages to keep up with the i5 9600K in most games, all without costing as much, there’s almost no need to spend the extra on the 9600K.
Where the 9600K does have relevance is its overclocking skills. It is capable of delivering the same level of multi-threaded CPU performance as the competing 12-thread Ryzen 5, and to surpass it in single threaded gaming performance, with a stable and modest overclock. To be honest, that seems to have been this processor’s raison d’être – beating Ryzen at all costs, but you need a high-end Z370 or Z390 board to get there.
What we like
Classic Intel gaming performance
Best mid-range CPU for Intel motherboards
|Intel Core i5 9600K specs|
|Clock speed||3.7GHz / 4.6GHz|
The best CPU for productivity is AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X.
If you’re after a mix of high-end multi-threaded computational chops, decent gaming performance, and great value then look no further than the Ryzen 7 3700X. It’s a well-priced Zen 2 CPU that drastically improves on the overall performance of its predecessor, the 2700X, and yet requires way less power. Importantly it’s also considerably cheaper than either Intel’s or eight-core 9700K or i9 9900K.
But it’s still got gaming performance that’s comparable with Intel’s top chips when you’re gaming at 1440p or 4K. That makes it a great chip in productivity terms and a CPU with gaming performance that is practically indistinguishable from the Intel competition in any GPU-bound game.
What we like
Serious multi-threaded performance
Great value for a 16-thread CPU
Top gaming performance
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X specs|
|Clock speed||3.6GHz / 4.4GHz|
Read the PCGamesN AMD Ryzen 7 3700X review for our full verdict and score.
The best budget CPU is AMD’s Ryzen 3 3300X.
Previously, the spot for the best cheap gaming CPU was reserved for AMD’s Ryzen 5 2600, the predecessor to the current best CPU for gaming: the AMD Ryzen 5 3600. But AMD has just released the ‘cheap as chips’ Ryzen 3 3300X, and it’s looking too tasty to leave off the charts on the budget end.
This 3rd-gen Ryzen processor is a four-core, eight-thread machine capable of boosting up to 4.3GHz, all at a low power cost of 65W TDP. Not only that, but it supports PCIe 4.0., giving it longevity above and beyond many of the current best CPUs for gaming. While its multi-core performance may still be slightly behind the Ryzen 5 2600, its single core performance is much better – and that’s what matters for gaming.
What we like
PCIe 4.0 support
Fantastic gaming performance for the price
|AMD Ryzen 3 3300X specs|
|Clock speed||3.8GHz / 4.3GHz|
How to install a cpu
Here’s our handy video guide on how to plug a CPU in to your PC. PCGamesN also has a full guide on how to install your new CPU.
CPU buying guide
Where for most of our PC gaming lives we’ve been recommending whichever Intel processor suited your budget it’s no longer that simple. And that’s down to the engineering efforts AMD has put into creating its latest Ryzen lineup of CPUs.
Perfect pair: The best graphics cards to pair with your new CPU
AMD has made it very difficult to recommend an Intel processor as the overall best CPU for gaming, given the fact that you get so much more for your money with an AMD chip right now. That and the gaming performance delta between them is now so small as to be completely inconsequential.
At the mainstream end it’s the six-core, 12-thread Ryzen 5 3600 for the win. It’s a great-value, processing monster – enough so that the 3600X is almost irrelevant.
The Intel i5 8400 comes close, but thanks to Intel’s 14nm production woes, its pricing continues to fluctuate, making it not worth the money when the Ryzen 5 3600 is on the table. And, if you’re doing serious PC work alongside your gaming hobby, its six-core, six-thread design sits behind the AMD chips in pure multithreaded computational terms.
At the high-end, the eight-core, 16-thread Intel Core i9 9900K has lost out to the Ryzen 9 3900X. The Intel chip is simply more expensive and only really offers a tangible performance difference in CPU-bound games. Of which there are few. But over time, as GPU power increases, that will change and the 9900K might really start to shine.
And on the budget end, the new Ryzen 3 3300X will deliver a great level of hyperthreaded CPU performance, superb single core performance for gaming, and great longevity thanks to PCIe 4.0 support, all for a pretty low cost. A bona fide bargain.
CPU price list
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