Buying a processor for a gaming rig isn’t as hard as it used to be. Now that Ryzen 3000-series and Intel’s 10th-gen Core CPUs come with more performance and cores than ever before, it’s hard to buy a poor performer these days—especially because most games favor graphics firepower over CPU firepower.
All that said, there are specific chips that stand out from the horde as the best gaming CPUs due to their price, performance, or nifty extras. Whether you’re on a budget or willing to pay for sheer face-melting speed, these are the best CPUs for gaming PCs that you can buy.
Intel just launched its 10th-gen Core desktop processors, while AMD recently released its affordable 3rd-gen Ryzen 3 processors. Both earned spots in our overhauled picks below. AMD also said that its B450 and X470 motherboards will support next-gen “Zen 3” processors. If you want a modern B550 motherboard to go with your new Ryzen 3 chip to unlock blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 storage speeds, look for those to arrive on June 16.
Best budget gaming CPU (below $250)
If you want a gaming CPU that won’t break the bank, look no further than the $150+ Ryzen 3 3200G if you want modest game-ready graphics included with your chip, or the $180+ Ryzen 3 3300X if you plan to pair with a graphics card.
The four-core, eight-thread Ryzen 3 3300X achieves performance equal to or better than Intel’s former Core i7-7700K flagship at a fraction of the cost, delivering “unprecedented value”. It’s only a few paces behind the Ryzen 5 3600 in most games, so if you don’t need the more expensive chip’s extra cores for productivity tasks, this is a great bang for buck CPU to have. There’s never been a low-budget gaming chip with performance this competitive. Better yet, AMD tosses a cooler into the box, the chip can be overclocked, and compatible B450 motherboards are both cheap and plentiful.
Alternatively, if you want to future-proof your system with a pricier 500-series AM4 motherboard, the chip can support PCIe 4.0 storage, though you’ll probably want to wait for B550 motherboards to roll out in mid-June if you’re going that route.
Another option would be to invest $150+ in our other budget gaming pick, which can let you game even if you can’t spend extra on graphics. The continuation of AMD’s “APU” strategy, the $150+ Ryzen 3 3200G blends four Ryzen CPU cores with eight of AMD’s powerful Radeon Vega compute units. The end result? A solid-performing chip that can play PC games without the need for a graphics card.
Best CPU for most gamers ($250 to $500)
The $290+ Ryzen 5 3600X is the best gaming CPU for most people, though Intel’s rival 10th-gen Core processors compete much more fiercely than 9th-gen chips did. The $390+ Core i5-10600K is a bit faster than the AMD chip at gaming, but costs significantly more overall. You can’t go wrong with either chip. Meanwhile, the $250+ Ryzen 5 3600 provides outstanding value.
AMD bestows its Ryzen parts with simultaneous multi-threading, giving the six-core Ryzen 5 3600X a full twelve threads. That gives some serious productivity chops for a mainstream CPU. But for the first time in recent memory, AMD’s mainstream chip hangs tough with its Intel counterparts, too. AMD infused its third-gen Ryzen chips with massive instructions-per-clock (IPC) improvements and faster clock speeds, with the 3.8GHz Ryzen 5 3600X capable of boosting up to 4.4GHz.
Together, those gains help propel the 3600X past Intel’s Core i5-9600K in Tom’s Hardware’s testing, and the beloved Core i7-8086K in Tech Radar’s testing. Most AMD motherboards support overclocking for the adventurous if you want to try your hands at even better performance.
That said, the Ryzen 5 3600X hangs with Intel’s Core i5 for practical gaming purposes—reviewers say the performance difference is close enough that you won’t see much change with your naked eye, outside of competitive gaming scenarios. We give the edge to AMD due to its lower overall cost
Best high-end gaming CPU (above $500)
If you absolutely, positively need the fastest frame rates possible, price be damned, you’ll want Intel’s $750 Core i9-10900K. The high-end, ten-core chip just launched, and paired with Intel’s ongoing supply constraints, it’s hard to find on the street right now. If you can find one, this 10-core, 20-thread processor comes clocked at 3.7GHz base and can fly all the way up to 5.3GHz under the right conditions.
It might not be the most practical option for most people, though—even gaming enthusiasts with deep pockets. The blazing-fast clock speeds start to matter less when you pair the 9900KS with a high-end graphics card at 1440p or 4K resolutions, which shifts the performance bottleneck over to the GPU in most games. You’ll get the most out of Intel’s ludicrously fast flagship at 1080p resolution.
Overall, most AMD chips provide more bang for buck or performance per watt and performance per dollar for this round. With the same recipe for success, we are looking forward to Ryzen 4 which may be launching soon at the end of 2020 or start of 2021.