Best Gaming CPUs – Buyer’s Guide

I think we can pretty much agree that after the GPU the CPU is crucial to your gaming experience.

With the gaming scene continually evolving & newer titles requiring better & better performance, having a subpar CPU can ruin it.

Content creation, extreme gaming, VR have to all go hand in hand for your rig to be truly complete. So having a GTX 1080 ti & a dual-core processor backing it up isn’t going to cut it by any stretch of the imagination.

Keeping all this & some more considerations (which we have listed below) in mind, we’ve rounded up what we think are the best CPUs for gaming.

Whether you are after peak performance, or on a budget, or want pure value for money, our list has got your back.

Note: It’s important to remember as you read further on that the performance differentials between the winners & runner-ups are sometimes pretty minor. Depending upon whether you multitask or not the ones you do decide to go with can vary from our winners.


Related: Best CPU Coolers for Gaming – Our top picks. 


 

Best High-end Gaming CPU

Intel 7th Gen Intel Core Desktop Processor i7-7700K
9.5 Editors Score
The Good
+ Can easily overclock and get to the 5.0 GHz mark
+ Excellent frame rates on the most demanding games
+ Compatible with the z270 motherboard
+ Will handle anything you throw at it VR, 4K gaming etc.
The Bad
- Only marginally better than Skylake
Editors Rating9.5

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Kaby Lake
  • Base Clock: 4.2 GHz
  • Threads: 8
  • Cores: 4
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Watts (max): 91W

If you are into playing the most graphics intensive of titles like Ashes of Singularity or even VR titles without compromising performance then the i7 – 7700K is the way to go. It had an average FPS of 125-135 FPS when playing Battlefield1 & about 80-88 on Witcher 3.

Expand to Read More

This is also the most popular gaming CPU right now although the coffee lake line has just launched and may take over. It is a bit more expensive than our value pick (the i5- 7600K) but offers over 10% better performance on the latest titles.

For us speed wise the 7700K does perform much better than even the RYZENs too concerning gaming performance. Which is why the RYZEN is in the runner-up spot for us but in all fairness both are quite sufficient for the job. We were able to get excellent frame rates in pretty much all the games we tried using the i770K.

You can multitask to a reasonable extent with the 7700K although if you are in the habit of constantly streaming while playing (or give high importance to other tasks) then move onto the RYZEN below or the i7 – 8700K. The eight threads also played a big part in our decision to place this as our winner, as you can see when you read about our value pick later on.


High-end Runner-up

Intel Core 8700k
9.3 Editors Score
The Good
+ Excellent multi-core performance
+ Super high single core speeds for gaming
+ Can be overclocked (boost clock 4.7 GHz)
The Bad
- Pricey compared to other multicore options like the Ryzen 7 1700
- Power hungrier compared to the Ryzens
Editors Rating9.3

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Coffee Lake
  • Base Clock: 3.7 GHz
  • Threads: 12
  • Cores: 6
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Watts (max): 95

Without a doubt Intel’s rival to the Ryzen 7 series models. The 8700K is a definitely an absolute beast of a gaming processor. It offers a solid upgrade even over the 7700K regarding sheer performance on all our gaming tests. The single core performance is mighty, and it ran games like Warhammer 2, Witcher 3, and Battlefield 1 at much higher frame rates than other processors. Although it uses the same LGA 1151 socket as the previous Kaby lake models.

Expand to Read More

You will have to upgrade your motherboard to use the new coffee lake line. Typically the Z370 does the trick.

Why?

The new line uses up more power amongst other things so it will need a new socket. Also, the new motherboard is not backward compatible, so you can’t chuck a Kaby lake or Skylake processor in there in the future.

The upside is that the motherboard itself is not too pricey. So if you are in the process of building from scratch, you can easily opt for this combo. However, if you are looking for a more economical upgrade then the 7700K or the value pick the i5- 7600K are better bets.

Its price at this stage is one of the main reasons it hasn’t taken the top spot on our list, and a lot of people making an upgrade have a better chance of having a motherboard already compatible with the 7700K. This depends on your perspective in really.

The multi-core performance, however, is very similar to the Ryzen 7 1700. So if you are looking for a CPU that focuses on multi-core or threading features, then the Ryzen is a significantly cheaper option that shouldn’t be ignored. From a pure gaming perspective, once games are produced that make use of more & more threads and run efficiently the 8700K will really be a force to be reckoned with.


2nd Runner-up

AMD Ryzen 7 1700 Processor
8.9 Editors Score
The Good
+ Draws much less energy
+ More cores & more threads for better multitasking
+ More economical in comparison to the 7700K & 8700K
The Bad
- Base clock is lower
- Slightly less powerful in single core clock speed dependent games.
Editors Rating8.9

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: ZEN
  • Base Clock: 3 GHz
  • Threads: 16
  • Cores: 8
  • Socket: AM4
  • Watts (max): 65W

With the new Ryzen series chips you could very easily see that AMD has gone a bit of a different route to INTEL with more cores & threads Ryzen chips by far and away offering better value if you are looking at cores & threads for the dollar. They haven’t compromised too much on performance either which is why the 1700 is pretty good. Its core & thread counts are great and if you record, encode live stream games, have twitch streams running in the background & other tasks, then this processor will work extremely well.

Expand to Read More

The Ryzen 7 1700 is much less power hungry as well when compared to the 7700K having a max wattage of 65 when compared to 91 on the latter. Ryzen configurations usually have faster RAM, and with a little bit of tweaking, you can get performance on par with the Intel too.

So why isn’t it on the top spot?

Its base clock frequency is low in comparison to the other 2 in this segment. At turbo, it does go up to 3.7, but the AMD processor with the X suffixes can usually have their core speeds boosted twice as much as the base variants.

 

Well, games are still predominantly single core reliant and the 7700 lags behind the intel in our gaming tests and trails the intel on 5-15% on frame rates. (This is very game dependent) From a pure gaming perspective that makes the i7-7700K & even the 7800X better.

If indeed games decide to shift to better utilize more cores in the future (some of the latest titles have just started heading in that direction) then the Ryzen 7 1700 can come into its own and serve you for a very long time.

If the price is not an issue, you can very quickly jump to the Ryzen 7 1800X which offers a higher base clock & boost capability. This option should be about 30-35% more expensive than the Ryzen 7 1700. 


Best Mid-tier Processors – For average to high-end gamers

Make no mistake about it these processors are no slouch. We’ve placed them here as they offer slightly less performance (10-20% only) in comparison to the high-end picks but are much cheaper.

If not & if you are looking for pure gaming performance value the ability to handle some background tasks– you’ll love our winner.

If you are thinking: “Who just runs games alone? I am into streaming, using twitch and have about 10+ tabs open for work-related tasks, etc. All the time.” – Then you’ll like our runner-up.

Intel I5 7600k
8.6 Editors Score
The Good
+ Can be overclocked to the magic 5.0 mark and beyond
+ Runs most of the games today at very high performance
The Bad
- Lower base clock than the i7-7700K
- Only has 4 threads 7 no hyperthreading
Editors Rating8.6

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Kaby Lake
  • Base Clock: 3.8 GHz
  • Threads: 4
  • Cores: 4
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Watts (max): 91

The big reason why this is a popular choice on most people’s overall list as well as being our value pick is that it offers fantastic single-core & peak gaming performance. With some effort, you can reach the magic 5.0 GHz clock speed too. It can be paired with the same z270 motherboard that the i7- 7700K uses. The i5-7600K is no slouch when it comes to the majority of the games offering similar frame rates to our high end picks.

Expand to Read More

It’s always a misconception that i5s are not as fast as i7s. For gaming that’s certainly not true and the i5 7600K is a stunning example of that. Like we mentioned earlier it’s best to save a few bucks on your CPU where you can and put it into your GPU. If you are falling short of getting a 1080 Ti or that all-important Solid State Drive by roughly a 100 bucks, then this is where you can find that extra cash by trading an i7 for this high-performance i5. In the end, you gain more than you lose if you compromise on your GPU. In the mainstream gaming space (when you’re playing games like DOTA 2, LoL, Overwatch, CS global offensive) performance is often capped by your GPU, not your CPU.

Its rival in this segment is the Ryzen 5 1600 in our eyes. The Ryzen has a big lead on thread count and multi-core performance but trails on pure gaming ability.

DX 12 mode enabled games like Hitman & The division show a big difference in performance between the i5 -7600K & the i7 – 7700K. Warhammer 2 is another we just tested. Warhammer has been traditionally known to be graphics & CPU hungry. Their developers have mentioned that they plan on better using multiple cores.

Whilst 4 cores are still enough to run 95%+ of today’s games, with DirectX 12 as well we are seeing more and more games start using more than 4 cores & threads. So if you are in the habit of building a rig and keeping it for years and years then 2-3 years down the line it might not handle the latest titles as well as you would like. On that note, let’s move on to the Ryzen 5 1600.


Mid-tier Runner-up

AMD Ryzen 5 1600 Processor
8.5 Editors Score
The Good
+ Very economical considering the core/ thread count
+ Usually, comes with a Wraith Spire Cooler
+ More energy efficient
+ Excellent for 4K gaming
The Bad
- No integrated graphics
- Doesn’t cross 4 GHz even with overclocking
Editors Rating8.5

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: ZEN
  • Base Clock: 3.2 GHz
  • Threads: 12
  • Cores: 6
  • Socket: AM4
  • Watts (max): 65W

The weakness of the i5-7600K lies in multi-thread/ core domain. If you like to use Vegas for video editing, live stream in HD as you play then the Ryzen 5 1600 should be an easy choice. Its single core performance may slightly lag behind the i5, but it sure has many advantages. When gaming at a QHD (1440) resolution or UHD the Ryzen 5 does hold its own and come alive, offering a very smooth frame rate.

Expand to Read More

This is an absolute gem from AMD in our eyes that offers gamers thread counts we typically have to shell out big bucks for. The Ryzen 5 1600 is also cheaper than the i5 -7600K by about 15%~. The Ryzen 5 1600 offers well-rounded performance at an affordable price. Can work well with the B350 chipset motherboards that offer amazing value too.

The unlocked multipliers on offer are pretty good for gaming enthusiasts looking for more value. When running Deus-Ex mankind divided, we got an average FPS of 61 (@3.9 GHz) with the 7600K getting 64 (@ 5.0 GHz) in our tests. The FPS stats when testing games like Warhammer 2, Witcher 3 lagged a bit behind the 7600K. We ran the tests on many titles and found on average there to be a difference of approximately 10 FPS between the two favoring the Intel.


Best Budget CPUs

In the instance your thinking that you need something quite basic where you occasionally indulge in a few mainstream titles then these budget picks will run many titles quite well.

AMD Ryzen 3 1300X
7.9 Editors Score
The Good
+ Super-fast video encoding
+ Immense value for the price segment
+ Way more cores than most budget CPUs
+ Can be overclocked
The Bad
- Benchmark scores marginally behind the new 8100
- Pretty high power consumption
Editors Rating7.9

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: ZEN
  • Base Clock: 3.5
  • Threads: 4
  • Cores: 4
  • Socket: AM4
  • Watts (max): 65

The Ryzen 3 1300X is the clear choice for us regarding gaming on a budget. It’s hard to look past this impressive 4 core, 4 thread 3.5 GHz offering from AMD that beats the runner-up G4560 in pretty much every category.

Expand to Read More

One could argue that the Ryzens have more cores but are weaker but not in this case. With a similar base clock & a faster turbo frequency (3.7 GHz) you can simply fare better at gaming, work & multitasking. With the money you save, you could very easily pair this with a 3GB Nvidia GTX 1060 and get outstanding performance that’s just shy of an i5 & GTX 1050 combo. When we used GTA 5 on very high settings, we had an average frame rate around the 75 mark. (this is with the GTX 1080) When we swapped over to the GTX 1060 which is a more probable build combo in this segment, we still got a healthy 63 average.

The B350 motherboards have excellent features & performance and allow overclocking. The advantage with the Ryzen series is that if you decide to shell out slightly more and get an X370 motherboard, it bodes well for the future upgrade. We are no strangers to that feeling when we have a foot in the door concerning gaming we want to try more & more. These situations you can very quickly step it up to a Ryzen 7 without changing the motherboard. The Ryzen 3 1300X typically comes with a Wraith Stealth Cooler as well.

Its nearest challenger is the newer coffee lake line i3-8100 which has almost an identical pricing which we will touch on next.


Budget Runner-up

Intel 8th Gen Core i3-8100
7.8 Editors Score
The Good
+ Much higher frame rates than the Ryzen 3 when it’s not overclocked
+ Big step up from the i3 7100
+ Fast quad & multi-core speeds
The Bad
- Needs the newer Z370 board
- Can’t be overclocked
Editors Rating7.8

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Coffee Lake
  • Base Clock: 3.6
  • Threads: 4
  • Cores: 4
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Watts (max): 65

You could see quite clearly that AMD has forced Intel’s hand in a way by offering more cores in pretty much every segment. The i3 8100 is one possible answer to the Ryzen 3s that AMD has come out with earlier in the year. For starters, it’s a large 2 core step up from its predecessor the i3 7100. With a marginally higher base clock and better multi-core performance the i3 8100 tackles even some demanding games quite well.

Expand to Read More

In our gaming tests, it beat out the Ryzen 1300X by just a few FPS when the latter was overclocked but had a wider advantage when the later was not overclocked. The AMD leaning games like Warhammer 2 & ashes of singularity narrowed the margin between the 2 even further with the i3 still a hairs width ahead.

The unlocked multipliers are what gives the AMD the edge overall. Add that to the fact that you need to wait a while to find a good budget motherboard for the i3 8100 and you have a clear winner in the Ryzen 3 for now at least. The Z370 boards don’t really fit into the budget category & it’s not a major upgrade over the z270 boards either. So your fortunes could swing either way if you decide to wait it out. The uncertainty robs it of the top spot on our list.


Best Ultra High-end Processor

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X
10 Editors Score
The Good
+ Second to none performance
+ Will still be able to run the best games in many years
The Bad
- More power than even needed in today's gaming market
- Very pricey
Editors Rating10

Buy From amazon

When the cost doesn’t matter so much, and you simply want the best currently in the market then it’s hard to look past the 10 core, 20 thread i9 or the 16 core, 32 thread workhorse the Threadripper. Typically on our earlier lists, the Ryzens stayed pretty close if not ahead of the Intel in their respective segments. Here it’s more of a clear advantage in the i9’s favor. The latter is simply a monster CPU capable of handling anything & everything you can currently throw at it gaming wise & then some. Both are pretty power hungry, but the Intel surprisingly uses a bit less. The stronger single core speeds of the i9 make it a real force concerning gaming, but creators of content & those who have large multi-core workload requirements will love the Threadripper.

With gaming still very much using 2 or 4 cores these are quite irrelevant at the moment with our top pick offering much better value. 58% of the PC gaming market is on 4 cores & 36% on 2. With the 6+ core segment less than 2%.

As you can see from the latest steam survey here: http://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey/cpus/


Considerations:

There are some different philosophies people adopt when creating a gaming rig. Some spend more on the CPU, some more on the GPU, some tend to spend a lot on everything to set themselves up for the future, some folks just want the best there is now, some are on a budget, etc.

Once you have an idea of how you want to balance it out check out the following considerations as well and you are all set.

How much are you willing to spend?

There are high end, mid-range, and budget processors on our list but how your spending estimate still matters within these sections too. It’s probably best to spend more on your GPU rather than the CPU as GPUs are more likely to put a cap on your frame rates in the low to medium-high performance games spectrum.

Keeping this in mind our runner-up can very easily be your 1st choice as the thinking behind each pick can be different.

Do you multitask a lot?

If you are into the habit of live streaming as you play & things like that then you are probably better off sacrificing pure gaming performance slightly for better multitasking and stay competitive. The variance with which you make this compromise can determine which processor better suits your situations. Our recommendation in this scenario would be to take a closer look at our RYZEN picks.

AMD with their RYZEN series has pretty much gone for more cores & threads in general compared to some of their Intel counterparts (within the similar price bracket at least)

Is overclocking an absolute must?

As you well know, clocking speeds haven’t grown as significantly as in the past you would have seen 3.4GHz on an old Pentium 4 and similar clocking figures even now with the difference being threads & multicore processing among others.

How do PCIe lanes matter?

Depends on if you want to go for an SLI or Crossfire configurations. More lanes will support these configurations plus other devices like SSDs & the likes. If you are running a single GPU having more lanes really won’t give you any extra performance of significance.


How we tested

Gaming Sessions:

There’s no two ways about it the benchmarks & FPS data when playing different titles were all that mattered to us. We tried multiple different titles most of which are either DirectX 12 exclusive or have a DirectX 12 mode. You would have seen Ashes of singularity appear a lot on our list as its one of the better multi core-oriented games. Other games we tried were Deus Ex, Witcher 3, Warhammer 2, Hitman, the division, GTA and other mainstream titles too.

One commonality across all our testbeds was that we used the Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti except for the budget picks where we used the GTX 1060 (3GB) a bit more as we felt it would be a more realistic combination when the price is an essential factor. If you are an AMD fan, you can very well use the R9 380X or something else that better suits you.

Our different test beds comprised of the B350, x370, z270, z370, & x299 motherboards. We ended up sticking with 16 GB DDR4 ram across the board. We used liquid cooling on all CPUs.

We swapped 1080P and 1440P monitors which in the lower end did improve frame rates. We stuck with the 1440P QHD monitor predominantly though since the CPU is all we were focusing on.

During some of our sessions, we had twitch streaming in the background. We also tried out video encoding performance on each of our test CPUs to see how they handle multi-core workloads.

We monitored temperatures, power usage but the main focus for us was indeed the frame rates we could achieve while keeping parts like SSDs, memory standard or as similar as possible.


Other CPU’s Worth Mentioning

Intel Core i7-7800X
9 Editors Score
The Good
+ Excellent gaming performance
+ 28 PCIe lanes gives more room for other devices
+ Much better multicore performance than the 7700K
The Bad
- Usually, goes with a pricey X299 motherboard
- Lacks turbo boost max 3.0 among other features
- Very high power consumption
Editors Rating9

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Kaby lake
  • Base Clock: 3.5 GHz
  • Threads: 12
  • Cores: 6
  • Socket: LGA 2066
  • Watts (max): 144W

If you are looking for the raw gaming performance that the 7700K offers but want some of the Ryzen 7 1700’s capabilities too then the i7-7800X is a superb pick. It didn’t quite match the i7-7700K in our gaming tests but fared better when overclocked and did a much better job handling multitasking jobs too.

Expand to Read More

So why is it not in the top 3?

The performance difference between the i7-7700K and the i7-7800X is marginal from a pure gaming perspective. Since this is a gaming CPU list, we gave more priority to the better performing one. The main reason for us was that the i7 7800 is more expensive to place as part of any gaming PC build.

If you thinking “what are you talking about? Its only roughly 10% more expensive. Well the i7-7700K runs on the X270 board with the i7 7800X running on the X299 series boards which are twice as expensive. So your motherboard + processor budget will double. (This is at the time of writing)

It also lacks a few features like turbo boost in comparison to other Skylake-X offerings and even the 6800K. The reality is that the new Coffee lake line should completely take over this segment for intel.

Great Alternative Budget Processor

Intel Pentium G Series Dual-Core Processor
7.5 Editors Score
The Good
+ Cheaper than the i3 8100 & both the Ryzen 3s
+ Decent gaming performance when paired with a GTX 1060 GPU
The Bad
- Multi-core performance is poor
- No hyper threading/ overclocking capability
Editors Rating7.5

Buy From amazon

  • Architecture: Kaby Lake
  • Base Clock: 3.5 GHz
  • Threads: 4
  • Cores: 2
  • Socket: LGA 1151
  • Watts (max): 54

If you are certain that you don’t want to spend more than $100 on your CPU, then the Pentium G4650 would be a pretty decent alternative. Since we have focused purely on gaming, we felt dual-core processors lag too far behind the others for us to recommend them. With just a 10 or 20% price boost you can easily get your hands on a good quad-core offering like the new i3 8100 or the Ryzen 3 1300X which is still our current favorite. When we reran GTA 5 on our tests, we barely had an FPS average of 47 with a GTX 1060.

With core utilization and multi-core performance slowly moving ahead of the G4560 we feel simply doesn’t cut it for the latest titles even though it runs them well on low settings. With the G4560 you can’t get overclocking, although if you are not looking to spend over $100 on a CPU overclocking isn’t the issue. A positive note is that it runs on the same socket that our top pick (i7 7700K) uses so if you think you need an upgrade six months down the line then you can quickly make that jump.


Sources

Sources used to make the most reliable buyer’s guide possible.

https://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/SOLIDWORKS-2017-Intel-Core-i7-7700K-i5-7600K-Performance-881/

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1221283

https://www.forbes.com/sites/antonyleather/2017/10/25/intel-core-i3-8100-vs-amd-ryzen-1300x-whats-the-best-budget-processor/#403eef2019f1

http://cpu.userbenchmark.com/Compare/

https://www.pcworld.com/article/3175005/computers/amd-ryzen-motherboards-explained-the-crucial-differences-in-every-am4-chipset.html

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here