If you don’t have the time to research benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money. This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs. The criteria to get on this list are a mixture of price and performance. Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but the prices in green are current. The chart is based on MSRP, while the list is based on the best US prices from Amazon, Newegg, and others. In other countries or at retail, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are new, retail CPU prices - we do not list used or OEM CPUs.
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October 2017 Updates
Intel's first increase in core counts to its bedrock Core i7, i5, and i3 families has arrived, killing the resale value of the Kaby Lake series overnight. The new Coffee Lake processors offer more performance than the Kaby Lake models in heavily threaded workloads while the higher Turbo Boost frequencies, which stretch up to 4.7 GHz, also offer solid performance in lightly threaded applications.
Intel touts the Core i7-8700K as its best gaming processor, ever. According to our tests, that statement holds true, but not by massive margins. Most surprisingly, the powerful chip blasts through heavily threaded workloads with alacrity. That erodes some of AMD's Ryzen advantage, which handily dispatched the Kaby Lake processors in nearly any threaded workload.
We've had the Core i7-7700K listed as our top gaming processor for quite some time, but replacing it with the Core i7-8700K is a no-brainer. Intel charges a $20 premium for the new Coffee Lake model compared to its predecessor, true, but it comes with expanded processing resources that net a lower cost per thread. That equates to a solid value if you've got the cash for a leading chip.
As before, we're using a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times, which we convert into an FPS measurement, to provide an easy-to-read performance outlook. The 99th percentile results are a good indicator of smoothness. This methodology is applied to our entire suite, which includes five titles released in 2016 and five older games that launched in 2014/2015. Extra cores could enable more performance in the future as software evolves to utilize them better, so we also include a chart with newer games that exploit host processing resources more thoroughly. You'll find the Ryzen processors in red and the Intel competitors in blue.
We also have price-to-performance charts that get split up to include both the price of the processor and extra platform costs. For the models that don't come with a bundled cooler, we add an extra $25 you'll need to spend. We also add $20 if overclocking requires a more expensive motherboard (going from a cheaper Intel chipset to Z270, for example).
We plot performance against MSRP, but it's notable that AMD's surge has fueled a new wave of competition in the market, so you can often find these products at much lower prices. The Ryzen 7 series, in particular, often retails well below suggested pricing.
Most Core i3 and all Ryzen 3 processors come with bundled coolers and slot into inexpensive motherboards, so there are no additional platform costs. The Pentium G4560 offers impressive performance for a surprisingly low price point. You could eke out more performance by tuning the Ryzen 3 1200, but you will pay a $45 premium, so the G4560 remains our top budget pick. AMD's Raven Ridge APU's will attack this segment early next year.
The $129 Ryzen 3 1300X slots into the pricing gap between Intel's $117 Core i3-7100 and $147 i3-7300, but it offers a great mix of price and performance for $12 more than the Core i3-7100. It also offers nearly the same performance as the more expensive Core i3-7300 after a bit of overclocking. The Intel competitors can't compete due to their locked multipliers.
There's a good chip at nearly every price point and we've had a relatively large $63 gap between the 1300X and the Core i5-7500/Ryzen 5 1600. The Core i3-7300 and Ryzen 5 1400 compete in this price range, but the Ryzen 5 1400 offers better performance in newer games at stock settings, and the value of its unlocked multiplier beats the locked i3-7300.
The surprisingly powerful Core i3-7350K requires both a cooler and a Z270 motherboard for overclocking, which boosts it into Ryzen 5/Core i5 price range. You're far better served by a six-core twelve-thread Ryzen 5 1600, and its very capable bundled cooler, for an extra $6. The unlocked ratio multiplier and beefy stock cooler make it the best mid-range value pick of the entire lineup. It dispatches the i5-7600 and the i5-7500, particularly with newer games. But we are impressed enough with the i5-7600 to add it as a runner-up, replacing the Core i5-7500.
The capable Ryzen 5 1600X offers solid performance within a few FPS of Core i5-7600K in older titles, but you likely won't notice much of a difference if you're already bottlenecked by a mainstream graphics card. The Ryzen 5 1600X really shines in our suite's more modern titles. If newer games are your focus, you get a capable chip that leads the Core i5-7600K for only $11 more, but that's if you find the 1600X at MSRP. We regularly see it priced at $230, which is ~$20 off MSRP.
Then again, the -7600K offers better performance once you overclock it, so long as you're willing to invest in a beefier heat sink and Z270-based motherboard. We factored in those costs to reflect a price premium, but when it comes to the fastest possible chip for less than $250, the Core i5-7600K delivers after a bit of tuning.
We are well underway with testing the Coffee Lake Core i5 and i3 models. Stay tuned.
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