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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September 2017 Updates
We spent the month deploying our new image across our library of processors to provide one unified view of performance. We still have several processors to add to our gaming performance charts, but we finally have a single picture of a good chunk of the mainstream desktop.
Of course, part of our wave of retesting is in preparation for reviews of several new processors in the coming weeks. We can't divulge the latest processors to hit the lab (yet), but there will likely be some reordering over the coming months.
For now, we've generated an eye chart that visualizes just why we don't recommend HEDT processors strictly for gaming. As we can see, HEDT gaming performance just doesn't justify the stratospheric costs. We'll dive into more easily digestible charts below.
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. Ryzen's 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.
Our recommendations remain unchanged for the low end of the market. 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 (benchmarks in the next update), 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.
The Core i7-7700K remains the processor to beat on the high end, but if overclocking is in your plans, keep your eye on the Ryzen 7 1700. We've seen it on sale regularly for ~$290, which is $90 below the Core i7-7700K's platform cost. The Ryzen 7 1700 comes with its own cooler, and after some tuning, it offers nearly the same performance as its more expensive Ryzen counterparts. Although the Ryzen 5 1600X offers similar overclocked performance, the 1700 also brings two extra cores to the table.
AMD is steadily making inroads in the processor market; recent sales figures imply the company is making significant headway against Intel. Intel is returning fire with the Coffee Lake processors soon, which could set the stage for an interesting update in the future
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