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.
May 2017 Updates
AMD’s Ryzen has barreled onto the CPU scene with a bevy of offerings that tackle Intel’s i5 and i7 series with increased host processing resources, and often at a lower price point.
AMD's AM4 platform faced a few headwinds at launch, such as a worrying spate of motherboard issues, but vendors have largely addressed most of the nagging bugs. We still eagerly await more fine-grained RAM tuning, which is of heightened importance due to Ryzen’s penchant for increased game performance with higher memory frequencies. Head over to our Ryzen 5 1600X Review for a more in-depth look at how tweaked memory settings can streamline performance.
The Ryzen 7 series, like Intel's Broadwell-E, doesn’t get the nod for our gaming recommendations due to the high price points, but the Ryzen 5 series falls within the price range we normally recommend for gaming CPUs.
AMD’s Ryzen 5 lineup of four- and six-core models landed in our labs this month with the i5 series in their sights. The Ryzen 5 1600X outweighs the i5-7600K with more cores and logical threads at its disposal, not to mention more than twice the L3 cache, but we found it exhibits many of the same characteristics as the 7 series.
The 1600X offers a great performance-per-dollar ratio compared to Intel’s competing chips in heavily threaded workloads, like rendering and content creation. But, like the 7 series, it can’t quite match Kaby Lake’s convincing lead in a diverse range of game titles. The cheaper i5-7600K has a much higher overclocking frequency ceiling, which cements its current status as one of the best gaming CPUs.
The Ryzen 5 1500X features the same number of physical cores as the i5-7400 and -7500, but still wields its SMT advantage to great effect in productivity-focused applications. The 1500X also brings the benefit of an unlocked multiplier to the competition, while factory-set frequencies constrain the comparably priced non-K i5 processors. However, we found the same trend yet again. Even with a healthy overclock, the 1500X can’t unseat the i5-7500 in our game suite. Tuning the 1500X offers close to the same performance at a $10 savings, but budgeting in a beefier heatsink and 3200 MT/s-capable memory blurs the value proposition.
Unfortunately, AMD's Ryzen salvo hasn’t touched off the price war we wanted, at least not yet. We’ve scoured the latest pricing history on Amazon and Newegg, and aside from a few momentary blips on the low end, Intel continues to hold the pricing line with its Kaby Lake processors. The company’s recent customer price guide also indicates that we shouldn’t expect any radical changes in the near term. Unexciting as that may be, that leaves us with an unchanged set of recommendations for this month's update. Remember, though, that these recommendations only apply to gaming performance specifically. Head to our reviews for the broader outlook.
We’re still in the early days of the Ryzen era so the climate may change, particularly as AMD rolls out its 3 series. We’ve already seen broad signs of Intel bolstering its i3 series with the unlocked i3-7350K, and the addition of Hyper-Threading to the Pentium lineup sets the stage for a fierce battle when AMD’s Ryzen 3 series hits our labs in the coming months.
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