Best Gaming CPUs

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.

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July 2017 Updates

The last installment of our Best CPU article generated intense reader feedback. This month, we made a few adjustments to clarify this column's focus: we want to help you find the best CPU for your gaming rig.

It's been a busy few months in the lab. We examined Intel's Core i9-7900X and found some troubling performance regressions due to the new mesh architecture. We also encountered plenty of thermal headaches. In either case, the $1000 Core i9-7900X lands well above the price points we recommend for gaming processors. The high-end desktop tax typically isn't worth paying.

Interestingly, the Ryzen 7 1800X really stood out in our Skylake-X testing. We retested it after a string of motherboard firmware, chipset, and game patches, and discovered impressive improvements compared to our initial rounds of testing...

...which brings us to our current set of recommendations. AMD addressed many of the gaming-oriented concerns we had about Ryzen. Performance, stability, and memory compatibility are all notably better. And that's before testing the much-anticipated v.1.0.0.6 AGESA update.

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 FHD 99th percentile results are a good indicator of smoothness. This methodology is applied to our entire suite, which includes six titles released in 2016 and four older games that launched in 2015. Many feel that Ryzen's extra threads could enable more performance in the future as software evolves to utilize them better, but what-ifs aren't factored into our data-based analysis. We can, however, provide additional charts that only include newer games, which tend to utilize host processing resources more thoroughly.

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).



The Core i5-7500 offers a solid dose of gaming performance that the overclocked Ryzen 5 1500X can't overcome. Like the 1500X, it comes with a bundled cooler, and a locked multiplier means you won't need a more expensive heat sink for overclocking.

However, the Ryzen 5 1600 is faster still, even in its stock form, for $20 more. Ryzen 5 1600 fills the pricing gap between Core i5-7500 and -7600K. Factoring in the unlocked ratio multiplier and beefy stock cooler, it's the best mid-range value choice. If you have the cash, we recommend stepping up to the Ryzen 5 1600 over Intel's Core i5-7500. At stock settings, it's also very close to the Core i5-7600K in newer games.

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. Then again, the -7600K offers better performance once you overclock it, so long as you're willing to splurge on 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 $85 G4560 and $115 Core i3-7100 remain uncontested at their respective price points, at least until the Ryzen 3 series lands. Intel's Core i3-7100 isn't the best value per se (you only gain ~10% more performance for an extra $30 over the G4560), but it plugs the massive $114 price gap. 

There's plenty left to do in the lab, including testing the Core i7-7740X and i5-7640X. Given the high costs associated with Intel's X299 platform, we fully expect them to be no-shows on our Best CPU recommendations.

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35 comments
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  • adamovera
    0
  • NoUntakenNames
    The 1600X doesn't deserve to be on the list, because it adds very little over a slightly OC'd 1600. You're tossing a bundled cooler and $30 for 400 Mhz. I'd recomend a 1600 and a $30 cooler like the H7 or Hyper 212, which would allow for an OC higher than 3.6 Ghz and a few bucks in your pocket as you don't need to spend extra money for an "X".

    Otherwise, the updated list is very welcome, and I'm really happy to hear that Ryzen has improved for gaming. Good work, guys.
    -6
  • Supahos
    Glad to see you climbed off the hill you died on last month. Glad you didn't take the lazy way out and not include ryzen in the x299 review to show ryzens growth
    7
  • elbert
    Think it should have included the Ryzne 7 1700 as its way cheaper than the 7700K. Amazon has it for $296.71 with a heatsink which its miles ahead for streaming gamers.
    6
  • Supahos
    Paul you mentioned some tests while streaming and or running a bunch of background stuff at one point is this still in the plans?
    -1
  • dorsai
    I'm just happy to see two companies competing for spots on the list again...both with solid products
    6
  • Teddie_Bear
    The 1600X has 6 physical and 12 logical cores, and not "six logical cores and 12 threads", since logical cores is the amount of physical cores multiplied by the amount of threads that each core can run, essentially the same as the amount of threads.
    1
  • Sakkura
    I still find the recommendation of the Core i3-7100 strange, considering it's far more expensive than a Pentium and pretty much the same performance. But otherwise this is a pretty nice list of recommendations.
    5
  • JRHERITA
    What resolutions are these at? It looks like one set of charts may be 1080p and the other 1440p but I can't tell?
    0
  • Supahos
    A cpu doesn't care about the resolution, only the GPU does.
    1
  • FritzEiv
    Anonymous said:
    Paul you mentioned some tests while streaming and or running a bunch of background stuff at one point is this still in the plans?


    Paul's working on something along these lines. We keep getting bombarded (in a good way, of course) with more SKUs to test, but trust that we have some things in the works here, so stay tuned.
    1
  • derekullo
    Anonymous said:
    A cpu doesn't care about the resolution, only the GPU does.


    That is wrong on so many different levels.
    -2
  • Supahos
    No, changing resolution has nearly no impact on the CPU usage. Actually assuming you aren't cpu bottlnecked at say 1440p with a setup dropping to 1080p will actually increase CPU load as the GPU can handle more frames. 60 fps at 720-1080-1440p all require nearly the same CPU load. Lock frames to 60 and check for yourself
    0
  • beetlejuicegr
    Why top right is best? shouldnt it be bottom right the best compared to a top right best part? ? (low cost max performance?)
    0
  • rasmusdf
    Nice set of recommendations. It's great there are some clear alternatives to choose from. It will be interesting to see what AMD can bring to the budget space.
    0
  • namad7
    @elbert I think the ryzen 7 1700 was left out because 8 cores is too many for gaming, wasting heat that isn't useful and lowering clockspeeds. Which is fine for the 1700x or i7-7700k because the unlocked multiplier means at the very top end you can just liquid cool them and get the cores AND base clockspeed both. I have no idea who the ryzen 7 1700 is for though, excepting streamers, or other office rendering tasks. Then I think the ryzen 1700x was left off for being arbitrarily above the maximum price they ever recommend. Basically the top of the line pick cannot have the locked clockspeed of the ryzen 7 1700, maybe the ryzen 7 1700 deserved to be on the list, but only if they added another price point between the ones they already had.
    -4
  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    @elbert I think the ryzen 7 1700 was left out because 8 cores is too many for gaming, wasting heat that isn't useful and lowering clockspeeds. Which is fine for the 1700x or i7-7700k because the unlocked multiplier means at the very top end you can just liquid cool them and get the cores AND base clockspeed both. I have no idea who the ryzen 7 1700 is for though, excepting streamers, or other office rendering tasks. Then I think the ryzen 1700x was left off for being arbitrarily above the maximum price they ever recommend. Basically the top of the line pick cannot have the locked clockspeed of the ryzen 7 1700, maybe the ryzen 7 1700 deserved to be on the list, but only if they added another price point between the ones they already had.


    The Ryzen 7 1700 is fully unlocked for overclocking, and will generally hit just about the same overclocks as the more expensive 1700X and 1800X.
    3
  • synphul
    What's with the cpu pricing on the 7600k? The Amazon price says $350 by the auto price grabber (at least I assume that's what it is). This article was written yesterday yet today I'm looking at Amazon and the price is $239.99 in stock. Are the price to performance charts also using this oddly high price of around 45% inflation over what it's actually available for?

    Nevermind, I see what happened. It's overpriced since it's a bundle deal for a 240mm aio cooler. There are less expensive bundle deals on the same page. Not sure why we're comparing an outrageously high price of the i5 paired with a high end liquid cooler. Yes the 7600k doesn't come with a stock cooler but neither does the 1600x and it's listed and priced at cpu only. What's the price of a 1600x if the user decides to go full EK custom loop at around $450?

    A bit drastic but nothing mentioned ahead of the link, instead it's a poor misrepresentation. For those who don't know any better they'll see the i5 as way out of their price range when in fact it's identically priced to the ryzen 1600x. A more fair comparison of price since both are sans cooler. Or someone gets the impression the i7 7700k is cheaper and then realizes it also needs a cooler like the 1600x and 7600k.
    1
  • Sakkura
    Anonymous said:
    What's with the cpu pricing on the 7600k?


    The Amazon price links are dynamic, so they can do silly things. The price/performance charts are based on realistic prices at the time the article was written.
    1
  • mdd1963
    a 7600K is not $349.....your listing shows it costing less than the 7700K......; not very likely
    0