Best 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.

Entry Level
AMD Athlon X4 860K
-
Mid-Range
AMD FX-8300
Amazon
Mid-Range
Intel Core i3-7100
-
High-End
Intel Core i5-7500
-
High-End
Intel Core i5-7600K
-
High-End
Intel Core i7-7700K
-
Extreme
Intel Core i7-5820K
$320 http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MMLXIKY/?tag=bom_tomsguide-20
Architecture
Steamroller
Piledriver
Kaby Lake
Kaby Lake
Kaby Lake
Kaby Lake
Haswell-E
Frequency (Turbo)
3.7GHz (4GHz)
3.3GHz (4.2GHz)
3.9GHz
3.4 (3.8) GHz
3.8 (4.2) GHz
4.2 (4.5) GHz
3.5GHz
Core/Module (Thread)
2 Modules (4)
4 Modules (8)
2 Cores (4)
4 Cores (4)
4 Cores (4)
4 Cores (8)
6 Cores (12)
Cache (L1 / L2 / L3)
2x 96KB + 4x 16KB, 2x 2MB
4x 64KB + 8x 16KB / 4x 2MB / 8MB
2x 64KB, 2x 256KB, 3MB
4x 64KB, 4x 256KB, 6MB
4x 64KB, 4x 256KB, 6MB
4x 64KB, 4x 256KB, 8MB
6x 32KB + 6x 256KB / 15MB
Integrated GPU
HD Graphics 630
HD Graphics 630
HD Graphics 630
HD Graphics 630
Memory Support
DDR3-2133, dual-channel
DDR3-1866, dual-channel
DDR4-2400, dual-channel
DDR4-2400, dual-channel
DDR4-2400, dual-channel
DDR4-2400, dual-channel
DDR4-2133, quad-channel, up to 64GB
TDP
95W
95W
51W
65W
91W
91W
140W
Process
28nm
32nm
14nm
14nm
14nm
14nm
22nm
Socket
FM2+
AM3+
LGA 1151
LGA 1151
LGA 1151
LGA 1151
LGA 2011-v3
Cache (L1/L2/L3)


January 2017 Updates

The big news, if you want to call it that, for January was Intel’s Kaby Lake launch on the desktop. Our review (Intel Kaby Lake Core i7-7700K, i7-7700, i5-7600K, i5-7600 Review) showed the Optimize stage of Intel’s manufacturing cadence adding nothing to the architecture’s IPC throughput. However, it did add frequency headroom, allowing Kaby Lake-based CPUs to operate a few hundred megahertz faster than equivalent Skylake models.

Consequently, we don’t expect many enthusiasts with modern platforms to splurge on an upgrade. But the Kaby Lake line-up does have a significant impact on our recommendations for anyone building a new PC. You see, Intel by and large maintains the same price points, so for little to no extra investment, you do get a faster CPU. Even as we snub our enthusiast noses at the deceleration of host processing progress, we know better than to complain about “free” performance.

At the bottom-end, we like that Intel adds Hyper-Threading to several Pentium models, creating sub-$100 SKUs able to schedule four threads in parallel. Those are worth considering if you want an upgradeable platform for future expansion. For now, we’re leaving AMD’s Athlon X4 860K as a recommendation at $75. Though its Socket FM2+ interface will be imminently replaced by AM4, you still get a solid four-core chip with overclocking headroom at a budget price. Rest assured that we’re in the process of testing Kaby Lake-based Pentiums to determine if their higher price tags are worth paying.

AMD’s FX-8300 is an endangered species as well - its Socket AM3+ interface will also be replaced by AM4 once Ryzen surfaces (that day is fast approaching, as we revealed in our latest update). On sale for $110, though, the quad-module CPU remains a respectable value we aren’t ready to write off yet.

With that said, Intel’s new Core i3-7100 replaces the -6100 at $120 with a 200 MHz-higher clock rate. While it only wields two physical cores, Hyper-Threading allows the i3 to work on four threads at a time. Further, Intel’s Z170 and Z270 chipsets are far more modern than anything AMD has right now. We liked the Skylake-based Core i3-6100, and we’ll gladly take a similar configuration at a higher frequency for the same price.

What about the overclockable Core i3-7350K? We’re testing that too. But here’s the deal: Intel wants $190 for an unlocked dual-core CPU already operating at 4.2 GHz. Until we fully characterize the -7350K’s performance, we think the quad-core Core i5-7500 is a safer bet for $15 more. The i5 replaces Intel’s Core i5-6500 in our recommendations. Again, at the same price point, you get an extra 200 MHz (3.4 GHz versus the old model’s 3.2 GHz). Turbo Boost, which the i3 lacks, pushes the -7500 up to 3.8 GHz.

From there, a Core i5-7600K at $250 is a great enthusiast processor, displacing the Core i5-6600K. Its base clock rate is 3.8 GHz, Turbo Boost accelerates lightly-threaded workloads at up to 4.2 GHz, and an unlocked multiplier gives you freedom to tune more aggressively.

Same story for the Core i7-7700K. At $350, it’s a logical replacement for the -6700K, even if you can find the previous-gen chip for a few dollars less. A 4.2 GHz base and 4.5 GHz maximum Turbo Boost frequency are well worth the small price difference.

Intel sells several higher-end Broadwell-E processors with as many as 10 cores. But for as long as the Core i7-5820K is available at $390, we see little reason to spend $425 on a Core i7-6800K (or higher) unless the workloads you run justify the added expense. Our top-end recommendation goes unchanged.

MORE: How To Build A PC

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

MORE: All CPU Content

Entry Level (Sub-$100) Processors

MORE: Best Builds

MORE: Best Cases

MORE: Best Cooling

Mid-Range ($100-$200) Processors

MORE: Best Deals

MORE: Best Graphics

MORE: Best Gaming Laptops

High-End (Over $200) Processors

MORE: Best Memory

MORE: Best Monitors

MORE: Best Motherboards

Diminishing Returns Kick In

Top-end CPUs offer rapidly diminishing returns when it comes to gaming performance. As such, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Core i5-7600K, especially since we know clock rates as high as 5 GHz are possible with the right cooler.

There are applications that benefit from Hyper-Threaded Core i7 processors, though. Because we believe this is a trend that will continue as developers optimize their software, consider the Core i7-5820K an honorable mention. In a vast majority of games, they won't demonstrate much advantage over the Core i5. But if you're a serious enthusiast who wants some future-proofing and values threaded application performance, these processors may be worth the extra money.

In addition, there's certainly an argument to be made for using LGA 2011-v3 as the ultimate gaming platform. Haswell-E/Broadwell-E-based CPUs have more available cache and as many as four more execution cores than the flagship LGA 1150/1151 models. Additionally, more bandwidth is delivered through a quad-channel DDR4 memory controller. And with up to 40 lanes of third-gen PCIe connectivity available from Haswell-E/Broadwell-E-based processors, the platform natively supports two x16 and one x8 slot, or one x16 and three x8 slots, alleviating potential bottlenecks in three- and four-way CrossFire or SLI configurations.

Although they sound impressive, those advantages don't necessarily translate into significant performance gains in modern titles, since memory bandwidth and PCIe throughput don't hold back the game performance of existing Sandy Bridge-, Ivy Bridge-, Haswell-, and Skylake-based machines.

Where we do see the potential for Haswell-E to drive additional performance is in processor-bound games like the multiplayer component of Battlefield 1. If you're running a three- or four-way array of graphics cards already, there's a good chance that you already own more than enough rendering muscle. An overclocked Core i7-5960X or -5930K could help the rest of your platform catch up to an insanely powerful arrangement of GPUs.

To summarize, while we generally recommend against purchasing any gaming CPU that retails for more than the Core i5-7600K (sink that money into graphics and the motherboard instead), there are those of you who have no trouble throwing down serious money on the best of the best, and who require the fastest possible performance available. If this describes your goals, the following CPU may be for you:

MORE: Best Power Supplies

MORE: Best SSDs

MORE: Best Virtual Reality Headsets

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject
55 comments
    Your comment
  • mlga91
    You're still recomending the 860k instead of the new hyperthreaded pentium? come on Chris!
    -2
  • bruce755
    Why leave the 860k? Similarly priced hyperthreaded pentiums destroy it. If I went here without that knowledge and bought an 860k and later found out I could have got 60% better performance for 10 dollars less with a pentium, I'd be pretty disappointed. Heck the G4560 outperforms your "midrange" pick as well with the 8300, it's about neck and neck with the 6100.
    -3
  • Math Geek
    so glad you read the article before posting your comment.

    he clearly states that they are testing the new pentiums and until they have the results he won't declare a verdict on that cpu. an informed opinion is so much more valuable than an uninformed one no matter what........

    same thing for the unlocked i3. until testing is done, won't know if it worth the price or not. may be decent but is it i5 comparable since the cost is almost the same?? better to wait and see before declaring something as "crushing" it's competition before the actual testing has been done.

    folks complain he's biased, then complain when he waits for real info to publish an opinion?? which is it? blind bias or informed opinions???
    8
  • FritzEiv
    Anonymous said:
    so glad you read the article before posting your comment.

    he clearly states that they are testing the new pentiums and until they have the results he won't declare a verdict on that cpu. an informed opinion is so much more valuable than an uninformed one no matter what........

    same thing for the unlocked i3. until testing is done, won't know if it worth the price or not. may be decent but is it i5 comparable since the cost is almost the same?? better to wait and see before declaring something as "crushing" it's competition before the actual testing has been done.

    folks complain he's biased, then complain when he waits for real info to publish an opinion?? which is it? blind bias or informed opinions???


    What he said.
    0
  • Stavris
    Is E5 2670 any good for gaming!?
    0
  • logainofhades
    Quote:
    Rest assured that we’re in the process of testing Kaby Lake-based Pentiums to determine if their higher price tags are worth paying.


    Given that the Pentium G4560 is also $75, this comment doesn't totally make sense. The higher priced pentiums are not worth the price premium, for such minor clock speed boost, so shouldn't even be considered anyway.
    4
  • Brian_R170
    Intel's website says the recommended customer price for the G4560 is $64, but I guess what matters is the price that retailers are actually demanding, which apparently is around $75.

    [Edit] Still, other sites are claiming it is very close to the i3-6100 and i5-2500K. _IF_ it's gaming performance is as good, then that should certainly change the Entry-Level and possibly the Mid-Range recommendations.
    0
  • Karadjgne
    I remember when a previous Pentium was thought of as the next best thing to green jello, namely the G3528. After all the hype, all the ppl going out and dropping cash on that mega cpu, only for it to almost disappear overnight. And now a new batch of pentium's that are touted as replacing the core i3/i5's? I'll wait till ppl get done with the gimmicks and Intel gets its fan boy cash back before microcoding the gimmicks and OC. Again.
    -3
  • Math Geek
    i still laugh at all the folks on here that claimed a G3528 and a 750ti was just as good as an i5 and a 970. those 2 products took hype train to a level rarely seen.

    now we got this new pentium that is supposed to match an i3/5?? right. does it seem likely that intel would release a $75 cpu that competes with its own $200 ones?? that's so beyond silly thinking its borderline crazy. it may be a decent performer but to pretend they'd shoot themselves in the foot like that and have it compete with their own much more expensive stuff is crazy ignorant.

    the i3 can keep up with a locked i5 as was shown during that brief time we could overclock them recently. did not last long but long enough for us to see why they are kept locked. as if to verify this, we have an unlocked i3 now and what doe sit cost?? almost as much as the i5 we know it can almost keep up with. see how the pricing works?? there is no chance in hades they released a $75 cpu that can compete with it's $200 stuff.
    2
  • littleleo
    I don't feel it is fair quote the old old AMD CPUs. They are not good options since they are running on obsolete platforms. Best to hold off for the AM4s if the customer wants to go AMD. Perhaps for cheap workstations, as long as they understand the limitations up front and they are still willing to buy them.
    0
  • TJ Hooker
    Anonymous said:
    so glad you read the article before posting your comment.
    he clearly states that they are testing the new pentiums and until they have the results he won't declare a verdict on that cpu. an informed opinion is so much more valuable than an uninformed one no matter what........

    Quote:
    now we got this new pentium that is supposed to match an i3/5?? right. does it seem likely that intel would release a $75 cpu that competes with its own $200 ones?? that's so beyond silly thinking its borderline crazy.


    Karadjgne said:
    I remember when a previous Pentium was thought of as the next best thing to green jello, namely the G3528. After all the hype, all the ppl going out and dropping cash on that mega cpu, only for it to almost disappear overnight. And now a new batch of pentium's that are touted as replacing the core i3/i5's? I'll wait till ppl get done with the gimmicks and Intel gets its fan boy cash back before microcoding the gimmicks and OC. Again.


    There's really no mystery here, no room for surprises. We know that the G4560 is a 2C/4T CPU with 3 MB L3 cache, same as an i3-6100. We know that Kaby Lake and Skylake have the same IPC. The i3-6100 is a known entity, and the G4560 will be identical except 200 MHz slower (unless you need ECC or AVX, which for gaming, you won't). What kind of unforseen performance hit are you expecting from a 5% reduction in clock speed?
    5
  • Karadjgne
    Need AVX? Well that's just about everybody else other than console gamers. Not everybody uses a pc just for playing games. (And there are games like Grid 2 that use AVX instructions). Anybody who does any compiling, bit mining, or anything floating point heavy is going to use AVX or AVX2 instructions. If what you claim is true, that the G4560 is it really a 200MHz slower i3-6100 missing AVX, I'd rather spend the extra $30 and get the full performance version, not the shortchanged wannabe. Almost like buying a 4cyl Mustang and trying to convince ppl it's cool.
    -4
  • nikoli707
    the g4560 just came out like a week ago. its pretty obvious it will offer better all around performance than the 860k while also having an upgrade path. so just use your imagination and replace the 860k with the pentium. otherwise arguing about an article that was likely finalized before the chip was even known to exist, or at the very least available to the public, is pointless.
    1
  • logainofhades
    This list is aimed at gaming rigs though, and it always has been. In gaming, early benches have shown it just a couple percentage points, below an i3 6100.

    https://www.computerbase.de/2017-01/intel-pentium-g4560-test-kaby-lake/3/#diagramm-gesamtrating-spiele-full-hd

    Also Kaby lake uses DDR4 2400, as it standard memory speed, so that is a slight help, vs the 2133 the i3 6100. For the budget gamer, there is no need to look beyond a Pentium G4560, if you cannot afford an i5. I would rather use the money saved, by getting the pentium, and use it towards a better graphics card, or more ram. We get so many low budget build requests, here, that, that $35 savings could easily mean a GTX 1050ti, instead of a 1050, or an RX 470 vs a GTX 1050ti.
    1
  • lunyone
    I don't know if it is just me, but it seems like a lot of times reviews or best of articles come up just before a new CPU/GPU release is coming. So for example this "Best CPU's" comes out on the cusp of Ryzen/Pentium release (I know the Pentiums are already available to parts of Europe). So I would expect a "Best of GPU's" to come out just before the latest AMD Polaris GPU's come out. I know it sounds cynical, but that is how I feel.
    0
  • Olle P
    Anonymous said:
    For the budget gamer, there is no need to look beyond a Pentium G4560, if you cannot afford an i5.
    Until we know how AMD counter it, I agree completely. And it's not just "an" i5, but at least a Core i5-7500.
    And the Core i5 will merely "allow" you to play some games that won't run at all with the Pentium. To make those games perform well will require a Core i7.

    Anonymous said:
    ... this "Best CPU's" comes out on the cusp of Ryzen/Pentium release (I know the Pentiums are already available to parts of Europe). ...
    While the Pentium G4560 is indeed available here in Sweden, at a really nice price, the Ryzen is still almost two months away (mid March), right?
    0
  • logainofhades
    For i5, I meant skylake/kaby lake versions. Though sometimes a Haswell makes sense for low budget system upgrades, with people that already have a decent amount of DDR3. I hope Ryzen does shake things up, especially in the budget sector.
    0
  • TJ Hooker
    Anonymous said:
    Need AVX? Well that's just about everybody else other than console gamers. Not everybody uses a pc just for playing games. (And there are games like Grid 2 that use AVX instructions). Anybody who does any compiling, bit mining, or anything floating point heavy is going to use AVX or AVX2 instructions.

    This article is about gaming CPUs, it says so in the first paragraph. Also, relatively speaking, how many people do you think are compiling, mining, or doing heavy floating point calculations? How many are doing so on budget, dual core CPUs?
    After a quick search on Grid 2 vis-a-vis AVX, it seems to make little difference (can still run the game fine w/o AVX). Also, it seems running Grid 2 w/ AVX requires AVX2, so by that standard a 3770k isn't a good gaming CPU.

    Quote:
    If what you claim is true, that the G4560 is it really a 200MHz slower i3-6100 missing AVX, I'd rather spend the extra $30 and get the full performance version, not the shortchanged wannabe.

    If you want to spend 47% more ($110 vs $75) on a CPU that performs 5% better, be my guest. For people who care about value for money, the G4560 is a more attractive option. Also, with your logic, why even bother with the $75 price point? There's always going to be something better if you spend an extra $30, at least at the low end.
    0
  • mac_angel
    freely admit, I didn't read the article. I don't think there's anything there that I don't know, or either applies to me.
    That being said, I'm a little surprised that they are showing more of the 2011v3 CPUs. More and more games are actually using more cores. Proper written games, such as Ashes of the Singularity gobble them up and ask for more. Something that hasn't really applied in many years. For almost all other games, my older Core i7 2600K is more than enough. Overclocks easily to 4.4GHz, and most games don't use all the cores. I think with the addition of DX12, we may finally see a shift in CPUs needing to increase in power again. How Vulkan will play out, I'm not sure.
    1