When shopping for the best gaming CPU, you'll want to balance performance and features with your PC budget. Our tips and picks below will help you choose the best CPU for gaming. But for detailed help on picking the best processor for your gaming rig, you can check out our 2020 CPU Buying Guide. And if you're on the fence about which CPU company to go with, our AMD vs. Intel feature dives deep and comes up with a clear winner.
For a list of all processors by performance, check out our Desktop CPU Hierarchy for CPU comparisons backed by processor benchmarks. We also maintain a list of best CPUs for productivity, for those who frequently tackle high-end content creation, or other tasks that benefit from high core counts. But if you're after the best gaming CPU, you're in the right place.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention that AMD's Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 processors are due out on November 5th, 2020. These chips should have a drastic impact to our recommendations for the fastest gaming CPU. Head to our AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 All We Know article for the details.
If your main goal is gaming, you of course can't forget about the graphics card. Getting the best possible gaming CPU won't help you much if your GPU is under-powered and / or out of date. So be sure to check out Best Graphics Cards page, as well as our 2020 GPU Hierarchy to make sure you have the right card for the level of gaming you're looking to achieve.
Quick Shopping Tips
When choosing a CPU in 2020, consider the following:
- You can't lose with AMD or Intel: We recently pointed out that AMD makes better CPUs overall these days in our AMD vs. Intel feature. But so long as you’re considering current-generation parts, the performance debate is basically a wash, particularly when it comes to gaming. Some of the most-expensive mainstream Intel processors do slightly better on gaming, and AMD handles tasks like video editing quicker (thanks largely to extra cores and threads).
- For gaming, clock speed is more important than core number: Higher CPU clock speeds translate to snappier performance in simple, common tasks such as gaming, while more cores will help you get through time-consuming workloads faster. In the end, the fastest CPUs of any family of processors have the highest clock speeds.
- Overclocking isn’t for everyone: For many who want to just get to gaming, it makes more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip, rather than spending money on a higher-end cooler and spending lots of time tweaking to achieve slightly higher performance.
Best gaming processors at a glance:
1. Intel Core i5-10600K
2. AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
3. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
4. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
5. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
6. AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
Fastest Gaming Processors Short List
This is a short list of modern desktop processors based upon performance in our gaming suite. Intel leads in overall gaming performance, which might be important if you plan to upgrade to a new graphics card in the near future, but AMD often holds the value advantage. There is an exception, though: For gaming, AMD's XT-series processors absolutely aren't worth the extra cash – seek out the X-Series models. You can see a much more detailed version of our CPU gaming hierarchy here. We'll be updating the performance data in this article and the CPU hierarchy soon with Nvidia's new Ampere RTX 3090 graphics card, which might provide enough extra GPU headroom to impact our performance rankings. Stay tuned.
Best Gaming CPUs for 2020
For gamers looking for the edge of performance, and enthusiasts who like to tune their processors without expensive supporting components, the Core i5-10600K slips in as the new mainstream champ. Intel's Core i5-10600K comes with six cores and twelve threads, a doubling of the thread count compared to the previous-gen Core i5-9600K, but slots in at the same $262 price point for the fully-equipped model and $237 for the graphics-less KF variant. The increased thread counts, paired with substantially higher boost frequencies across the board, equates to much faster gameplay than the previous-gen Core i5 and generally matches the previous-gen Core i7-9700K. That makes this chip a great deal for gamers who prize high refresh rates, particularly if they plan to move forward to the new AMD or Nvidia graphics cards that become available later this year.
The Core i5-10600K's twelve threads also reduce the gap between it and competing AMD processors in heavily-threaded workloads. Still, AMD's Ryzen 5 3600X and Ryzen 5 3600 are viable alternatives if you're looking for a chip that comes with a bundled cooler and a lower price point. You'll need to pick up a new LGA1200 motherboard and have a compatible cooling solution to run the Core i5-10600K (it doesn't come with a bundled cooler, but LGA1151 coolers work fine). However, the Core i5-10600K offers the best gaming performance in its price bracket, delivering previous-gen Core i7 gaming performance at Core i5 pricing.
High end desktop processors have long offered the ultimate in performance, as long as you were willing to pay the price. Aside from high MSRPs, the chips also require expensive accommodations, like beefy motherboards and the added cost of fully populating quad-channel memory controllers. Add in the inevitable trade-offs, like reduced performance in lightly-threaded applications and games, and any cost-conscious users who could benefit from the threaded horsepower of a HEDT chip just settle for mainstream offerings.
Now AMD's Ryzen 9 3950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, brings HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. The 3950X carries a $749 price tag, but that’s downright affordable compared to competing HEDT processors.
We generally don't recommend HEDT processors for enthusiasts that are only interested in gaming. Gamers are best served by mainstream processors (with fewer cores and higher clocks) that are often faster in games; the Ryzen 9 3950X also falls into the same category. However, if you're after a chip and platform that can do serious work seriously fast, but still be nimble enough deliver high-refresh gameplay at the end of the day, the Ryzen 9 3950X fits the bill like no other CPU before it.
Read: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review
If you’re truly only concerned about the best gaming CP and basic productivity tasks, you can skip down to the Intel Core i5-8400 and save yourself some money. But if you’re thinking of getting into game streaming, you occasionally edit video, or you just like the idea of having more threads available when you need them, AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X is an incredible value.
It delivers twice the threads of the Core i7-9700K at a lower price, while sipping less power. And while that Intel chip will deliver higher frame rates at 1080p with a high-end graphics card, if you step up to 1440p or higher, the frame rate differences tend to even out, as the GPU becomes the bottleneck. Either processor will easily deliver triple-digit frame rates at 1080p when paired with a capable card. So unless you have one of the best gaming monitors with high refresh rate, you may not benefit from the extra frames the 9700K can push, anyway.
There’s also support for PCIe 4.0 (when paired with an X570 or B550 motherboard) to consider. And the AMD chip ships with a capable and attractive Wraith Spire RGB cooler, while Intel makes you bring your own to the i7 or i9 party. The value seekers among us will also appreciate this CPUs backwards compatibility with lower-priced X470 motherboards.
Read: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Review
Out of the box, the Ryzen 5 3600X is the best processor in its price range for gaming and productivity, marking a massive shift in the mid-range. At stock settings, the Ryzen 5 3600X regularly beat the more expensive Core i5-9600K in both categories, albeit by slim margins in gaming, reversing the long-held trend of Ryzen being best for productivity while Intel ruled the gaming roost.
If you're into overclocking, the Intel processors are going to deliver more performance, but you'll have to provide your own beefy cooler to get there, significantly adding to the cost, while AMD includes a capable, attractive cooler in the box. The majority of enthusiasts looking for a fast set-it-and-forget-it processor that can handle common computing tasks with relative ease will find incredible value in the Ryzen 5 3600X.
Read: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Review
The Ryzen 3 3300X unlocks a new level of performance for budget gamers with four cores and eight threads that can push low- to mid-range graphics cards to their fullest. This new processor wields the Zen 2 architecture paired with the 7nm process to push performance to new heights while enabling new features for low-end processors, like access to the speedy PCIe 4.0 interface. The 3300X's four cores tick at a 3.8 GHz clock rate and boost to 4.3 GHz, providing snappy performance in lightly threaded applications, like games.
AMD includes a bundled Wraith Spire cooler with the processor. Still, you might consider budgeting in a better low-end cooler to unlock the full performance, particularly if you are overclocking. Speaking of which, the Ryzen 3 3300X can overclock to the highest all-core frequencies we've seen with a Ryzen 3000-series processor, making it a great chip for enthusiasts. Unlike AMD's other current-gen Ryzen 3 processors, you'll need to pair this processor with a discrete GPU, but the low price point leaves extra room in the budget for a more capable graphics card.
You can stick with the value theme and drop this capable chip into existing X470 of B450 motherboards, but you'll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for a lower price point. Better yet, AMD has its new B550 motherboards on offer. These new motherboards support the PCIe 4.0 interface but provide lower entry-level pricing that's a better fit for this class of processor.
Read: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Review
The Ryzen 5 3400G is a great processor for budget buyers because it comes with an integrated Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics engine that enables playable frame rates in many new game titles, provided that you tweak your game to lower fidelity settings. That eliminates the need for a discrete graphics card in your new system, which equates to more money for other high-performance additives, like an SSD.
The Ryzen 5 3400G is a newer version of AMD’s previous-gen 2400G. AMD’s move to the 12nm manufacturing process, along with an optimized Zen+ design, yields solid performance improvements that include a nice bump to the CPU and GPU clocks. The more mature process paired with unlocked multipliers also facilitates higher overclocking ceilings for the CPU, GPU and memory. That combination, along with a beefier bundled cooler and Solder TIM, makes the Ryzen 5 3400G the processor to beat for systems built around integrated graphics for low-resolution budget gaming rigs.
Read: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G Review
If your budget is tight and you're looking to build a system for modest gaming, you should check out our Best Cheap CPUs feature. Some of those chips can deliver passable gaming performance without a graphics card, and their prices start at just $55 (£40).