When shopping for the best gaming CPU, you'll need to balance performance and features with your PC budget. Our tips and picks below will help you get started on finding 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.
For a list of all processors by performance, check out our Desktop CPU Hierarchy. 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.
If your main aim is gaming, you of course can't forget about the GPU. Getting the best possible gaming CPU won't help you much if your graphics card is under-powered and / or out of date.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, consider the following:
- You can't lose with AMD or Intel: So long as you’re considering current-generation parts , the performance debate is basically a wash. Some Intel processors do a bit 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.
- Overclocking isn’t for everyone: For most people, it makes more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip, rather than spending time on overclocking, and extra money on a high-end cooler.
Best Gaming CPUs for 2020
Intel Core i7-9700K (9th Gen)
Architecture: Coffee Lake | Socket: 1151 | Cores/Threads: 8/8 | Base Frequency: 3.6GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.9GHz | TDP: 65W
If you can spend over $400 (£380, $650 AU), our favorite gaming CPU overall right now is the Intel Core i7-9700K, which dominates thanks to its eight cores and excellent single-threaded performance. It's a much smarter choice for gaming than the pricey Core i9-9900K or the iGPU-disabled Core i9-9900KF. It serves up similar gaming performance at a significantly lower price than the i9s, making it the best gaming CPU you can buy today.
That said, at about $100 (£80) less with an in-box cooler (which Intel’s unlocked CPUs lack) AMD’s Ryzen 7 2700X is arguably a better value for gamers on a tight budget—especially if you’re gaming at or close to 4K resolutions, where frame rates tend to even out between Intel and AMD.
Read Review: Intel Core i7-9700K
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Best High Performance Value
AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
Best High Performance Value
Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 16/32 | Base Frequency: 3.5GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.7GHz | TDP: 105W
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 Review: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
Best Overall Value
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Best Overall Value
Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 8/16 | Base Frequency: 3.6GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 65W
If you’re truly only concerned about gaming 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 a high-refresh gaming monitor, 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 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 Review: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
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Best Mid-Range CPU
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
Best Mid-Range CPU
Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 6/12 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 95W
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 Review: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
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AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
Architecture: Zen | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/8 | Base Frequency: 3.6GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 3.9GHz | TDP: 65W
AMD's latest Ryzen chips with onboard Vega graphics make gaming without a card a serious possibility. Don't expect to run games above 1080p, or even always at 1080p with the Ryzen 5 2400G. But if you're after a chip that will let you achieve smooth frame rates on recent titles at low settings without buying an overpriced card, the Ryzen 5 2400G is your best bet today.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
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AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
Architecture: Zen | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/4 | Base Frequency: 3.5GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 3.7GHz | TDP: 65W
When money is tight, being able to game without a graphics card can lead to serious savings. And with RAM still fairly high, those working with small budgets need to tighten the strings anywhere they can.
That makes the four-core, four-thread Ryzen 3 2200G particularly appealing for budget gaming builders and upgraders. The $99 chip delivers solid 720p performance thanks to its Vega on-chip graphics, decent CPU muscle for mainstream tasks, and can be dropped into an older inexpensive 300-series motherboard (after a requisite BIOS update), to form the basis of a surprisingly capable low-cost PC. It’s also unlocked, so with proper cooling you can tune the graphics or the CPU to best suit your needs.
Read Review: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
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).
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