Best Gaming CPUs

After your GPU, your CPU has the biggest impact on your computer's gaming performance. When you're shopping for a CPU, you need to balance performance and features with your budget. If you can spend over $300, our favorite gaming CPU overall right now is the Intel Core i7-9700K, which dominates thanks to its eight cores and speedy single-threaded performance.

Intel also wins in the mid-range price bracket, with its excellent Core i5-8400. Down in the mainstream/budget territory, things are split depending on your graphics choices. AMD’s Ryzen 5 2400G and Ryzen 5 2200G are excellent options if you don’t plan on splurging on a dedicated card. But if you are going to plug in a graphics card, Intel’s Core i3-3100 delivers better performance at a good price.

With holiday shopping season upon us, we're tracking the best CPU deals, including sweet sales on both high and low-end processors from AMD and Intel. Also, check out our article on how to tell a CPU deal from a dud.

News and Product Updates

This week we took a close look at Intel’s Core i5-9600K. With six cores and the ability to ramp two of those cores up to 4.6GHz, it’s a good gaming CPU for the price. But with no Hyper-threading and no bundled cooler, plus the fact that you need an expensive Z-series board to overclock, there are better options for AMD and Intel for most users.

Why Trust Us

Tom's Hardware has been reviewing PC components for more than two decades. We put each CPU through a bevy of benchmarks, which measure everything from its single- and multi-core performance in applications and games, to its power consumption. We've tested hundreds of models, at both stock and overclock settings where applicable, so we can separate the best from the multi-core disappointments.

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 (AMD Ryzen 2000 vs Intel Coffee Lake, 8th Generation Core), this debate is basically a wash, with Intel doing a bit better on gaming and browsing and AMD handling tasks like video editing faster.
  • 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.
  • Get the latest gen: You won't save much money in the long run by going with an older chip.
  • Budget for a full system: Don't pair a strong CPU with weak storage, RAM and graphics.
  • Overclocking isn’t for everyone: For most people, it makes more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip.

For even more information, check out our CPU Buyer’s Guide, where we discuss how much you should spend for what you’re looking to do and when cores matter more than high clock speeds.

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

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$300+ Best Pick

Flagship mainstream desktop processors come with the highest price tag of our recommendations, but those searching for the best performance to push the beefiest cards on the top of the GPU hierarchy will be rewarded with chart-topping performance. Both Intel and AMD offer high-end desktop models that scale beyond 16 cores, but those premium processors often don't deliver the same amount of gaming performance as the mainstream models. Also, they come with expensive platforms and typically support quad-channel memory, which adds yet more cost to the equation. The picture changes if you need more performance for other types of applications, like rendering or encoding, but the mainstream processors offer the best value for strictly gaming.

For most high-end gamers, the flagship mainstream models in Intel's Core i7 and AMD's Ryzen 7 product families offer the best value. Intel's Coffee and Kaby Lake models offer the best absolute gaming performance, but AMD's Ryzen 7 series comes with more cores, which you might find attractive if you have more demanding requirements, such as streaming or intense multi-tasking. You can also often find the Ryzen processors well below MSRP.

Alternative Pick:

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$200 - $300 Best Pick

Mid-range processors typically land in the $200 to $300 price range, and they offer satisfying performance for the majority of gamers. Stepping beyond the $300 price class typically grants less than a 10 performance overall performance improvement that isn't always worth the higher price tag.

AMD's Ryzen processors have truly reinvigorated this segment and often come with a discount, too. For the competitive overclockers among us, AMD's processors all offer unlocked ratio multipliers that you can exploit on budget-friendly motherboards, while Intel's offerings are split into both locked and unlocked processors. With Intel, overclocking requires a step up to a Z-Series motherboard and a more expensive "K"-series processor.

This price range finds two distinct price tiers, but provided the processor has an unlocked multiplier, you can often find the best value around the $200 mark. It's best to step up to the more expensive models in this class if overclocking isn't in your plans.

Alternative Picks:

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$100 - $200 Best Pick

The lower end of the gaming processor spectrum is incredibly competitive, particularly with the copious core counts, bundled coolers and unlocked multipliers you can find in the AMD lineup. Intel processors tend to offer the best performance at stock settings, and the locked multipliers in this price range make them suitable for less-expensive B- and H-Series motherboards.

These processors will often find a home in sub-$800 gaming rigs, so bundled coolers, particularly if they can handle overclocking, become more important.

If you have or will soon buy a graphics card, the AMD Ryzen 5 2400G is not the best option, as the processor and graphics cores have to share power. In this price range, if a graphics card is destined for your rig, get the Intel Core i3-8100 instead--especially if Intel's more affordable 8th-gen B- and H-series motherboards are available by the time you read this.

Alternative Picks:

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Sub-$100 Best Pick

You won't find several of the more advanced features on this class of processors, such as AVX or Optane support, but they make a great pairing for sub-$200 graphics cards.

Alternative Pick:

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  • davidm.maya
    mmm What about the i5-9600K ? Why are you actually recommending to buy earlier generation processors? Going against your own recommendations?

    I can understand why the i5-8400 got the 1st place but I can't get it why are you still recommending i5-8600K given that the i5-9600K is very close in price from the new generation and better.
  • totalinsanity4
    Given that the R5 2600 is only $1 more than the 2400G, why not replace that as the budget pick? Two more cores and four more threads are definitely beneficial, ESPECIALLY at that price point
  • gx240
    I'm actually curious about the i5-9600K too. Its price seems to be almost identical to the i5-8600K. For the last week I've seen it selling for about $10 to $30 dollars more for an appreciable increase in boost frequency. Any reason not to recommend it?
  • kiniku
    I just ordered the 9700K for my new build. It was splitting hairs between the 2700X, but I have a 35" G-Sync monitor, and I game 95% of the time. While the cost is higher, I feel the 9700K covers all the bases.
  • dekfin6
    CPU is one of the important parts of the computer or laptop so it I very important to have the best quality CPU and for my point of view AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X, AMD Ryzen 5 2600X, Intel Core i5-8600K also can take help from <ModEdit> and also has any query then also it will help you.
  • gibo.w.tk
    I am going to play at 3440x1440p at 200hz and hdr with the new acer x35 should I get a 9900k or 8086k and a rtx 2080 ti for gaming only, for my upgrade of a fx 4300 and gtx 1050.
  • SR TEE
    I have my disagreements with these ratings. I'd still think an overclocked I7 8700K would be the best gaming CPU at the moment for the price and availability, but if I looked at it in a future sense the R7 2700X would be the best value choice considering how often Intel changes their sockets and leaves their customers high and dry with no upgrade path beyond two CPU generations.

    I also disagree with the Ryzen 2400G for that price range, the R5 2600 is going for around $160(on some sites has gone up to $200 though) and if gotten at that price it beats out the R5 2400G.

    Now with an R5 2600 at $160 that kind of displaces the Intel I5 8400 a little bit. If that's the case you may as well go up to the R7 2700 or maybe an Intel I5 8600K.

    Just my opinions, but as prices change and the value propositions are altered my opinion will change as well.
  • xravenxdota
    Anonymous said:
    I have my disagreements with these ratings. I'd still think an overclocked I7 8700K would be the best gaming CPU at the moment for the price and availability, but if I looked at it in a future sense the R7 2700X would be the best value choice considering how often Intel changes their sockets and leaves their customers high and dry with no upgrade path beyond two CPU generations.

    I also disagree with the Ryzen 2400G for that price range, the R5 2600 is going for around $160(on some sites has gone up to $200 though) and if gotten at that price it beats out the R5 2400G.

    Now with an R5 2600 at $160 that kind of displaces the Intel I5 8400 a little bit. If that's the case you may as well go up to the R7 2700 or maybe an Intel I5 8600K.

    Just my opinions, but as prices change and the value propositions are altered my opinion will change as well.


    I personally would pick the 8700k over any 99xx series as i agree the price to performance on the 99x models are just not there.The 9900k are almost double the price of a 2700x here.

    On the second one.I built my brother a 2400g which was a budget built for the fact he doesn't need a dedicated gpu to play games.I went with the 2600 as i have a gpu so it made more sense.I will agree the 2600 are by far the budget king but for the same price the 2400g as a igpu.

    My brother will get this 1050ti of mine when i upgrade during this month but as when i built his pc his value was far better as mine as he did not have to by a gpu to play games out of the box.
  • xravenxdota
    Here it's reversed.Between the 2600 and the 8400.The 2600 are better price to performance.Problem is they are sold out and when they do have stock they overprice it.Personally the 8400 are only better in games.The 2600 are a more all round cpu.
  • Alec Karfonta
    According to UserBenchmarks the 2600x is 4% faster and $10 cheaper than the 8400. But by all means keep shilling for a dying company Toms. Hope it was worth trading your credibility for cash.
  • Alec Karfonta
    Also your first link is to a 8400T with a base of 1.7ghz instead of the 8400's 2.6, nice work
  • Alec Karfonta
    Do you not have editors? Your first link to a Pentium Gold G5600 is actually a laptop bag... The thumbnail is right there.
  • Petaflox
    Some comment are one month old, some prize are one month old, the only update of this month is the date.
  • SR TEE
    Anonymous said:
    According to UserBenchmarks the 2600x is 4% faster and $10 cheaper than the 8400. But by all means keep shilling for a dying company Toms. Hope it was worth trading your credibility for cash.


    Actually Tom no longer runs for the company nor works for it and when this website did a review on the RTX 2000 series the reviewer say in his article that people MUST BUY THIS GPU. Ironically Tom replied to this and said I would of never let this happen when I was running things and to tell people to buy a product before it's out for sale is ridiculous, wait for real reviews.