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.
If your main aim 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 Getting the best possible gaming CPU won't help you much if your GPU is under-powered and / or out of date.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, 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.
- 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 i7-9700K (9th Gen)
2. AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
3. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
4. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
5. AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
6. AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
Best Gaming CPUs for 2020
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) on a CPU for gaming, our favorite gaming CPU overall right now is the Intel Core i7-9700K. It 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 3700X 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.
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: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review
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 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 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: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Review
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: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Review
Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/8 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz | TDP: 65W
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 will have its new B550 motherboards on offer in June 2020. 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
Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/8 | Base Frequency: 3.7GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.2GHz | TDP: 65W
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).