After your Graphics card, your processor or CPU has the biggest impact on your computer's gaming capabilities. When you're shopping for a CPU, you'll need to balance performance and features with your PC budget. Our tips and picks below will help you get started. But for detailed help on picking the best CPU for your build, you can check out our 2019 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.
While we await the promised arrival of AMD's flagship 16-core Ryzen 9 3950X --now pushed back to November-- there has been plenty of news on the CPU front. Intel says its promised 5GHz Core i9-9900KS will arrive sometime in October. And though we still don't know what it will cost, we were able to do some testing on this as-yet-unreleased high-end CPU.
Intel also recently announced its upcoming Cascade Lake X high-end desktop processors, along with significant price cuts per core compared to its previous-generation HEDT chips. The price changes are no-doubt influences by AMD, both from the mainstream Ryzen side, and Threadripper on the high-end front. And while we still have no official word about details of Team Red's upcoming third-generation Threadripper chips, we're starting to see regular leaks, including new compatible motherboards, so it's likely that AMD's new high-end CPUs are coming in for a landing soon.
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 (see our AMD Ryzen 2000 vs Intel Coffee Lake feature for more details), the performance debate is basically a wash. Intel does a bit better on gaming and browsing and AMD handles tasks like video editing quicker. That said, many Intel CPUs are currently selling for higher than MSRP due to ongoing production shortages. So you may find better deals on an AMD Ryzen CPU until the production issues ease, which Intel expects to happen later in 2019.
- 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.
- Overclocking isn’t for everyone: For most people, it makes more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip.
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 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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