Best Gaming CPUs

AMD’s 2000-series Ryzen chips came on strong in 2018, with the Ryzen 7 2700X knocking Intel’s similarly priced Core i7s to alternate pick territory, thanks to improved performance at 1080p, an attractive bundled cooler, plus more cores for less money.

Intel still wins in the mid-range price bracket, with its excellent Core i5-8400. Down in the mainstream/budget territory, things are spit 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.

News and Product Updates

Now that we’ve spent time testing Intel’s Core i9-9900K, we can definitively say that it’s the fastest gaming CPU on the market. But you won’t find it on our list below, mostly because it’s $500. And our tests show it’s barely faster (less than 1fps on average) than the lesser Core i7-9700K, which is priced about $125 less. Watch for a review of that Core i7 to arrive soon. There’s a good chance it could topple the Ryzen 7 2700X from our top gaming spot.

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 or Intel 8th Generation Core “Coffee Lake”), 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 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.

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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 graphics cards 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% 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 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 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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  • heaven1cent
    Will pairing a ryzen 5 2600 with a gtx 1080 good?
  • ccox0673
    Heaven1cent I have a 2600x + 1080 and I game at 1440p. To me it's fine. 80 - 100 fps ultra 1440p is my averages in games. I have a 165 hz monitor so I personally would love a 1080 ti, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with my cpu and gpu pairing. I've had compliments on the choice of 2600x and 1080. The 2600 is absolutely fine as well, you don't need the 2600x. With a good cooler my cpu stays turbo'd to 4.2 all the time. Ryzen 5 2600 is great for just gaming, browsing and media. If I was a streamer or creator I would have went 2700x. https://pcpartpicker.com/b/jRRJ7P
  • ccox0673
    Heaven1cent I wanna add that if I had to rebuild and I was committed to not getting a 1080 ti then I might look into one of the best 1070 ti's since they can be very close to equal to a GTX 1080 for alot cheaper currently. 1070 ti can game at 1440p fine. A lot of people say that 1070 ti is the best value right now. I would look for one of the highest boosting ones from the vendor. I got my 1080 for a bit under 500$, but I can't find any new 1080's on a good sale. So if I had to put my system together again I would get 1070ti or 1080 ti.
  • heaven1cent
    I was gonna get a 1070ti howevver my firend is selling his gtx 1080 for 1070ti pricing so that's why i was asking
  • nyolay92
    awef
  • fluttuers
    Why doesn't the i5-9600k make the list?