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

This week, Intel launched a new high-end desktop (HEDT) flagship CPU, the Core i9-9980XE. With 18 cores and 36 threads, it’s a powerful part for heavily threaded applications. It also handles games well, but the $1979 price tag means it’s well out of the running for gaming-specific recommendations. But even if you’re looking for a chip that cando double-duty as a workhorse by day and a gamer by night, the new Core i9 (which is based on the same Skylake architecture as its 2017-era predecessors) offers only minimal gaming improvements in frame rates--our tests showed just 3.3 percent improvement over the 7980XE at 1080p.

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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  • 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.
  • davidm.maya
    *Removed repeated post*
  • 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 windows error code 0x8024a105 and also has any query then also it will help you.