Best CPU for Gaming: Eight AMD and Intel processors tested

Best gaming processor: We take you through the best CPUs for gaming released in 2016 and 2017.

Picking a processor for a gaming PC is a long-term decision. The processor decides how powerful your PC is overall and can make a big difference in frame rates when gaming, even if you have the best graphics card. In this group test, we evaluate three of Intel’s latest processors and four of AMD’s new Ryzen chips to see which deserves a place in your next rig.

A quick guide to CPUs

If a chip has more cores, it’s going to be better with multi-tasking and demanding software that utilises more ‘threads’ when going about its business. However, the latest games don’t tend to benefit much from having more than four threads, but having fewer than four could see you seeing some serious bottlenecking in more complex titles such as Battlefield 1.

Meanwhile, a higher clock speed (measured in GHz) will make single-threaded software feel snappier and most games perform better. Those are the two key factors, but there’s plenty more to consider. Price is important too because it’s no good wasting money on a chip that’s overpowered.

Related: A beginner’s guide to CPUs

Look at chipsets, too, because these determine the features on your motherboard. High-end chipsets will support multiple graphics cards, numerous USB ports and better storage hardware, whereas more affordable chipsets and their corresponding motherboards will be more restrictive. That’s fine if you’re only building a modest gaming rig, but no good if you want to use numerous peripherals, several hard disks and expand the machine in the future.

For example, if you want to overclock your 7th-gen Intel processor, you’ll need a motherboard using either the Z170 or Z270 chipset. Otherwise you’re wasting its potential.

Related: Best gaming PC builds from £500/$500

How we test

We have two test benches, one for AMD and one for Intel. The minor differences in cooler and SSD should make minimal differences to performance, but as with all benchmarking, there is a small margin of error that we take into account in our conclusions.

Intel test machine

  • Asus Strix Z270H Gaming motherboard
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance 3000MHz DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
  • Intel 600p SSD
  • Corsair Hydro H100i V2 cooler

AMD test machine

  • Gigabyte AX370-Gaming 5
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance 3000MHz DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070
  • Samsung 960 Evo SSD
  • Noctua NH-U12S cooler

We used the following benchmarks:

  • Cinebench – this popular CPU benchmark tests single- and multi-threaded performance by rendering a 3D scene purely using CPU power. It’s comparable across both Intel and AMD platforms, which makes it perfect for processor comparisons and for determining which chips are better with single-threaded tasks and which are better for more intensive workloads.
  • POVRay – this is a ray-tracing test that renders a complex graphical scene using a CPU’s various cores and threads. That makes it an ideal test for heavy workloads – and, therefore, perfect for high-end processors.
  • Handbrake – this is a video transcoding test that represents one of the toughest tasks that most home users will require from their PCs. It uses every core available on a CPU, too, so it’s an important test for multi-threaded performance.
  • PC Mark 8 – this is a popular, multi-platform tests that runs an entire PC through a range of common tasks, so it’s a great measure of baseline performance in several different scenarios.
  • Power tests – we test entire machines at idle and peak loads to determine which processors require the most electricity.
  • Heat tests – in a similar vein, we also measure the temperatures produced by processors. These can be drastically altered by the cooling used in a PC, but it’s still important to know how much heat a chip will generate – and therefore what kind of cooling it’ll need in a home PC.
  • The Witcher 3 – this is one of the world’s most popular single-player games, and it’s graphically demanding but light on the CPU – it has a minimal processing workload and only uses a single core. That makes it representative of most games on the market, which makes it reliable for benchmarking.
  • Battlefield 1 – this complex first-person shooter is a game where the best players use lighting speed to win matches, so it’s important to find out whether a CPU is going to bottleneck the title and reduce its performance levels. It’s more demanding of processors, too, thanks to a larger number of human or AI opponents.
  • Ashes of the Singularity – this is the most CPU-intensive title we test, and that’s no surprise – this RTS renders hundreds of characters at once, which puts enormous strain on a processor. It’s got a conventional benchmark, and it also predicts a maximum CPU framerate if the GPU wasn’t a factor in the test. NOTE: Our testing of Ashes took place before the game’s developers released a Ryzen optimsation patch, which will substantially improve AMD’s results in these tests. As soon as we’re able to update our numbers, we will.

Scroll to the very bottom of this page for performance graphs.

Intel Celeron G3950

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Key features:

  • Two cores, two threads
  • 3GHz clock speed
  • 51W TDP
  • No overclocking
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • Cooler included
  • Review price: £53
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

The budget processor for eSports

The Celeron G3950’s key attribute isn’t anything to do with Intel’s Kaby Lake architecture – it’s the £54 price. That makes it the cheapest chip in this group and a compelling choice for a budget rig for eSports and low-end gaming.

The chip is compatible with Intel’s latest B250 or Z270 motherboards, but it’ll only work on Skylake H110, B150, H170 and Z170 boards after a BIOS update, which requires a Skylake processor to be fitted. In other words, pick your motherboard carefully.

The budget price does mean a reduced specification. This dual-core chip doesn’t have Hyper-Threading and its 3GHz frequency is as far as it’ll go. It’s not unlocked, it has less cache than its pricier peers, and memory support tops out at 2,400MHz DDR4.

It’s no good for multi-tasking, but some of its benchmark results are surprisingly decent. Its 122cb result in Cinebench’s single-threaded test is within touching distance of some AMD parts, and its single-core POVRay result of 311 points is only four points behind the Ryzen 7 1700.

The Celeron’s single-threaded performance lends itself to less intensive gaming. Our Celeron-powered rig played Witcher 3’s 1080p test at 61fps with medium graphics settings, and it ran Battlefield 1 at 32fps with the same options. The Battlefield results is disappointing but not surprising: the game’s minimum system specs dictate a quad-core processor.

Still, this chip will be great for titles like DOTA 2, League of Legends and CS:GO which use a single CPU core and don’t require as much pure speed.

The CPU peaked at 39°C and the PC only draw 67W from the mains, too, which means it’s easier to build this chip into a smaller, quieter case – ideal for carrying to esports events.

The Celeron G3950 will balk at demanding games and huge resolutions, but don’t discount this chip if you’re into esports – it’s dirt cheap and it’ll handle those low-end games with room to spare.

Intel Core i3-7350K

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Key features:

  • Two cores, four threads
  • 4.2GHz clock speed
  • 60W TDP
  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £169
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

A expensive dual-core chip for overclocking enthusiasts

The Core i3-3750K might cost just £170, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to use this affordable part in a gaming PC.

For starters, it’s Kaby Lake, so it benefits from an improved 14nm manufacturing process, better speeds, higher Turbo frequencies and a new graphics architecture, although the latter in this case is irrelevant because our tests use a dedicated graphics card.

Its two cores have Hyper-Threading, making for four threads, and it runs at 4.2GHz. That’s one of the highest speeds of any Kaby Lake chip, which makes up for the absence of Turbo Boost. This means it’s going to be super-snappy in desktop tasks, but might fall behind in intensive, multi-threaded workloads.

This chip faces a stern test from the new AMD Ryzen 5 1500X (see #2), which has double the cores but a slower clock speed.

The Core i3’s Witcher 3 average of 49.8fps was more than 10fps behind the 1500X, Intel’s chip was 7fps behind in Ashes of the Singularity and 2fps back in Battlefield 1.

The 7350K returned mixed results in application tests: its better speed saw its single-core test results outpace AMD, but it fell miles behind in multi-threaded tests, as you’d expect given the difference in core count.

There’s one area where the i3-7350K really excels. This is the only sub-£200 Intel chip with an unlocked multiplier, which means it can be overclocked to around 5GHz. That’s impressive, but it’ll only deliver big improvements in single-threaded applications and some games

The i3-7350K is great for cheap overclocking, and its single-threaded pace sees it beat the 1500X. On the Intel side of things, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get into overclocking, so enthusiasts will have bags of fun. But you’ll need a pricier Z170 or Z270 motherboard to actually benefit from it, so the cost savings on the chip side are cancelled out by the more expensive motherboards.

For most people, it’s not the sensible choice, even if it really tickles our love of overclocking. A more sensible choice would be the Intel Core i3-7100, which clocks in at 3.8GHz, has two cores with Hyper-Threading and costs substantially less at just £116.

AMD Ryzen 5 1500X

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Key features:

  • Four cores, eight threads
  • 3.5GHz base clock speed, 3.7GHz boost
  • 65W TDP
  • XFR-enabled
  • AMD AMD4 socket
  • Wraith Spire cooler supplied
  • Review price: £189

The best gaming CPU under £200

The 1500X is the most affordable Ryzen chip, but that doesn’t mean it’s weak. It has four hyper-threaded cores (equating to eight threads) clocked to 3.5GHz, and the X suffix means it benefits from Extended Frequency Range, which gives it higher boosting capabilities than vanilla Ryzen chips.

This £189 chip competes well with Intel. Its nearest competition is the £180 Core i3-7350K, which has a better raw speed of 4.2GHz but half the threads.

Ryzen’s newer architecture and improved core count helped it excel in gaming tests. Its 61.1fps average in Witcher 3’s 1440p Ultra test was better than every Intel chip we’ve tested, and it was almost as impressive in Battlefield 1 – its 83.3fps average was only a couple of fps behind far pricier Intel parts.

The 1500X scored 47.8fps in the CPU-intensive Ashes of the Singularity benchmark. That’s still better than most Intel chips – and even a frame or two ahead of more expensive Ryzen chips.

The 1500X is a rock-solid gaming chip, but it returned mixed results in application tests. The Core i3 is significantly quicker in single-core tests, but the 1500X is faster in multi-core benchmarks – no surprise given it has double the cores. If you need a CPU for multi-tasking, though, other Ryzen processors have even more cores.

Its 100W power consumption is a tad higher than Intel, and it’s not as good at overclocking – we were only able to nab another 0.2GHz out of it in our tests, which didn’t really seem worth the effort or increased power consumption and heat.

Those are minor issues, though, which pale in comparison with the 1500X’s upsides. It’s quicker than its Core i3 rival in games tests, and it’s better in multi-threaded applications, too – the Core i3 chip is only faster in single-threaded benchmarks. The 1500X  is versatile and just as affordable, so it’s a top-notch choice.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 review

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X

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Key features:

  • Six cores, 12 threads
  • 3.6GHz base clock speed, 4GHz Turbo
  • 95W TDP
  • XFR-enabled
  • AMD AM4 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £249

A six-core i5 alternative

The £249 Ryzen 5 1600X challenges the £225 Core i5-7600K (see #4)  – a popular mid-range chip. The AMD chip’s six hyper-threaded cores beat the Intel CPU, which has four cores and no hyper-threading, but the Core i5 fights back with a 3.8GHz base speed that’s 200MHz faster than the 1600X, and will go well beyond when overclocked.

That makes an interesting battle: AMD should succeed in multi-threaded tests, but it’ll be weaker in single-threaded applications.

The 1600X’s single-core Cinebench and POVRay results of 161cb and 383 are slower than the 181cb and 444 scored by the Core i5. The tables were turned in multi-threaded tasks: the AMD chip’s multi-core Cinebench pace of 1,240cb was around twice as quick as the Core i5 – and even better than the Core i7-7700K.

The 1600X’s 60.8fps average in Witcher 3 was around ten frames better than every Intel chip, and its 82.2fps pace in Battlefield 1 was nine frames quicker than the i5-7600K. AMD’s hardware was slower in Ashes of the Singularity, though.

The 1600X’s power consumption of 137W is higher than Intel chips, which will make a difference in compact PC builds. It’s a little behind Intel when overclocking, too; we improved the chip to 4GHz, but that’s no better than its boost clock. The Core i5 can achieve bigger tweaks that deliver better gains. Our tests on both chips were conducted at stock speeds.

Despite that, the 1600X is excellent. Its six-core design performs well in games and dominates multi-threaded tasks. Its single-core pace is less impressive, which is worth bearing in mind if you play older games that benefit more from faster clock speeds.

It’s neck-and-neck between the 1600X and the 7600K (below); the 7600K is a better overclocker so should manage much better gaming performance if you put in the effort and buy a Z170 or Z270 motherboard. Without any messing around, though, the excellent six-core 1600X is very impressive.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 review

Intel Core i5-7600K

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Key features:

  • Four cores, four threads
  • 3.8GHz base clock, 4.2GHz boost
  • 91W TDP
  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £225
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

The best gaming CPU for overclocking

Intel’s mid-range chips have long been a favourite for gaming systems and for good reason. They offer ample power for ploughing through the latest titles but don;t come with the high-end excesses saved for more expensive silicon.

The Core i5-7600K is a quad-core part that runs at 3.8GHz with a Turbo peak of 4.2GHz. It doesn’t have quite as much cache as a Core i7 chip and it doesn’t have Hyper-Threading, so the four cores you see is exactly what you get.

There’s a new player in town, though: the AMD Ryzen 5 1600X, outlined above.

The Core i5’s rapid clocks mean it’s a barnstormer in single-threaded tasks: its 181cb Cinebench single-core score is better than every Ryzen chip and will make a difference when you’re not playing games; editing photos and loading up web pages will definitely benefit.

As you can see from the 1600X’s entry, the 7600K naturally fell quite some way behind the 1600X in multi-threaded multimedia benchmarks. But this test is about gaming.

Its 49.3fps Witcher 3 average is behind the 60.8fps scored by Ryzen, and the results were similar in Battlefield 1 and Ashes of the Singularity. The i5-7600K isn’t slow and it’s not going to cause any bottlenecking issues, but the AMD 1600X appears to be faster in our tests at stock speeds.

The big thing here is that the Core i5 chip can overclock higher than its AMD rival and consumes less power, which will make a difference in more compact PC builds where heat is an issue. This is far from a knockout for AMD, and Intel fans can take stock that Team Blue still has its own advantages.

If you don’t want to overclock and prefer to stick with Intel, the 3.5GHz Intel Core i5-7400 is a decent option, with four cores and a £180 price tag.

AMD Ryzen 7 1700

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Key features:

  • Eight cores, 16 threads
  • 3GHz base clock speed, 3.7GHz Turbo
  • 65W TDP
  • No XFR
  • AMD AM4 platform
  • Wraith Spire LED cooler supplied

The cheapest eight-core processor

The Ryzen 7 1700 is the cheapest eight-core processor on the market – there’s nowhere else to get support for sixteen threads for £300.

Elsewhere, the 1700 has a fairly mediocre clock speed of 3GHz with a boost peak of 3.7GHz, and it has many familiar attributes of Zen: the 14nm manufacturing process, the large caches and the improved hyper-threading and boosting.

It’s also missing the X suffix found on other Ryzen chips. That means the 1700 isn’t able to boost as much as other AMD chips – it can improve the speed of a core by 50MHz, but X-branded chips can add 100MHz. That restricts performance, but it brings the TDP down to 65W – far lower than full-fat Ryzen and Intel parts.

This £300 AMD chip sidles up against Intel’s Core i7-7700K, which costs £330 (below). The Intel part has four hyper-threaded cores, so it falls behind in that department, but its 4.2GHz clock speeds is far better and should give it an advantage in the gaming tests.

The Ryzen 1700 led the way in Witcher 3 with a 10fps advantage over Intel at 1440p, but in Battlefield 1 its average of 82.2fps was 5fps behind the Core i7-7700K. AMD was further behind in Ashes of the Singularity, which is sensitive to single-core clock speed: Ryzen averaged 67.6fps, but the Core i7-7700K neared 100fps.

AMD’s chip was behind in single-threaded benchmarks too. Its 134cb Cinebench result was miles behind the Core i7-7700K’s 193cb result, and it was around 500 points slower in PC Mark 8.

Ryzen succeeded in multi-threaded tests. Its POVray multi-threaded result of 2,897 easily beat the 2,119 scored by the Core i7, and its 81s Handbrake transcoding pace was fifteen seconds better than Intel.

The 1700’s results make it difficult to recommend as a pure gamer’s chip. Its six-core design means it’s the obvious choice if you need to run multi-threaded applications, but the quad-core Intel is no slouch – and the i7-7700K is better in games and single-threaded tests. For pure gaming, the 7700K is the better bet.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1700 review

Intel Core i7-7700K

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Key features:

  • Four cores, eight threads
  • 4.2GHz base clock, 4.5GHz Turbo
  • 91W TDP
  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £330

The fastest gaming CPU

Intel’s top consumer processor costs £330, and you get an awful lot for that cash: its stock and boost speeds of 4.2GHz and 4.5GHz are unrivalled, and its four cores are hyper-threaded. It’s got more cache than other Intel chips, and its 14nm manufacturing process keeps the power consumption below many AMD parts.

That would ordinarily make the i7-7700K a top buy, but Ryzen has muddied the waters. Specifically, the Ryzen 7 1700 outlined above.

Intel faces a challenge, but benchmarks reveal that the i7-7700K is ready for battle – especially in gaming tests and single-threaded applications.

The i7-7700K’s Witcher 3 result of 50fps is behind Ryzen, but Intel fought back with a nine-frame lead in Battlefield 1 – and it then outpaced the 1700 by around 40fps in the CPU-intensive Ashes of the Singularity test.

The 7700K’s good performance continued to single-threaded tests: its 472-point result in POVRay was easily ahead of the Ryzen chip’s 315-point result, and it was nearly 60 points better in Cinebench. The Core i7 proved itself a better overclocker than its competition from AMD, too, and its power consumption wasn’t much higher than the Ryzen 7 1700.
 
The only area where the Core i7-7700K fell behind was in multi-threaded benchmarks, where the Ryzen chip’s eight cores delivered a comprehensive victory. The Core i7 is hardly slow, though, and it will be quicker in most games. If you want to build a high-end gaming rig, the Core i7-7700K is still the chip to choose.

Read our full Intel Core i7-7700K review

AMD Ryzen 7 1800X

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Key features:

  • Eight cores, 16 threads
  • 3.6GHz base speed, 4GHz Turbo
  • XFR-enabled
  • 95W TDP
  • AMD AM4 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £500

The best CPU for streamers

Intel had spent years without competition at the top of the CPU market, but AMD’s new architecture has blown away the blue team with a multi-threaded attack led by the £500 Ryzen 7 1800X.

AMD’s new flagship has a fearsome specification. It’s clocked to 3.6GHz with a 4GHz Turbo speed. It has the numerous benefits of Zen, like a new manufacturing process, better boosting and smarter task delegation.

This chip occupies an interesting spot in the market. Its £500 price is high compared to the Core i7-7700K – a chip that has half the number of cores but a far higher speed of 4.2GHz. That part costs a relatively affordable £330. To get similar Intel technology, you’ll need to spend more than £1,000 on the i7-6900K.

The new architecture and eight-core design helped the 1800X excel in multi-threaded tests. Its Cinebench score of 1,615cb is almost twice as good as the 7700K, and it was more than 1,000 points ahead in POVRay. It took 70s to transcode our test video – 26s quicker than the i7-7700K. It even beat the i7-6900K in those tests.

The 1800X’s slower speed and higher core count returned mixed pace in games tests. Its 62.1fps result in Witcher 3 beat the i7-7700K but couldn’t outpace the pricier Intel 6900K (which we’ve not included here due to its price), and the 1800X was marginally slower than both Intel processors in Battlefield 1. There was little to choose between the three parts in the CPU-intensive Ashes of the Singularity benchmark.

The 1800X’s weakest performance came in single-threaded tests, where it regularly beat the i7-6900K but fell behind the i7-7700K. That’s no surprise, as the quad-core Intel chip has everything beat on raw speed.

The 1800 X is better than both rivals in multi-tasking, and it’s great in games, too – either on par with Intel or faster. Its weakest performance comes in single-threaded tests, but it’s hardly slow.

If you want to build a high-end gaming PC and fancy yourself as a game streamer, this is a superb choice. With loads of cores available for video encoding and gaming simultaneously, it’s an excellent option. It’s pricier than the Core i7-7700K, sure, but you get extra versatility from those extra cores alongside top-notch speeds in many tests. When its price is considered, the 1800X is the best high-performance processor on the market right now.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1800X review

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