Best Gaming CPU: Top 7 AMD and Intel processors money can buy

For years, if you wanted a decent CPU for gaming then there was only one choice: Intel. But since AMD came out swinging last year with the release of its stellar new Ryzen line of CPUs, all that’s changed. There’s now a wealth of different options to find the best gaming CPU for you. 

While this is awesome, it also means picking the right processor for your gaming PC is a complicated task. It isn’t a decision you want to get wrong, since it’s a long-term choice.

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’ve picked out a selection of options of various prices and from both AMD and Intel, so no matter your budget or requirements, we should have the right CPU for you.

Related: best graphics card

The best high-end CPU for gaming that we found was the Intel Core i9-9900K. Its massive processing power is plenty for most heavy multi-tasking and multi-threaded workloads, and it easily came out top in our tests for gaming. However, its benchmark results only narrowly beat other AMD and Intel CPUs that are significantly more affordable. This means that we’d recommend both the AMD Ryzen 2700X and Intel Core 8700K ahead of Intel’s flagship 9th-Generation chipset.

Not all gamers need such high capabilities though. The best all-round CPU we tested, at a slightly more reasonable price point, was the Intel Core i5-8600K. If you’re on an even stricter budget, the best affordable gaming CPU we found was the AMD Ryzen 3 2200G, which delivers genuinely playable performance at 1080p resolutions in many games, so you don’t need to invest in a graphics card.

Related: Intel Core i9-9900K review

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: Best Intel processor

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 that uses a Z370 chipset (other other Z chipset such as the Z270). Otherwise you’re wasting its potential.

Related: Best AMD Ryzen CPUs

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.

Below, we list our test bench specs:

Intel test machine

  • Asus Maximus XI Hero (Wi-Fi)
  • Corsair Vengeance 2666MHz, 16GB DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
  • Samsung 850 Evo SSD
  • Corsair CX750M
  • Corsair Hydro Series H150i PRO RGB 360mm liquid cooler

AMD test machine

  • Asus ROG Strix X470-F Gaming
  • Corsair Vengeance 2666MHz, 16GB DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti
  • Samsung 850 Evo SSD
  • Corsair CX750M
  • Corsair Hydro Series H150i PRO RGB 360mm liquid cooler

We have recently rebuilt our test rigs with new components, to give you an idea of how CPUs will perform when paired with up-to-date, high end graphics cards and motherboards.

So far, we’ve only tested out Intel’s Core i9-9900K and retested the Ryzen 7 2700X with our new rigs. We will be testing more CPUs soon.

Here’s all the components used in our older rig, with last year’s components, for your reference:

Intel test machine (2017)

  • Asus Z370 TUF Gaming motherboard
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance 3000MHz DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • Crucial MX500 SSD
  • NZXT X52 cooler

AMD test machine (2017)

  • Asus X470-F Gaming motherboard
  • 16GB Corsair Vengeance 3000MHz DDR4
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • Crucial MX500 SSD
  • NZXT X52 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.
  • POV-Ray – 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.
  • 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.

Best gaming CPU: Intel 9th Gen CPU

Intel Core i7-8700K – Best for hardcore gaming

Key features:

  • Six cores, 12 threads
  • 3.7GHz base clock
  • 4.7GHz boost clock
  • Overclockable
  • Intel LGA1151 socket (Z370 only)
  • Review price: £360
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

The Core i7-8700K is the top product in Intel’s line of 8th Gen CPUs and while it’s lost its crown as the most powerful CPU for gaming to the Core i9-9900K, we still reckon it’s the best gaming CPU to opt for due to its stunning value.

Its massive six-core/12-thread processing power is plenty for most heavy multi-tasking and multi-threaded workloads. Its blistering base and boost clock speeds also make it one of the fastest clocked processor you can currently buy – other than the new, but more expensive 9th-Gen bunch.

Take advantage of its unlocked multiplier and you can easily push these CPUs to higher speeds. Without any extra voltage 4.8GHz is generally achievable while 5GHz is easy to obtain with a little extra voltage – that’s the same boosted speeds as the i9-9900K.

In terms of the real-world advantage you’ll get in games, it’s not all that huge, and it only comes to the fore if your system isn’t being held back by graphics card performance, but in certain scenarios the lead can be significant.

In our 1080p, Rise of the Tomb Raider test it hit 180fps compared to 132fps for the AMD 2700, for instance.

If serious multi-thread performance if your priority then look to one of AMD’s Ryzen 7 processors but for everything else this is the processor to get. Just be aware that it’s actually overkill for most users.

Best Gaming CPU: Core i5-7600K

Intel Core i5-8600K – Best all-rounder CPU

Key features:

  • Six cores, six threads
  • 3.6GHz base clock, 4.3GHz boost
  • 95W TDP
  • Unlocked multiplier
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • No cooler supplied
  • Review price: £230
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

The 8600K is intel’s second fastest 8th-Gen CPU but it’s the natural choice for high-end gamers.

Its six cores are ample for any day to day desktop work and for gaming, with the addition of Hyperthreading on the 8700K being largely unnecessary for most users.

You also get more than fast enough clock speeds, with a base clock of 3.6GHz and boost clock of 4.3GHz.

Moreover, this chip is easy to overclock. It’ll easily hit 4.8GHz without any extra voltage, and push to 5GHz with a bit of extra juice.

In our tests it’s consistently the second fastest chip you can buy for single-threaded workloads and gaming. Meanwhile, it trails behind the the similarly priced alternatives from AMD when it comes to multi-threaded tasks, but it still has plenty enough processing power for things like high-definition video editing.

If you’re looking for a high-end gaming bargain, the 8600K is the way to go.

Best Gaming CPU: AMD Ryzen 3

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G – Best budget gaming CPU

Key features:

  • Four cores, four threads
  • 3.5GHz base speed, 3.7GHz Turbo
  • XFR2-enabled
  • 65W TDP
  • AMD AM4 socket
  • AMD Wraith Stealth cooler included
  • Review price: £99

There are cheaper processors than the AMD Ryzen 3 2200G but what makes the 2200G special is that it includes both the CPU and GPU in one chip. Now, that’s not rare – all intel’s chips do the same – but AMD’s GPU is far faster.

This one processor will deliver genuinely playable performance at 1080p resolutions in many games, saving you the cost of buying a graphics card. Given that the minimum we’d recommend spending on a graphics card is £120 for a GTX 1050 that’s a serious saving.

For example, it’ll get you 120fps in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive at 1080p with medium detail settings. More demanding titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Doom will need you to turn down to 900p resolution and no higher than medium detail settings – and you’ll still only get around 40fps – but for single-player games that’s just about playable.

Pair this processor with a basic B350 chipset motherboard for around £60 and you’ve got the three major components of your gaming PC for little over £150.

If you then decide you do need more performance you can still drop in a graphics card and the 2200G has enough pure CPU speed to keep up.

All this and when it comes to desktop work, this chip’s four cores gives you ample performance, even for things like video editing.

Best Gaming CPU: Intel Celeron G4920

Intel Celeron G4920 – Best gaming CPU under £50

Key features:

  • Two cores, two threads
  • 3.2GHz clock speed
  • 54W TDP
  • No overclocking
  • Intel LGA 1151 socket
  • Cooler included
  • Review price: £43

The Celeron G4920 is a really basic CPU that has just two cores and doesn’t have Hyperthreading. It also runs at just 3.2GHz.

However, pair it with a basic graphics card such as the GTX 1050 and it’ll still give perfectly acceptable gaming performance in most games, particularly eSports titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Fortnite.

Note, though, that more and more games are taking advantage of multiple cores/threads so some games will not run well on this chip. Battlefield 1 and Ashes of the Singularity, for instance are seriously held back.

Meanwhile its dual-core setup means you can’t push it too hard in general desktop work but it’ll get you by.

Overall, if you’re looking to spend as little as possible on a gaming PC and are starting from scratch, we’d recommend most people start out with the AMD 2200G. However, if you already have an older graphics card or simply know that you’ll want to buy one then the G4920 delivers just enough performance to get you by until you can afford an upgrade.

With it using the latest LGA1151 socket you can easily swap it out for the like of an Intel Core i5-8600K in the future.

Best Gaming CPU: Intel Core i3-8350K

Intel Core i3-8350K – Best pure gaming CPU

Key features:

  • Four cores, four threads
  • 4.0GHz base clock
  • 4.0GHz boost clock
  • Overclockable
  • Intel LGA1151 socket (Z370 only)
  • Review price: £155
  • Supplied by Overclockers UK

If you’re on a reasonably tight budget but still want the utmost in gaming performance, the 8350K is the way to go.

This chip may only have four cores and lacks Hyperthreading but quad-core is more than enough for most desktop work and gaming. Even the likes of Battlefield 1 and Ashes of the Singularity, which favour many cores, will run fine on this processor.

Similarly, heavy multi-tasking and things like video editing are a breeze for this chip. After all, it was only last year that Intel’s second fastest processor, the 7600K, was just a quad-core chip and it coped just fine.

What you do miss out on here is a base and boost clock. Instead the chip always runs at 4GHz. This means it’s quite power hungry for a quad-core chip, but this also means it provides a reliably high level of performance. Moreover, it’s overclockable and can easily reach around 4.8GHz-5GHz.

For most gamers, there’s little need to go beyond this processor. Buy this over an 8600K or 8700K and put the money you save towards your graphics card.

Best Gaming CPU: Ryzen 5

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X – Best gaming CPU under £200

Key features:

  • Six cores, twelve threads
  • 3.6GHz base clock speed, 4.2GHz boost
  • 95W TDP
  • XFR-enabled
  • AMD AM4 socket
  • Wraith Spire cooler supplied
  • Review price: £199

The AMD Ryzen 5 2600X packs in six cores and runs at up to 4.2GHz, making it a hugely powerful chip. This also puts it almost directly up against the Intel Core i7-8700K yet it costs £150 less.

There is a good reason for the price difference, though, which is this chip’s lower clock speeds. This is a capable chip but it can’t quite keep up with the Intel option.

When it comes to gaming and single-threaded tasks this also holds true when comparing the 2600X to the Intel Core i5-8600K. That chip’s faster clock speeds put it slightly ahead.

On the flip-side, the 2600X get you better multi-core performance, so it depends where your priorities lie, and it is still £30 cheaper than the 8600K.

You can also overclock the 2600X though we found it struggles to get past its 4.2Ghz boost speed without a lot of extra voltage, which raises temperatures and power consumption and potentially reduces the life of the CPU.

All told, this is a great option if you need serious multi-core processing power for a great price.

Best Gaming CPU: Ryzen 7

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X – Best CPU for streamers

Key features:

  • Eight cores, 16 threads
  • 3.7GHz base clock
  • 4.3GHz turbo clock
  • 105W TDP
  • AMD AM4 platform
  • Wraith Prism LED cooler supplied
  • Review price: £299

The big claim to fame of the Ryzen 7 2700X is that it packs in eight cores with simultaneous multi-threading for less than Intel’s six-core 8700K.

Sure enough this means it’s one of the best picks for multi-threaded performance, for a mainstream CPU (i.e. not an Intel Xeon or AMD Threadripper). This makes it ideal for those that use the sorts of programmes that can take advantage of lots of cores, such as software for video editing, CAD, scientific calculations and running virtual machines.

Plus, it can be useful for game streamers. Having so many cores on tap means you can comfortably run streaming software alongside your game without impacting performance.

Otherwise, for pure gaming performance the slightly slower clock speeds of the 2700X mean it can’t quite keep up with the likes of the Intel 8350K, 8600K and 8700K, though it still more than holds its own.

Moreover, it’s worth reiterating that you’ll only really see the performance difference at lower resolutions and high frame rates – i.e. in eSports games. Crank the detail settings up so that you’re only hitting 60-100fps and the difference is negligible.

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