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Best Gaming CPU: The best Intel and AMD gaming processors

Introduction

Looking to upgrade your gaming PC or build an entire new system from scratch? Then you’ll need the best gaming CPU possible to maximise your performance and see those frame rates soar for the most demanding AAA games.

We’ve assembled a list of the very best gaming CPU options for desktop PCs currently available, with inclusions from both AMD and Intel.

However, it’s working bearing in mind that AMD is expected to launch a new range of desktop processors early next year, so it may be worth waiting for a few months if you’d rather side with Team Red instead of Team Blue.

How we test

Learn more about how we test CPUs

We always review multiple CPUs at once to compare data, using consistent components for fair testing where possible.

We use a mix of both synthetic and in-game benchmarks to gauge performance, while also considering additional features and pricing.

We also measure the likes of power consumption and peak temperature under stress to get an idea of performance efficiency.

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Shop the range of AMD Ryzen™ Laptops at Currys

Shop the range of AMD Ryzen™ Laptops at Currys

On the hunt for a top-notch laptop to help with your school or university work that’s also great for the odd spot of Netflix binging and gaming, but not sure which to get?

We’d recommend looking at one with an AMD Ryzen™ 5000 Series Mobile Processor

Intel Core i5-12600K

Best value gaming CPU, with oodles of future-proofing
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Pros

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Huge improvements to multi-core performance
  • Future-proofed with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5
  • Great power efficiency

Cons

  • Teething issues for game compatibility
  • Requirement of Z690 motherboard drives up cost

The Intel Core i5-12600K is one of the latest chips to launch from Team Blue, and it arguably represents the best value. Not only does it provide one of the absolute best gaming performances available, but it’s also packing plenty of features to future-proof your rig.

DDR5 support means you can install the most powerful RAM currently available, while PCIe 5.0 noticeably lifts the performance cap for new SSDs, speeding up those tedious loading times.

Of course, this isn’t a cheap upgrade, with the need of a Z690 motherboard another expense you’ll need to factor in, but you arguably won’t need to upgrade your CPU again for a long, long time after investing in the i5-12600K.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Intel Core i5-12600K review

Intel Core i5-11600K

Great value gaming chip with PCIe 4.0 support
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Pros

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • Support for PCIe 4.0
  • Good value for money
  • Runs at comparatively low temperatures

Cons

  • Poor multi-threaded performance
  • Marginal performance gains from 10th generation

The Intel Core i5-11600K offers a similar (albeit marginally slower) gaming performance compared to its newer 12th Gen sibling, but is also available at a cheaper price.

Aside from the mediocre multi-threaded performance that will turn off creators, the biggest issue with the i5-11600K is its lack of futureproofing. It features support for PCIe 4.0, but 12th Gen Intel chips offer a far higher performance ceiling with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5.

But if you’re currently not bothered about future-proofing your system for cutting-edge SSDs and RAM, then the Intel Core i5-11600K remains a fantastic chip that offers a stellar gaming performance.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Intel Core i5-11600K review

Intel Core i9-12900K

The most powerful gaming CPU
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Pros

  • Huge gains in multi-core performance
  • Most powerful gaming CPU performance
  • Very good for streaming games
  • Future-proofed with PCIe 5.0 and DDR5

Cons

  • Expensive
  • High peak temperature
  • Only slightly better than i5 for gaming

The Intel Core i9-12900K is the most powerful gaming processor we’ve tested yet, but we’re not convinced its performance advantage over the i5-12600k is significant enough to justify that steep price for gaming alone.

Instead, the Intel Core i9-12900K is best considered if you want a processor for both content creation and gaming. Its multi-threaded muscle is hugely impressive, while the clever ‘hybrid architecture’ is particularly skilled at juggling multiple tasks simultaneously such as playing a game while recording/streaming video.

This chip isn’t cheap, but since it’s packing support for PCIe 5.0 and DDR5, it’s unlikely that you’ll need to upgrade your processor and motherboard again for a very long time.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: Intel Core i9-12900K review

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Best value AMD gaming CPU
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Pros

  • Fantastic all-round performance
  • Great multi-threaded performance
  • Low power consumption
  • Supports PCIe 4.0

Cons

  • Fairly expensive
  • Intel still has the edge for gaming

The appeal of the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X has diminished significantly since the launch of Intel’s Alder Lake processors, with the i5-12600K boasting superior single-core and multi-threaded speeds despite having a cheaper price.

But if you’re a devoted AMD fan and want your chip to sync up with your Radeon graphics card to unlock some game-boosting features, then the Ryzen 7 5800X is still a worthy option with some respectable gaming speeds.

It’s also packing PCIe 4.0 support, which should give compatible SSDs a performance boost, although it’s admittedly not quite as future-proofed as the Intel Core i5-12600K which is rocking PCIe 5.0 support for even faster speeds.

Reviewer: Ryan Jones
Full review: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X review

Intel Core i5-10600K

Best budget gaming CPU
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Pros

  • Impressive single-threaded performance
  • Consistently fast in games
  • Includes Hyper-Threading
  • One of the more affordable gaming chips

Cons

  • Poor multi-threaded performance
  • Relatively expensive ecosystem
  • No native PCIe 4.0 or PCIe 5.0 support

The Intel Core i5-10600K is based on oldest architecture of all the gaming CPUs in this list, but it still offers a respectable gaming performance after excelling in our benchmark tests.

The biggest issue here is that the chip is limited to PCIe 3.0 support, which means SSD speeds are handicapped to such a degree that your system will have slower loading times than a PS5 and Xbox Series X. The latest Intel chip has now moved onto PCIe 5.0, which enables significantly faster speeds with compatible SSDs.

With that in mind, the Intel Core i5-10600K is only worth considering if it sees a major price cut in a sale, but it’s likely to be a prime candidate for Black Friday savings.

Reviewer: Mike Jennings
Full review: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X review

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FAQs

What is PCIe?

PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) is an interface standard used for connecting high-speed components such as GPUs and SSDs. The PCIe generation will determine the performance handicap for connected components. The latest standard, PCIe 5.0, currently doesn’t have a big impact on GPU performance, but can enable far faster SSD speeds with compatible hardware.

What is the best CPU type for gaming?

The best thing to look out for when buying a gaming CPU is single-core performance. The latest Intel Alder Lake chips are currently the cream of the crop in this area, although it’s worth considering other aspects such as supported features, power consumption and temperature.

Is Intel better than AMD?

Intel currently sells the fastest gaming processor available, but AMD still has some impressive rivals in the Ryzen 5000 series. But Ryzen 6000 desktop processors are excepted to drop in 2022, so things could soon change.

Specs compared

UK RRP
USA RRP
Manufacturer
Release Date
First Reviewed Date
Power Consumption
Boosted Clock Speed
Architecture
Base Clock Speed
Number of Cores
Number of Threads
Motherboard Chipset
Manufactoring Process
Graphics

Trusted Reviews test data

PCMark 10
Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core
Cinebench R23
Dirt Rally (4K)
Dirt Rally (Quad HD)
Dirt Rally (Full HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (4K)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Quad HD)
Horizon Zero Dawn frame rate (Full HD)

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Today, we have millions of users a month from around the world, and assess more than 1,000 products a year.

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