The Best CPU for Gaming
Helping you find the best CPU for gaming at different budget levels (photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
Last updated: August 2019
Your CPU is typically going to be the most important component in your computer, and the CPU has the second greatest influence on your PC’s gaming performance after the graphics card. This page is a resource to help select the best CPU for gaming.
Take a look through the categories in the table of contents to the right, and figure out which is the best CPU category for you.
In order to take full advantage of these chips in PC gaming, you will also need to select a balanced graphics card option. For full gaming-focused builds at different budget tiers (which recommend both CPUs and GPUs), see our primary build recommendation chart.
Note about workstation CPUs:
While there are more expensive CPUs on the market than any of those listed below, such “higher-tier” chips sacrifice per-core speed in order to provide additional cores in each CPU. This strategy makes those high-core-count CPUs terrific choices for professional-grade video editing, music production, and 3D rendering—but slightly worse choices for gaming, which currently benefits more from high single-core speeds than from high core counts.
Best CPU for Gaming
AMD R9 3900X ($500)
The 12-core, 24-thread R9 3900X is the best CPU for gaming on the market currently. It has nearly identical single-core performance to the i9-9900K (or at most 2% worse overall), while beating the i9-9900K in multi-core performance by over 30%.
A builder whose top priority is exceptional gaming performance should prioritize this chip (directly after the top gaming PC priority: a stellar graphics card). And this processor is unlocked, so (safe, careful) overclocking could take its performance even higher than most benchmarks for it.
Runner Up: Intel i9-9900K ($485)
The 8-core, 16-thread i9-9900K may have lost its top spot to the R9 3900X, but it is still an exceptional chip for a gaming build. With no quibbling in parentheses, the i9-9900K features the best single-core performance that it is currently possible to obtain.
It has fewer cores and fewer threads than the R9 3900X—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a game that really uses 8 cores anyway (let alone 12). So if the price difference is significant enough to sway you, or you’re just looking to maximize single-core performance at the expense of all else, then go with the i9-9900K.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $400
AMD R7 3700X ($330)
Featuring almost the same overall performance as its runner-up (as above—having slightly worse single-core performance, significantly better multi-core performance), the R7 3700X also sports twice as many threads and costs $30-40 less.
There’s a reason that this CPU took over not one, but two of our most powerful gaming tiers in our main build chart when it was released. The value described in the preceding paragraph is just too great to ignore.
Runner Up: Intel i7-9700K ($365)
Yes, you’re reading that right. Despite lacking multithreading and having much worse multi-core performance, the runner-up in this category is more expensive than the winner. That’s just how good of a value the newest R7 is.
Now, that said, the i7-9700K is still an exceptional CPU for gaming. As we’ve mentioned above, multi-core performance is simply not as important to gaming as single-core performance. And on that front, the i7-9700K either beats or ties the R7 3700X in most benchmarks. So if you can stomach the worse value (or you can find a discounted i7-9700K for less than the R7 3700X), then this remains a terrific part for a gaming PC.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $300
AMD R5 3600X ($250)
Anyone getting déjà vu from reading this article yet? As in each of the categories above, a representative of the newest generation of AMD Ryzen chips provides very similar single-core performance, considerably better multi-core performance, additional threads, and a comparable price when compared with its closest Intel competition.
The R5 3600X is a 6-core, 12-thread beast that can effortlessly serve as the CPU for a modern midrange gaming build.
Runner Up: Intel i5-9600K ($250)
If you didn’t think we were repeating ourselves before, you certainly will now. With a marginally better single-core speed than the R5 3600X and a similar price, the 6-core, 6-thread i5-9600K remains an awesome option for gaming-centric building—even though its noticeably inferior multi-core performance makes it a clearly worse value for the cost.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $200
AMD R5 2600X ($160)
Once utterly dominant in the CPU space, Intel has failed to keep pace with the iterative successes of AMD’s Ryzen chips in terms of price-to-performance ratios. As a result, their current flagship offerings are relegated to ‘runner up’ spots and their low-tier chips have almost disappeared from this list; but we will, of course, reevaluate these rankings next time Intel releases something new.
In particular, here we find that the 2nd-gen R5 2600X, in falling from its original price of nearly $250 down to its current price of $160, has become an unbelievably good value. It has better specs (in every category) than similarly-priced and more expensive chips like the i3-9100, i3-8300, and i5-8400.
Runner Up: AMD R5 2600 ($140)
With about 5% worse overall performance than the R5 2600X and a lower price by $20, the R5 2600 has a slightly better price-to-performance ratio than its beefier sibling. The 2600X may win this category on power alone, but budget builders should take note of the 2600 as a strong value contender.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $100
AMD R3 2200G ($85)
An APU option from AMD. The R3 2200G and its accompanying Vega 8 iGPU are a bit humbler than its R5 2400G, R3 3200G, and R5 3400G siblings, but this 2nd-gen R3 chip can also single-handedly maintain 60+ FPS in GTA V at low settings—provided you’re at a lower resolution like 720p. So, for budget builders and/or those mostly interested in older or indie PC games, this is a solid choice.
Runner Up: Intel G5400 ($70)
Already have an older graphics card sitting around, and just need a simple CPU to pair it with? Then a Pentium like the G5400 is the best modern option for you. You’ll get a competent, high-per-core-speed, dual-core CPU for around the same price as a power supply or a case.
If you have any questions about choosing a CPU (or any other PC component), don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or email us at email@example.com.