The Best CPU for Gaming
Helping you find the best CPU for gaming at different budget levels (photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)
Last updated: December 2018
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
Intel i9-9900K ($550)
The i9-9900K is the best CPU for gaming on the market currently. It has the best single-core performance currently available to the public in a CPU, which translates into the smoothest PC gaming experience on the market. This is due to it having a slightly higher boost clock than its closest competitor, the i7-9700K.
A builder whose top priority is exceptional gaming performance should prioritize this chip (directly after the top gaming PC priority: a stellar graphics card). It also features extremely good multi-core performance—and this processor is unlocked, so (safe, careful) overclocking could take its performance even higher than most benchmarks for it.
Runner Up: Intel i7-9700K ($410)
Losing out to the i9-9900K by a mere few percent of power, the i7-9700K would still be a phenomenal choice for a gaming-oriented build—particularly due to the fact that it costs over $100 less than its i9 sibling.
The tradeoff here is that, while the difference in single-core performance is small, the i7-9700K has considerably worse multi-core performance (and, in fact, half as many threads) as the i9-9900K. But, again, multi-core statistics are not as important for gaming as single-core, so which one a gamer picks may ultimately come down to budget.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $400
Intel i7-8700K ($350)
The i7-8700K is still one of the very best CPUs for gaming. It has terrific single-core performance (only about 5% worse than the i7-9700K), and a slightly better price than the newer top choices. A high-end builder who lacks an unlimited budget should give serious consideration to the i7-8700K as a choice.
Runner Up: AMD R7 2700X ($325)
The R7 2700X is an extremely close second to the i7-8700K, and would still be a terrific choice for a high-tier gaming build. It has the same base clock as the i7-8700K, and two additional CPU cores. The only reason it’s the runner-up rather than the victor in this category is that its boost clock is somewhat lower than the i7’s, which means that its maximum per-core speed is somewhat lower than the i7’s, which means that it gets slightly outperformed in gaming tasks by the i7. You can see exactly how close it comes in our blog post that focuses on comparing them.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $300
Intel i5-9600K ($280)
Once again, Intel edges out a victory on the strength of their clock speeds with the i5-9600K. After all, this article is about the best CPU for gaming—and at the upper-mid-tier, an unlocked i5 is currently the best CPU for gaming. That said, the difference in performance is only about 15%; so if you value a savings of $55 over a 15% power increase, then go for the R5 2600X instead.
Runner Up: AMD R5 2600X ($225)
A capable mid-tier processor that provides good value for money. The R5 2600X has six cores, just like the i5-9600K; but unlike the i5-8600K, the R5 2600X has 12 threads. This makes it a great choice for mid-tier builders who will be using their PC for other tasks like video and audio editing in addition to gaming.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $200
AMD R5 2600 ($165)
Starting around the level of this R5 2600, AMD’s Ryzen lineup becomes highly dominant in the lower-mid-tier and low-tier regions of the building world. And it’s not hard to see why: great price-to-performance ratios, great benchmarks, and competitive pricing.
Runner Up: AMD R5 2400G ($160)
Are you planning on skipping a graphics card for even further savings? Then the R5 2400G is an excellent choice for you. It has about 20% less power than the R5 2600, but makes up for its loss of CPU power by the presence of the Vega 11 iGPU—an integrated graphics processor which can keep a PC mostly above 60 FPS in GTA V at 1080p (at low settings). For more on what this chip is capable of doing, see our blog post comparing it to a couple other low-tier CPU/GPU options.
Best CPU for Gaming Under $100
AMD R3 2200G ($99)
Another APU option from AMD. The R3 2200G and its accompanying Vega 8 iGPU are a bit humbler than its R5 2400G sibling, but this 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 ($66)
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.