When building a perfect gaming rig, the focus usually goes to the graphics card, since the positive gaming experience depends largely on its performance and quality. CPU is secondary hardware in this puzzle, but should it really be like that?
Most people don’t use their gaming PCs strictly for gaming, but also for many other tasks, which is where the significance of CPU comes into the picture. This is the main reason why choosing the best CPU for gaming shouldn’t involve just a gaming component, but be observed from a broader perspective.
Maybe your gaming demands only for a Pentium processor, but what if you are also into casual rendering, or content creation, not to mention 4k video streaming or similar? Your CPU will simply be unable to complete all that.
Also, you must take into consideration the fact that the games’ system requirements are constantly rising. Therefore, when purchasing a new CPU, you should always be at least one step ahead and always get yourself something that will allow for decent gaming at least for a couple of years to come, without a need for hardware improvements.
How to Choose the Best CPU for Gaming
If you are not familiar with the important aspects of a CPU, or just need a quick refresher, here are the most important characteristics of processors you should pay your attention to.
Clock Speed/Operating Frequency
Clock speed is probably the most important CPU characteristic. The higher it is, the quicker your tasks will be finished. Therefore, always go for higher numbers, which includes both high base and boost clock speeds.
Cores are necessary for multitasking, but more cores don’t guarantee for fast performance. If you have a dual core with a speed of 3.6 GHz and a quad-core processor with a speed of 2 GHz, the dual core will be faster, and it will completely outperform the quad-core.
Don’t be fooled and drawn by the high number of cores, six or eight cores are the maximum you will need, while the majority of the users are perfectly good with just four. Only the heavy users will demand 16 or so cores. For that reason, first of all, look at the processor’s speed and only after that check number of cores that should, as mentioned, be at least four.
If you are building a brand new rig, you should purchase a CPU with the same socket as your motherboard. Keep that in mind whenever you are building your own PC: all the components need to be compatible and the same socket of your motherboard and the CPU is a necessity.
More CPU cache means that the CPU will have more space to store the copies of the most frequently used data. In other words, the more CPU cache MBs, the quicker the data access and overall faster computing. Because of that, just as in the case of a clock speed, always go for higher values.
9 Best Gaming CPUs To Buy in 2020
Intel Core i9-9900K (Socket 1151)
The Best Mainstream CPU Your Money Can Buy
For all those looking for the best CPU for gaming, Intel Core i9-9900K should come as the ultimate goal. With its 16 MB of cache, eight cores, 16 threads, a base clock of 3.60 GHz and an impressive boost clock of 5 GHz, this processor is the fastest CPU on the market right now, with a performance that has no match among other mainstream processors. If you want to play demanding games, know that there is no better CPU than the Intel Core i9-9900K.
The issue with this processor is its price tag, which is somewhat questionable, especially if you, for instance, compare it to the i7-9700K’s price that is drastically lower, while its performance is pretty close to i9-9900K’s. In other words, if you are not demanding for the best of the best by any cause, 9700K would certainly be a more recommended option. Also, if you decide to buy this lad, prepare to invest in a high-quality CPU cooler, since its high-performance loads can heat up the hardware pretty much.
All in all, Intel Core i9-9900K is a superb processor, especially if you are using heavily-threaded applications, or if you do not accept compromise considering your PCs gaming performance. With this one, there is just no mistake.
- fantastic gaming performance
- great clock speeds
- excellent hyper-threading performance
- Solder TIM
- high price
- high cooling requirements
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
One of the Best There Are
With the arrival of AMD’s Ryzen series processors, the “one-man show” in the CPU market has finally come to an end. Along with every new generation of AMD chips, the gap between them and Intel is closing, and with the arrival of AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, things have become even more interesting. Mostly because its multi-core performance is some 25%-40% faster than Intel Core i9-9900K, while in single-core operations, there is a 4%-13% difference in favor of i9-9900K.
In other words, Intel is still the ruler in games, but with the influx of titles such as Total War: Warhammer II, that require a multi-core performance, things are apparently changing towards the AMDs side.
When talking about the sheer specs, AMD Ryzen 9 3900X is an AM4-based CPU, with the excellent 64MB of L3 cash and 6MB of L2 cash and a native PCIe4.0 support (it can work only on x570 chipset). Also, it is fitted with 12 cores and 24 threads and comes with a maximum boost of 4.6GHz (the base clock is 3.8GHz) that is sufficient for achieving more than 100 FPS in today’s games.
Overall, AMD Ryzen 9 3900X is one of the best CPUs for the money and definitely one of the best gaming options available today.
- Amazing multi-core performance
- Native PCIe 4.0
- Single-core performance is still behind i9-9900K
- Not the most efficient stock cooler
Intel Core i7-9700K (Socket 1151)
A Great CPU that Could Have Been Even Better
For a long time, i7 processors were the synonym for the best mainstream processors in Intel’s portfolio, but with the appearance of Ryzen processor, many things have obviously changed, including Intel’s CPU line up. i7-9700K offers extreme game performance, mostly due to its high Turbo Boost frequency of up to 4.9GHz (base clock speed of 3.6 GHz) and 12MB of cache and presents a great CPU for that purpose.
If, on the other hand, you plan using this processor for heavily threaded applications, forget about it. There is no hyper-threading here. The reason for that is the more expensive i9-9900K (basically the same product as i7-9700K, but with a bit more L3 cache and with hyper-threading) – its sales would probably be seriously affected by that. This way, Intel has balanced all the processors in their line up in a way that they don’t compete with each other.
If you want hyperthreading, you must go with i9-9900K, if gaming is the main goal you can go with whichever of the two you want. You can even consider the cheaper Core i5 9600K that offers lower gaming performance but provides more value for the money.
When talking about the sheer performance of the Intel Core i7-9700K, it is pretty close to i9-9900K, which is great news, but also to older i7-8700K’s, even i7-7700K’s, which just suggests that the improvements over the previous generations of this processor aren’t worth the investment in replacing them. Considering all the aspects, Intel Core i7-9700K is surely among the best Intel CPU for gaming options out there according to its performance, but the question remains if it is worth the money… especially considering that its improvements aren’t that great over the previous generation processors as its price would suggest.
- extreme performance
- an excellent single thread performance
- comes without a cooler
- no hyper-threading
Intel Core i5-9600K (Socket 1151)
An Affordable Gaming CPU that Can Compete with the Best Ones
Most people care about every cent they spend and are looking for the best solutions, for the smallest amount of money. Intel Core i5-9600K is exactly one of those solutions. Equipped with 6 cores, 6 threads, 9MB of cache, with a base clock of 3.7 GHz and a boost clock of 4.6 GHz, this CPU doesn’t give as much as i9-9900K, but surely delivers more than a pleasing performance.
If you want a great VR experience, or to play and stream in 4K, know that i5-9600K can handle it with ease. Although cannot be compared to its older brothers from the Intel family judging by its performance, it is good to know that it can compete with the best Ryzen CPU (Ryzen 7 2700X), which it outperforms in the games, but underperforms when heavily-threaded apps are on the go, mostly due to Ryzen 7 2700X’s impressive 16 threads. Also, it is worth mentioning that Ryzen is a bit cheaper and that it comes with a cooler, which is not the case with the 9600K. Therefore, if you are into hyper threading before gaming, the choice is more than obvious.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that the i5-9600K is the fastest CPU in its price range, making it a very good gaming option, particularly if it is paired with a proper gaming motherboard. Just be sure to get one of the Z-series, since only those motherboards allow for its overclocking.
Although i5-9600K doesn’t offer that many improvements over its predecessor i5-8600K that would justify its upgrade, it is a fact that the 9600K is the best CPU for gaming that you can get for the affordable price. Therefore, if you are building a new configuration, you won’t make a mistake with this one.
- excellent gaming performance
- unlocked multiplier
- great light threading performance
- no stock cooler
- demands Z-series motherboard be overclocked
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Amazing Power for the Price
If you are into a super-fast gaming performance at an affordable price, AMD Ryzen 7 3700X CPU is the right deal for you. This AM4-based processor comes with eight cores and 16 threads, has a base clock of 3.6GHz and boost clock of 4.4GHz and altogether delivers great value for the money.
It offers significant improvement over its predecessor Ryzen 7 2700X, resulting in a 15% increase in IPC (instructions per clock) and boosts in power efficiency and L3 cache that is now 32MB (L2 cache stays at 4MB). Along with that, AMD Ryzen 7 3700X offers native PCIe4.0 support, which is essential for the NVMe PCIe4.0 SSDs and should result in performance that is 51% better (at least in theory) than the PCIe3.0 NVMe devices.
Because of the more budget-friendly price and overall great performance, AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is probably the best fit for the majority of AMD-oriented gamers, but also content creators and developers that are searching for a superb multi-core performance.
All in all, if you are looking for your next gaming processor that will deliver the best combination of performance, price and overall value, AMD Ryzen 7 3700X should be at the top spot on your list.
- Great performance
- Fair price
- Single-core performance still behind Intel’s
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X
The Ruler of the Mid-Range Market
Processors that can give you quality performance and amazing multi-core functionality, at an affordable price, have always been welcomed by the gaming community, and AMD Ryzen 5 3600X is no exception to that rule.
This, more mid-range oriented CPU, is an ideal choice for the majority of the mainstream gamers that are looking for a good multitasking performance, which will allow them to fully enjoy their favorite titles while doing some serious work in the background.
Compared to its biggest rival, Intel Core i5-9600K, AMD Ryzen 5 3600X offers 100MHz lower Boost speed of 4.4GHz and 200MHz higher base clock speed of 3.8GHz. More importantly, it comes with drastically improved IPC values, three times more cache (32MB of L3 cache and 3MB of L2 cache), and on top of that, a higher number of threads (12 compared to i5-9600K’s six).
Unfortunately, in single-core performance, Intel Core i5-9600K is a winner, but only if there are no heavier applications working in the background, in which case the sides switch.
Altogether, AMD Ryzen 5 3600X is among the best budget gaming CPUs available and a great productivity tool that just won’t disappoint you.
- Native PCIe4.0 support
- Great performance
- Limited overclocking capabilities
- Questionable advantage over Ryzen 5 3600 non-X CPU
Intel Core i3-8100 (Socket 1151)
An Excellent Budget Standalone CPU Solution for any Dedicated Gamer
Intel Core i3-8100 is the best budget CPU that you can find in the Intel’s portfolio right now. With a drastic boost in performance, compared to its predecessor, and with specs that are pretty similar to i5-7400 and i5-7500 that include four cores, four threads, same 6MB of L3 cache and in between 3.6 GHz speed, i3-8100 is more than a welcome newcomer to Intel’s CPU family.
When it showed up on the market, this processor completely outperformed Ryzen 3 series processors, even the overclocked 1300X. However, with the arrival of the 2nd generation of Ryzen, its biggest rival became the Ryzen 3 2200G, which has integrated graphics, while the Ryzen 3 2300X, that is an upgrade of a 1300X, became reserved only for OEM Systems, and stayed completely out of the picture, at least for now.
In other words, although the Ryzen 3 2200G and the Intel Core i3-8100 are direct rivals, fact is that they offer a completely different gaming solution. Therefore, there is no real competition in their field. Intel Core i3-8100 is the best budget standalone CPU solution you can find, particularly when it is paired with quality RAM for gaming, in which case, even the stars become reachable.
- four physical cores
- good price
- stock cooler
- good gaming and app performance
- locked multiplier
- no hyper-threading
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X (Socket TR4)
A Heavy Multitasker that Isn’t that Great When Gaming is on Table
If you want something that will amaze you, you should consider buying the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X. Its staggering 16 cores and 32 threads, 40MB of cache and 64 PCIe Gen3 lanes will do any job with ease. Content creation, 4K streaming, video editing, you name it – it can do it all without breaking a sweat.
This is simply a CPU that is made for extreme loads and multitasking and every other use is just a waste of its resources. Although it can also be used for gaming and its base clock of 4.0 GHz is above i9-9900K’s and i7-9700K’s 3.6 GHz, its boost clock of only 4.2 GHz is significantly below 9900K’s 5.0 GHz or 9700K’s 4.9 GHz, which results in a worse gaming performance.
In other words, if you are into gaming, AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X isn’t that great option. Tests show that this CPU is outperformed by many older and much cheaper processors in GTA V, Civilization 6, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and many other mainstream games.
Therefore, if you are into heavy multitasking, this CPU can be a great option; if, on the other hand, gaming is your priority, better go for some other solution. At the same time, you will get better performance and save money.
- great multithread performance
- excellent PCIe connectivity
- good price per core
- complicated settings
- low-resolution gaming
- power hungry
Intel Core i9-7900X (Socket 2066)
A Pricey Piece of Hardware that Just Isn’t Worth the Money
Although the high price is associated with the top-notch performance in all the departments, that, unfortunately, is not the case with Intel Core i9-7900X. This processor is great and gives an extreme performance in high multi-threaded operations, such as video rendering or content creation, or 4K streaming on the other hand, but in gaming, for instance, its great becomes rather questionable.
Its 10 cores, 20 threads, a boost clock of 4.3 GHz (base clock 3.3 GHz) and 13.75 MB of cache offer plenty of possibilities but struggle in many games compared to its predecessor. i9-7900X just isn’t a match for the i7-6950X in many titles, which is unacceptable for the processor with such a price tag. Don’t get us wrong, this is a superb CPU that will leave most of the other CPUs in dust. The problem is: at this price, it needs to be the best, and that is not the case.
Its overclocking is limited due to poor heat dissipation, while many of the cheaper CPUs such as i7-8700K or i7-9700K outperform it, especially in the gaming field. Also considering heavy multitasking, AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X is a better choice and a clear winner.
In other words, if you are not emotionally connected to this CPU, there is no need to spend a ton of money that just doesn’t prove the cost. Especially because there are much cheaper options, with drastically better performance.
- great single core performance
- better multi-threading than the 1950X
- easy overclocking
- many aftermarket cooling solutions
- no support for ECC memory
- not that great software
- high power consumption
- fewer PCIe lanes than the 1950X
If this guide has helped you with your CPU purchase, its goal has been fulfilled. On the other hand, if it didn’t, we hope it was at least beneficial enough to equip you with some knowledge and give you a slightly better perspective of what exactly it is that do you need. Good luck with your CPU shopping!