Computers are complex machines by nature. When it’s time to upgrade, customer confusion comes into play, and some components can be tough to wrap your head around. When you’re ready to look for the best CPU for gaming, you will definitely need to be well informed.
The CPU is the brain of your machine, and you will want something speedy if you are a hardcore gamer. The cores and cache are only two areas to keep in mind, however, and Intel is no longer the only choice around.
How to Choose the Best CPU for Gaming
It takes more than just a powerful CPU to make a great gaming rig, and not everyone needs a top of the line chip. As with many PC components, you need to consider the overall specifications of your existing system against your needs if you plan to upgrade. The fastest CPU on the planet won’t do you a whole lot of good if you only have 8GB RAM behind it or your socket is incompatible.
Before we get into the fine details, consider your budget and the types of games you plan to play. That will help you narrow the field considerably which could make your decision incredibly easy. Once you know how much you want to spend and the system requirements you need to meet, it’s time to think about the cores.
Once upon a time, we lived in a world where central processing units only had a single core. Now, we have octa-core chips in smartphones and slates. Things have changed, and so have processors that power our devices as you now have to consider things like hyper-threading along with multiple cores.
A single core chip can get the job done, but a dual-core processor splits that workload between multiple cores. The more cores, the faster although an octa-core chip could be considered overkill for a casual gamer looking to play PUBG. You can get by with a Core i3 for that particular game, provided the rest of your system is solid.
As for hyper-threading, don’t let it fool you even if those virtual cores allow you to double up. If you pick up a quad-core chip with hyper-threading, it’s not going to be as fast one with eight cores sans the threading regardless of what your OS thinks. That said, hyper-threading will give any chip a boost and is not something to discount.
Clock speed or frequency is another specification to pay attention to once you understand the numbers. Clock speed is measured in MHz or GHz and is another area that’s changed greatly over the years. While a 3.8GHz chip is still “fast,” there are other factors including the architecture of the chip. There’s also a reason AMD processors are on the rise while others have declined in popularity amongst gamers. If you’d like to learn more about clock speed and cores, this piece sheds some additional light on things.
Compatibility and Sockets
If you are building your rig from scratch, you still need to consider compatibility but can pick a CPU based on the board. When upgrading your existing system, compatibility is the law of the land. While there are several areas, you need to consider although it all comes down to the socket in the end.
The socket on the motherboard is a physical connector where your new CPU will sit. The type of socket on your board dictates the type of chip you can use, so it’s of the utmost importance. Want that Ryzen Threadripper CPU to work? Well, you’ll need a TR4 socket and a board like the Zenith Extreme. Thankfully, there are only two chip makers you need to dwell on with Intel and AMD.
There are far too many motherboards and Frankenstein rigs on the market for us to go in-depth with compatibility. If you plan on using an AMD chip, check out their support page. As for Intel, there is no shortage of resources available although we prefer their official processor matching system.
1. Intel Core i3-8100
The last chip from Intel’s 8th generation is the slowest of the pack, but still gets the job done for thrifty gamers. The Intel Core i3-8100 is the company’s answer to the Ryzen 3. The Coffee Lake chip comes with the same feature set found on the speedier CPUs albeit with a few slight drawbacks.
This chip is an upgrade from the older 7700K, but far from what most gamers would consider powerful. It sports 4-cores with 4 threads and comes with 6MB of L3 Smart Cache. The speed is listed at 3.6GHz out of the box, but there is no Turbo Boost tech on this chip. It’s set up with the dual-channel memory configuration and has 16 PCI express 3.0 lanes. Not too shabby, especially given its price. If your budget is tight, it’s certainly an option as the best CPU for gaming.
The biggest issue with this chip comes down to the competition and your current configuration. AMD’s Ryzen lineup is still a little cheaper at this range although both are comparable in terms of performance. That said, Intel also has a Core i3-8300 and the i3-8350K if you need a bit more power but dig the i3 lineup.
- Solid performance
- Great price
- No hyper-threading capabilities
- May not be worth the upgrade for some
2. AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
Last, but certainly not least is the Ryzen 3 2200G from AMD. This chip is a competitor to Intel’s i3 lineup and sports similar specifications. The differences between the two chips are night and day, however, and it may surprise you in a few key areas.
The first things that stand out to us with the Ryzen 3 2200G are the clock speed and integrated graphics. While it’s still a 4-core chip, it’s unlocked and can get a boost up to 3.7GHz. Normally, integrated graphics are nothing to get excited about, but the Radeon Vega 8 really shines in the configuration. Not as much as the Vega 11, but it performs admirably all things considered.
While this isn’t the type of central processing unit you want to build a system around, it’s a very solid upgrade for plenty of gamers around the globe.
- Cooling system
- Easy to overclock
- Needs plenty of RAM
- Can run a little hot
3. AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
AMD’s chips have skyrocketed in popularity, and their Ryzen lineup looks to be their best yet. If you still want a top-tier chip, but don’t need one at the top of the food chain, the Ryzen 5 2400G is well worth a look.
This processor may not be the fastest on the block, but it strikes a nice balance between power and affordability. It needs an AM4 socket and has 4-cores with 8 threads to go along with integrated graphics. In this case, it’s the Radeon Vega RX 11. While not ideal for everyone, it is nice to have the built-in graphics considering the cost of cards due to the crypto craze, and it does an excellent job.
The AMD Ryzen 5 2400G is a solid option for gamers that want to play top-tier titles at lower settings, and a great way to turn an ordinary PC into an affordable gaming rig. It may not have as many cores as other chips, but the Max Boost feature does allow you to kick things up a notch.
- Wraith stealth cooler
- 3.9GHz Max Boost
- Integrated graphics (for some)
4. Intel Core i5-9600K
While we’re big fans of the i7, not everyone needs that much power and the price may rule it out for your build. The Core i5 series has always been an excellent choice when budget is a concern, and the 9th gen Core i5-9600K is no exception.
With a top speed of 4.6 GHz, the latest generation of the Core i5 has plenty of pop thanks to Turbo Boost Tech 2.0. The base speed is 3.7 GHz, so it’s not far off from the i7 in some regards although this one has six cores instead of eight. The cache takes a bit of a hit as well at 9MB, but we don’t think you’ll have any issue multi-tasking with this chip.
You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck with this chip, and it’s an excellent value for the price compared to its big brothers. Needless to say, it’s also a great chip for budget-friendly gaming builds. The Core i5-9600K is compatible with 300 series based motherboards and has a TDP of 95.
- 4.6 GHz boosted
- UHD Graphics 630
- Optane memory support
- Excellent price point
- Nothing significant
5. Intel Core i7-9700K
When you’re looking for a top tier chip from Intel, the Core i7 lineup is the only way to go. The Intel Core i7-9700K is an ideal processor when you prefer physical cores to hyper-threading and aren’t a fan of AMD’s lineup.
The 9th gen Core i7-9700K has eight cores and no hyper-threading. The base speed is 3.60 GHz, but it can get a boost up to 4.90 GHz. The chip has 12 MB of smart cache onboard along with integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 graphics if you don’t plan on using a dedicated card. Other tech specs of interest for this chip include a TDP of 95w and dual-channel DDR4-2666 support.
This chip is unlocked, easy to overclock and supports Intel’s Optane memory platform to boot. It’s one of the company’s fastest chips to date and performs just as you’d expect although it’s pricy and sans a heatsink or fan. It’s a chip we highly recommend if you can afford it and have a 300 series compatible board.
- Excellent performance
- 8 cores
- 12MB cache
- It’s Expensive
6. AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
If you are of a certain age, you might remember a time when gaming CPU was a simple chip. Well, those days are long gone, and the AMD Ryzen 7 is one of the top processors on the market today. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon considering this 8-core beast is built for speed and streamlined for VR.
One of the big perks of this particular chip is the fact it is “VR Ready” out of the box. That means it meets or exceeds the specifications for the current versions of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. In terms of tech specs, it has 8-cores and 16 threads (unlocked) with a frequency or speed of 3.7GHz. You’ll also receive 20MB of combined cache, but need to ensure you have an AM4 socket on your motherboard.
Another reason this chip is preferred by gamers is due to the fact it has the Wraith Prism LED Cooler. It puts on a mini light show while keeping your processor cool and ensuring optimum performance. You can pick this chip up by itself or with the GIGABYTE X470 motherboard.
- A significant improvement over the previous generation
- Easy to overclock
- LED cooling system
- Power hungry processor
7. Intel Core i9-7900X
Intel’s i-series has proved quite popular over the years, and the Core i9 is their top-tier chip. It’s also a great choice for gamers that want to take their performance to the next level and prefer Intel’s system over AMD’s.
This central processing unit is built for the Intel X299 platform and needs an LGA 2066 socket to call home. It features all the bells & whistles you would expect from the company, which means you’ll get Turbo Boost Max 3.0 and Optane Memory support. Full specs for this chip include 140W TDP, 10-cores, 20 threads, a 3.3GHz base clock and quad-channel memory support up to 128GB. You can “boost” this one up to 4.3GHz, and many consumers may consider the chip to be an option when looking for the best CPU for streaming as well.
Even hardcore AMD fans can appreciate this chip as Intel knocked it out of the park with this one. While still not as powerful as the Threadripper, it’s comparable and possibly a better choice depending on your “overall” needs. Either way you go, you’ll want to get a powerful CPU cooler as this one tends to run hot.
- Great performance out of the box
- Max Boost 3.0
- Optane support
- High temperatures
8. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X
Is it a central processing unit or a modern version of the Flux Capacitor that will zap you back in time? That’s a question plenty of gamers will ask themselves after setting eyes on this slick looking chip. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper is definitely in the “Pro” class, and it’s one of the meanest processors around.
This VR-ready chip will be able to handle any game in your arsenal and has a whopping 16 cores and 32 threads. It’s clocked at 4.0GHz, but can hit speeds of 4.2GHz with XFR and has 40MB of cache memory. It also supports quad-channel DDR4 RAM in case you’re looking for the best RAM to go along with your gaming rig. Other features to note include SenseMI tech and 64 PCIe Gen3 Lanes.
It’s safe to say this chip isn’t cheap and not for the budget-savvy gamers looking to save a few bucks. There are two other versions of the processor if you prefer 8 or 12-cores over 16. The CPU is also available with a liquid cooler or board from GIGABYTE for an additional price.
- More PCIe lanes than the competition
- Game and Creator Mode
- 16 Cores of power
- 32 Threads
- Very Expensive