Often considering the best processors for a high-end gaming PC comes after finding the best graphics cards. It’s hard to argue against this logic after all the GPU ultimately determines which quality settings and resolution you’ll be able to run your games at. However, your processor is arguably as important as it dictates how well the rest of your gaming PC runs.The processor isn’t just known as the ‘central processing unit’ for kicks, it’s in charge of how quickly your whole computer operates from the system memory to the SSDs holding your games – which is why it’s all so important to pick the best gaming CPU for your rig. Unlike graphics cards you’ll likely be swapping in every other generation, the best gaming processors can last for years, so be sure you’re making the right choice you won’t regret in the long term.
Although the market for CPUs boils down to Intel and AMD, each company has myriad offerings, and the market is always changing rapidly. The confusing model numbers don't help much either. To help you figure it all out, here's our rundown of the best CPUs for every type of PC gamer.
TL;DR – These are the Best Gaming CPUs:
1. AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Best CPU for Gaming
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
Nowadays gaming often involves streaming, capturing or some form of video creation and so we feel the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is the best gaming CPU that can do everything you'll need. Sure, you’ll be able to pull out higher frame rates from an Intel Core i9-9900K, but it way more expensive for the same number of cores and threads.
Thanks to AMD's new 7nm Zen 2 architecture, the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X isn't just more capable than its predecessor, it's also more power-efficient and it runs cooler too. What's more, overclocking this processor is a breeze thanks to Ryzen Master and you can easily get this chip to run at 4.4GHz across all cores. Another bonus of the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is it comes with a CPU cooler—and a good one at that—in the box, which will help you save money on your PC build.
2. AMD Ryzen 3 3200G
Best Budget CPU for Gaming
AMD Ryzen 3 3200G
The Ryzen 3 3200G is not only a fantastically affordable processor that costs only $99, but it also comes with incredibly powerful integrated Vega graphics that can let you get away with gaming without a discrete graphics card.
Call me crazy if you like, this processor really has no problem playing modern games at Full HD and a decent frame rate all on its own. We’ve even been able to run Overwatch at 4K resolution and ‘Epic’ quality settings with a playable 30 fps frame rate. With all that in mind, the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G is the perfect processor to power your home theater PC or an extremely small PC.
3. Intel Core i9-9900K
Best High-End CPU for Gaming
Intel Core i9-9900K
Intel's Core i9-9900K processor might be getting long in the tooth, but it's still the best high-end mainstream processor for gaming. It can achieve higher frame rates in most games than any of AMD's processors. Then in an instant, it can put even the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX to shame with its hyper-threading prowess.
This high-end Intel CPU can also keep its cool even with a moderate air-cooler or all-in-one liquid cooler. The only downside of the Intel Core i9-9900K is its exorbitant $500 price.
4. Intel Core i5-9600K
Best Midrange CPU for Gaming
Intel Core i5-9600K
The Intel Core i5-9600K is a very capable processor for gaming. Whether, you’re trudging through Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice at 4K or trying to win your first match of Apex Legends on a high refresh rate monitor, the Intel Core i5-9600K help you achieve your PC gaming dreams. Intel’s flagship 9th Generation Core i7-9700K might have two more CPU cores, but they’ll only help you gain a few extra frames per second, so it’s not worth the extra expense in our experience. If anything, you’ll be able to close that performance gap with the tiniest amount of overclocking.
5. AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
Best CPU for Gaming Video Editing
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
I never thought I'd see the day a mainstream processor with a double-digit core count, but then the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X comes along to blow away everything you thought you knew about CPUs. With redonkulous 12-core, 24-thread specs squeezed into a regular consumer chip, the Ryzen 9 3900X delivers unparalleled multi-core performance that's sure to make short work of any intense workload you throw at it.
This processor eats video encodes and image processing batches for breakfast. And just in case you want to do all that and more while you're gaming, the Ryzen 9 3900X can take that on too. While it comes with an included cooler like the Ryzen 7 3700X, you'll want to get yourself a beefier CPU cooler to keep up with this monster of a processor.
6. Intel Pentium Gold G5400
Best Super Cheap CPU for Gaming
Intel Pentium Gold G5400
Yes, we’ve picked out an even more inexpensive gaming CPU and it’s the Pentium Gold G5400. For such a low, low price, you get a chip built on Intel’s recent Coffee Lake architecture and it even includes hyper-threading. It's a dual-core processor, but at 3.7GHz you're still not going to have a problem running most games with a mid-level GPU like the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti. Give it a shot and save some dough while you’re at it.
7. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X
Best High-End Desktop Processor for Gaming
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X
Have you ever thought that eight CPU cores or 64GB of RAM just wasn’t enough? Well, then a High-End Desktop (HEDT) processor might be just what you’re looking for. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X is a prime HEDT processor that comes with double the number of cores found on most consumer CPUs. What’s more, it also offers quad-channel memory support for a total of eight sticks of RAM and access to an incredible 64 PCIe lanes, which you can use to install multi-GPU setups and a ton of NVMe SSDs. It also runs games nearly as well as a traditional, mainstream processor and it’s one of the cheaper chips in the HEDT space.
8. Intel Core i9-9980XE
Best Performance Processor for Gaming
Intel Core i9-9980XE
The 18 core Intel Core i9-9980XE doesn’t have as many CPU cores as the 32 core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX, but in most cases, it races ahead of its rival, especially in gaming. Most HEDT processors don’t hit consistently high frame rates, as well as consumer CPUs, do, but the Intel Core i9-9980XE can. This processor’s high-end specs also make it a shoo-in for a streaming rig or anyone looking to start a let’s play channel.
9. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX
Best Streaming Gaming Processor
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX
While most modern processors have between six and eight cores and call it a day, AMD threw everything at the wall to make the Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX a 32 core CPU meant for consumers. It’s incredibly high core count and astronomic 64 thread count make this processor a rendering juggernaut for video production. This CPU won’t miss a step even if you suddenly decide you want to start streaming or rendering a video in the middle of playing a game.
What's Next for CPUs for Gaming
The processor world has been on fire with a non-stop stream of new CPU and it doesn't seem like things will be slowing down any time soon.
AMD just unveiled a new pair of processors with the AMD Ryzen 9 3900 and Ryzen 5 3500 on October 8th. The former was introduced to give users the same 12-core, 24-thread power of its older Ryzen 9 3900X brother, but at a much lower 65W TDP (rather than 105W). The Ryzen 3 3500 is an entry-level hexa-core chip meant to tackle Intel's very popular Core i5-9400F, though this chip has only been introduced in China, so we'll have to hope it comes stateside sometime soon.
Meanwhile, Intel also just introduced a new generation of Cascade Lake-X processors for high-end desktop PCs on October 6th. These new Core-X series CPUs introduce some pretty subtle improvements including an almost universal 4.8GHz Turbo Boost 3.0 speeds while adding support for 256GB of 2,933MHz DDR4 RAM, plus you'll also find 48 PCI Express lanes and Wi-Fi 6 on the chip itself. The most impressive thing about these new HEDT chips is they're far cheaper with the top-end Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition costing only $579 and the Core i9-10900X going for only $590.
AMD has been relatively quiet about its high-end desktop Ryzen Threadripper 3000 chips, but you can bet they'll be coming out this November just like the previous two iterations. So far rumors suggest we can expect this 3rd Generation family will top out with a 32-core and 64-thread processor that's 13% faster. Intel is also rumored to release another iterative series of 14nm CPUs. Intel's next-gen desktop processors will supposedly be called Comet Lake—which lines up with half of Intel's 10th Generation mobile lineup—and it's due to arrive sometime in 2020.
What to Look in for a CPU for Gaming
Below we've broken down the two types of processors you’ll find online or on store shelves, and some of the key specs you should look for in a gaming processor.
When looking for a gaming CPU, you’ll probably come across two types of processors: mainstream and High-End Desktop (HEDT). Mainstream processors are what you’ll primarily find on store shelves and online catalogs, and these typically include Intel’s Core i3, i5, i7 and, more recently, i9 products as well as AMD Ryzen 3, 5, and 7-series chips.
HEDT processors are less prevalent and are easy enough to spot. All Intel HEDT CPUs come with an ‘X’ or ‘XE’ suffix at the end of their model names, meanwhile, AMD HEDT chips all fall under the Ryzen Threadripper brand.
\What’s the difference between a mainstream processor and HEDT chip? Mainstream processors typically only support dual-channel memory – for a maximum of four DIMMs up to 64GB – and, thus far, a maximum of 24 PCIe lanes, which enable high-speed connections to graphics cards, NVMe solid-state drives, and Thunderbolt 3 ports. HEDT processors, on the other hand, are physically larger to make room for more cores, while bringing memory support up to quad-channel – up to eight sticks for a total of 128GB of RAM – and a maximum of 64 PCIe lanes.
So, if you have the money and the desire to build the ultimate gaming PC, HEDT is the way to go. But that’ll probably be overkill for most users, so a mainstream processor should be what most users need.
Most users should aim for at least a quad-core processor
The next thing you should be mindful of is how many cores a processor has. Cores are essentially the part of the CPU that receives instruction to perform calculations or actions, so the more cores you have the more you can do. Most entry-level processors should have two to four cores, four to six cores on mid-range chips, and at least six or eight cores on the highest-end CPUs.
How many cores do you need for gaming? Most users should aim for at least a quad-core processor like the AMD Ryzen 5 3400G or the hexa-core Intel Core i5-8400. Most modern games should run well, but if you’re playing anything with a high character count or an abundance of in-game physics—i.e. anything from the real-time strategy genre—you might see frame rates improve with a hexa- or octa-core processor.
Processor threads are far less important for gaming, but they help with multi-tasking and multi-threaded workloads. You’ll often see a number of threads right next to cores on the spec sheet of a CPU. Usually, the number of threads will be twice as high as the core count and they basically act as schedulers, telling the CPU core what to do next so that there’s no downtime in between tasks.
This process is known as Hyper-threading on Intel’s platform and multi-threading on AMD-powered systems. Despite the different names, they achieve the same goal, whether that be making sure your next song streams in the background or your video renders as quickly as possible.
And that’s everything you need to know about processors for now, but we’ll be updating this list again soon enough. 2019 has already been a plenty interesting as AMD has finally introduced the world’s first 7nm Ryzen 3rd Generation processors—with a 16-core mainstream processor still on the way—meanwhile, Intel is poised to introduce 10nm Ice Lake CPUs by the end of the year as well.