Computing

The best processors for gaming

When it comes to gaming on a PC there are only two companies worth discussing: Intel and AMD. We broke down our processor choices into price groups, starting with stellar entries like the Intel Core i7-9700K and AMD’s Ryzen 3700X. They’re a great fit for all gamers, but if you have a smaller or grander budget we have some suggestions for you too.

If you’re most interested in the best CPUs from Intel and/or AMD, check out our guides to the best Intel processors and the best AMD chips.

Best processor for mid-level gaming

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Thanks to AMD’s Ryzen CPUs lighting a fire under Intel, the current crop of mainstream CPUs are some of the best gaming chips we’ve seen in years. Better yet, they’re affordable. You can have some of the best chips from both companies for just a few hundred dollars, so if you’re looking for top-gaming performance without breaking the bank, these are your best bets.

Both Intel’s Core i7-9700K and AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X are amazing gaming chips that can go blow for blow in most games. While the Intel CPU might pip the 3700X in the odd game, they’re pretty comparable when it comes to frame rates. Outside of games, the simultaneous multi-threading support with the 3700X gives it a huge edge, often delivering big performance gains in video rendering and Photoshop tasks.

Thanks to big efficiency improvements in AMD’s Zen 2 architecture and its 7nm die shrink too, the 3700X is a far more efficient processor, requiring just 65 watts when boosting. The Intel chip, on the other hand, can draw as much as 95 watts when it’s at its base frequency.

Intel
Core i7-9700K
AMD
Ryzen 7 3700X
Architecture: Coffee Lake-R Zen 2
Cores: 8 8
Threads: 8 16
Base speed: 3.7GHz 3.6GHz
Maximum speed: 4.9GHz 4.4GHz
L3 cache: 12MB 32MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 95 watts 65 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Suggested chipset: Z390 X570 / X470 / B450
Price:

There are a number of motherboard options available to the AMD Ryzen 3700X as AMD’s AM4 socket works across multiple generations of chips and boards. The only real reason to opt for the x570 platform is if you want support for PCIe 4.0 storage drives. The x470 and B450 boards should be fine, but make sure that you update the BIOS (use an AMD bootkit if needed), otherwise, the new chip may not work.

You could also consider the Intel 8700K, which has hyperthreading (supporting 16 threads) and that gives it an advantage in multithreaded workloads over the 9700K, but it’s not quite as quick in games and is often priced identically.

If you want an alternative AMD option, the last-generation 2700X is still an excellent gaming chip and can be found at amazing prices. It has the same eight cores and 16-threads as the 3700X but costs far less. It isn’t going to be as good as the 3700X in games, as the Zen+ architecture doesn’t have the same clock speed and instructions per clock improvements.

Best bang for the buck: AMD Ryzen 3700X

Best processor for gaming on a budget

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

Budget gaming today doesn’t mean poor performance as there are some powerful options even at the low end of Intel and AMD’s lineups. Intel’s Core i5-9400F is one of the most affordable gaming processors it’s released in years. It ups the ante of traditional Core i5 chips with six cores, and though it doesn’t have hyperthreading, six threads are plenty to work with especially when it can hit 4.1GHz with Intel Max Turbo.

AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600, however, is arguably the more capable of the two chips at only a $50 premium. It has the same six cores as the Intel chip, but with simultaneous multithreading, it has support for up to 12 threads. Its boost clock is higher too, and with the Zen 2 gains in instructions per clock, it should outpace the 9400F by 10-15% in games.

It also dominates the 9400F in multithreaded productivity workloads, so if you want to work and game with your new, sub-$200 CPU, the 3600 will be far more capable.

Intel
Core i5-9400F
AMD
Ryzen 5 3600
Architecture: Coffee Lake Zen 2
Cores: 6 6
Threads: 6 12
Base speed: 2.9GHz 3.6Hz
Maximum speed: 4.1GHz 4.2GHz
Cache: 9MB 32MB
Integrated graphics: No No
Power use: 65 watts 65 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Suggested chipset: Z390 X570 / X470 / B450
Price:

If you can stretch your budget a little further, the Intel Core i5-9600K is fantastic for gaming and is much more ready to go head to head with the 3600. AMD has a chip at that same price in the form of the 3600X, but the extra $50 there only gives you a little more boost clock which doesn’t give you more than a few percent of additional performance; AMD’s automated overclocking tends to pull the 3600 up to near the clock speed of the 3600X anyhow.

At this price, it’s not really worth looking last-generation, especially when it comes to gaming.

Best bang for the buck: AMD Ryzen 5 3600

Best processor for streaming and 4K gaming

Intel-9th-Gen-Core-package

If you’re a gamer who wants ultimate power or someone who works and plays hard on the same machine, these are the chips for you. For everyone else, buying a cheaper chip and investing more in a better graphics card would likely be a smarter move.

Both Intel and AMD have some amazing offerings in this category, from the $1,000 Intel 10980XE, to AMD’s third-generation Threadripper 3970WX with its ludicrous 32-cores and 64 threads. Those would be complete overkill for even this category though, as no consumer applications can really benefit from such multi-threaded performance and the more mainstream parts tend to be more suited to gaming.

But there is a middle ground to be found. Both Intel and AMD have super-powerful (and expensive) high-end desktop chips which are great at gaming and productivity, making them fantastic chips for streaming while you game.

Intel Core i9 9900KS AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
Architecture: Coffee Lake-S Zen 2
Cores: 8 16
Threads: 16 32
Base speed: 4.0GHz 3.5GHz
Maximum speed: 5GHz (all-core) 4.7GHz
Cache: 16MB 64MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 127w 105 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Required chipset: Z390 X570 / X470
Price:

Note: If you opt for an x470 motherboard for the Ryzen 3950X, make sure to upgrade its BIOS first to add third-generation Ryzen support.

The Intel Core i9-9900KS is arguably the best raw gaming chip ever made. Its progenitor, the 9900K, beat out AMD Threadripper chips in our testing and offered amazing performance for both gaming and multi-threaded tests. The 9900KS is effectively a factory-overclocked version of that same chip, with a 5GHz all-core boost clock which gives it a serious leg up over anything else out there when it comes to frame rate, even if it is older hardware.

AMD’s new Ryzen 3900X gives it a serious run for its money though, and even pulled ahead in some of our tests, and the 3950X is even more competitive. The lower clock speed of 3950X means that some games prefer the Intel CPU, especially when it’s overclocked, but it’s close enough that the other benefits of the AMD chip really start to look attractive.

When it comes to productivity tasks, or multitasking — like gaming and streaming — that’s where the 3950X can really shine. Its 16-cores and 32 threads give it a serious multithreading advantage over the 9900KS, allowing it to deliver a much smoother streaming experience for viewers without sacrificing game frame rates. With twice as many cores and threads, if you work with recorded video too, editing and transcoding, you’ll see a big performance advantage for the AMD chip, also.

There aren’t much in the way of alternatives at this price on the Intel front, with only HEDT chips like the 10920X offering more cores and threads — but that costs over $700, and amazingly, Intel is actually the value option here. The 3950X is between $100 and $250 more expensive than the 9900KS, making it a harder sell, even with its additional cores. The 3900X is an option though. It’s not quite as good at gaming and its 12-cores and 24-threads mean it isn’t quite as big of a multi-threaded leg-up over the 9900KS, but it’s still a better all-around chip.

If you can take advantage of the extra cores the 3950X offers, it’s worth spending the extra on it. If you’re going to be gaming and doing a smidge of streaming in the background, then the 9900KS represents the better option.

Best bang for the buck: AMD Ryzen 3950X

Editors' Recommendations

AMD vs. Intel

AMD Ryzen 9 3900x