The best processors for gaming

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

avadirect avant mid size dekstop ava direct midsize gaming 8

If you want to completely revamp your computer to play the latest PC games, it’s smart to start with the processor and work outward. The graphics component is the most important part of the PC gaming equation along with the motherboard, system memory, and storage. But the processor is the heart of your machine, computing all the instructions required to create and maintain a believable virtual environment.

When it comes to gaming on a PC on anything but an extremely low budget, there are only two companies worth discussing: Intel and AMD. We broke down our processor choices into price groups, starting with the one that applies to the majority of gamers and then tackling some of the more niche groups further down.

Mid-level gaming ($200-$400)

8th gen intel core news

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 i7-8700K and AMD’s Ryzen 7 2700X are amazing gaming chips but they each have their strengths. Thanks to higher clock speeds and a differing architecture, Intel’s chip is slightly better at lower-thread count software — which games typically are. On the other hand, the Ryzen chip pulls ahead in more multi-threaded scenarios thanks to its extra cores and threads, but is a little weaker in most games.

Intel
Core i7-8700K
AMD
Ryzen 7 2700X
Architecture: Coffee Lake Zen+
Cores: 6 8
Threads: 12 16
Base speed: 3.6GHz 3.7GHz
Maximum speed: 4.7GHz 4.3GHz
Cache: 12MB 16MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 95 watts 105 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Suggested chipset: Z370 X470 / B450
Price: $380 $310

You may wonder why we didn’t opt for Intel’s newer and more powerful 9900K. It’s because it’s so much more expensive. At upwards of $600 it strays into power-gaming territory and isn’t so much better than either of these options that it’s a must-buy.

At $380, the 8700K is still a better processor than the 2700X when it comes to gaming. The higher clock speeds and better single-threaded performance on Intel hardware give it an edge in most titles, while the Ryzen CPU pulls ahead in some productivity tests and especially in multi-threaded software.

The pricing difference between them isn’t great enough that it’s not worth spending that bit extra to get the 8700K and all the gaming performance that comes with it. However, if you work and play on the same machine, it would be well worth considering the AMD alternative as its extra cores and threads can provide a tangible performance improvement in the right setting.

Best bang for buck: Intel Core i7-8700K

Gaming on a budget (under $200)

AMD Rizen CPU 7 in hand pins
Bill Roberson/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 i5-8400 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 is plenty to work with, especially when it can hit 3.8GHz with all running (4.0GHz with just one core used).

AMD’s Zen+ Ryzen 5 2600 chip is no slouch either, with the same core count as the Intel counterpart, but with double the threads. It also supports overclocking so can easily be pushed to reach clock speeds in excess of its Intel counterpart.

The rivalry between these two chips is similar to other comparisons in our list: Intel’s chip out-performs in single-core benchmarks, but in this case only barely. AMD’s chip does much better in multi-core tests. Both offer a lot of bang for a small amount of bucks, but AMD’s chip doesn’t include integrated graphics.

Intel
Core i5-8400
AMD
Ryzen 5 2600
Architecture: Coffee Lake Zen
Cores: 6 6
Threads: 6 12
Base speed: 2.8GHz 3.2GHz
Maximum speed: 4.0GHz 3.9GHz
Cache: 9MB 16MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 65 watts 65 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Suggested chipset: Z370 X370 / X300
Price: $200 $160

While Intel’s CPU may have had an advantage over the Ryzen 1600, the 2600 bumps up clock speeds and efficiency enough to be much more competitive. It has more cores and more threads than the 8400, and can be overclocked out of the box on the stock cooler. Better yet, AMD has committed to using the same socket until at least 2020, so you won’t need to upgrade your motherboard and RAM if you upgrade the CPU in a year or two. The same can’t be said for the Intel chip.

At this price point too, a $50 saving is dramatic and makes the AMD chip far better value.

Best bang for buck: AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Streaming and power gaming ($500+)

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 $2,000 Intel 9980XE, to AMD’s flagship second-generation Threadripper 2990WX 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.

With that in mind, we’d recommend these chips if you’re looking to stream and game.

Intel Core i9 9900K AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X
Architecture: Coffee Lake-S Zen+
Cores: 8 12
Threads: 16 24
Base speed: 3.6GHz 3.5GHz
Maximum speed: 5GHz 4.0GHz
Cache: 16MB 32MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 95w 180 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 TR4
Required chipset: Z390 X399
Price: $600 $400

The new Intel Core i9-9900K is the real standout in this category as it beat out AMD Threadripper chips in our testing and offers amazing performance for both gaming and multi-threaded tests. AMD’s 1920X is the more affordable of the two, and if you shop around you might even find a 1950X for similar money, but there’s in many instances — especially gaming — the 9900K is by far the more capable chip.

Where the Threadripper alternatives offer more cores and threads for enhanced multithreading performance in certain applications, the 9900K’s eight cores and 16 threads give it more than enough to get on with and its super-high clock speeds mean it dominates just about anything out there in limited-thread scenarios.

The 9900K isn’t cheap, but it’s arguably the best CPU in the world for gamers and even some more intensive computing tasks too.

Note: Due to availability problems at the end of 2018, the price of the 9900K fluctuates wildly and can often be priced near twice that of the Threadripper chip. In those cases, we’d caution against buying it. Either opt for the AMD option, or wait a few weeks to see if prices fall to more reasonable levels.

Best bang for buck: Intel Core i9-9900K

Gaming

New ‘Battlefield V’ patch gives Nvidia’s ray tracing support a chance to shine

‘Battlefield V’ is the first game to use Nvidia’s ray tracing support, now available with the RTX 2080 and 2080 Ti graphics cards. The feature can, in an ideal scenario, make the game look better, but the performance hit may not be…
Computing

Intel's 9th-gen chips could power your next rig. Here's what you need to know

The Intel Core i9-9900K processor was the star of the show for consumers, but a powerful 28-core Xeon processor also led announcements. Here's everything you need to know about the latest Intel chipsets.
Computing

In 2018, the rivalry between AMD and Intel has become more interesting than ever

When it comes to selecting a CPU for your PC, there's no shortage of chips for you to choose from. With Ryzen, Threadripper, and Core i9 CPUs though, the AMD vs. Intel argument is muddier than ever.
Computing

Changing file associations in Windows 10 is quick and easy with these steps

Learning how to change file associations can make editing certain file types much quicker than manually selecting your preferred application every time you open them. Just follow these short steps and you'll be on your way in no time.
Computing

Intel's dedicated GPU is not far off -- here's what we know

Did you hear? Intel is working on a dedicated graphics card. It's called Arctic Sound and though we don't know a lot about it, we know that Intel has some ex-AMD Radeon graphics engineers developing it.
Computing

Edit, sign, append, and save with six of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.
Computing

How to easily record your laptop screen with apps you already have

Learning how to record your computer screen shouldn't be a challenge. Lucky for you, our comprehensive guide lays out how to do so using a host of methods, including both free and premium utilities, in both MacOS and Windows 10.
Computing

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.
Computing

Capture screenshots with print screen and a few alternative methods

Capturing a screenshot of your desktop is easier than you might think, and it's the kind of thing you'll probably need to know. Here's how to perform the important function in just a few, easy steps.
Computing

These cheap laptops will make you wonder why anyone spends more

Looking for a budget notebook for school, work, or play? The best budget laptops, including our top pick -- the Asus ZenBook UX331UA -- will get the job done without digging too deeply into your pockets.
Mobile

Vanquish lag for good with the best routers for gaming

Finding the best routers for gaming is no easy task. With so many out there, how do you know which to pick? We've looked at the many options available and put together a list of our lag-free favorites.
Computing

Stop your PC's vow of silence with these tips on how to fix audio problems

Sound problems got you down? Don't worry, with a few tweaks and tricks we'll get your sound card functioning as it should, and you listening to your favorite tunes and in-game audio in no time.
Product Review

It's not the sharpest tool, but the Surface Go does it all for $400

Microsoft has launched the $400 Surface Go to take on both the iPad and Chromebooks, all without compromising its core focus on productivity. Does it work as both a tablet and a PC?
Deals

These Raspberry Pi 3 bundles will cover everyone, from coders to gamers

The Raspberry Pi 3 is a low-budget computing platform capable of doing just about anything. We rounded up a handful of the best Raspberry Pi 3 bundles to get you started on a variety of DIY projects.