The best processors for gaming

Choosing between Intel and AMD for games? These are the best CPUs at every price

If you want to completely revamp your computer to play the latest PC games, it’s smart to start with the processor and work outwards. Of course, the graphics component is the important half 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.

So what are the best processors for gaming? You really only have two contenders to deal with: Intel and AMD. We broke down our processor choices into price groups, kicking off with the gaming CPU bonanza with the ultimate chips from each company, down to the budget-friendly options that think are still worth considering. These days, there’s even interesting products like AMD’s new Ryzen APUs to consider, which gives you a reasonable CPU with a graphics chip that offers some basic gaming performance too.

Setting all that aside, let’s start with the best of the best:

High end ($600+)

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X 1950X Review
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

This set is mostly dominated by Intel’s X-Series processors. Below you will find Intel’s 12-core X-Series chip along with AMD’s competing 12-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor. Both will require a new motherboard with a larger, compatible seat. But AMD’s variant will require additional juice given it consumes more power than the company’s current Ryzen 7/5/3 desktop processors. It even consumes 40 watts more than Intel’s 12-core chip.

Although there are more powerful CPUs in both Intel and AMD’s top of the line ranges, these represent the best value for money in this price bracket.

Core i9-7920X
Ryzen Threadripper
Architecture: Skylake-X Zen
Cores: 12 12
Threads: 24 24
Base speed: 2.9GHz 3.5GHz
Maximum speed: 4.4GHz 4.0GHz
Cache: 16.5MB 32MB
Integrated graphics: No No
Power use: 140 watts 180 watts
Required socket: LGA 2066 TR4
Required chipset: X299 X399
Price: $1,100 $745

As much as Intel’s Core i9 CPUs are supremely powerful and typically slightly better at gaming than AMD’s top-end Threadripper chips, there is no denying the huge gap in pricing between the two. When you’re talking about chips with this many cores and threads at these sorts of clock speeds, these aren’t chips designed with gaming in mind. Still, they’re all great and by buying the Threadripper chip instead, you can save enough money to afford the still overpriced graphics cards that are available at the moment.

Best bang for buck: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920x

Power gaming ($400-$600)

Here is the last Intel X-Series processor in our batch. Like all the other X-Series chips, you’ll need a new motherboard with the big LGA 2066 processor seat, and Intel’s X299 chipset. It’s not exactly a power sipper either, so make sure your power supply can support the chip along with any other hardware — such as a high-end graphics card — you throw into the mix.

That said, it’s not as power-hunger as the AMD alternative. Although the 1900X is at the bottom end of the Threadripper range, it’s still a mighty powerful chip and can match the Intel i7-7820x core for core and thread for thread. It also has more on board cache, but as is typical with AMD chips, it’s not quite as good at gaming as Intel’s option, offering better multithreaded performance in non-gaming applications.


Core i7-7820X

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1900X 
Architecture: Skylake-X Zen
Cores: 8 8
Threads: 16 16
Base speed: 3.6GHz 3.8GHz
Maximum speed: 4.5GHz 4.2GHz
Cache: 11MB 16MB
Integrated graphics: No No
Power use: 140 watts 180W
Required socket: LGA 2066 TR4
Required chipset: X299 X399
Price: $560 $450

As much as AMD’s Threadripper chips are powerhouses with software that can take advantage of its great multicore and multithreaded technology, Intel chips tend to fare better in lower-core count applications, which most games tend to fall into. With better efficiency and a higher clock speed, Intel’s chip is the better for gaming at this price point, even if both still cater to top-tier gaming systems.

Best bang for buck: Intel Core i7-7820x

Mid-range ($200-$400)

8th gen intel core news

Now we’re heading into a more mainstream-friendly desktop space. Leading this pack is Intel’s new eighth-generation Core i7-8700K processor, and AMD’s Ryzen 7 1800X chip. Both were built with PC gamers in mind, but AMD’s solution falls slightly behind in gaming benchmarks. Still, if you insist on an AMD-based platform and don’t want to spend more than $400 on a processor, this is the chip for you.

There are a few things to note here. First, the Core i7-8700K uses the same processor seat as seventh- and sixth-generation Intel processors, but it requires a new chipset, leading to a new motherboard. Meanwhile, if you want to jump on AMD’s new Ryzen bandwagon, you’ll need to purchase a new AM4-based motherboard given that the chip doesn’t fit on older AMD-based motherboards. On top of that, Ryzen processors do not include integrated graphics, so the extra cost of an add-in card comes into play — though if you’re buying these chips for gaming, you want to splash out for a graphics card too.

Core i7-8700K
Ryzen 7 1800X
Architecture: Coffee Lake Zen
Cores: 6 8
Threads: 12 16
Base speed: 3.6GHz 3.6GHz
Maximum speed: 4.7GHz 4.1GHz
Cache: 12MB 16MB
Integrated graphics: UHD Graphics 630 No
Power use: 95 watts 95 watts
Required socket: LGA 1151 AM4
Suggested chipset: Z370 X370 / X300
Price: $380
($340 @ Newegg)

Both the Intel and AMD chips in this category have come down in price a lot since their launch, making them more attractive buys than ever. Where the Ryzen chip may offer more cores and threads though, the Intel chip is simply the more powerful gaming solution. With a much heftier clock speed and better single-threaded performance, you should see a noticeable improvement in its gaming chops over the AMD counterpart, even at the slightly higher price point.

Best bang for buck: Intel Core i7-8700K

Budget (under $200)

Budget gaming today doesn’t mean poor performance as there are some powerful options even at the low end of Intel and AMD’s line ups. 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 fresh-off-the-presses Zen-based Ryzen 5 1600X chip is no slouch either, with the same core count as the Intel counterpart, but with double the threads. Both are require a new motherboard, so you’ll need to add that extra cost and labor into the mix when making a purchase.

The rivalry between these two chips is no different than the other comparisons in our list: Intel’s chip out-performs in single-core benchmarks, and AMD’s chip does 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.

Core i5-8400
Ryzen 5 1600
Architecture: Coffee Lake Zen
Cores: 6 6
Threads: 6 12
Base speed: 2.8GHz 3.2GHz
Maximum speed: 4.0GHz 3.7GHz
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: $180 $170

As much as the additional threads of the Ryzen CPU are a nice addition — and certainly useful if you’re a big multitasker — when it comes to gaming there’s nothing that beats the i5-8400 at this price point. It’s a supremely powerful gaming chip that isn’t far behind much more expensive hardware. You might lose overclocking options with the 8400, but under $200, you aren’t going to be able to overclock anything to be faster than this chip for games.

Best bang for buck: Intel Core i5-8400