It’s not unusual to begin the search for a great gaming processor for a high-end gaming PC after finding the best graphics cards. It’s not totally unreasonable to prioritize the GPU, as that component ultimately determines which quality settings and resolution you’ll be able to run your games at. But, you can’t throw all your time and money into choosing your GPU only to skimp on a CPU. After all, your processor is arguably as important as it dictates how well the rest of your gaming PC runs, and a CPU that’s too weak can bottleneck your system, preventing your GPU from even running at its full capacity.

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. If you’re browsing in the UK, click here to find out where you can find the best CPU for gaming.

TL;DR – These are the Best CPUs for Gaming

  • AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
  • Intel Core i5-11400
  • AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
  • AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
  • Intel Core i5-11600K
  • AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
  • AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X
  • AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

1. AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

Best CPU for Gaming

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

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Cores: 6 ● Threads: 12 ● Base Clock: 3.7GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.6GHz ● L3 Cache: 32MB ● TDP: 65WAMD’s Ryzen processors have performed phenomenally from the get go, and the latest generation takes it even further. Though the Ryzen 5 5600X isn’t the most premium or packing the most cores, its incredible balance of performance in gaming with a price that’s not astronomical is hard to pass up.

The Ryzen 5 5600X features six cores with multi-threading support, letting it handle all sorts of workloads and gaming with aplomb. Those cores can boost up to 4.6GHz, and they all have access to a shared 32MB of L3 cache, which can help keep them zooming along without a hitch. That performance all comes in a package that only has a 65W TDP, and AMD even throws in a cooler that can keep the processor humming, making it an even better value.

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2. Intel Core i5-11400

Best Budget CPU for Gaming

Intel Core i5-11400

Intel Core i5-11400

Cores: 6 ● Threads: 12 ● Base Clock: 2.6GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.4GHz ● Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 730 ● Intel Smart Cache: 12MB ● TDP: 65WThe CPU and GPU shortage of the past year may be making it hard to get your hands on AMD and Nvidia parts, but Intel’s latest round of CPUs are not only available but actually priced right. You can get the Intel Core i5-11400 for MSRP, which makes its six cores rather attractive right now.

This CPU has enough might to handle the average gamers needs and can definitely hold up if you’re in a GPU-bound scenario. Better still, if you’re having trouble getting your hands on a new graphics card, this chip’s onboard graphics will let you get your computer up and running even without dedicated graphics. You may even have some luck with light gaming on the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 730.

3. AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

Best Ultra Cheap CPU for Gaming

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

Cores: 6 ● Threads: 12 ● Base Clock: 3.9GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.4GHz ● Graphics: Radeon Vega 7 Graphics ● L3 Cache: 4MB ● TDP: 65W

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G is your one-stop shop for affordable PC gaming. This processor comes in at just $259, yet it’s packing all the processing power and graphics power you need to get up and running for games. That’s because this is an APU that bundles a CPU and GPU onto the same chip.

You’ll get six cores and twelve threads that run at a 3.9GHz base clock, easily handling most everyday tasks you throw at them. Meanwhile, the seven Radeon Graphics cores can muster some modest 1080p gaming performance. All of that comes in a 65W power budget that’ll be easy to keep cool for sustained performance.

4. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Best High-End CPU for Gaming

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

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Cores: 12 ● Threads: 24 ● Base Clock: 3.7GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.8GHz ● L3 Cache: 64MB ● TDP: 105WIt’s 2020 – who still wants a high-end CPU with a paltry core count in the single digits? With the Ryzen 9 5900X, you can scoot right into the double digits with 12 cores and 24 threads. This CPU will blast through whatever work you throw at it so you can move right along to gaming. It’s unlikely you’ll find a game that this CPU can’t handle with ease, even if you’re playing at 1080p to push the processor to its limits while gaming at high frame rates.

This processor also nets you access to PCIe 4.0 speeds on X570 and B550 motherboards, so you can take advantage of the incredible speeds of PCIe 4.0 SSDs or high-bandwidth add-in cards. Despite its power, the Ryzen 9 5900X only has a 105W TDP, an impressive efficiency AMD has managed to eke out of its 7nm design.

5. Intel Core i5-11600K

Best Midrange CPU for Gaming

Intel Core i5-11600K

Intel Core i5-11600K

Cores: 6 ● Threads: 12 ● Base Clock: 3.9GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.9GHz ● Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 750 ● Intel Smart Cache: 12MB ● TDP: 125WIf you don’t want to bet the performance of your gaming rig on a budget CPU, the Intel Core i5-11600K can meet you in the middle. This CPU costs less than $300, and for now, it’s actually available at MSRP. This chip also comes with integrated graphics that can help you get your next PC build set up even if you don’t have the graphics card yet.

With six cores and 12 threads capable of running at up to 4.9GHz, you should be able to get plenty of performance out of this processor. And, if you’re finding the CPU is holding you back, you can try to eke even more power out of it as it is an overclockable model. Just make sure you get an adequate CPU cooler if you plan to push the overclocks.

6. AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

Best APU for Gaming

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

Cores: 8 ● Threads: 16 ● Base Clock: 3.6GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.6GHz ● Graphics: Radeon Vega 8 Graphics ● L3 Cache: 16MB ● TDP: 65W

If you saw the Ryzen 5 5600G and liked the sound of it but wanted to ensure you’d get more power, the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G is the APU for you. Though this one stays at the same 65W TDP as its smaller sibling, AMD has packed in eight cores with multi-threading, and the processor can hit boost clocks up to 4.6GHz.

This chip also comes with a little extra oomph in the graphics department thanks to an extra graphics core, bringing the total to eight Radeon Graphics cores. And, where the Rzyen 5 5600G’s graphics cores run at 1900MHz, the Ryzen 7 5700G’s graphics cores run at 2,000MHz.

7. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

Best CPU for Gaming Video Editing

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

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Cores: 16 ● Threads: 32 ● Base Clock: 3.4GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.9GHz ● L3 Cache: 64MB ● TDP: 105W

When AMD first introduced its Zen architecture, you would have had to turn to its massive Threadripper processors to get a 16-core/32-thread chip. Now, that’s officially mainstream – or enthusiast anyway. The Ryzen 9 5950X delivers that incredible core count for well under $1,000. Plus, it keeps those cores fed with information thanks to a hefty 64MB L3 cache.

With this many cores, you’ll have no problem recording and streaming your gameplay. And, when it comes to editing, the Ryzen 9 5950X won’t miss a beat. Since the CPU supports PCIe 4.0, you’ll also be able to take advantage of the fastest SSDs on the market to make loading projects and scrubbing through footage as quick as ever. You won’t even need an exotic cooler for this chip, as it only has a 105W TDP.

8. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

Best High-End Desktop Processor for Gaming

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

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Cores: 24 ● Threads: 48 ● Base Clock: 3.8GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.5GHz ● L3 Cache: 32MB ● TDP: 280WHave 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 3960X is a prime HEDT processor that comes with triple the number of cores found on even what most would call high-end CPUs.

What’s more, it also offers quad-channel memory support for a total of eight sticks of RAM (including ECC) and access to an incredible 88 PCIe 4.0 lanes, which you can use to install multi-GPU setups and the fastest NVMe SSDs ever made. It also runs games nearly as well as a traditional, mainstream processor and it’s one of the cheaper chips in the HEDT space.

9. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

Best Streaming Gaming Processor

 AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

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Cores: 64 ● Threads: 128 ● Base Clock: 2.9GHz ● Boost Clock: 4.3GHz ● L3 Cache: 256MB ● TDP: 280WWhile 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 3990X a 64-core CPU meant for consumers.

It’s incredibly high core count and astronomic 128-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.

Where to Get the Best CPU for Gaming in the UK

Ryzen 5 3600X

AMD

Ryzen 5 3600X

Best CPU for Gaming

Ryzen 3 3200G

AMD

Ryzen 3 3200G

Best Budget CPU for Gaming

Core i9-10900X

Intel

Core i9-10900X

Best High-End CPU for Gaming

Core i5-10600K

Intel

Core i5-10600K

Best Midrange CPU for Gaming

Ryzen 9 3950X

AMD

Ryzen 9 3950X

Best CPU for Gaming Video Editing

Pentium Gold G6400

Intel

Pentium Gold G6400

Best Super Cheap CPU for Gaming

Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

AMD

Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

Best High-End Desktop Processor for Gaming

Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

AMD

Ryzen Threadripper 3990X

Best Streaming Gaming Processor

What’s Next for Gaming CPUs

AMD has made a huge splash with its Ryzen CPUs, and they’ve just continued to get better with each generation. With the Ryzen 5000 Series, they’re as strong as ever. AMD’s graphics department has also been playing catch up with Nvidia and getting within striking distance. Now, AMD is introducing the latest meeting point of those two product segments with the latest Ryzen 5000 Series APUs, which combine AMD’s processing cores with integrated graphics.

These will be coming in the form of the mid-range Ryzen 5 5600G and the higher-end Ryzen 7 5700G. Both are set to hit the market later this year on August 5 with the Ryzen 5 5600G coming in at $259 and the Ryzen 7 5700G at $359.

For PC builders on a budget, these could be very promising products. Both chips have a TDP of just 65W, making it easy to build a low-power PC around them. And, with their integrated graphics, they can help you get gaming while avoiding the graphics card shortage that has plagued the market for the better part of a year now. For perspective, AMD boasts the Ryzen 7 5700G averaging 78fps at 1080p in Rogue Company with graphics set to High. So, these could be a solid bet for esports fans.

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, NVMesolid-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 instructions 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.

Kevin Lee is IGN’s Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam

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