The Best Processors for Gaming at Every Budget


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.

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 are still worth considering.

For 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 fantastically affordable. You can get the top 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: $360 $320

The AMD CPU is 11 percent cheaper than the Intel alternative, so if you’re on a tight budget it may be the better option. It certainly is if you plan to work with software that can take advantage of those extra cores as well as game. 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

For gaming on a budget (under $200)

AMD Rizen CPU 1600X on board
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 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 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 3.7GHz
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: $185 $165

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.

Best bang for buck: AMD Ryzen 5 2600

For streaming and power gaming ($500+)

AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920X 1950X Review

If you just want to game, skip this category as you really don’t need this many cores and threads. If you’re a heavy multi-tasker though and like to watch movies while you game, or more importantly, want to stream the games you play, some extra processor brawn can come in handy. That’s where Intel and AMD’s top-tier chips really come into play.

Both Intel and AMD have some amazing offerings in this category, from the $2,000 Intel 7980XE, 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 i9-7920X
AMD
Ryzen Threadripper
1920X
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: $1,000 $550

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 help offset the cost of a new RTX-series graphics card.

Better yet, the 1920X is regularly on sale for as little as $250 as AMD looks to clear stock ahead of its next-generation replacement. That’s slated to debut in October and at that point we’d expect the 2920X, with its improved clock speed, to replace its first-generation predecessor in our guide.

Best bang for buck: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1920x


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