The AMD/Intel war is now so fierce a $120 CPU is all your gaming PC needs

AMD vs Intel
(Image credit: AMD)

The next round in the eternal AMD vs. Intel fight is all about us PC gamers. Forget the creators, forget the streamers, and forget the fact that Intel Comet Lake is bringing us the first 10-core i9 in a more-or-less-mainstream package. The 10900K is still going to be a prohibitively pricey processor, and those sorts of chips—along with the 12- and 16-core AMD Ryzen 9 3900-series CPUs—are more about creation than having fun with your gaming PC.

The ever-expanding core-counts of modern processors are to be lauded, and we have to give props to AMD for being the catalyst to this modern revolution, but game engines are still relatively bad at spreading their load across the cores and threads available to them. They're simply not optimised for a PC gaming ecosystem where we've now got more than the four-core, eight-thread limit that was in place for such a long time.

But we're about to hit an inflection point where what was once the limit now becomes the entry point for both AMD and Intel's new processors. And that means we can legitimately ask: what is the point in a purestrain PC gamer picking up anything more powerful than either AMD's new Ryzen 3 3300X or Intel's Core i3 10100? Is 2020's best gaming CPU actually going to end up as a $120 chip? Quite possibly.

As much as we all want to check out the latest and greatest processors and graphics cards on the market, very few of us are ever going to have the ready cash-money to drop on a 16-core 3950X or a freakishly expensive Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti

Those halo products are great for those aspirational 'if only' builds you might create on PCPartPicker, but practically meaningless when it comes to actually speccing out a new build you could realistically buy.

But if a $120 - $150 CPU is all we need to get the most out of the GPU in our gaming rig then that just means we have a little bit more cash to spend on that graphics card. The AMD Ryzen 3300X has already been shown to outperform a Core i7 7700K, a top CPU from just a few generations ago, so we know these chips have got the necessary gaming chops.

We've always advocated balancing your gaming PC builds to make sure you're not overweighted on one side or the other, leaving some performance on the testing room floor in the process. But with the new Ryzen and 10th Gen CPUs that balance is already off, and realistically spending more on your processor isn't going to add up to a whole heap of silicon in terms of extra gaming performance alone.

(Image credit: Intel)

Today's game engines still care more for single threaded performance and raw clock speed than they do about having multiple CPU cores floating around. That extra silicon is great for serious computation and doing many different things at the same time, such as gaming, recording, and streaming, but aren't going to do much to your solo gaming frame rates.

So having a quad-core, eight-thread chip at the heart of your system will be more than enough for a pure PC gamer. And with both Intel and AMD launching head-to-head with new budget chips, with the same specs, it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top. 

Pricing for Intel's new Comet Lake desktop chips has now leaked and it looks like the Core i3 10100 is going to be a direct match for the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X in terms of both price and turbo clock speed. Both are 65W chips, come in around the $120 mark, and both will boost up to 4.3GHz on a single core. The all-core turbo speed for the Core i3's four cores is rated at 4.1GHz, but AMD hasn't listed what its Ryzen 3 CPU can do when the full chip is being stretched.

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X vs. Intel Core i3 10100

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Header Cell - Column 0 AMD Ryzen 3 3300XIntel Core i3 10100
Cores | Threads4 | 84 | 8
Base clock3.8GHz3.6GHz
Boost clock (single core)4.3GHz4.3GHz
Boost clock (all-core)N/A4.1GHz

What is different is that AMD's 3300X allows for some overclocking, though admittedly the Zen 2 architecture hasn't been too effective on that front in our historical testing. The overall platform is cheaper on the AMD side too, with lower-priced 400-series boards compatible with the latest Ryzen processors as well as the pricier X570 option. There will also be PCIe 4.0-supporting budget B550 boards arriving in June too and, while that won't make any difference to the performance of your graphics card, that will enable speedy Gen4 SSDs in your rig.

We don't know how long we'll have to wait for Comet Lake's budget H470 or B460 boards to make an appearance, but the non-K-series Core i3 won't offer any overclocking, and neither will the motherboards. Probably.

So, while Intel's new budget hero might deliver higher gaming performance out of the box, thanks to the company's historical single-threaded lead, there's a chance that with a little judicious overclocking the new Ryzen will close any slight gap that does exist. And AMD will still be able to offer a far more compelling overall budget platform to PC gamers too.

Until we've had both new chips humming away in our test rig, however, we won't know for sure who's going to come out on top, but if I had to put some money on it a 3300X-based machine would probably be the one I'd go for. But however it shakes out there are going to be some fantastic budget gaming machines available in the summer.

Dave James
Managing Editor, Hardware

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.