There's never a dull moment when it comes to the best gaming CPUs. This is a hotly contended title, and AMD and Intel both seem to want it more than ever. Right now, the ball's in Intel's court, thanks to a clever hybrid architecture and some healthy pricing on its latest Raptor Lake 13th Gen chips, but AMD's Zen 4 is certainly no slouch.
I'm happy to report that there are a ton of great affordable processors out there right now, too. And great ones. Most of all the Core i5 13600K, but even on the more affordable side there's the Core i5 12400. AMD also keeps making its Ryzen 5000-series CPUs just that much more affordable, which is great if you already have an AM4 motherboard and need an upgrade.
And if you want to save some money on a CPU, we've found the best Cyber Monday CPU deals (opens in new tab) right now to help you do just that. Saving money on a CPU is crucial because it will let you splurge on other components like a larger SSD, a better motherboard, and maybe even a better graphics card (opens in new tab). It's not about being cheap; it's about being smart with your money, so you get the most gaming bang for your buck.
Every chip on this list has been tested through our intense CPU benchmarking suite on our PC Gamer test rigs. This comprises plenty of the latest games and 3D and video rendering workloads, because we're all content creators and streamers now. Games are the most important tests for us, however, hopefully for obvious reasons.
Make sure you also check our guide to the best gaming motherboard (opens in new tab) if you are planning to do a brand new build. For now, on with the best CPUs for gaming.
The best CPU for gaming
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The Intel Core i5 13600K is another mighty mid-range chip from Intel, and you can expect a major uplift in core counts even with this more parsimoniously priced Raptor Lake chip. Well-tuned to deliver high gaming frame rates, this is ultimately the chip most gamers should consider first for their next gaming PC.
The Core i5 13600K is a 14-core processor, made up of six Hyper-Threaded Performance-cores (P-cores) and eight Efficient-cores (E-cores), for a total of 20 threads. That's four more E-cores than this chip's predecessor, the Core i5 12600K (opens in new tab), but don't be fooled by the E-cores's diminutive name and silicon footprint.
Those four extra cores make for a significant increase in multithreaded performance. The Core i5 13600K's single-threaded Cinebench score? Exactly the same as a Core i9 12900K.
Alright, real-life performance won't see the Core i5 13600K matching the Core i9 12900K in every regard, but it really does deliver something similar in gaming for a lot less money. In three out of six games I've tested, the Core i5 13600K matches the pace of the Core i9 12900K.
We're once again seeing the best gaming chip come from the lower rungs of the stack with Raptor Lake. The Core i5 13600K delivers exceptional gaming performance in a sensibly priced package, delivering only a handful of frames less than the processors that fetch double the asking price. For a gaming PC build in 2022/23, this is absolutely the chip I'd recommend to most.
But I'd go one further than that. The inclusion of four more E-cores turns this processor into a 14-core chip with the multithreaded performance to deliver in high-demand applications, and that makes it a great fit for streaming, content creation, editing, and more.
The Core i5 13600K is much more of an all-round powerhouse than I had expected it to be.
Read our full Intel Core i5 13600K review (opens in new tab).(opens in new tab)
Even though the Core i5 12400 is close to being replaced by a newer 13th Gen chip sometime in 2023, likely early on but we don't know for sure, we still recommend it for any budget builds between now and then.
The Core i5 12400 is nearing on legendary status in the Alder Lake lineup, and that's because of its unprecedented ability to overclock where it shouldn't. The lack of a 'K' at the end of the Core i5 12400's name should denote its lack of overclocking prowess, but somewhere in the silicon it has the ability for BCLK overclocking.
With a motherboard capable of taking advantage of the Core i5 12400's overclocking ability, we managed to push this little chip that could to 5.2GHz rather happily. It didn't run too hot or too power hungry to do it, either, though you will need to be considerate of cooling potential before attempting this.
Similarly, Intel doesn't recommend anyone does this—though that's true of pretty much any overclocking nowadays. The company also could close the door on the non-K-series overclocking at some point, so keep that in mind if that's the sole reason you're thinking of purchasing this chip.
If you're not looking to overclock in the slightest, however, don't fret. The Core i5 12400 was already impressive without its secret ability, and with cooler included at this price tag, it's one helluva great deal.
Read our full Intel Core i5 12400 review (opens in new tab).
Intel's Core i9 13900K is spectacularly good at what it does, and what it does is pretty much everything. Gaming? Of course, it can push high frame rates alongside the latest GPUs. Multitasking? Yep, easy. With 24 cores it's perfectly suited to lots of stuff happening all at once. High-demand creative workloads? Absolutely, it barely breaks a sweat.
Intel's hybrid architecture has really come into its own with the Core i9 13900K. Throw it at any problem, and it's likely going to solve it in record time.
The Core i9 13900K actually makes ex-HEDT chips look slow by comparison. In fact, Intel's Core i9 13900K is almost 10,000 points clear of the Core i9 12900K in Cinebench R23. In the Blender Junk Shop benchmark, the Core i9 13900K is 60% faster than the Alder Lake chip.
If you want lots of speedy threads to throw at creative apps, this is it.
When it comes to gaming performance, the Core i9 13900K is equally impressive. This chip does little to hold back a modern high-end GPU, such as the RTX 3080 we're testing with, and I have no doubts it'll make the best pairing with Nvidia's new RTX 4090, too. Minimum and 1%/0.1% lows were also impressively high and consistently so, which is a good marker of CPU performance nowaday.
Now for some PC builders, that's an easy buy. You want the fastest chip around, here it is. But I would suggest that most PC gamers with a moderate budget will want to look at the Intel Core i5 13600K (opens in new tab) instead. Sure, it's not as fast or as threaded, but it delivers nearly as high frame rates in games and has plenty of multicore chops for content creation and streaming. All for nearly half the price.
But to say the Core i9 13900K is too expensive would be wrong. It's actually, surprisingly priced roughly the same as a Core i9 12900K, despite being much faster, offering eight more cores, and arriving on a now cheaper platform.
I'm not going to belabour the point. This is a mighty processor at a surprisingly reasonable price, and a lot of builders will want one simply because it's the best of the best—we're not at a loss for incredible processors right now and Intel's Core i9 13900K is top among them.
Read our full Intel Core i9 13900K review (opens in new tab).
Essentially what we have here is a direct replacement for the Ryzen 7 5800X of the previous generation. But it's called a 7700X because the 7800X designation is likely being reserved for a Zen 4 3D V-cache gaming chip. I'd imagine that's what AMD will hope to bring the fight to Intel's 13th Gen chips, which are right now leading the way.
That's not to say there's not good value to be found in the Ryzen 7 7700X, however.
We've got eight Zen 4 cores here, with simultaneous multithreading delivering 16 threads of compute power. We've run a deeper look at the new Zen 4 architecture here (opens in new tab), but suffice to say it's a derivative of the Zen 3 tech, but with some extra L2 cache and a redesigned front end created to better feed data into the wider execution engines brought into the previous generation.
Oh, and higher clock speeds. Way higher clock speeds. Okay, the Ryzen 7 7700X isn't up to the 5.9GHz heights of its 16-core brethren, but with an all-core frequency of 5.15GHz out of the box it's still seriously impressive. Under single-core loads, such as those of most game engines, I've measured it running at 5.55GHz.
These would have been heavily overclocked frequencies just a few months back, and we're getting them in stock-clocked AMD chips. The Ryzen 7 7700X sports the same 105W TDP as the Ryzen 7 5800X and 5800X3D, but its 5nm compute and 6nm I/O dies deliver efficiency improvements and the Eco Mode feature delivers outstanding performance per watt figures. I'm a big fan of Eco Mode in the Zen 4 generation of chips and probably more so with this middle-order processor, too.
The Ryzen 7 7700X is an excellent example of the generational improvements of the Zen 4 architecture, especially on the efficiency side. This third-tier chip is pretty regularly beating the cache-heavy special edition CPU of the last generation, and that was the best gaming processor AMD had ever made just five months ago. It's efficient, hella fast, and can deliver on the gaming front too.
Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 7700X review (opens in new tab).
The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X is the vanguard for a whole new generation of CPUs and GPUs launching in these next few months. But, despite its many advances, a whole new AM5 motherboard platform, and shiny new heatspreader design, this isn't the best gaming CPU (opens in new tab) we were hoping for.
I mean, it's good. And certainly smashes the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X (opens in new tab) from the Zen 3 generation, but this Zen 4 chip has a resurgent Intel CPU architecture to deal with in Alder Lake and Raptor Lake. With the Core i9 13900K offering so many cores itself now, it's very much encroaching on the hallowed high core count space of the Ryzen 7 7950X.
The new Ryzen 9 7950X is an evolution of the Zen 3 design, and is at once a brute of a processor, running at the ragged edge of its thermal constraints, and yet with an impressively elegant design. Even on the outside—Yeah, I'll say it, I love that new heatspreader look.
But it's still not the processor I'd pick up today and there's a chance it might get savaged out there for being more of a derivative than a revolutionary CPU. There's no spectacular new tech on display, no vertically bonded cache chips, no extra cores, just a healthy clock speed bump, some finessed microarchitecture, and a new socket.
It is certainly fast. I did a bit of a double take checking out the numbers when I saw the Cinebench R23 single thread run tipping the odd core up to 5.9GHz. Even stable at 5.8GHz was pretty shocking. It's not quite that high under all-core load, but 5.4GHz across all 16 cores still makes it one blazing chip.
It's blazing in another way, too, because damn, does this thing get hot?! Actually, no. It's okay. AMD says that "At 95 degrees it is not running hot, rather it will intentionally go to this temperature as much as possible under load because the power management system knows that this is the ideal way to squeeze the most performance out of the chip without damaging it."
But does fast and hot make it the ultimate gaming processor? Not really, not at all in fact. On that score, it will often get outperformed by the eight-core Ryzen 7 7700X which launches alongside it. It is comfortably faster than the previous generation's Ryzen 9 5950X, which is important, especially as that was priced some $100 higher on release.
You will likely see a lot made about it being a disappointing release. But, to me, it feels like a confident, consistent release. You could argue it's maybe not super ambitious, but AMD has got where it is today by always delivering on its Zen promises, and yet again Dr. Su's gang has absolutely done that.
The Ryzen 9 7950X is the fastest, hottest, most power-hungry Zen chip yet, but though it's not the gaming champ it is still the best all-round AMD CPU.
At launch, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D was the fastest gaming processor the red team had ever made. It's not so much anymore, but it remains the best bet for gaming performance if you're stuck with an AM4 motherboard.
AMD's chip was and still is a technically impressive beast, using the latest packaging processes from TSMC to bung an inordinate amount of cache into its new CPU. Because, after all, what do you do when you can't squeeze any higher frequencies out of your processor architecture? You stick a whole lot more cache memory into it and hope for the best. That's what AMD has done on the GPU side with its Infinity Cache, pairing up to 128MB with its RDNA 2 graphics cards, to great effect, and now it's doing the same to its CPUs.
The Ryzen 7 5800X3D is architecturally identical to the standard Ryzen 7 5800X (opens in new tab), using the same Zen 3 processor design, and therefore the same chiplet setup that has made AMD's recent generations of CPU such world-beaters. That means you're getting the same eight-core, 16-thread layout in a single chiplet (so no potential inter-chiplet latency issues), but a slightly slower clock speed because of a necessarily lower voltage.
In general, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D either essentially matches or outperforms the Ryzen 9 5950X. That's a great result considering the top Ryzen is still an expensive CPU, and more than ever just a productivity chip and little else. There are also a few times where the CPU outperforms the standard Core i9 12900K, which again is a great achievement. Though, for the most part, it lags behind the Golden Cove microarchitecture of the Alder Lake part when it comes to gaming. Let alone Raptor Lake.
It's a technically elegant, efficient CPU that delivers on its promises. It can't quite beat Intel's hulking brute of a Core i9 12900KS in the frame rate war, but it still offers the majority of AMD users an easy upgrade path to gaming performance that is not far off. And for a fraction of the price and power demands, too.
Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D review (opens in new tab).
AMD's APUs are the best processors to drop into your rig if you're not going to use a discrete graphics card, but still want a modicum of gaming performance out of your system. And the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G is the best of the Zen 3 chips to deliver that.
Unlike previous APU offerings from AMD, the Ryzen 7 5700G is far more of a jack-of-all-trades chip because we are talking about an eight-core Zen 3 CPU component with 16 threads and a powerful Vega-based GPU to back it up. That makes this a chip that's almost up there with the best of the Ryzen 5000-series CPUs in processing power, but with the graphical grunt to deliver 1080p gaming on low settings in some seriously demanding titles.
It’s a Zen 3 based processor with a 7nm, 180mm2 10.7 billion transistor monolithic die, with 8 cores and 16 threads. And by monolithic we mean that it doesn't match the chiplet design of the other Ryzen 5000-series CPUs, instead squeezing everything into one traditional package design.
The 5700G’s graphics performance is certainly class leading, but it also remains as true as it ever was that integrated graphics simply can’t provide the horsepower of even a low-end discrete GPU. This chip's graphics component is still based on the ageing, though reworked and well optimised, Vega architecture. That comprises eight compute units, and 512 GCN cores, operating at 2GHz. RDNA-based graphics, not to mention RDNA 2, will have to wait at least one more generation.
AMD's integrated Vega GPUs are known to benefit from faster memory, so if you plan to game with it, we’d advise you spend a few extra dollars to top that standard DDR4-3200 memory support and grab a decent set of DDR4-3600 RAM to eek out a few more frames. It will really show in gaming performance.
Notably, you’ll also get AMD’s Wraith Stealth cooler. That’s a nice value add, though we'd say it’s adequate at best, and pretty much any aftermarket AM4 CPU cooler will outperform it.
In summary, what the 5700G does is provide awesome convenience, well-rounded processing and graphics performance, and it does so within a 65W envelope.
Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 5700G review (opens in new tab).
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The best CPU for gaming FAQ
How do you test CPUs?
While gaming resolutions run from 720p to 4K, we largely test at 1080p. This will show the most significant difference in gaming performance you're likely to see and pushes the CPU into the spotlight instead of the GPU—an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 in this case.
We use a mix of motherboards depending on the platform, but all high-end to ensure as level a playing field as we can. These boards include the Asus ROG Maximus Z690 Hero, MSI MPG Z490 Carbon WiFi, ASRock X670E Taichi, and Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master.
When it comes to memory, we use G.Skill Trident Z5 Neo DDR5-6000 CL30 2x 16GB for 13th/12th Gen Intel processors, while 11th Gen processors are tested using Corsair Vengeance Pro RGB sticks at 3,600MHz effective. The AMD AM5 rig uses the same DDR5 memory as the high-end Intel one, however, the AM4 rig uses Thermaltake DDR4 3,600MHz effective.
To further eliminate any bottlenecks, a high-speed PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD was used across each system, each loaded with Windows 11 and our suite of benchmarking applications and games.
Liquid cooling is also used on all test rigs to ensure these chips are not restricted thermally.
Our benchmark suite includes 3DMark Time Spy, Civ 6's turn benchmark, Total War: Three Kingdoms, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla, Metro Exodus, F1 2021, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Cinebench R23, SiSoft Sandra, x264 v5, and PCMark 10.
Where can I read all of PC Gamer's CPU reviews?
AMD CPU reviews:
- AMD Ryzen 9 7950X
- AMD Ryzen 7 7700X
- AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
- AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
- AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
- AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
- Threadripper 3970X and 3960X
- AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
- AMD Ryzen 9 3900XT
- AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
- AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT
- AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600XT
- AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
- AMD Ryzen 7 1800X, 1700X, and 1700
- Threadripper 1950X and 1920X
- AMD Ryzen 5 2600X
- AMD Ryzen 5 2400G
- AMD Ryzen 5 1600X, 1600, 1500X, and 1500
- AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
- AMD Ryzen 3 1300X and 1200
Intel CPU reviews:
- Intel Core i9 13900K (opens in new tab)
- Intel Core i5 13600K (opens in new tab)
- Intel Core i9 12900K
- Intel Core i5 12600K
- Intel Core i5 12400
- Intel Core i9 11900K
- Intel Core i5 11600K
- Intel Core i5 11400F
- Intel Core i9 10980XE
- Intel Core i9 10900K
- Intel Core i5 10600K
- Intel Core i9 9900K
- Intel Core i7 9700K
- Intel Core i9 7980XE
- Intel Core i9 7960X
- Intel Core i9 7900X
- Intel Core i7 8700K
- Intel Core i7 7700K and Core i5 7600K
- Intel Core i5 8400
What motherboard is right for my CPU?
Raptor Lake is the most recent Intel platform to be released, and it's compatible with any 600-series motherboard and the newer 700-series ones. These are available supporting DDR5 (new) and DDR4, so pick that side of things carefully.
The latest AMD Ryzen 7000 CPUs use a new AM5 socket, and that means they only work with currently available X670, X670E, and B650 motherboards. Older AM4 motherboards, such as X570, B550, and A520 boards, are not compatible, ending a long line of compatibility there.
Is Intel or AMD better?
This is a rather loaded question. AMD has held the top spot for a long time, with its Zen architecture making for some incredible leaps in performance, but Intel stole the crown with its Alder Lake family, specifically the Core i5 12600K, and made it even better with Raptor Lake and the Core i5 13600K.
It's worth remembering that most games are GPU-limited, which means the graphics card is the limiting factor in terms of performance, and you would likely see the same essential frame rates with either CPU manufacturer when a discrete graphics card is used. This is especially true as you up the resolution, with 4K having little between the top chips.
Should I overclock my CPU?
The honest answer is: no. Overclocking your processor is not necessarily the risky move it once was, but equally, the benefits of doing so have drastically dropped in recent times. When we're talking about gaming performance, having a slightly higher clocked CPU can make a bit of a difference, but arguably your graphics card will be the part that limits the speed of your system.
There is also the point that overclocked CPUs create more heat, require more intensive and expensive cooling solutions, need those coolers to work harder, and are, therefore, often louder.
For us, overclocking your CPU to gain real-world performance benefits is not something we'd recommend most PC gamers do.
Caching - A small segment of high-speed memory dedicated to storing and executing frequently used commands/instructions to speed up software execution. CPUs contain caches designated as Level 1, 2, and 3, with L1 being the fastest and smallest and L3 being the slowest and largest.
Core - Modern CPUs can contain anywhere from two to 70+ cores (in supercomputers), though CPUs housed in most consumer machines will generally carry between four and eight, with AMD's latest CPUs sporting up to 16 cores.
Clock speed - The speed at which a CPU can execute instructions, measured in hertz. A processor with a 3.7 GHz clock speed can process 3.7 billion instructions a second. Clock speed is one of the most critical factors for determining performance in games and workload functions.
Heat sink - A cooling solution for PCs that utilize fans or liquid cooling (active) or aluminum radiators (passive) that rely on convection to regulate a component's temperature.
Hyper-Threading (SMT) - Intel terminology for a tech that allows a processor to handle two sets of instructions 'threads' simultaneously. AMD and other CPU vendors call this SMT, Simultaneous Multi-Threading.
Socket type LGA (Land Grid Array), PGA (Pin Grid Array), or BGA (Ball Grid Array) - The way a CPU interfaces with the socket on a motherboard. LGA is used on Intel sockets with pins as part of the socket. AMD's AM4 solution, PGA, has the processors' pins, which fit into holes on the socket. AMD's Threadripper CPUs also use LGA sockets. A BGA socket is when the processor is permanently soldered to the motherboard, typically on a laptop.
TDP - Thermal design power, the maximum amount of heat a system or chip can produce that the attendant cooling system is designed to deal with under workload. This term can apply to PCs as a whole, GPUs, CPUs, or nearly any other performance component that generates heat and is in large part an indicator of how much power a part draws.
Thread - A thread refers to a series of CPU instructions for a specific program. Older CPUs and SMT disabled run one thread per core, but most modern AMD and Intel CPUs can simultaneously run two threads, sharing some resources (e.g., cache).
Turbo Boost - Intel technology that allows processors to run at higher clock speeds under demanding loads. AMD also supports turbo or boost clocks, and we use the terms interchangeably regardless of CPU vendor.