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PC Gamer Hardware Awards: What is the best gaming CPU of 2020?

PC Gamer Hardware Awards

PC gaming has made some impressive strides forward this year, but the one component that stands out the most for me has been in the CPU space. Not only have we seen Intel pulling out some impressive improvements using its ageing 14nm++ production process (honestly, how it still manages to wring anything new out of that node is impressive in itself), but we've had a minor refresh from AMD in the form of its XT chips (remember those?). And then we got the real game-changer: Zen 3, which finally saw gaming parity between Intel and AMD.

AMD finally catching up with Intel's gaming performance may not seem that big a deal, and it wouldn't be if AMD hasn't been pushing forward in other areas for a while now. It's Zen architecture has had Intel up against the ropes in thread-heavy applications, with Ryzen chips offering more threads than Intel's similarly priced alternatives. It's got a hook on next-gen tech as well, offering PCIe 4.0 support long before we've seen anything from Intel on that front, as well offering impressive memory support across the board.

At the same time, we've had some impressive plays from AMD and Intel in the mobile space, with Intel's impressive 10nm Ice Lake battling against AMD's Renoir chips, with the likes of the Ryzen 9 4900H taking that battle to Intel. To be fair mobile CPUs are outside the remit of this category, but it's worth highlighting just how competitive things are getting across several segments now. 

Back to the point at hand, there have been a number of releases worth considering for the category of the best gaming CPU of the year. We've whittled it down to the top three chips in our view though, and that means we've lost some impressive entrants along the way, including last-gen chips from both Intel and AMD, as well as shouldering out Intel's brief king of the hill, the 10-core, 20-thread Core i9 10900K, which was usurped just at the end of the year. It's still an impressive chip, but it doesn't quite have what it takes to make this shortlist. Anyway, on with the show.

Best Gaming CPUs 2020: the nominees

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
Best Gaming CPU 2020 nominee

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
The fact that this $299 CPU produces similar gaming performance to the $540 Core i9 10900K is quite the feat and shows how far AMD has come. It also squeezes in support for PCIe 4.0 and comes with its own cooler makes this a formidable value proposition. It may 'only' be a 6-core, 12-thread chip, but that's going to be fine for gaming for a while yet.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
Best Gaming CPU 2020 nominee

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
If you need that little bit 'extra' in your processor, then it's hard to get away from AMD's flagship 12-core, 24-thread processor. It delivers in gaming and also handles more serious applications without breaking into a sweat. With a base clock of 3.7GHz and a boost of 4.8GHz, this is a mightily impressive chip.

Intel Core i7 10700K
Best Gaming CPU 2020 nominee

Intel Core i7 10700K
AMD's Zen 3 may be on point, but you can never rule out Intel, and the Core i7 10700K shows that it can still pack a mighty punch for anyone gaming on a decent budget. The 10700K offers a healthy 8 cores and 16 threads, with a base 3.8 GHz clock with a max turbo of 5.1GHz. 

So there you have it. Our three nominees for the best gaming CPU of 2020. We'll be picking our winner on New Year's Eve, so be sure to tune back in to see which one has wowed us the most. Either way, it's been an incredibly important year for gaming processor, and it feels like this is only going to continue into 2021 when we see Intel's response in the form of Rocket Lake. Here's hoping the competition continues knocking out amazing gaming chips.  

Alan Dexter

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.