Finding the best gaming CPU is sometimes a bit of an afterthought for first-time builders, however, the importance of picking a decent processor to pair with your GPU is crucial. For anyone who isn’t building the best gaming PC money can buy, decisions are often made with a hard budget in mind. You may want to sink 50% of your budget into your GPU and that is fine, all you need to concern yourself with in regards to a gaming CPU is a balance of performance and features that support your build.
Luckily, there is far greater choice in the CPU market, with high-performance processors from both AMD and Intel. Even older-generation CPUs are still worthwhile considering, especially if you are looking to save money or build a budget/ entry-level gaming PC.
AMD & Intel CPU compatibility
Having a compatible CPU and motherboard combo is crucial and it is important to know that AMD and Intel work with different motherboard sockets. To ensure you buy the correct motherboard for your CPU, you simply need to check the socket or browse the best AMD motherboard or best Intel motherboard. Motherboard manufacturers often make “CPU support” lists that detail CPU compatibility for each board. Retailers will often state socket types on CPU and motherboard on product listings too.
- AMD Ryzen 7000 series CPU socket: LGA 1718 (AM5)
- Intel 14th gen CPU socket: LGA 1700
- AMD Ryzen 5000 series CPU socket (previous-gen): AM4
- Intel 13th gen CPU socket (previous-gen): LGA 1700
Best gaming CPU: AMD Ryzen 7800X3D
AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D
8 cores 16 threads
- Offers some of the best price to perfomrance on the market
- Competes with Intel i9
- Excellent value for money
- No specific cons
The Ryzen 7 7800X3D is the best gaming CPU, surpassing pricier rivals from both Intel and the R9 SKUs in the same lineup. This processor comes highly recommended, offering excellent value within the high-performance category.
Sporting eight cores and sixteen threads, the Ryzen 7 7800X3D operates at a base clock rate of 4.2 GHz, with a blazing boost clock of 5.0 GHz. This chip showcases AMD’s Second-Gen 3D V-Cache technology, leveraging a 3D-stacked SRAM chiplet and a substantial 96MB of L3 cache that comes with it.
The Ryzen 7 7800X3D seamlessly integrates into AM5 motherboards, providing support for the latest connectivity technologies, such as DDR5 and PCIe 5.0. One of the Ryzen 7 7800X3D’s standout qualities is its impressively lower power consumption when compared to Intel.
Fastest CPU for gaming: Intel Core i9-14900K
Intel Core i9-14900K
24 cores (8 P-cores + 16 E-cores) 32 threads
- The fastest gaming CPU (6GHz)
- Barely beats the 13900K
- Poor value, 13900K makes more sense financially
The Core i9-14900K stands as the pinnacle of what Raptor Lake processors have to offer. That being said, this refresh barely increased performance, so unless you absolutely need the “fastest” CPU, we strongly reccomend you opt for the i9-13900K instead.
This CPU boasts a staggering 24 cores and 32 threads. Its base CPU clock starts at approximately 3.2 GHz, surging to an impressive boost clock of 6 GHz. Furthermore, you’re equipped with a substantial 32 MB of L2 Cache in addition to the 36 MB of L3 Cache.
Best gaming CPU for $300: Intel Core i5-14600K
Intel Core i5-14600K
Cores / threads
14 cores (6 P-cores + 8 E-cores) 20 threads
- A great mid-range CPU, perfect for 1440p gaming
- Reasonable value
- Not much of a performance uplift on previous gen
While the 13600K is slightly cheaper, the 14600K is preferred here, offering a slight boost in performance. The 14600K and 13th-gen variants are both wallet-friendly, offering a great platform to build for 1440p gaming. When it comes to the CPU’s performance, you’re looking at an impressive 14 cores. Among them, 6 high-performance cores tackle demanding CPU tasks, while the remaining 8 efficiency cores efficiently manage all your background processes.
Best CPU for gaming and streaming: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D
AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D
16 cores, 32 threads
- Great gaming performance
- Incredibly efficient
- Supports DDR5 and PCIe 5
- Competes with 13900K gaming performance
- Lower clocks than 7950X
For the best of both worlds in gaming and streaming, we have the perfect CPU for you. The 7950X3D is yet another in this roundup that leverages AMD’s 3D cache technology, known as 3D V-Cache or X3D, to enable a remarkable 128MB of L3 cache.
The Ryzen 9 7950X3D falls behind its direct competitors in certain productivity applications, however, it stands as one of the fastest gaming processors available today. The Ryzen 9 7950X3D offers all the expected modern processor features, including support for DDR5, PCIe 5.0, and the latest USB connectivity standards.
All-in-all, you can’t go wrong with this chip, it is a beast for all tasks.
Best budget gaming CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 7600X
AMD Ryzen 5 7600X
- Affordable price
- Great performance and value for money
- thermally more demanding than previous gen
The Ryzen 5 7600X is the most entry-level among the Zen 4 releases. However, it stands as a superb choice for gamers, allowing you to allocate your budget towards a more potent graphics card, where your investment directly translates into tangible FPS gains.
While this Zen 4 processor may miss out on some of Intel’s latest releases, the price stands strong, offering incredible price to performance and something substantial for those on stricter budgets.
Best budget Intel CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-13400F
Intel Core i5-13400F
10 cores (6 P-cores + 4 E-cores) 16 threads
- Great budget option for penny saving next-gen builders
- One of the best options for affordable 1080p gaming
- No specific cons
For anyone preferring a budget Intel path over AMD, the 13400F is well worth looking at. This is a surprisingly strong CPU for gaming and will deliver, especially in the 1080p realm. This is a lower to mid-range processor, so make sure you pair it with a suitable GPU. Regardless, this offers great value and provides an affordable entry point to the next generation of computing.
Best CPU for gaming with integrated graphics: AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
8 cores 16 threads
- Stongest in its class
- Dedicated GPU is always prefered
The AMD Ryzen 5 5700G is the best APU for gaming on the market. While this CPU is generally for those who want to build a budget system with integrated graphics, it has a lot of processing power compared to its predecessors.
If you can wait and save up for a dedicated graphics card, you should hold off and buy a regular CPU instead.
Best entry-level CPU: Intel Core i3-13100F
Intel Core i3-13100F
Cores / threads
4 cores, 8 threads
- Perfect for entry level PC builds
- Great value for money
- Limited performance
Last but by no means least, the best entry-level CPU for gaming. If you are building a PC around the $500-$700 mark, this could be the ideal processor for you. This thrives in 1080p gaming and is highly recommended for those with strict budget requirements. With something this affordable you can spend more on a better GPU, giving you an altogether better gaming experience.
What is CPU/GPU bottleneck and how to avoid
A CPU or GPU bottleneck is when one of your components becomes a limiting factor in your PC. This limitation comes from differences in the capabilities of the two main components (CPU/ GPU). Bottlenecks come from a lack of power and not always the age of your system. This means a balance is crucial when choosing a CPU and GPU, ensuring you match the power of both to create a harmonious gaming PC. There are specific CPU and motherboard combinations you can choose but this has nothing to do with bottlenecking.
In the simplest of terms, pairing the best CPU for gaming with the best GPU is always a safe bet. Just like you get high, mid, and low-range graphics cards, you also get CPUs in these brackets too. Below we give you a rough guide based on the most recent CPU launches (Intel 13th/14th gen, AMD Ryzen 7000/ 5000 series)
- Best CPU for Flagship GPUs (RTX 4090/ RX 7900XTX): Intel Core i9, AMD Ryzen 9
- Best CPU for 4K GPUs (below flagship): Intel Core i9, AMD Ryzen 9, Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7
- Best CPU for 1440p GPUs (RTX 4070/ RX 7800XT): Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7, Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5
- Best CPU for 1080p GPUs (RTX 4060/ RX 7600): Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5, Intel Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3)
Best processor for gaming: quick budget guide
Before we look at the best gaming CPUs, we will run through various SKUs from both AMD and Intel and match them up with various budgets. Take this with a pinch of salt as many of these can interchange with one another.
- CPUs for $2500+ gaming PCs: Intel Core i9, AMD Ryzen 9, Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7
- CPUs for $2000 gaming PCs: Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7
- CPUs for $1500 gaming PCs: Intel Core i7, AMD Ryzen 7, Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5
- CPUs for $1000 gaming PCs: Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5
- CPUs for $600-$800 gaming PCs: Intel Core i5, AMD Ryzen 5, Intel Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3
- CPUs for under $600 gaming PCs: AMD APUs, Intel Core i3, AMD Ryzen 3
CPU tech specs explained
There are a few key specs to look at when buying a new CPU for gaming, which we explain below.
What are CPU cores and threads?
A CPU comprises both cores and threads and in today’s CPUs, there are multiple cores that enable them to execute numerous tasks.
Threads, in the realm of computing, are akin to virtual CPUs. The number of threads represents the workload each core can manage. While threads can only process one task at any given moment, they can switch between tasks with incredible speed. Consequently, threads function as an efficient means for your CPU to adeptly transition between handling multiple tasks.
In certain modern Intel processors, you might come across various types of cores. These cores include both efficient (e-cores) and performance (p-cores) cores. They are designed to focus on different types of tasks, allowing each other to handle specific assignments. This approach enhances the efficiency and performance of the desktop processor.
The cache is a type of cache memory that can help speed up access to data.
Both the cache and RAM hold data for the CPU. The cache is smaller but more agile and better located, so the CPU uses this if possible. If not, it defaults to the more sluggish but larger RAM.
There are 3 types of cache: L1, L2, and L3.
L1 is the fastest but smallest, whilst L3 is larger but slower. L2 is somewhere in between.
Clock speed, sometimes referred to as cycle speed or frequency, denotes the number of cycles that a core can execute within one second. It is typically measured in megahertz (MHz), with 4 MHz representing four million cycles per second.
Processors designated as “unlocked” possess the potential for overclocking, allowing them to attain clock speeds higher than their stock specifications. However, overclocking requires precision and careful execution.
Which gaming CPU should I buy?
With compatibility issues and budgetary blockades no longer a concern, it should be fairly straightforward selecting the best gaming CPU. Both AMD and Intel offer some impressive CPUs for gaming for high-end, mid-range, and low-end systems. We have tried to cover all and hope you find the perfect match for your next build. Don’t forget to check out the best motherboards for gaming too once you have made your decision.