Buying a processor for a gaming rig isn’t as hard as it used to be. Now that AMD’s Ryzen and Intel’s 9th-gen Core CPUs come with more performance and cores than ever before, it’s hard to buy a stinker these days—especially because most games favor graphics firepower over CPU oomph. All that said, there are specific chips that stand out from the horde as the best gaming CPUs due to their price, performance, or nifty extras.
Whether you’re on a budget or willing to pay for sheer face-melting speed, these are the best CPUs for gaming PCs that you can buy.
Latest gaming CPU news
It’s not a processor you’ll want if your focus is purely on gaming, but if you’re interested in a side of gaming alongside some heavy-duty productivity, AMD’s utterly monstrous 64-core Threadripper 3990X hangs in games just as well as its lower-priced siblings. At $3,990, however, you’ll definitely know exactly how you’re going to put all those cores and threads to good use to justify the investment.
We don’t cover laptop CPUs in this article, but if you’re interested in gaming on the go, at CES Intel revealed that its forthcoming Comet Lake H-series processors will push laptops to 5GHz when they launch later this quarter. Yes please!
The best gaming CPU for most people
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X ($235 on Amazon)
Intel’s ruled the gaming roost for seemingly time eternal, but in 2019, AMD seized the mainstream crown. Pound for pound, the Ryzen 5 3600X is the best gaming CPU for most people, and the best mid-range CPU period.
While Intel removed Hyper-Threading from most of its mainstream Core lineup, leaving most of its Core i5 lineup with six cores and six threads, AMD bestows its Ryzen parts with simultaneous multi-threading, giving the six-core Ryzen 5 3600X a full twelve threads. That gives it a serious advantage in productivity workloads. But for the first time in recent memory, AMD’s mainstream chip outpunches its direct Intel rivals too. AMD infused its third-gen Ryzen chips with massive instructions-per-clock (IPC) improvements and faster clock speeds, with the 3.8GHz Ryzen 5 3600X capable of boosting up to 4.4GHz.
Together, those gains help propel the 3600X past Intel’s Core i5-9600K in Tom’s Hardware’s testing, and the beloved Core i7-8086K in Tech Radar’s testing. Most AMD motherboards support overclocking for the adventurous if you want to try your hands at even better performance.
You can find the Ryzen 5 3600X for $235 at Amazon, down from a $250 launch price. Better yet, AMD tosses in three free months of Microsoft’s superb Xbox Game Pass for PC with every Ryzen purchase. That’s a lot of free gaming goodness to go with a great gaming processor.