Best CPU for gaming 2018 | PCGamesN

Best CPU for gaming 2018

Best CPU for gaming

What's the best CPU for gaming? It’s a vital part of building your own gaming PC. So we've tested all the top AMD and Intel processors to help you make the right decision.

Gaming is still heavily reliant on single-threaded CPU power in terms of raw performance, but you can't just get a couple of speedy cores and hope they'll keep your graphics card fully fed. Despite the dominance of quad-core CPUs - or above - in today’s gaming rigs the difficulty of coding for multi-core processors has meant we’re still not seeing many modern game engines taking full advantage of the powerful CPUs many of us have in our machines.

You're also going to need a great GPU, so check out our pick of the best graphics cards you can actually buy.

But that could be set to change with an increased number of dedicated DirectX 12 (and to a similar extent, Vulkan) games offering a more streamlined method for delivering all that processing power into the hands of gamers. It’s been a long, slow march, but processor power may soon become a vital component of gaming performance once more. Though I have been saying that for the last ten years...

AMD have usurped the top spot for the best gaming CPU with their Ryzen 2 processors, but they still have fierce competition from Intel's Coffee Lake chips. Take a look below to find the processor that fits you best. Also, if you need a refresher course for techie-phrases, here's our processor glossary of terms.

The best CPUs for gaming are:

Check out the best CPU prices at Amazon US or Amazon UK.



Best CPU for gaming - AMD Ryzen 5 2600

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Winner: Best CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.4GHz | Turbo: 3.9GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx. $190 / £160

The AMD Ryzen 5 2600 isn't just a great gaming CPU, with serious multi-threading chops, it's also an incredibly good-value chip too. We had originally pegged the 2600X as the go-to gaming chip thanks to its high-end performance, but struggled a little with how much more expensive it was compared with the Core i5 8400.

The 8400 still retains the gaming perforamnce lead, but the fact the Ryzen 5 2600 costs almost the same as the rival Intel chip means that there's only going to be one winner in that battle. With a little judicious overclocking, at a level which isn't going to put any undue strain on your silicon, you can get the same level of performance as the 2600X, and only a few fps lower than the Core i5. But with a huge amount more multi-threading capabilities for the same price.

In the end then AMD’s non-X 2600 has more power inside it than you’re really likely to use, and is still able to offer all that for a mighty tempting price. You might need to get your hands dirty to get the most out of it, but it’s well worth the minimal effort.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 2600 review.


Best CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo: 4.2GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx: $210 / £195

The 2600X has double the thread-count of its closest Intel rival, the Core i5 8400, which makes it a genuinely impressive computational chip, as fast as the far more expensive i7 8700K. And though we are talking about the 8400 being quicker in gaming frame rates it’s only ever by a few frames per second on average. And that’s at 1080p; push the resolution up to a more GPU-intensive 1440p or 4K and the difference becomes essentially zero.

But it's the straight 2600 CPU from AMD which pushes the X-series variant down into second place. That's a cheaper chip that just needs a very small amount of overclocking effort to get running at the same speed. If you know you'll never bother, and have the spare cash, go for the 2600X, but everyone else would be better off with the non-X Ryzen 52600.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 2600X review.


Best CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Core i5 8400

Intel Core i5 8400

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 6 | Base clock: 2.8GHz | Turbo: 4GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 v2

Approx. $179£153

I’ve been struggling with which chip to pick from the i5 8400 and the new Ryzen 5 processors as to the best CPU for gaming. While the cheaper 8400 does have marginally better gaming performance I’d struggle to really recommend it as an overall package. The new mainstream chipsets, the H370 and B360, mean that the non K-series Coffee Lake SKUs have a more affordable platform, but how long they’re going to last is anyone’s guess.

Intel have a habit of nixxing backwards compatibility for their new Core CPUs, while AMD have confirmed that your AM4 motherboard of today will be compatible with all their Zen based mainstream processors up to 2020. 

But the 8400 is a lot cheaper right now, given the fact the 2600X has just launched, though it's only slightly cheaper than the standard Ryzen 5 2600. And that only makes it a tempting prospect if you’re seriously limited on price. Price is really the only reason you’d pick the 8400 over the 2600 - the future-proofing, multi-threaded performance, and near-as-dammit gaming performance, means the Ryzen 2 CPU is the better overall CPU.

Read our full Intel Core i5 8400 review.


 Best CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 5 1600X


AMD Ryzen 5 1600X

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo: 4GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx. $200£143

The 1600X was a fantastic processor when it first launched. It was a symbol that AMD could actually make genuinely competitive gaming CPUs and not just from a straight cost perspective. 

But the 2600 is here now and is making it tough to recommend picking this first-gen Ryzen over the new Ryzen 2 CPU. Well, it would be if the 1600X wasn’t available for a great price right now. In the US it’s still some $200, but in the UK it’s a snip at around £150. That makes it cheaper than the 8400 with almost the same level of gaming prowess.

If you do anything else with your PC as well as gaming - the sort of productivity shizzle which demands multi-threaded CPU performance - then the old-school Ryzen, with twice as many active threads as even the K-series Intel competition, is the better bet and more affordable than the Coffee Lake options.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 1600X review.


 Best CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Core i5 8600K

Intel Core i5 8600K

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 6 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo: 4.3GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 v2

Approx. $239£213

This is a bit of a surprise if I’m honest. I genuinely thought that, after what happened with previous Intel generations, the K-series Core i5 would be the go-to gaming CPU. But because the Ryzen 5 2600 has the multithreaded chops, and the Core i5 8400 is just so damned good when it comes to pure gaming performance, there’s almost no need to spend the extra on the 8600K.

Where the 8600K does have relevance is because of its overclocking skills. Running at a comfortable, stable 5.1GHz the Coffee Lake chip is capable of delivering the same level of multi-threaded CPU performance as the competing 12-thread Ryzen 5. To be honest, that seems to have been this processor’s raison d'être - beat Ryzen at all costs. 

But it’s more expensive than the 1600X, and you’re stuck with having to go for the pricey Z370 platform to get that overclocking speed. Well, and because you can’t buy the budget 300-series motherboards yet.

Read our full Intel Core i5 8600K review.



Best high end CPU for gaming - AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

Winner: Best high-end CPU for gaming

Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3.7GHz | Turbo: 4.3GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx: $320 / £284

If you’re after a mix of great multi-threaded computational chops and gaming performance then look no further than the new 2700X. It’s a great-value Ryzen 2 CPU that’s the top-chip in the new range, and yet costs way less than the 1800X did when it first launched. It’s even cheaper than the 1700X it’s nominally replacing.

But it can outperform them both thanks to higher clock speeds and a processing management engine that’s better at giving you that power when you need it. No longer are you limited to the base frequency as soon as you start using more than a single core, now it will top 4GHz even when all eight cores are at 100% load.

That makes it a great chip in productivity terms and a CPU with gaming performance that is practically indistinguishable from the Intel competition.

These second-gen Ryzen chips prove that AMD have been listening, and the fact that they’ve managed to whisk out the lumps in the Ryzen batter (mmm, pancakes…) and get it to market in a little over a year is mighty impressive. It’s not just the 12nm chips which are lithe, the whole CPU side of the business seems to be too. They’ve been smart too holding back the inevitable Ryzen 7 2800X to combat whatever Intel can muster in response.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 2700X review.



Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Core i7 8700K

Intel Core i7 8700K

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.7GHz | Turbo: 4.7GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 v2

Approx. $349 / £313

The Coffee Lake K-series i7 is a cannibal. Not only has it eaten the Kaby Lake i7 whole, it’s also gone to town on both the hexcore i7 7800X and both the unashamedly irrelevant Kaby Lake-X parts. And those last three were only around for a matter of months before they were swallowed whole. Brutal. But that’s what had to happen for Intel to get Coffee Lake out early and in the sort of shape that would give it a chance against AMD’s Ryzen.

But with the second generation of the Ryzen CPUs having now launched the 12-threaded 8700K doesn’t have the same gloss it once did. The 2700X has arrived with essentially the same level of gaming performance and way more computational power. And it’s turned up for a good chunk cheaper too. Factor in the need to purchase a separate cooler with the 8700K and you’re looking at the 2700X being around $70 less expensive.

It does have the slightest of leads in gaming frame rates, but only by a couple of frames per second on average. In short, an invisible lead.

Read our full Intel Core i7 8700K review.



Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 7 1700X

AMD Ryzen 7 1700X

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3.4GHz | Turbo: 3.8GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx.  $250 / £207

If you're not comfortable with running your brand new processor overclocked out of the box then the Ryzen 7 1700X is possibly a better option for you rather than the cheaper Ryzen 7 1700. And chances are you're looking at the Ryzen processors because you're after their high core and thread counts for productivity tasks over and above gaming performance.

For general rendering and encoding you're going to want your chip to be as stable as possible and still run at a high clockspeed. The R7 1700 is a great choice if you're willing to overclock, but the safer option is this 'X' suffixed version of AMD's octa-core range.

In terms of gaming performance, you are leaving some of your GPU's potential frame rate in the box when pairing it with an AMD processor, at least you are for the time being. But with the multi-threaded performance on offer, at this price, if you're interested in using your PC for anything outside gaming this Ryzen is a great option.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1700X review.



Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 7 1700

AMD Ryzen 7 1700

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3GHz | Turbo: 3.7GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx. $220 / £195

If you are happy with carrying out a little light overclocking on your new processor then the Ryzen 7 1700 is a great choice with a heady mix of fantastic eight-core pricing and still impressive number-crunching chops. At roughly the same price as Intel's quad-core i7 7700K the 1700 will be a rather tantalising prospect for anyone that isn't primarily going to be gaming on their PC.

By pushing the somewhat miserly stock clocks up to the same levels as the other Ryzen 7 chips you can get pretty much the same overall performance out of the 1700 for a lot less cash. It's still not a dedicated gaming chip, but it's got the multi-threaded performance that might make those lower frame rates more palatable .

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1700 review.




Best cheap CPU for gaming - AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

Winner: Best cheap CPU for gaming

Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Max boost: 3.7GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx: $96 / £84

AMD have begun retiring the Ryzen 1000-series processors even before the April release of the Ryzen 2 CPUs. The new AMD Raven Ridge APUs are replacing both the Ryzen 5 1400 and the Ryzen 3 1200 in the red team's processor stack, but this bargain 2200G APU actually also pretty much puts the Ryzen 3 1300X out of a job.

That ol' Ryzen 3 used to be our favourite budget gaming chip, but the mix of serious quad-core CPU performance with the addition of surprisingly effective Vega GPU silicon make the this APU a winner whether you're plumbing a graphics card into your rig or not.

As the basis for a little budget gaming rig the 2200G can deliver decent 720p gaming performance, if you're not too ambitious about the game settings, that is. The Ryzen 5 2400G does have more about it on that front, but it is a good chunk more expensive and the performance difference can largely be made up by overclocking the internal GPU.

Because AMD have also managed to jam in a full quad-core Ryzen CPU into the package too it performs admirably when you plumb in a discrete GPU too. It loses a little against the 1300X on straight CPU performance, potentially because it's got half the L3 cache, but in gaming terms it's as close as makes no difference. And the low-end Raven Ridge is also a little cheaper too. Bargain.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 3 2200G review.



Best cheap CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 3 1300X

AMD Ryzen 3 1300X

Runner-up: Best cheap CPU for gaming

Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Turbo: 3.7GHz | Socket: AM4

Approx: $129£99

I love budget kit. No, scratch that, I love budget kit that turns up offering the same sort of performance you would normally have to pay through the nose for. Loving your work, AMD. The new Ryzen 3 1300X was the best budget gaming chip around when it, packing four overclockable Zen cores into a dual-core price tag. And has only just been overtaken by the cheaper Ryzen 3 2200G.

The Ryzen 3 platform is excellent too. When you can pick up the overclockable 1300X and a powerful B350 motherboard, for the same price as a multiplier-locked Core i5 on its own, it becomes mighty hard to make a case for Intel. That pricing means you can build yourself a GTX 1060-powered Ryzen 3 gaming rig for the same price as you’d pay for a locked down Core i5 rig with just a GTX 1050 Ti. And you know which one’s going to be winning the benchmarking battle there, right?

The freakiest thing about all this is that if AMD manage to nail the Ryzen Threadripper release they could end up with a clean sweep of our best CPU picks. With the Ryzen 5 1600X taking the overall top spot, and the Ryzen 3 1300X nailing the budget market, a well-placed, 12-core 1920X could take over the high-end gaming CPU slot too. That would be a marked change from the start of the year where it was Intel or nothing.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 3 1300X review


Best cheap CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Pentium G4560 

Intel Pentium G4560

Runner-up: Best cheap CPU for gaming

Cores: 2 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Turbo: N/A | Socket: LGA 1151

Approx. $59 / £40

The Pentium G4560 is a decent budget CPU, offering Intel's 14nm Kaby Lake architecture for a sub-$100 price point, without too much of a performance difference between it and the still too-expensive Core i3 7350K.

It doesn't have any overclocking potential and no Turbo clockspeed to boost that miserly 3.5GHz stock frequency, but it has Intel's Core architecture which will help get the most out of your GPU. The issue is that it's a dual-core CPU. It does have HyperThreading enabled, which is a definite bonus in this budget arena, but it's still at the bottom end of acceptable. In fact, with the two new Ryzen 3 CPUs arriving, buying a new dual-core CPU is arguably not acceptable if you hope to be able to keep using that chip a year or two down the line.

What it does have is an upgrade path for your platform, however. It uses the LGA  1151 socket, so with a suitable motherboard, such as an H270, you'll be able to drop a speedier i5, or even i7, processor into your board later on down the line.

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0V3RKILL avatarStreetguru avatarEwok avatarDave James avatarelites2012 avatarsintheticreality avatar+9
0V3RKILL Avatar
1 Year ago

all AMD system here with an 8350 clocked at 4.5GHz, 16GB at 1600Hz on a MSI 970 Mobo with a 290x MSI twinfrozer clocked at 1040Hz. I happily play everything I've purchased at maxed in 1080p, exept GTA5. There I only have grass in high & reflection sharpening on 0X. I play Deus Ex at max with 40fps. Never goes lower than 35fps. Waiting for Zen at the moment. Got my money's worth out of this system I got to be honest.

Ewok Avatar
1 Year ago

5 years on and I'm still not feeling the need to upgrade from my 2500k. Still playing new releases 1080p on Ultra without a hiccup at stock settings - with plenty of overclocking potential if I ever need to.

sintheticreality Avatar
1 Year ago

I've had a 2500K for 4 years and unless Ryzen benchmarks are amazing and cost-effective, I'm not bothering to upgrade.

U take teethwash then take job Avatar

im in the same boat, I kinda pulled a weird move though. I bought a razer blade (late 2016, 1060gtx/6700hq.) and the core, slapped a 1080gtx FTW in it, and thought that I was going to slam my desktops performance to pieces. Well... I'm starting to wonder if I really did. UNFORTUNATELY, I can't think of a good way to test this.... any ideas?

Dave James Avatar
1 Year ago

It's interesting how long-lived Intel's CPUs have been using the Core architecture. If AMD had been more competitive over the last five years, or if game engines took advantage of faster CPUs, would their processor performance have stagnated so much?

My office machine has an old Ivy Bridge chip and have no need to upgrade it. Though there is a Skylake in the test rig for up to date benchmarking purposes...

Ransbear (Ranscat) Avatar
1 Year ago

I need to say that this list is mistaken in a few places. First, the 6800k is worse at gaming performance than ryzen 1600x, however intel 6700k is substantially better at gaming than the 1600x and i5 so the best high end gaming cpu should be the I7 6700k. Also the pentium G4560 achieves identical performance than the i3 for a much lower price.

In conclusion:

Best high end gaming cpu: I7 6700k

Best budget processor: Pentium G4560

Take into account this is considering gaming only, if you do video rendering, the 1600x is much better than the i7770k and 6800k.

Warlord Avatar
1 Year ago

At first, I wanted to disagree. Having done a little research, the G4560 is definitely within a few percentage points of the i3 at a lower price tag. Good call.

Monsoon.Moon Avatar
11 Months ago

My Ryzen 1600x arrived on the weekend, all the other bits today, just waiting for my CPU cooler to arrive and I'll be putting it together, I can't wait.

blackbird1000 Avatar
5 Months ago

Intel 2500K was my old gamer CPU. - Have been running for almost 5 years and it still lives. but not as my gamer pc -It was cheap and fast. The same is my new gamer CPU a Ryzen 1600 OC to 4 Ghz with water cooling. The 12 threads make a huge difference, play in 4K and have VR glasses, and the 4 core could not pull. Now I run VR or 4K games without problems, and at the same time I can have more users running in the backround. Also included with encrypted disks and others. Without problems. With M2 SSD discs and water cooling on Graphics Cards, it says at full load not a sound. And power consumption ..... Has earned it all over it in 4-8 years :-) --- AMD Rules again - And your don't have to switch a expensive MOBO for each new generation. The Athlon days is back...... Clittle competition again. For the benefit of the consumer. Intel has been too expensive. And would not deliver more kernels at a reasonable price. Now they have to pay for it in the expensive way. AMD man again.

Streetguru Avatar
1 Year ago

Don't go AM3+ if you aren't getting an 8 core CPU, in addition you forgot about how the i7 6700 lets you get a more budget motherboard compared to an overclocking i5 + Z170 board

Dave James Avatar
1 Year ago

Personally I'd say just don't go AM3+ if you're buying fresh at all. It's a dead-end with new AMD chips coming in a few months.

And you're right about the budget boards; it's why I recommended the H170 as a decent option for those not looking to overclock their processors or needing high-performance memory.

Streetguru Avatar
1 Year ago

AM4 is taking far too long, but I think as far as new parts go an FX 8300 + ASrock 970A board that has USB 3.1 is pretty cheap for pure multi-threaded performance, or it's alright for certain kinds of servers

Danteska Avatar
1 Year ago

Why FX 6300 over 6350 and over 8350?

Dave James Avatar
1 Year ago

In terms of a budget CPU option the FX 6300 is a fair chunk cheaper than either the 6350 or 8350, and still offers a similar level of performance. The FX 6300 can also overclock like a hero if you want to squeeze some more performance out of it.

Tenshinai Avatar
1 Year ago

Written about the 6800K:

"and is arguably the best-value six-core CPU ever made"

Hardly, the AMD Thuban CPUs were awesome for its day, far beyond current Intel hexacores, and my friend is still running his 1090T, he has talked about upgrading for 2 years now, but because it keeps on being still "good enough", he´s now waiting for Ryzen before he decides. And that is despite his system being cheapskate to the point where he can no longer run with the turbo activated(both PSU and cooler was saved on heavily, against my strong advise not to, hehe).

Dave James Avatar
1 Year ago

I did say it was arguable ;)

But yeah, I loved the old 1090T! If AMD had kept on shrinking the Hammer architecture instead of shifting to the abortive Bulldozer designs they'd have a better shot at single-threaded performance. Still, roll on Ryzen, eh?

Anyways, back to the point, with the HyperThreading on the 6800K, and the quad-channel memory support, it delivers 12 threads of workstation performance for a great price. The 1090T was around $400 at launch too, so there's not a huge difference in that regard.

Tenshinai Avatar
1 Year ago

Oh, and BTW, you only talk about cores and threads in the article?

Some games totally adore having more or better cache, it´s the primary reason i went for a 4790K instead of 4690K, as Starcraft 2 get´s a noticeable improvement even when turning off hyperthreading and running those two at same clockrate.

Min64 Avatar
1 Year ago

I'm using a i3 6100 with a MSI GTX 1060 3gb for a budget system it basically plays anything i want at high or max settings at 1080p. Couldnt be happier.

team_pentium Avatar
1 Year ago

My specs:

• i5-6400 @ 3.2 GHz

• GTX 750

• Intel H110 Chipset

• 400W PSU

• and a lot of old crap hooked up with USB ports

elites2012 Avatar
1 Year ago

intel R & D along with their convincing payouts, have lot more than AMD has. whats the point of a multi core cpu, when all you do is boost a single core to do all the work. why not go back to a single core and clock it to 5ghz or higher?