Arming yourself with more cores than you could possibly ever think of needing and pairing it with an equally-powerful graphics card is a great way to guarantee that you have yourself an excellent gaming experience.
But, herein lies the problem, what exactly is the best CPU for gaming in 2021?
This is a question that has a lot of answers.
For starters, what might be considered as the best gaming CPU for someone on a budget definitely won’t be the same for someone who’s willing to splurge a bit more, and it obviously won’t be the same for someone with lots of money to throw around.
Factors such as, whether you’re going to go with an AMD or an Intel processor comes into play. And, once you’ve chosen, you’ll have to choose which generation. You also need to think about your upgrade path down the line.
Then, once you’ve done that, you’ll have to make sure that the processor you’ve chosen is compatible with your current motherboard if you’re upgrading.
Simply put, choosing the best gaming processor doesn’t necessarily mean that you go for the most expensive or the most powerful. This is especially true as far as the value for your money is concerned.
With that said, how do you choose the best processor for gaming?
Things To Consider Before Buying a CPU
1. Both AMD and Intel Make Good Processors
Try not to get caught up with the narrative that one manufacturer makes better processors compared to the other.
The truth is, both AMD and Intel make good CPUs.
As long as you’re comparing current-generation processors at the same price point — because if you’re not, then it’s not a fair argument — the difference in performance is negligible at best. This is especially true when it comes to gaming.
Now, streaming video games, on the other hand, will definitely benefit from having more cores. This is also why AMD handles video editing better than Intel.
But, not everyone these days streams, and while AMD’s processors do handle streaming better, it’s not like what Intel is offering is miles behind in terms of multi-tasking performance either.
2. Clock Speed Is More Important Than The Number Of Cores
At the very least, as far as gaming is concerned.
If you’re choosing between two processors from the same manufacturer, you’re almost always better off going with the one with the higher clock speed.
This is arguably where AMD has a huge upper hand over Intel.
Because all AM4 Ryzen processors have unclocked multipliers (provided they’re installed on a motherboard that supports overclocking), users can always overclock their processors for a slight boost in performance — for free.
Just keep in mind, overclocking comes with its fair share of risks.
3. Balance Is Everything
A powerful processor is important, but it’s not everything.
If you’re going to build a system unit for gaming, you’re going to want to balance your system so you don’t end up not having enough RAM and a weak graphics card to pair with your powerful processor. Otherwise, you might end up with a system bottleneck, which usually happens when a weak system component gimps the performance of a significantly more powerful hardware component.
4. Overclocking Is Not a Guarantee
People seem to think that, just because AMD’s Ryzen chips are overclockable, that means that they’re a better value for the money.
While that is indeed partly true, you do have to keep in mind that overclocking comes with risks. In addition to this, you’ll have to buy a motherboard that supports OC first, and then pair your processor with a capable cooler so it doesn’t end up overheating. Plus, overclocking isn’t something as simple as pushing a couple of buttons and being done with it.
Achieving a stable overclock on a processor takes hours upon hours of testing and even then, there’s no guarantee that your system won’t crash eventually.
The 10 Best CPU For Gaming
1. AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
Architecture: Zen 2
Number of Cores/Threads: 16/32
Base Frequency: 3.5GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.7GHz
Hands up if you ever thought that you’d see the day that a non-server processor would reach double digits in core count.
No? Us neither.
But, the thing is, it’s here, and it’s easily the best processor for gaming in 2021 — as long as you’re willing to pay for it.
The AMD Ryzen 9 3950X is a beast of a processor, with 16 cores and 32 threads (yes, you read those figures right), which allows it to deliver the kind of multi-core performance that can handle anything that you can think of throwing at it, including gaming, streaming, video encoding, or image processing, and all those tasks AT ONCE.
The only issue? The high asking price.
This unicorn of a gaming processor — High-End Desktop Processors (HEDTs) typically suffer from reduced performance in games and other lightly-threaded applications, which isn’t the case for the Ryzen 9 3950X.
It comes with a price tag that’s best left for creative professionals who need this much computing power, and wants something that can game and stream just as well every now and then.
While we did crown the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X as the best processor for gaming in 2021, it’s not necessarily the fastest.
That honour belongs to the Intel Core i9-10900K.
The first-ever mainstream CPU from Intel to hit double digits in processing cores (10 cores), the i9-10900K is Intel’s way of saying that, despite having attached themselves to 14nm technology for far longer than they would have preferred, they aren’t going down without putting up a good fight.
With a base clock of 4.1GHz and a claimed ceiling of 5.3GHz when pushed to the absolute limits, the i9-10900K benefits from the simple fact that video games still favor processors with high clock speeds.
Unfortunately, there’s a reason why didn’t start our list with the i9-10900K.
In addition to running on a completely different platform, and the fact that you’ll need to invest in a top-of-the-line Z490-chipset motherboard, as well as a proper cooler and a power supply unit that can actually keep up with it, the i9-10900K is a bit too power-hungry for most people’s tastes.
Also, while the i9-10900K doesn’t do half-bad in multithreaded applications, “half-bad” isn’t exactly the kind of performance you’d expect when you’re spending this much on just your processor alone.
Still, for all of its faults, if you’re looking for the best Intel CPU for gaming, the i9-10900K is definitely it.
The fastest gaming processor in the world today
Excellent overclocking potential
Lower pricing per-core compared to the competition
Strong performance in both single- and multi-threaded applications
The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X makes for a compelling argument as the fastest AMD CPU for gaming. However, it cannot be denied that it is the best AMD CPU for gaming when you consider just how much value it brings to the table for the price.
Yes, compared to the Ryzen 9 3950X, the Ryzen 9 3900X comes with a lower core and thread count (12/24 vs 16/32). But, unless you’re one of the select few who could use the Ryzen 9 3950X more, the Ryzen 9 3900X is a more attractive option because it costs 50% less and comes with a Wraith Prism cooler out of the box that actually performs quite well for a stock cooler.
Its closest competition in price, the Core i9-9900K, is technically faster, but only by a bit much, and only in gaming.
In other instances, such as video editing, image processing, and 3D rendering, among others, the Ryzen 9 3900X races ahead of its contemporaries. Not to mention, the difference in gaming performance becomes negligible once you step up to the highest resolutions available, giving AMD another win over Intel.
Now, overclocking is an option for the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X, but we don’t recommend it. Instead, you’re better off taking advantage of the Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO) feature for an additional 200Mhz, which is a far more stable and convenient solution.
With that said, while the Ryzen 9 3900X might not technically be the proverbial king of the mountain as far as performance goes, it holds far more value for a vast majority of gamers out there that its pricier counterparts.
Yes. It only has 6 cores and 12 threads. It also has a TDP of 128W, making it every bit as power-hungry as its more expensive big brother, the i9-10900K.
However, for all of its shortcomings, the i5-10600K benefits from the very same thing that the i9-10900K does, and it’s the simple fact that higher frequencies almost always translate to better gaming performance.
By that same logic, the i7-10700K should have earned a recommendation as well, but, the price difference is too big for the little extra performance that you get.
You’re better off spending your money on the i5-10600K and pairing it the best Z490 motherboard that you can find, as well as a decent cooler, so you can overclock the i5-10600K and get the most value out of your money.
Once overclocked, the i5-10600K can hold a candle against pretty much everyone in terms of gaming.
Compared to AMD’s offerings, including but not limited to the Ryzen 9 3900X, the Ryzen 5 3600, and the Ryzen 7 3700X, you can squeeze much more gaming performance out of the i5-10600K just by simply overclocking than the aforementioned processors.
Sure, outside of gaming, the i5-10600K might not be among the best, and it’s certainly a pricey processor to build around. However, the same holds true for every Intel processor worth buying today. Besides, if we are to take a look at it from a pure gaming and overclocking standpoint, it’s hard to beat its value.
So long as you’re comfortable overclocking and open to buying a decent cooling option, the i5-10600K is the best processor for gaming that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Built for overclocking
Class-leading gaming performance
Stays cool, even when pushed to its limits
Multi-threaded application performance is still lacking
For the best mix of productivity and gaming without punching a hole on your wallet, we recommend getting the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X.
The gaming performance of the Ryzen 7 3700X definitely isn’t the best in its class. However, it’s not like it lags behind by a serious margin. Besides, it’s the multi-threaded application performance that you’re paying for here, and that’s where the Ryzen 7 3700X excels.
A drastic improvement over its predecessor, the Ryzen 7 2700X, the 3700X is a power-efficient monster of a processor that doesn’t lose out too much to its bigger brothers.
Sure, its 1080p gaming performance could be better, but at higher resolutions, like 1440p or 4K, the difference is negligible.
Besides, if you’re gaming on 1440p and 4K, then you’re definitely going to want to stream and share it with your friends. Compared to its similarly-priced competition from Intel, the Ryzen 7 3700X is much more suited for this kind of multitasking load.
As a result, the Ryzen 7 3700X could very well be the best CPU for 4K gaming and the best CPU for 1440p gaming, at least, as far as reasonably priced gaming processors are concerned.
This 6-core and 12-thread thing of wonder from AMD is still built on the same widely-praised Zen 2 platform, but it doesn’t come with the price tag of its more expensive bigger brothers. In fact, you can find the Ryzen 5 3600 ducking in at just right below the $200 mark, which is also why it’s considered as the best gaming CPU under 200 today.
Now, on paper, the Ryzen 5 3600 is definitely “slower” than the 3900X and the 3600X.
The reason for the air quotes, though, is because, for gaming purposes, the difference in gaming is marginal. You also can’t really expect anyone with a sound mind to pair the mid-range Ryzen 5 3600 with a top-of-the-line graphics card, like, let’s say, the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti.
More often than not, people will be pairing the Ryzen 5 3600 with the AMD RX 5700 or the Nvidia GTX 1660 Ti or the RTX 2070, in which case, the 3600 definitely won’t be an issue.
Of course, the Ryzen 5 3600X does exist, and it’s definitely a good alternative.
The reason why we’d still recommend the Ryzen 5 3600 over the more expensive 3600X is simple — it’s cheaper and you can make up the difference in performance by overclocking the 3600 to perform just as well if not better than the 3600X.
Besides, you’re better off spending the difference on memory sticks with faster timings, which have been proven to make a significant improvement in gaming performance for Ryzen-based gaming set-ups.
A direct successor to the Intel Core i5-9400F, the 10400F sports the same amount of cores but doubles the threads (12 threads vs 6 threads) and ups the L3 cache by a significant amount (12MB vs 9MB).
True, it’s not exactly built for overclocking like the Intel Core i5-10600K (it can’t even overclock at all), but it does come with a relatively low TDP of 65W.
Also, not being able to overclock it can also be a blessing since you won’t be tempted to buy a more expensive Z490 motherboard nor a better performing cooler than the one it comes with, which gives you more money to spend on a better graphics.
Now, if that’s the case, then wouldn’t the cheaper Intel Core i5-9400F make more sense?
Not exactly. Because for the same reason the Ryzen 5 3600 has long been considered as the best gaming CPU under $200 since its release because of its more future-proof build (it comes with 6 cores and 12 threads), the i5-10400F is also built to better support next-generation titles once they start releasing in 2021.
If you’re building a PC for purely gaming and you prefer Intel more but don’t want to plan on overclocking anytime soon, then the i5-10400F is an excellent and a much more affordable alternative to the i5-10600K.
6 cores and 12 threads
Elite gaming performance at an affordable price point
With a listed price just below $150, the AMD Ryzen 5 3400G earns the distinction as arguably the best gaming CPU for under $150.
Budget-oriented buyers will love the fact that it comes with a capable integrated graphics card.
The Radeon RX Vega 11 won’t wow you with its graphical fidelity by any means, but it can let you enjoy many newer and older titles at 1080p, provided that you are willing to compromise on the graphics.
Because of this, you could get yourself a gaming PC without having to go get a graphics card, giving you more money to spend on other components, like an SSD or a faster memory.
The 3400G also comes with unlocked multipliers and a stock cooler that you likely won’t be needing to upgrade anytime soon.
What this essentially means is that, while the 3400G is perfect for low-budget systems using integrated graphics, you still have the option to add a decent graphics card like the GTX 1660Ti and even the RTX 2070 down the line without experiencing significant frame loss resulting from a system bottleneck.
Perfect for budget-oriented gaming builds
Solid overclocking potential with PBO support
Bundled with a cooler
Single-threaded and gaming performance leaves a lot to be desired
The AMD Ryzen 3 3300X is the reason why its big brother, the 3400G, is not uncontested in the $150 price range.
Priced even lower than the 3400G, the 3300X comes with the same amount of cores and threads (4 cores and 8 threads) but jumps up a bit ahead in terms of base and top boost frequency (3.8GHz and 4.3GHz vs 3.7GHz and 4.2GHz, respectively), as well as in overclocking headroom.
Because of the price difference, you could have saved the money for a more decent CPU cooler for overclocking, or a mid-range GPU along the lines of the GTX 1660Ti and or the RX 5600XT, both of which will be no problem to the 3300X.
Paired with the recently-released B550 motherboards, a system unit built around the 3300X could end up costing less than some of the processors on this list and still perform well enough at 1080p and even 1440p resolutions.
Generally, we wouldn’t recommend going below the $100 price point when shopping for gaming processors.
The glaring lack of cores and thread count at this price point makes most processors not worth buying anymore. Even when paired with a capable graphics card, processors at this price range are usually more trouble than their worth because of the potential frame loss from system bottlenecks.
While the Intel Pentium Gold G6400 is not, by any means, special, the value it presents for gamers with budget-conscious gamers because of its 2 cores and 4 threads, as well as support for Hyperthreading, can’t be denied.
Priced well below $100, the G6400 is the best gaming CPU under $100 simply because we don’t believe anything else in and around this price point is worth buying.
As you can see, buying the best CPU for gaming isn’t easy.
The good news is that it’s no longer as hard as it was many years ago.
Thanks to the many technological improvements that both AMD and Intel have made throughout the past decade, their offerings, the Ryzen 3000-series and Intel’s 10th-generation processors, respectively, come with much more cores and threads than what was available to system builders in the past.
Paired with the fact that today’s games are far more optimized to take advantage of a good graphics card over a powerful processor and it’s become near-impossible to buy a “bad” gaming CPU these days.
Still, even if that’s true, there are a handful of chips that stand out from the rest of the competition.
Those chips are the ones that we gathered in our list above.
Whether you’re a budget-conscious system builder or someone looking to get the most performance out of their money or simply want the best that money can buy, we made sure to recommend the best CPU for gaming depending on your budget, needs, and preferences.