Computers are complex machines by nature. When it’s time to upgrade, customer confusion comes into play, and some components can be tough to wrap your head around. When you’re ready to look for the best CPU for gaming, you will definitely need to be well informed.
The CPU is the brain of your machine, and you will want something speedy if you are a hardcore gamer. The cores and cache are only two areas to keep in mind, however, and Intel is no longer the only choice around.
How to Choose the Best CPU for Gaming
It takes more than just a powerful CPU to make a great gaming rig, and not everyone needs a top of the line chip. As with many PC components, you need to consider the overall specifications of your existing system against your needs if you plan to upgrade. The fastest CPU on the planet won’t do you a whole lot of good if you only have 8GB RAM behind it or your socket is incompatible.
Before we get into the fine details, consider your budget and the types of games you plan to play. That will help you narrow the field considerably which could make your decision incredibly easy. Once you know how much you want to spend and the system requirements you need to meet, it’s time to think about the cores.
Once upon a time, we lived in a world where central processing units only had a single core. Now, we have octa-core chips in smartphones and slates. Things have changed, and so have processors that power our devices as you now have to consider things like hyper-threading along with multiple cores.
A single core chip can get the job done, but a dual-core processor splits that workload between multiple cores. The more cores, the faster although an octa-core chip could be considered overkill for a casual gamer looking to play PUBG. You can get by with a Core i3 for that particular game, provided the rest of your system is solid.
As for hyper-threading, don’t let it fool you even if those virtual cores allow you to double up. If you pick up a quad-core chip with hyper-threading, it’s not going to be as fast one with eight cores sans the threading regardless of what your OS thinks. That said, hyper-threading will give any chip a boost and is not something to discount.
Clock speed or frequency is another specification to pay attention to once you understand the numbers. Clock speed is measured in MHz or GHz and is another area that’s changed greatly over the years. While a 3.8GHz chip is still “fast,” there are other factors including the architecture of the chip. There’s also a reason AMD processors are on the rise while others have declined in popularity amongst gamers. If you’d like to learn more about clock speed and cores, this piece sheds some additional light on things.
Compatibility and Sockets
If you are building your rig from scratch, you still need to consider compatibility but can pick a CPU based on the board. When upgrading your existing system, compatibility is the law of the land. While there are several areas, you need to consider although it all comes down to the socket in the end.
The socket on the motherboard is a physical connector where your new CPU will sit. The type of socket on your board dictates the type of chip you can use, so it’s of the utmost importance. Want that Ryzen Threadripper CPU to work? Well, you’ll need a TR4 socket and a board like the Zenith Extreme. Thankfully, there are only two chip makers you need to dwell on with Intel and AMD.
There are far too many motherboards and Frankenstein rigs on the market for us to go in-depth with compatibility. If you plan on using an AMD chip, check out their guide which covers compatibility across their full lineup of processors and components. As for Intel, there is no shortage of resources available although we prefer their official processor matching system.
8 Best CPUs for Gaming to Buy in 2018
The Best AMD CPU
Is it a central processing unit or a modern version of the Flux Capacitor that will zap you back in time? That’s a question plenty of gamers will ask themselves after setting eyes on this slick looking chip. The AMD Ryzen Threadripper is definitely in the “Pro” class, and it’s one of the meanest processors around.
This VR-ready chip will be able to handle any game in your arsenal and has a whopping 16 cores and 32 threads. It’s clocked at 4.0GHz, but can hit speeds of 4.2GHz with XFR and has 40MB of cache memory. It also supports quad-channel DDR4 RAM in case you’re looking for the best RAM to go along with your gaming rig. Other features to note include SenseMI tech and 64 PCIe Gen3 Lanes.
It’s safe to say this chip isn’t cheap and not for the budget-savvy gamers looking to save a few bucks. There are two other versions of the processor if you prefer 8 or 12-cores over 16. The CPU is also available with a liquid cooler or board from GIGABYTE for an additional price.
- More PCIe lanes than the competition
- Game and Creator Mode
- 16 Cores of power
- 32 Threads
- Very Expensive
The Best Intel CPU for Gaming
Intel’s i-series has proved quite popular over the years, and the Core i9 is their top-tier chip. It’s also a great choice for gamers that want to take their performance to the next level and prefer Intel’s system over AMD’s.
This central processing unit is built for the Intel X299 platform and needs an LGA 2066 socket to call home. It features all the bells & whistles you would expect from the company, which means you’ll get Turbo Boost Max 3.0 and Optane Memory support. Full specs for this chip include 140W TDP, 10-cores, 20 threads, a 3.3GHz base clock and quad-channel memory support up to 128GB. You can “boost” this one up to 4.3GHz, and many consumers may consider the chip to be an option when looking for the best CPU for streaming as well.
Even hardcore AMD fans can appreciate this chip as Intel knocked it out of the park with this one. While still not as powerful as the Threadripper, it’s comparable and possibly a better choice depending on your “overall” needs. Either way you go, you’ll want to get a powerful CPU cooler as this one tends to run hot.
- Great performance out of the box
- Max Boost 3.0
- Optane support
- High temperatures
The Best Gaming CPU Overall
If you are of a certain age, you might remember a time when gaming CPU was a simple chip. Well, those days are long gone, and the AMD Ryzen 7 is one of the top processors on the market today. Don’t expect that to change anytime soon considering this 8-core beast is built for speed and streamlined for VR.
One of the big perks of this particular chip is the fact it is “VR Ready” out of the box. That means it meets or exceeds the specifications for the current versions of the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. In terms of tech specs, it has 8-cores and 16 threads (unlocked) with a frequency or speed of 3.7GHz. You’ll also receive 20MB of combined cache, but need to ensure you have an AM4 socket on your motherboard.
Another reason this chip is preferred by gamers is due to the fact it has the Wraith Prism LED Cooler. It puts on a mini light show while keeping your processor cool and ensuring optimum performance. You can pick this chip up by itself or with the GIGABYTE X470 motherboard.
- A significant improvement over the previous generation
- Easy to overclock
- LED cooling system
- Power hungry processor
An Excellent Option for Multitasking Gamers
The next option from Intel is from their 8th generation and is the most powerful from this particular series. It has 6-cores, plenty of threads and several other upgrades that make it a contender for gamers in need of a mid-range solution.
The i7-8700K is one of Intel’s top chips, and ideal whether you’re gaming or just need a workhorse to handy heavy loads. The cache size has doubled compared to the i5 at 12MB, and you’ll now have 12 threads instead of 6. The memory support and turbo boosting technology are still present with a frequency of 4.7GHz.
From the Turbo Boost feature to the Optane support, there is a lot to like about the i7-8700K. It’s definitely a chip that belongs in the gaming niche and won’t let you down in daily use either. There’s really no major downside to this processor aside from the fact its AMD counterpart comes at a discount.
- Strong multi-tasking capabilities
- Turbo boost tech
- Great overclocking
- 12MB Cache
- Price compared to Ryzen chips
The Best CPU for the Money
If you prefer Intel’s processors to AMD’s, you will be thrilled with the i5-8600K. It’s more affordable than the Rizen series and it’s hard to argue with the speed as their 8th gen chip is clocked at 3.7GHz, unlocked, and ready to rock.
This chip has 6-cores with 6 threads and can hit 4.7GHz in Max Turbo mode. There is 9MB of cache which works nicely alongside the Optane Memory support for SSDs, and it supports the DDR4-2666 profile.
- Affordable power
- Great all-around chip
- Turbo Boost to 4.7GHz
The Best Budget Gaming CPU
AMD’s chips have skyrocketed in popularity, and their Ryzen lineup looks to be their best yet. If you still want a top-tier chip, but don’t need one at the top of the food chain, the Ryzen 5 2400G is well worth a look.
This processor may not be the fastest on the block, but it strikes a nice balance between power and affordability. It needs an AM4 socket and has 4-cores with 8 threads to go along with integrated graphics. In this case, it’s the Radeon Vega RX 11. While not ideal for everyone, it is nice to have the built-in graphics considering the cost of cards due to the crypto craze, and it does an excellent job.
The AMD Ryzen 5 2400G is a solid option for gamers that want to play top-tier titles at lower settings, and a great way to turn an ordinary PC into an affordable gaming rig. It may not have as many cores as other chips, but the Max Boost feature does allow you to kick things up a notch.
- Wraith stealth cooler
- 3.9GHz Max Boost
- Integrated graphics (for some)
An Entry-level Beast
Last, but certainly not least is the Ryzen 3 200G from AMD. This chip is a competitor to Intel’s i3 lineup and sports similar specifications. The differences between the two chips are night and day, however, and it may surprise you in a few key areas.
The first things that stand out to us with the Ryzen 3 200G are the clock speed and integrated graphics. While it’s still a 4-core chip, it’s unlocked and can get a boost up to 3.7GHz. Normally, integrated graphics are nothing to get excited about, but the Radeon Vega 8 really shines in the configuration. Not as much as the Vega 11, but it performs admirably all things considered.
While this isn’t the type of central processing unit you want to build a system around, it’s a very solid upgrade for plenty of gamers around the globe.
- Cooling system
- Easy to overclock
- Needs plenty of RAM
- Can run a little hot
A Great Choice for Gamers on a Budget
The last chip from Intel’s 8th generation is the slowest of the pack, but still gets the job done for thrifty gamers. The Intel Core i3-8100 is the company’s answer to the Ryzen 3. The Coffee Lake chip comes with the same feature set found on the speedier CPUs albeit with a few slight drawbacks.
This chip is an upgrade from the older 7700K, but far from what most gamers would consider powerful. It sports 4-cores with 4 threads and comes with 6MB of L3 Smart Cache. The speed is listed at 3.6GHz out of the box, but there is no Turbo Boost tech on this chip. It’s set up with the dual-channel memory configuration and has 16 PCI express 3.0 lanes. Not too shabby, especially given its price. If your budget is tight, it’s certainly an option as the best CPU for gaming.
The biggest issue with this chip comes down to the competition and your current configuration. AMD’s Ryzen lineup is still a little cheaper at this range although both are comparable in terms of performance. That said, Intel also has a Core i3-8300 and the i3-8350K if you need a bit more power but dig the i3 lineup.
- Solid performance
- Great price
- No hyper-threading capabilities
- May not be worth the upgrade for some