The Best CPUs for Gaming in 2021
The CPU is probably the most important part of a gaming PC. This makes finding the best CPU for gaming a vital task when you’re building a PC. However, there are a lot of choices out there though.
CPUs can be hard to compare, with technical details and marketing terms that don’t entirely give you an accurate picture of how they perform. If you’re looking to build a gaming PC, then the CPU needs to be the first thing you pick.
A decent CPU can make your games run at a solid 120 FPS or even more, some even without sacrificing visual flairs like shadows or raytracing. If you’re streaming or running VR, you’ll need a CPU specifically built for that. The wrong one could leave you running a choppy 35 frames per second. It is really important to get the choice right.
The best gaming CPUs should be protected against future developments too. Finding the right one now will help your PC last longer. Advancements in CPUs can leave a PC outdated, so you need to start with something powerful that will age well.
These are some of the best CPUs out there at the moment:
Best Gaming CPUs
Core i9 10900K
The Best Gaming CPU On The Market
- Number Of Cores: 10cores/20threads
- Base Frequency: 3.7 GHz
- Turbo Frequency: 5.3 GHz
- TDP: 125W
If you want the absolute best gaming CPU on the market right now, get the Core i9-10900K. Yes, it’s expensive, it can draw insane amounts of power and is pretty hot but its gaming performance is through the roof. It will also work great with literally any graphics card available today.
The 10core/20thread design of the 10900K makes it future proof for the entire next generation of consoles. We don’t believe you’ll need anything more powerful than the 10900K, even when we start receiving true next-gen games in a couple of years. If you get this CPU make sure to pair it with equally powerful motherboard and AIO cooling solution. Air coolers are fine, but you won’t be able to achieve the same overclock results as with liquid cooling systems. When it comes to downsides, aside from the usual lineup of immense power draw and high price, the 10900K doesn’t have any noticeable negatives.
It has excellent productivity performance so if you’re a gamer who also edits videos from time to time, you’ll be fine. But if you’re using your PC for work and occasionally play games, we would recommend the Ryzen 9 3900X over the 10900K. The 3900X is cheaper, has more cores, and comes with a box cooler. While it can’t match the 10900K in games, it blows it out of the water when it comes to productivity workloads.
- Best Gaming Performance For The Money
- Solid Productivity Performance
- Immense Power Draw
- Needs Quality Board And AIO Cooling
- Ryzen Alternatives Are Cheaper
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
Best Gaming CPUs For Gamers In Need Of Multithreaded Performance And For Streamers
- 12 Cores and 24 Processing Threads
- 70MB Game Cache
- Cooler Included
- AM4 Socket
The Ryzen 9 5900X is a proper productivity beast. It beats any Intel CPU easily, no matter the task, with only the Ryzen 9 5950X preventing it from becoming the absolute best mainstream CPU. If you’re doing serious work on your PC (Rendering, video editing) and playing games in your free time, you should seriously consider getting the 5900X. Further, if you’re a streamer the 5900X is the best choice as the base for a rig used both for streaming and gaming.
It’s basically on par with the 5950X when it comes to gaming performance. There are noticeable differences between the two when it comes to heavy multithreaded loads but unless you’re ready to shell out 20 percent more cash (probably even more since the 5950X is highly sought after, is always out of stock, and still sells for far greater prices than its MSRP) for the 5950X, the 5900X is a much better choice. At least if you’re primarily a gamer.
- Amazing Multithreaded And Gaming Performance
- Power Efficient
- Doesn’t Require High-End AIO Cooling
- Solid Price Considering Its Performance
- Lags Behind 5950X When It Comes To Multithreaded Performance
Intel Core i7-10700K
Excellent 8-Core Gaming CPU
- 8 Cores/16 Threads
- 3.8GHz Base Clock/5.1Ghz Max Boost Frequency
- LGA 1200 Socket
Due to the high MSRP of the Ryzen 5800X, the Core i7 10700K presents an excellent choice for users who want a fast, 8c/16t gaming CPU. Its gaming performance is in line with the Core i9 10900K and very close to the latest Ryzen 5000 processor lineup.
The CPU has lots of OC headroom and with the right board and cooling, you can run it over 5GHz all-core OC, with moderate performance gains. Just note that you’ll need a quality cooling solution along with a high-end thermal paste to keep this CPU cool when running over 5GHz.
While this is an excellent gaming CPU, its productivity performance leaves lots to be desired. Compared to the eight-core Ryzen 3000 and 5000 CPUs, the 10700K is a bad choice, especially if you have to pick between the 10700K and the 3700X. But in the heart of a pure gaming rig, this CPU will shine.
- Great Gaming Performance
- Cheaper Than The Ryzen 5000 Equivalent
- Excellent OC Potential
- Not Very Power Efficient
- Requires A Capable Cooling Solution
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
Best Gaming CPU For Gamers Who Love To Multitask
- 8 Cores
- 16 Threads
- 3.6GHz Base Clock
If you’re a multitasker who watches YouTube on their secondary monitor while gaming, or just like doing something else while playing their favorite game, think about getting the Ryzen 7 5800X. This CPU beats any current Intel CPU in games and multitasking (and it looks like it fares quite well against the upcoming Rocket Lake 11700K CPU).
When multitasking while gaming, six cores probably won’t cut it, so we recommend getting at least an eight-core CPU. It’s a bit too expensive for our liking but if you multitask while gaming and don’t have the money for the Ryzen 9 5900X, the 5800X is a great choice.
- Perfect For Gamers Who Multitask
- Incredible Gaming Performance
- Power Efficient
- Matches More Expensive CPUs In Games
- Ryzen 9 5900X Offers 50 Percent More Cores For 20 Percent Higher Price
The Best Bang For The Buck Gaming CPU
- Number Of Cores: 6cores/12threads
- Base Frequency: 4.10 GHz
- Turbo Frequency: 4.8 GHz
- TDP: 95W
If you need excellent gaming performance but don’t want to pay the premium for the 10900K, get the Core i5 10600K. The CPU is very easy to overclock and once you OC it, it has virtually the same gaming performance as the 10900K. Further, it’s not as power hungry and can work fine with any decent AIO or a quality air cooler.
The 6 core/12 thread design might be a red flag for some users but we don’t think that’s a downside. At the moment, the 10600K provides superb gaming performance. Once the next-gen consoles arrive it will continue to be a top gaming CPU because the transition period to true next-gen titles will take at least a couple of years.
And even when we get proper next-gen titles the 10600K will still provide more than solid performance. The best thing is that you can simply pair the CPU with a quality Z490 board and replace it with a future 11th gen Intel CPU since the Z490 Chipset will support 2021 Intel CPU lineup. The only major downside is the fact that it doesn’t offer much in terms of productivity performance.
- Easy To Overclock
- Gaming Performance In Line With 10900K
- Not Made For Productivity Tasks
- More Expensive Than AMD Ryzen Alternatives
Intel Core i5-10400
Excellent CPU For A Secondary Gaming Rig
- 6 Cores/12 Threads
- 2.9GHz Base Clock/4.3GHz Boost Clock
- LGA 1200 Socket
If you have a beastly gaming PC in your bedroom and want to build another one in the living room, or if you just need a decent budget gaming CPU that will run games at 60fps, the Core i5-10400 is a pretty solid choice.
While it cannot be overclocked and while its memory limited when paired with non Z490 boards, it has plenty of gaming performance and, at its current price, it’s a decent alternative to the Ryzen 5 3600. The price difference can be invested in a Z490 board, with the final result being a great little gaming machine that can be paired with any GPU you want.
- Lots Of Gaming Performance For The Price
- Runs Very Cool And Comes With A Box Cooler
- Can’t Be Overclocked
- Needs A Z490 Board To Fully Utilize Its Gaming Potential
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
Best Gaming CPU For Most People
- Reliable and Easy to Use
- 6 Cores
- 12 Thread
- 3.6Ghz Base Clock
While not the best choice when it comes to multithreaded workloads, the Ryzen 5 5600X is currently the best CPU for gaming for most users. Now, you might’ve heard that 6 cores is too little in 2021, but bear with us.
Firstly, when it comes to gaming performance, this processor easily beats the Ryzen 7 3700X, an eight-core design. Next, while current-gen consoles do come with eight-core CPUs, the Xbox Series X and S both have one physical core reserved for the OS. There are no official info regarding the PS5 but we can assume Sony did the same.
In other words, both the PS5 and the Xbox Series X and S can only use seven physical cores for games. Finally, console CPUs are based on Zen 2 architecture so they’ll basically 3700X CPUs, which is slower in games compared to the 5600X.
Simply said, the 5600X is a gaming beast. It can match the 10900K and is up to about ten percent slower than the Ryzen 9 5950X in current titles. That’s great considering that both the Intel and AMD parts are way more expensive than the 5600X. The price could be about 15 percent lower for this to be the absolute bang for the buck gaming CPU, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful.
Now, if you’re a power user who likes watching YouTube videos while gaming, or someone who constantly has Discord and a half dozen of other apps running in the background, the 5600X may not be the best choice. Six cores is more than enough for any current and future title, but it may not be enough if you like doing other stuff while gaming.
- Monstrous Gaming Performance
- Can Match The 10900K But Is Noticeably Cheaper
- Almost The Same Gaming Performance As 5800X And 5900X
- Comes With A Box Cooler
- Extremely Power Efficient
- Price Could’ve Been Better
- Not Great For Gamers Who Multitask
Intel Core i3-10100
The Cheapest Gaming CPU That Can Run New Games
- 4 cores/8 threads
- 3.6GHz Base Clock/4.3GHz Boost Clock
- LGA 1200 Socket
The Core i3-10100 is the latest entry-level gaming CPU for Intel and, since the Ryzen 3 3300X is nowhere to be found, the i3-10100 presents the cheapest gaming CPU capable of running the latest games at 60fps.
Now, some demanding games may induce occasional stutters (like when loading new assets in open-world games, or frame time issues during intensive scenes in games such as BF V) but most of the time you’ll be just fine.
Now, the four cores with hyperthreading found on the 10100 won’t cut it for upcoming true next-gen titles but you should be fine in the next 12-18 months. Now, if you pair this CPU with a Z490 board, you could later upgrade to a 10th or one of the upcoming 11th gen Intel CPUs and be fine for the entirety of the current-gen console generation.
- Can Run Any Game At 60fps
- Cheap And Comes With A Box Cooler
- Can Be Found And Bought, Unlike The Ryzen 3 3300X
- No Overclocking
- Has To Be Paired With A Z490 Board For Full Performance
- You Can Experience Occasional Stutters In Demanding Open World And CPU Intensive Games
How to Choose a CPU for Gaming
Those are all great choices for getting the best CPU for gaming. However, which one is right for you is a little more complicated than that. The CPU is the foundation of your entire pc, so it is really important to make sure you’re finding the right one. This guide covers what you need to know when looking for the best CPU, so you can find the perfect one for your PC.
What You Need to Know
If you’re looking into building a gaming PC, then things can get complicated fast. You need to know what it is that you’re looking for. These are the terms and details that you need to know to compare these CPUs and find which is the right one for you.
- Which Brand? – AMD and Intel are by far the standout producers of CPUs out there. They make well-performing devices for a great price, and you know exactly what it is that you’re getting.
- Speed and Cores – If you’re looking for a CPU for gaming, then the speed of the device is much more important than just the core numbers. However, cores are still important you should just weigh the two concerns when considering them.
- Lifetime – A CPU is a big purchase and ideally one that you’ll want to last a while. Going for the most recent generation of CPU guarantees that you’ll be able to use for a while longer without it becoming too outdated. If you go for an older one, you’re likely to not get as much mileage out of it and less value in the long-term.
- Remember it is Just One Part of the PC – While a CPU is important, so is your storage and graphics. A budget CPU with other great components will do a lot more for you than a high-end CPU with little else around it.
What You Need to Consider Before the Purchase
Those are the basics of finding the right CPU for you. However, which one of these options will perfectly suit your needs will vary. This is what you need to consider about making the purchase. Thinking about these things should help you figure out which is right for you.
- What’s Your Budget? – This is probably the most important thing. Let’s be honest, which you can afford is the main factor in deciding which is right for you. However, on top of this, you need to be aware that more expensive isn’t always better. You can get a decent CPU for a good price, so if you’re working with a budget look for quality and value.
- Do You Need More Threads or Cores? – Cores are processors contained in your CPU. Each of them can handle different tasks, so more cores provide more power for multitasking. Threads are independent processes that each chip handles. Some threads can handle multithreading; this is hyper-threading, at least some CPUs call it that. You should aim for four of each to give you decent power, but you’ll have to think about whether more threads or cores are vital for which you need.
- What Clock Speed Do You Need? – The clock speed is the speed that your chip operates at. The higher it is, the faster it can go but most CPUs can adjust depending on their workload. Keep this in mind when deciding which CPU to purchase, as this is the important factor for a gaming CPU.
Should You Overclock Your CPU?
One thing a lot of people consider when finding the best CPU for gaming is overclocking. However, overclocking isn’t for everyone and if it is a good idea will partially depend on which CPU you’re using.
Overclocking involves settings your CPU up to achieve higher clock speeds than it is rated for. You’ll need to use specific motherboards and extra cooling to achieve this. The increased clock speed can be significant, but it can also be damaging.
In some cases, overclocking can really reduce the life expectancy of your CPU, so you may have to replace it sooner. Some devices won’t see much of an improvement from overclocking either.
As a guideline, overclocking isn’t for beginners. Overclocking when you don’t know what you’re doing can damage your machine. However, if you are looking to overclock your CPU you should keep this in mind when choosing one.
Finding a CPU with the right potential for overclocking can make sure you’re actually going to be getting a significant improvement rather than just a minor boost. Since overclocking is kind of a hassle, this is important.
The right CPU for one might be one that doesn’t need overclocking, but having the potential to unlock in the future can’t hurt.
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