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 Advancements in CPUs can leave a PC outdated, so you need to start with something powerful that will age well.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
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
The Best Performance and Value Balance!
- 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, 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 i5-11600K
The 5600X Competitor
- 6 cores/12 threads
- 3.9 GHz – 4.9 GHz
- 125W TDP
At this point in time, most of you probably found out that the 11th generation of Intel CPUs are not the best, and by not the best we mean, bad enough to not recommend over even their previous 10th gen CPUs.
Luckily there is one exception and that is the i5-11600K CPU. This is a 6 cores/12 threads CPU from Intel that is extremely good at gaming. The 11600K does not overclock as easily as the 10600K but if you manage to get any form of OC on the CPU, you will be getting chart-topping performance in some games.
The main reason to buy a 11600K over a 5600X is the fact that the gaming performance is on par or better with the AMD CPU while costing less. At the same time, if you do any sort of work-oriented tasks on your PC and not only games, the 5600X once again becomes your primary recommendation.
The conclusion here is simple – avoid the higher-end 11th gen Intel CPUs because those are a dumpster fire. Instead buy a 11600K if you are strictly gaming, otherwise invest in a 5600X.
- Great gaming performance
- Good value proposition
- 11th gen Intel
- Weak in productivity loads
- Expensive platform (CPU+Mobo+RAM)
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
The Best Gaming CPU Overall
- 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 i9-10900K
Better Than the Newer 11900K but Worse Than a 5900X
- 10 cores/20 threads
- 3.7 GHz – 5.3 GHz
- 125W TDP (allegedly)
Nope, you have not read this wrong – the 10900K is actually better than the newer 11900K since the newer variant lost some of its cores. This is truly a dystopian future we are living in but this is the truth when you look at benchmarks and performance metrics.
The 10900K is still extremely hot and extremely power-hungry so you will need to invest in a very good AIO CPU cooler to maintain a sensible temperature range.
At the same time, it is pretty hard to recommend the 10900K over the 5900X from AMD. In most cases, the 5900X outperforms the 10900K while being SIGNIFICANTLY cooler and drawing less power.
This is true for both gaming and productivity loads when looking at titles and programs that do not favor one type of CPU over the others.
The only time you should be buying this specific CPU over the AMD offerings is when you have a specific game or task that performs better on the 10900K (proven through reputable benchmarks).
- Great gaming performance
- Beats the 11th gen Intel
- Runs extremely hot
- Worse than a 5900X/5950X
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
Gaming and Productivity in One CPU
- 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
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
The Budget Gaming CPU
- 4 cores/ 8 threads
- 3.8 GHz – 4.3 GHz
- 65W TDP
If you are in a situation where the 11600K is not an option but you still want a gaming rig that will deliver good performance without your CPU bottlenecking the GPU then you should look at the 3300X from AMD that is only 120$ at MSRP.
This 4 core / 8 thread CPU is specifically scaled down in the core department in order to push higher frequencies for single-core performance that matters so much in gaming. You can reach a 4.3 GHz maximum boost clock while only drawing 65W TDP.
This CPU can also be overclocked like all of the AMD CPUs (since they all come unlocked unlike Intel CPUs) so you can squeeze out some extra performance. We would recommend you use PBO to overclock like all other AMD CPUs to prioritize single-core performance.
- Good gaming performance
- Good budget option
- Easy upgrade path (AM4 socket)
- Weaker than a 11600K – 10600K
- Can be hard to find in stock sometimes
AMD Ryzen 5 2600
The Ultra Budget Gaming CPU
- 6 cores/ 12 threads
- 3.4 GHz – 3.9 GHz
- 65W TDP
Let us presume that even a 3300X is too much for your budget and you are looking for a way to get the best possible budget CPU while paying the least possible amount of money. For this specific scenario, we would recommend you go scouring the second-hand market for used Ryzen 5 2600 CPUs.
This CPU can be found for around 120-130$ new but if you are willing to do some research you can buy them from some other users for as low as 80$! When considering this situation and the overall decent performance of the Ryzen 2600, recommending this becomes a no-brainer.
The 2600 can also be reliably overclocked (4.1 GHz OC) to get some extra frames thanks to the unlocked platform from AMD.
The only real drawback to this situation is the fact that you need to purchase a product from another person instead of a retailer which might be something you are not used to doing. This should not really be an issue since most times CPUs can easily outlast being used in one build or another.
If you think you do not want to deal with the hassle of doing your own research and figuring out if the CPU you want to buy will work properly then you should just spend a bit more and buy the 3300X.
If on the other hand, you are willing to invest some time into your purchase then buying a used 2600 is absolutely the play for an unrivaled cost to performance ratio!
- Decent gaming performance
- Best for an ultra-budget buy
- Easy upgrade path to higher-end CPUs (AM4 socket)
- Have to buy a used item for the best possible outcome
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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