The Best Gaming CPUs in 2020 & 2021 – Our Best AMD & Intel CPUs For Gaming

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The CPU, or central processing unit, is one of the most important hardware components in your gaming rig. Most people prioritize it as the second most essential hardware consideration, with only the GPU having more of an impact on your overall gaming experience. This makes sense as the GPU manages the quality, resolution, and frame rates of your PC games. However, contrary to many people's beliefs, the CPU plays an intricate role in how well your PC runs games, making it worth finding the best CPU for gaming.

Having said that, picking the best gaming CPU for your needs can be a little strenuous, especially if you aren't up-to-speed with the latest offerings. Annoyingly, the CPU market is forever changing with new, more powerful options altering prices all too often. How are you meant to know which CPU is best?

Well, that's where we come into the picture. Our team of PC enthusiasts spends countless hours researching and benchmarking hardware to make sure you guys are up-to-date with what's best. Whether it's the latest Intel i9-9900K or one of Ryzen's hugely popular APUs, the team makes sure no stone is left unturned when putting every processor through its paces.

So, with that in mind, let's take a look at what we've chosen for the best gaming CPUs currently available. Furthermore, let's finally answer that age-old question of; who's better, AMD or Intel?

First Look: Best CPU For Gaming

Editor’s Intel Pick
Intel i9-10900K

Intel i9-10900K

Best high-end gaming CPU

Intel's 10th Gen processor is an absolute beast thanks to its high core and thread count paired with rapid clock speeds and unrivaled performance.

When it comes to choosing the best overall processor, the Intel Core i9-10900K is a huge contender. From a gaming point of view, it surpasses the AMD counterpart (Ryzen 9 3900x) and handles 4K gaming and VR with the minimum of fuss. 

Editor’s AMD Pick
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

A solid gaming CPU

While the 3900X narrowly loses out to the i9-9900K in terms of gaming performance, it's hard to ignore the higher base clock speed, cores, and threads.

It's hard to find fault with AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X CPU as it's currently one of the best they've ever produced. Despite narrowly missing out as the best gaming CPU, this chip still has plenty to offer in other areas.

Best Intel Mid-Range CPU for Gaming
Intel i5-10600K

Intel i5-10600K

A powerful gaming processor

When it comes to sheer power, the Intel Core i5-10600K is often thought of. With stellar single-core performance combined with blazing fast speeds, this processor works great for gaming.

The i5-10600K isn't just the best intel mid-range chip for gaming; it's the best mid-range chip, period. In fact, the i5-10600K is such a powerful processor that it isn't too far from i7-10700K when you consider its value.

Packing quite a punch, the i5-10600K has a range of 4.1GHz - 4.8GHz. This means the chip can reduce its power during mundane tasks and ramp it up to almost 5GHz while gaming.

Best AMD Mid-Range Gaming CPU
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

Best mid-range runner up

The AMD Ryzen 7 3700X processor boasts fast clock speeds, great overclocking ability, AM4 motherboard compatibility, and competitive pricing. A truly great mid-range CPU pick.

The 3700X showcases superb value for money and lands just outside the lower-end price spectrum. Don't let that price tag fool you, though; this thing still showcases real gaming performance. There is a noticeable difference between Intel's top chips and this mid-range pick, but that's to be expected. For the price, it competes with Intel's i7 CPUs to the highest level. 

For those looking for something a little more affordable, the Ryzen 2700X suits a lot of consumer needs while still coming under $300, great value.

Best Budget gaming CPU
AMD Ryzen 5 3600

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

The best gaming CPU on a budget.

The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is a great choice for a mid-range gaming build. You get 6 cores and 12 threads and it can go as fast as 4.2GHz. With this CPU you can get similar performance to the mid-range chips but for around $100 less.

You might be asking yourself why there isn't something more affordable on this list. But, don't worry, we're getting to that.

The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is one of the best value-for-money gaming CPUs on the market. It may seem pricey for a budget pick, but the high performance this CPU provides is matched by its value making it a solid new-gen pick that won't break the bank. 

The Best Gaming APU
AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

The best integrated graphics gaming CPU

If you’re looking for a processor that’s cheap and efficient, then look no further than the Ryzen 5 3400G. With speeds that can clock up to 4.2GHz, this Quad-core CPU is unmatched for value.

The $100-$200 range is where we start mixing with CPUs geared towards lower-end builds. Even though this an APU with integrated graphics, it can still provide a decent gaming experience in esports titles. 

The Ryzen 3400G fits that description perfectly and is an excellent CPU for gamers on a tight purse string.

How We Choose

When choosing our recommendations, whether it's an ultrawide monitor or a budget gaming mouse, we do extensive research first. Being gamers, we only want to bring the best products to your attention, accompanied by accurate information based on real-world testings. This involves several steps to ensure the highest performance standards are met.

Even though the team is already well versed in the latest hardware offerings, the first thing the team does is make sure nothing new is due for release. We want to keep you up-to-date with the latest hardware offerings, especially when it comes to high-end products. 

How We Test

Next, comes benchmarking. We usually do all of our benchmarking in-house; however, if we can't get our hands on a particular processor, we'll scour online sources for gaming CPU benchmarks. With benchmarking, we see what CPUs are doing best in each field and how they stack up against each other. This helps ensure that the processors we suggest are rated highly in the gaming category.

It is important to note that we have purchased all the recommended CPUs (plus a few others) for benchmarking, testing, and a bit of gaming, which enables us to create a clearer picture of what truly is the best CPU for gaming.

Things To Consider

The first thing to consider when choosing your gaming CPU is what you intend to use it for. Just because a CPU is “the best” in one category doesn’t mean it’s the best CPU for you.

But what are you looking for in a CPU? How do you know it’s the one for you? Should it have more cores or faster speeds? Let’s look at a few key factors that may help you decide:

  • Casual/ hardcore gaming
  • Streaming
  • Content creation
  • Overclocking
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Terms To Know

Choosing a CPU can be daunting for first-time buyers, and there are a few things you should consider before buying one. You wouldn’t want to buy one of AMD's latest Ryzen chips and find out it isn't compatible with the rest of your system!

There are a lot of terms that get thrown around in regards to CPUs, so let’s go over some of the most common phrases before breaking down what the best gaming CPU is.

Cores And Threads

A processor is made up of cores and threads. Nowadays, CPUs have multiple cores which allows them to do multiple tasks, think of it as the literal embodiment of the old saying; two heads are better than one. 

The computer treats threads as virtual CPUs. The amount of threads is the number of tasks each core can handle. Threads can only do one thing at a time, but they can switch extremely fast. As such, threads serve as an efficient way for your CPU to effectively switch between handling multiple tasks.

Clock Speed

Clock speed, sometimes known as cycle speed, refers to how many cycles a core will perform every second. This is measured in megahertz. So 4MHz would be four million cycles per second.

Processors that are "unlocked" can be overclocked to reach a higher clock speed than their stock speed. However, overclocking has to be done right. If done incorrectly, you might find yourself with a costly paperweight at the end of the day. Nevertheless, it’s a rule of thumb to ask: “Is overclocking worth it?” before doing so.

If you’re unsure which processor you should get, read our article on which CPU do you really need? Or you can check our CPU hierarchy to see a detailed list of CPUs and which category they belong to.

Cores And Clock Speed Combined

Together these will give you a general idea about how well the processor in question will perform, but let's delve a little deeper. For instance, IPC (instructions per cycle) tells us how many actions can be taken every cycle and is often much harder to find. Moreover, specific tasks utilize fewer cores, like gaming, which means you’ll want strong single-core performance (it’s still good to have at least four cores for gaming, though). On the other hand, tasks such as video rendering utilize a lot of resources, meaning you’ll want extra cores (at least eight +) for a smooth experience. 

Ultimately, this is why we always benchmark the CPUs and test processors performing different types of tasks.

Socket Types

The socket is the physical mount on your motherboard that holds the processor in place. As such, the first thing you’re going to want to check is that the socket on your motherboard matches your processor (or vice versa!).

Each brand and (sometimes) line of processors have their own socket type and won’t fit in an alternative one. For example, an AMD Ryzen 7 uses the AM4 socket type and won’t fit into Intel’s LGA 1151 socket.

If you’re purchasing a new CPU and a new motherboard together, check the specs to make sure they’re both the same socket type (I suggest deciding on your processor first, then find a matching motherboard).

If you’re upgrading one or the other, check the specs online and make sure the new piece of hardware matches up accordingly.

Chipsets

Each processor will have a set of chipsets that it’s compatible with. These chipsets are important when choosing your motherboard, as they determine whether or not some features will be disabled.

The more advanced the chipset, the more features that will be unlocked (More PCIe lanes, more USB 3.1 ports, SATA ports, etc.). As with the socket types, check your hardware specs to see what chipsets are compatible, and what each one will unlock on your board.

For example:

Chipsets
AMD Ryzen 7 2700 supported chipsetsIntel Core i7-8700K supported chipsets
A300B360
A320H370
B350H310
B450Q370
X370Z370
X470

Hardcore Gaming Builds

Sometimes, you want to build a powerful gaming rig. You don’t care about streaming or content creation. Your bottom line is getting those high FPS numbers.

When it comes to a pure gaming build, speed is your friend. Unlike highly taxing programs and tasks, games aren’t as dependant on CPU cores and threads. Anything quad-core or higher is sufficient for gaming.

Most games will run on a dual-core processor, but more and more games are starting to require a quad-core or higher to install and run. That being said, most modern-day CPUs come equipped with at least 4-cores.

For a hardcore gaming build, I would suggest looking for processors that have at least the following speeds:

Pure Gaming Builds
 High-end buildMid-range buildBudget build
Clock Speed4.0 Ghz or higher3.5 Ghz or higher3.0 Ghz or higher
Core/Thread Count6C/12T4C/8T2C/4T

Pairing a fast processor with a good SSD, a powerful graphics card, and some quality RAM will really increase your FPS overall.

Casual Gaming

Maybe you don’t care about high FPS figures or saving your content for the world to see. Perhaps you’re more the casual type, the type who just likes to game now and then in your free time. AAA games titles aren't really your thing, and you don't require all that processing power.

If all you're looking for is a gaming build that will run some low-intensive steam games and esports titles, then a casual gamer setup might be more suited to your needs. Typically, a casual gaming build doesn’t need the latest hardware offerings. It's also much more affordable than a hardcore gaming build.

When looking for a casual gaming CPU, you should look for one that is at least a quad-core if your budget allows. It also doesn’t need to be extremely fast.

Let’s see what you should be looking for:

Casual Gaming
 High-end buildMid-range buildBudget build
Clock Speed3.5 Ghz or higher3.0 Ghz or higher2.5 Ghz or higher
Core/Thread Count6C/12T4C/8T4C/4T

Streaming

A growing trend over the last five years has been to stream and share gaming content. Platforms like YouTube and Twitch are hugely popular amongst the gaming community at the moment, and more people seem to be jumping on the stream build bandwagon. This, however, can be somewhat taxing on your processor if you don’t have a sufficient amount of power.

This means you’re going to need a processor with more cores and threads than your typical hardcore gaming build. Here’s what you should look for if you’re thinking about building a computer for gaming and streaming:

Streaming
 High-end buildMid-range buildBudget build
Clock Speed4.0 Ghz or higher3.5 Ghz or higher3.0 Ghz or higher
Core/Thread8C/16T6C/12T5C/8T

Having a higher core and thread count will help your computer multitask, allowing it to record your game as well as process and everything else that's going on in the background without the lag.

Content Creation

Let’s say you’ve already got a following on your YouTube channel/ Steam account, and you’re ready to kick production up to the next level and start creating better videos.

You’ve decided to build a PC that can do it all. It needs to be capable of gaming, streaming, and pumping out good quality videos. This is going to require more computing power.

You’re going to need a high core and thread count with fast speeds so that you can render your content as quickly as possible. Here’s what to look for if you want your gaming computer to be an all-round beast:

Content Creation
 High-end buildMid-range buildBudget build
Clock Speed4.0 Ghz or higher3.5 Ghz or higher3.0 Ghz or higher
Core/Thread Count8C/16T6C/12T4C/8T

Overclocking

Perhaps you’ve had a gaming machine for a while, and you’re looking to upgrade with overclocking in mind. Maybe you want to get into overclocking and push your current system to its limits?

If you’re looking to overclock an Intel CPU, you’ll have to buy a model that ends in a “K,” such as the Intel i9-9900K, that currently resides in our $2,000 build.

You have less to worry about with an AMD CPU, all Ryzen models (which is AMD’s current gaming line) are unlocked for overclocking.

That being said, there isn't a great amount of overclocking headspace to be gained from Ryzen chips because they are so well optimized out-the-box.

K, KF, KS: Which Is Best For You?

One of the big questions we get asked when referencing Intel CPUs is, what is the difference between K, KF, and KS SKUs? Luckily, the differences between the three are only small, and, nine times out of ten, probably won't sway your purchasing decision.

Intel's K CPUs are possibly the most common in this list. The K SKUs simply refer to CPUs that can be overclocked and come with integrated graphics.

KF SKUs are very similar to the K, only KF does not come with any form of integrated graphics. They still have the exact same amount of overclocking potential.

Lastly, we have KS. KS is slightly different, referencing specially selected (binned) CPUs that have much higher overclocking headspace. KS are usually more expensive than the previous SKUs as they house the potential for much greater performance.

Ryzen Or Intel: Which Is Better For Gaming?

Thanks to AMD making huge waves in the CPU spectrum over the last couple of years, we now get asked hundreds of questions on whether Ryzen is now better for gaming over Intel. And, thankfully, the answer is still pretty simple.
Despite AMD improving massively when it comes to gaming performance, Intel still holds the crown for best gaming CPU. That being said, the gap has narrowed exponentially in the last couple of years, with AMD now offering very good gaming performance to its users.

I suppose choosing your next CPU comes down to the following thoughts; if you're looking for all-out gaming performance and nothing else, choose an Intel. However, if you want good gaming performance but also require high levels of multitasking performance on the side, AMD is definitely the one to go for.

The 6 Best Gaming CPUs in 2020 & 2021

Product Details
Intel i9-10900K

Intel i9-10900K

  • speed: 3.7GHz/ 5.3GHz
  • core threads: 10/20
  • socket: FCLGA1200
  • tdp: 125W
Check Current Price
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

  • speed: 3.8GHz/4.6GHz
  • core threads: 12/24
  • socket: AM4
  • tdp: 105W
Check Current Price
Intel i5-10600K

Intel i5-10600K

  • speed: 4.1GHz/ 4.8GHz
  • core threads: 6/12
  • socket: LGA1200
  • tdp: 95W
Check Current Price
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

  • speed: 3.6GHz/ 4.4GHz
  • core threads: 8/16
  • socket: AM4
  • tdp: 95W
Check Current Price
AMD Ryzen 5 3600

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

  • speed: 3.6GHz/ 4.4GHz
  • core threads: 8/16
  • socket: AM4
  • tdp: 95W
Check Current Price
AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

  • speed: 3.7GHz - 4.2GHz
  • core threads: 4/8
  • socket: AM4
  • tdp: 65W
Check Current Price
#1

Intel i9-10900K

The Intel i9-10900K is the latest CPU to be released by Intel. Last time we saw Intel go toe-to-toe with AMD, it's safe to say they didn't exactly come out on top. However, thanks to some handy work by Intel, the i9-10900K sits at the top of our best CPU for gaming guide. 

The new CPU from Intel really is an impressive piece of kit, bringing 10 cores and 20 threads to the table. The i9-10900K is rated at 3.7GHz base clock but does have a max turbo frequency of up to 5.3GHz - more than enough to run pretty much every game you can throw at it. It comes with a 125W TDP which, yes is higher than the AMD counterpart - meaning it will get a little toasty under the hood. 

Speaking of gaming, the i9-10900K is going to be an absolute beast when it comes to driving high FPS. With early tests showcasing a 10-20% increase over the 3900X, it's safe to say there's a new king in town. Unfortunately, Intel has released the new chip on a new socket, the FCLGA1200. That means if you are in the market for one of these, you will need to purchase a new motherboard as well. That being said, if you have the cash, you'll be more than happy with the overall performance this CPU will provide.

#2

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD's Ryzen 9 3900X falls just short of Intel's new 10900K when it comes to gaming performance, something I didn't expect to be saying 12 months ago. Historically, Intel has always been the number one player when it comes to gaming CPUs, having said that, thanks to recent advancements in AMD's CPU lineup (Ryzen 3000 series), the gap between the two powerhouses has been closed exponentially.

The 3900x is the current flagship Ryzen CPU (unless you count the massively expensive 3950x), and it comes to the table boasting some seriously impressive performance stats. For a start, it has an impressive 60% performance increase over the i9 across non-gaming related tasks. We crowned the 3900X as the best AMD CPU as it outshines its competition in multi-tasking scenarios such as encoding, rendering, and streaming - whilst still being much better value-for-money than the more powerful 3950X.

The 3900X achieves this high level of performance thanks to a 12core/24 thread design, which runs at a steady 3.8GHz straight-out-the-box. It can be further boosted to 4.6GHz with AMD's PBO for additional performance.

Ultimately, the 3900X is a massively impressive CPU and one that boasts impressive performance across the board. If you're looking for the best all-round CPU, then look no further.

#3

Intel i5-10600K

Another of Intel's latest arrivals comes in the shape of their i5-10600K - their latest mid-range offering. This CPU comes equipped with a much more affordable price tag, but don't let that fool you, it comes jam-packed with performance, including plenty of overclocking to boot.

The i5-10600K offers up 6 cores and 12 threads, that's two fewer cores and four fewer threads than the similarly priced 3700X. That being said, when put to the test in a gaming scenario, we saw the i5-10600K beat the 3700X in performance to the tune of about 10%. Not bad. That being said, it obviously falls quite a way short of the Ryzen in multi-tasking workflows.

Speaking of performance, the 10600K boasts an impressive 4.1GHz base clock speed, with a tasty max turbo frequency of 4.8GHz to boot. That being said, if you're into overclocking, there's a ton of potential to be had by doing so with this chip. Pushing it past 5.0GHz is not out of the question, putting it right up there with the likes of the 10900K.

Unfortunately, and like our top pick, the 10600K is designed around the latest FCLGA1200 socket. That means if you are interested in this chip, you guessed it, you're going to have to purchase a new motherboard in order to do so.

Overall, as far as gaming is concerned and at this price range, you'll struggle to find anything that can match the 10600K's performance. A fantastic CPU from Intel, once again.

#4

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X

Next up, we have the Ryzen 3700X, the best value for money CPU from AMD.

The 3700X is part of last year's hugely impressive Ryzen 3000 series of CPUs which offered performance figures that were set to eclipse their Intel counterparts for the first time in, forever. It offers a superb 3.6Ghz base clock speed over 8cores and 16threads, however, thanks to unlocked overclocking, users can expect to see much greater running speeds thanks to large overclocking headspace and a low TDP.

It has a boost clock speed of 4.4GHz, more than enough CPU power to smash out pretty much any game you have to throw at it. When compared to its Intel counterpart, the Ryzen might fall slightly short in the single-core performance category. That being said, it absolutely dominates it in multi-tasking workflows. 

Ultimately, the 3700x is a fantastic, well-rounded chip which should be worthy of anyone's consideration.

#5

AMD Ryzen 5 3600

The 3600 was one of the most anticipated CPUs to be released when Ryzen announced their 3000 series CPU lineup - mainly thanks to some impressive benchmarking rumors. At one stage, it sat at the top of the single-thread performance rankings beating out the 9900k respectively. However, since then, more tests have been done and it isn't quite as impressive as it first seems. Still, when you consider the price, it still performs extremely well when compared to similarly priced alternatives.

If you're looking for a budget CPU that can smash out AAA game titles at over 100fps and has excellent multi-tasking abilities, the 3600 should be high on your list of recommendations. It's the very reason why it finds itself in our list of best CPUs for gaming.

Price/performance, this chip is one of the best we've seen in a long time. It has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, however, the 3600 has unlocked overclocking, meaning you can see boost speeds of 4.2GHz+ with the right setup. It comes with its own CPU cooling fan which AMD says is newly designed with excellent efficiency and almost no noise output.

Overall, one of the best CPUs you can get at this respective price point.

#6

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

The Ryzen 5 3400G is AMD's leading flagship APU and features their impressive Vega 11 graphics. This CPU offers some of the best price-to-performance value on the market, giving first-time gamers an extremely cheap avenue to play less-intensive titles

The 3400G is the successor to the highly-rated 2400G, bringing a faster base clock speed of 3.7GHz to the table - including the ability to boost up to 4.2GHz. The new line of CPUs comes with AMD's latest Wraith cooler, meaning not only will you get excellent cooling right-out-the-box, but you also won't need to splash out on an aftermarket CPU cooler either.

In terms of performance, the VEGA 11 graphics can provide solid frame rates in games such as CS:GO, LOL, and DOTA 2 if the settings are on low-medium. If you're looking to play more intensive games in 1080p and above, you may struggle to hit the frames needed for smooth gameplay.

These chips run best with fast RAM, so be sure to pair this with at least 3000MHz or above. We have run numerous tests on the 3400G in the past, with all results concluding faster RAM is better for performance.

Ultimately, if you want to game but are on an extremely strict budget, this is probably the way to go.

Related CPU Pages

If you need more information on what the best CPU option for you is, then check out our thorough guides to the best CPUs for your requirements below.

You can also check out our great CPU cooler guides:

Final Word

Choosing the best CPU for gaming can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it can also be a challenge. Now that you’re familiar with the best gaming CPUs of 2020, it should hopefully make an informed decision when it comes to buying a lot easier. Don't forget to pick the right cooling solution for your CPU to ensure it runs at optimal levels at all times!

Deciding which gaming CPU you’re going to get will come down to what your personal needs are going to be. Using this list should help you decide which one is best for you.

If you’re looking for the fastest processor for gaming, then you’re going to want to be looking at the Intel Core i9-10900K.

Maybe your needs lie elsewhere, and you want an all-round balanced processor. In this case, you may want to consider the Ryzen 9 3900X as no other processor on this list will beat its multitasking capabilities

For a solid, mid-range, gaming-only PC, the reasonably priced Intel Core i5-10600K will give you great bang for your buck

Perhaps you're on a tight budget and need a CPU that is going to handle low-intensive esports titles. If that's the case, we recommend the Ryzen 5 3400G

So what do you think? Did we leave out a CPU that should’ve made the list? Let us know what you think, and we’ll get back to you!

7 Comments

  1. Avatar ToxicTaZ says:

    The fastest 6&8 cores CPUs for 2019 are the 8086K and 9900KS

    Both are Intel fastest factory Coffeelake and Coffeelake Refresh CPUs.

    Both Intel 8086K and 9900KS are faster than the AMD 3600X and 3800X

    9900KS is the last upgrade for the 300 series boards.

  2. Avatar Irakleitos says:

    May I suggest the AMD Ryzen 5 2600X for the best budget gaming CPU? More threads than the Intel Core i5-9600K and the price is waaay better. Great guide nevertheless

    1. Charlie Noon Charlie Noon says:

      Hi Irakleitos,
      We have updated the builds since your comment, take a look and let us know what you think!

  3. Avatar champted says:

    Nice job on a very good guide.
    However, may I suggest one correction: In the section “Terms to Know”, subsection “Clock Speed”, sentence “So 4MHz would be 4 billion cycles per second.”, the word “billion” should be “million”.

    1. Charlie Noon Charlie Noon says:

      Thanks for the correction champted

  4. Avatar JamiegaL says:

    Hey. I sent a screenshot. Did you get it?

    1. Charlie Noon Charlie Noon says:

      Not sure we did friend. What was it regarding?

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