The CPU is one of the components that will easily break your gaming experience. Investing in other components like the GPU and pairing it with a weak CPU will cap the performance of the GPU, impacting the overall performance of the PC.
For this reason, CPUs attract a lot of attention when purchasing a gaming PC. In fact, it's probably the first feature that gamers look at before selecting their desired gaming rig.
That said, picking the best gaming CPU is never a walk in the park. There are tonnes of options to choose from, and if you're not up-to-date with the recent additions in the market, things get a little harder. It doesn’t help that the CPU market is ever-changing, making it hard to find the right CPU for your gaming needs.
As experts in this field and having built thousands of gaming PCs for clients with varying needs, we are best suited to provide you with excellent advice on the best CPUs that will meet your gaming and budget needs.
AMD Vs. Intel CPU for Gaming
There’s no better place to start this discussion than with the old-age question of which is better between AMD and Intel.
The main fundamental difference between the brands is that the processors are only compatible with their corresponding motherboards. AMD processors will only work with AMD motherboards, and the same is the case for Intel.
For the longest time, Intel has been the sole dominant CPU manufacturer. In recent years, AMD has ramped up its production and released a series of excellent CPUs that deliver on all fronts.
Intel still holds the mantle in terms of single-core performance, while AMD has emerged as a fierce competitor in terms of multi-core performance.
AMD released the Zen architecture in 2017, which significantly shrank the gap between the two processors with regards to the single-core capability.
As it stands with regards to performance, a carefully selected CPU from either brand will deliver excellent performance.
Both brands have proven to be quite reliable over the years, with high-quality RAM for the best performance. As such, most gamers selecting between either of brands doesn’t just focus on the raw performance of the CPU but also on the price for performance or their specific needs.
It’s still possible to find gamers who are loyal to one brand or the other. But, regardless of what you choose, you can rest assured that with careful consideration, you’re going to get more or less the same performance from either brand.
Must-know CPU Specifications
If you're a first-time buyer or you're not experienced in the technical terms used in the gaming world, there are several terms you will need to know that will help you in making the right choice. Some of the most common phrases include:
CPU labels and generations
The labels and generations of CPUs convey a lot of valuable information if you know where to look. Both AMD and Intel have different ways of naming their processors, which makes decoding them a vital part of choosing the suitable processor.
AMD has simpler labelling. Let’s take the Ryzen 5000 series, for instance. The first number refers to the generation of the processor. The second number identifies the position of the processor in that series. Therefore, it would mean that the 5600X comes from the Ryzen 5000 generation, and it sits sixth in the series. The higher the second number, the more advanced and faster the processor is.
You will notice that processors like the 5800X has a Ryzen 7 tag while the 5900X has a Ryzen 9 tag. The numbers themselves are not that crucial. However, they show the position of the processor.
All AMD processors starting with a five are from a more recent generation than those coming with a 3. As such, they are faster, more advanced, and will usually feature better architecture.
Intel has a similar naming scheme. The first number notes the generation, and the second number notes the position within the generation.
Intel categorises its processors in tiers much like AMD, which makes it easier to choose the right processor. Like with AMD, the higher the number, the better and more advanced the CPU is.
Intel adds a suffix to its processors. The suffix notes a specific functionality or the lack thereof. Some of the most common letter suffixes you will find on the Intel range of processors include:
- G1-G7: Graphics level
- E: Embedded
- F: Requires discrete graphics
- G: Includes discrete graphics
- H: High performance optimized for mobile
- HK: High performance optimized for mobile, unlocked
- HQ: High performance optimized for mobile, quad-core
- K: Unlocked
- S: Special edition
- T: Power-optimized
- U: Mobile power efficient
- Y: Mobile extremely low power
Once you can decipher the functionality and categorisation of the CPU from its labelling, next, you need to master several critical features and understand how each will affect the performance of your PC as well as your gaming experience.
- Cores and threads – Every time you’re looking at the specifications of a CPU, the first two on the list will be the cores and threads. Modern CPUs have multiple cores to improve performance when handling multiple tasks. The threads are treated as virtual CPUs. The number of threads represents the number of tasks that each core can handle. Unlike the cores, the threads can only handle one task at a time. However, they switch between tasks at incredible speeds.
- Clock speed – Clock speeds are commonly referred to as cycle speeds. The term refers to how many cycles a core can perform per second and are measured in megahertz. A 4MHz clock speed means there’s a cycle of four million cycles every second.
- Overclocking – While shopping, you will come across CPUs labelled as "Unlocked." This means they can reach speeds higher than their stock speed. However, overclocking has to be done correctly or risk damaging the CPU and other components within the gaming rig.
- Socket – The socket has a relatively simple description. It is the physical mount that holds the CPU in place in the motherboard. When purchasing the CPU separately, you will want to check that the socket on your motherboard matches your processor and vice versa.
- It's typical for brands (and different processor series) to have different socket types that are only compatible with the corresponding motherboard or processor. The AMD Ryzen 7 series is an excellent example. It uses an AM4 socket that doesn’t work with the Intel LGA 1151 socket.
- When purchasing a motherboard and a CPU at the same time. We recommend choosing the processor first then finding a matching motherboard.
- Chipsets – Chipsets are essential when choosing a motherboard. They determine whether some of the features on the processor will be disabled or not. More advanced chipsets unlock more features like PCle lanes, SATA ports, and USB 3.1 ports, among others. Like the socket, you need to check the hardware specs to see what chipsets are compatible and the features they will unlock on the board.
- Hyperthreading – Hyperthreading is a new technology that CPU manufacturers came up with recently. Typically, the threads in a CPU can only handle one task at a time. Hyperthreading or Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT) converts the thread into two virtual threads seen by the operating system allowing each thread to double its capacity and complete two tasks simultaneously.
- For hardware meant for gaming solely, it's not advisable to activate threading. However, if you run other applications that require immense processing power, this nifty feature could come in handy.
Things to Consider When Buying a Gaming CPU
With numerous terms to remember and an ever-changing market, you have to wonder what you need to consider when purchasing a gaming CPU and what you can overlook.
The best place to start is by considering what you need the CPU for. You have already selected gaming as your primary activity, but there are other considerations within the gaming scene that you need to consider.
Types of gaming builds
Within gaming, there are different types of gamers. Each requires a different build which dictates the type of CPU that will work best for the needs of each gamer. The different kinds of gaming builds that we have at Fierce PC include:
- Hardcore game builds – These rigs are designed to deliver an exceptional gaming experience. They are perfect for gamers that simply want to enjoy the exploits of gaming. They don’t care about streaming or content creation. For these gaming builds, the FPS is the bottom line. These types of games are not heavily dependent on CPU cores and threads. As such, they will work with anything that is a quad-core or higher.
- Pure gaming builds – Pure gaming builds are a different breed. While hardcore builds focus on raw power, pure builds are all about processing speeds. A decent pure build will require pairing a fast processor with a good SSD, good quality RAM and powerful graphics. Pure builds will do just about anything and will handle other intensive tasks.
- Casual gaming – Casual gamers are not fixated on the FPS figures or saving the content for the world to see. These are the type of gamers that game once in a while in their free time. Usually, AAA games don't rank high in the list of priorities and therefore don’t need all that processing power.
- Such gamers don't need the latest hardware releases. They can do with an average CPU, which will be more affordable than a hardcore gaming build. A quad-core CPU strikes a balance between cost and performance. Speed isn't a priority, so your selected CPU doesn't need to be fast. Because the games are not processor-intensive, you won't notice the reduced speeds.
- Streaming – Over the past few years, gamers have found streaming as an excellent way of sharing gaming content on websites like Twitch and YouTube. More gamers are picking up interest in streaming their games.
- Stream builds are unique because both streaming and gaming are taxing on the processor and require a decent amount of power. When choosing a CPU, you need one with more cores and threads than the average hardcore game build.
- A good stream build processor should have at least five cores, and eight threads for a budget build.
- Content Creation – This is the most demanding type of build. If you're ramping up your content creation, you need a PC that can do it all. It should be capable of gaming, streaming, dishing out quality videos and occasionally, handle some video editing – all processor-hungry functions.
- For content creation builds, you need high cores and thread counts, and speed is of the essence to fast rendering. In general, when building this type of gaming PC, you want an all-around monster.
Once you have settled on the type of build you want, you can proceed to check on other features you should consider when choosing a gaming CPU:
Cores are an important consideration no matter the type of gaming build you have in mind. Multi-core processors have become common, and most software is designed to maximise the use of multi-core technology. Cores are not confusing. The more the number of cores the CPU has, the better and the more it will cost.
However, it’s vital to balance the number of cores depending on the applications you have in mind. Don’t forget that you need to pair the processor with system requirements that will utilise all the cores on the processor. This way, you’re not flushing money down the toilet.
The cache is temporary storage that allows the PC to get the files in the cache quickly. The larger the cache, the more files it can store and the faster the retrieval. This is why the cache is important. If the plan is to run multiple tasks, you will need the extra space. If it is just casual gaming, you will do just fine with a bare minimum.
This is a primary concern if you’re buying the processor separately. You have to ensure the CPU you have in mind is compatible with the motherboard. If not, the processor will not work. If you already have a processor and you’re shopping for a motherboard, you still have to make sure the two are compatible.
For the GPU, you have the option of going for an integrated GPU or a separate GPU. A separate, dedicated GPU is perfect for content creation and streaming gaming PCs but would be an overkill for casual gaming. An integrated GPU would work just fine.
The frequency is the speed with which the CPU operates. It’s measured in hertz (Hz). In the past, having a faster frequency meant better performance. But in the modern world, this isn't the case anymore. The infrastructure of the CPU matters more than the frequency of the CPU and could determine the performance.
When assessing the frequency, look at the CPU’s instructions per clock in addition to its frequency. Nonetheless, the frequency will give you a good picture of how quickly the processor performs. But remember, it isn't the only factor that impacts the speed of the processor.
Thermal design power
For small components, processors generate a lot of heat. The thermal design power spec says how much heat the processor will produce and, ultimately, the type of cooling device you need for the CPU. In budget-friendly options, the CPU will come with the cooling device.
However, in more advanced systems, the cooling system might be inadequate or missing entirely. If that the case, you should install a system that will cool the system sufficiently. Without proper heating, the components could overheat, causing them to fail.
Do you want to overclock?
Finally, you will want to think about overclocking. Although this appears last on the list of considerations, considering it first can help narrow down the options and make the selection process easier.
Overclocking allows you to turn up the speed on your processor for better performance. Overclocking might come in handy when you’re gaming and doing graphic design work on your PC. The additional power could come in handy when you have intensive projects to handle.
Overclockable processors remain relevant longer. If you're working on a medium budget gaming PC, opting for an overclocking processor can help you get up to four years before you need to upgrade. Should you choose to go for an overclocking processor, you will need to reconsider the motherboard and the cooling system.
Best CPUs for Gaming
After making all the considerations and learning as much as possible about your next CPU, it's time to make a choice. Here are some of the best CPUs for gaming you can find on the market today.
Best high-end gaming CPUs
The high-end gaming CPU category is for experienced gamers who are more concerned about the performance of their PC than the price of the CPU. Processors in this range are the most recent, with the most advanced features and the highest processing speeds. As you would expect, they also attract a premium price tag.
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
The AMD Ryzen 9 gaming CPU series has some of the most impressive CPUs for gaming. The 5900X is among the ones that stand out in this range and are heralded in the gaming circles by both gamers and PC builders like ourselves.
- Cores – 12
- Threads – 24
- Base clock – 3.7GHz
- Boost clock – 4.8GHz
- Overclocking – Yes
- L3 Cache – 64MB
- TDP – 105W
- PCle 4.0 lanes - 20
The CPU is built on the latest Zen architecture from AMD, which has continued to improve since it was first released in 2017. The CPU has excellent overall performance and is quite efficient.
Regardless of your gaming resolution, this processor will easily handle the workload while providing your selected graphics card with plenty of frames to work with.
Considering the processor is a 12-core with 24 threads, it fits the description of a monster coping with everything you throw at it with ease.
Besides gaming, the processor will handle 3D rendering, video editing, and any other serious tasks you might want to throw its way.
Although this is a top CPU in the market now, the overclocking feature means you can use it well into a few years before you need to upgrade it.
It’s an excellent CPU for gamers looking for absolute raw power and has a matching budget without overspending on a CPU that won’t be utilised to its maximum potential.
For some time, the i9-10900K was the most advanced retail CPU Intel had to offer. As mentioned earlier, the CPU market is ever-shifting as brands battle to release the next big CPU.
The core i9 from Intel remains one of the best CPU ranges in the market. We have an exceptional range of Intel core i9 gaming PCs in our stock that have exceeded expectations for gamers who have ordered them and given this range of processors a try.
The 10900K is an impressive processor in many aspects. It comes with 10 cores and 20 threads to shred any task you have into pieces.
It has a 3.7GHz base clock speed. But you can use the max turbo frequency to hit up to 5.3GHz, which is more than enough to handle any game you throw at the processor.
With a 125W TDP, it's safe to say that it is slightly power-hungry compared to its AMD counterpart. But given the level of performance it puts out, it is warranted.
FPS rates are critical when choosing a processor, and the i9-10900K is an absolute beast in driving high FPS. It does slightly better than the 3900X, which is part of the AMD Ryzen 9 series, another impressive gaming CPU.
The chip runs on the FCLGA1200 socket, which is not a standard among intel processors, so you need to ensure you have the right motherboard. The Z490 or the Z590 will work.
If your budget allows, this is an excellent treat that will deliver an amazing overall performance while prepping for the demands that future games will add without additional expenses.
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
You cannot emphasise enough how amazing the Ryzen 9 series of CPUs is. The 5950X might not be the greatest there is for pure gaming. But it’s among the best when it comes to multi-tasking. It outperforms some of the more advanced CPUs when it comes to multi-tasking type workflows. So, if you like to pepper your gaming with additional tasks, this could be the best CPU for you.
The CPU tables 16 cores and 32 threads, making it an unparalleled workstation. What makes this an excellent CPU is that it saves you the trouble of purchasing a custom board to run it. It goes directly onto the AM4 socket without any challenges.
In terms of gaming performance, the CPU offers stable FPS figures even when playing modern AAA titles. It has a base clock frequency of 3.4GHz with a top boost of up to 4.9GHz. At such speeds, you have plenty of juice to drive the most intense multi-tasking and rendering workflows.
For gamers who have more in mind for their rigs than just gaming and want an all-around setup, the best start to your rig should be selecting the 5950X processor. It has just the right number of cores and threads for multi-tasking. For gaming only, the processor will be overkill. What's more, its single-core performance isn't best suited for gaming.
Best Mid-range gaming CPUs
Mid-range gaming CPUs strike a keen balance between performance and cost. They are ideal for average gamers and those that run other tasks like video editing and rendering on their rigs. When choosing a mid-range gaming CPU, you want the best-performing CPU at your budget. In some cases, some high-end processors might fit this category depending on the budget you have in mind.
The i7-10700K is a lower high-end gaming PC CPU and a top mid-range option for gamers who want better performance and are willing to pay a little more to get it.
The i7-10700K has a lower price per thread, has Turbo Max 3.0, excellent gaming performance, high overclocking headroom and reasonable cooling requirement.
It’s an excellent choice if all you care about is gaming. It has eight cores and 16 threads at a modest price. It also comes with integrated graphics, which saves you the cost of buying a dedicated graphics card unless you have to.
The base clock of the i7-10700K chip is 3.8GHz with a boost clock of 5.1GHz, which makes the chip adept at chewing through any gaming workloads with ease.
The i7-10700K doesn't come bundled with a cooler, so you have to bring your own. Instead of thinking of this as a downside, consider that high-end water coolers create a lot more overclocking headroom and deliver better performance. It is compatible with the LGA1200 motherboard.
If you're slightly concerned about price but still willing to dig into your pockets to get the right performance, the i7-10700K is the perfect CPU for you.
If the core i7-10700K is right up your alley, you can check out our range of i7 gaming PCs or build your own PC with our vast range of components that you can pair with the i7 range of processors to unlock even more performance power.
Intel Core i5-10600K
If you haven't fully determined what you will use your PC for, but you're hell-bent on going for Intel, the i5-10600K is one of the best mid-range offerings that Intel has. Its price is much more affordable, and it is jam-packed with numerous performance features, including overclocking for additional processing power when you need it.
You can also check out our range of Intel i5 gaming PCs for other alternatives that offer a similar if not better performance paired with different components to suit various applications.
The 10600K has six cores and up to 12 threads. Although this is two fewer cores and four fewer threads than Ryzens 3700X, the Intel option delivers better performance, particularly gaming.
The processor has an impressive 4.1GHz base clock speed with a sizzling 4.8GHz turbo boost speed. If you're into overclocking, the 10600K will not limit you. It's possible to push it past 5.0GHz without a doubt bringing it closer to the 10900K range that would otherwise cost you more.
If you're seriously considering purchasing the i5-10600K CPU, keep in mind that it comes with the latest FCLGA1200 socket, and you would need a motherboard to match.
As far as gaming is concerned, it’s hard to find anything that will match the performance of the 10600K and the price. It’s an excellent choice from Intel.
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
The Ryzen 5 5600X is to AMD what the i5-10600K is to Intel. It’s an excellent processor for gamers that are not certain of the applications they will put their rigs into. It is a well-rounded and balanced CPU that strikes a balance between cost and performance, and it comes with a cooler, which is a big plus.
The 5600X was one of the most anticipated releases of the Ryzen 5000 series. With it came some fantastic benchmarking improvements offering a mix of value and performance for gaming and workflow scenarios.
Although the 5600X processor shines bright, the entire Ryzen 5 gaming PC series is quite impressive. We have several builds in stock that you can look at designed for both gaming and work.
The 5600X is a well-priced CPU that will easily smash any AAA game titles out of the park. It has over 100fps with superb multi-tasking ability.
The price/performance ratio on this chip is among the best in the market. It is hard to beat. You get a ship with a 4.1GHz base clock speed at a modest price with a 4.8GHz boost clock frequency. It is a significant upgrade from the Ryzen 3 gaming CPUs series, making it perfect for budget gaming PCs.
According to AMD, the most commendable feature of the 5600X is that it comes with its own CPU cooling fan, which is designed to efficiently keep the CPU cool with almost no noise output.
Best budget gaming CPU
Budget gaming PCs are not only for gamers trying to build a rig on a tight budget. They’re also perfect when you want to try out gaming before investing heavily and also for casual gamers who don’t run most of the AAA game titles.
Budget CPUs have the most diverse categories. But, it's vital to consider performance over price even with a limited budget. That's because most of the options, in this case, will not have essential features like overclocking, which could mean that you end up spending on an upgrade sooner than expected. When choosing a budget CPU, we recommend going for one that has the best performance, price ratio to get the most bang for the money.
Ryzen 3 3200G
The Ryzen 3 series is not the best CPU in the market. But if you’re managing a strict budget and want a CPU that will give you the best value and performance for your money, it’s one of the best to choose.
The chip is built on the AMD Zen+ architecture with AM4 chipsets. Out of the box, it is compatible with the X570 with other motherboards requiring a BIOs update.
The chip comes with four cores and four threads. Base clock speeds peak at 4GHz, and the chip is overclockable, which opens you up to a world of opportunities, especially considering that it comes with the Wraith Stealth cooler.
This range of features and specifications isn't fair on the performance of the hip. With fps speeds of over 100fps on most AAA gaming titles and up to 250+ on CS: GO, it's safe to say that the 3200G processor delivers beyond expectations.
The CPU will generally do well on most games handling a 1080p resolution. For the more intensive games, you might have to scale down to 720p, but that's a small price to pay for being able to play your favourite game without investing in a top-quality graphics card which will set you back a significant amount.
The Intel i3-10100 makes an excellent budget gaming CPU because of its solid performance, hyperthreading and it comes complete with a cooler, saving you the cost and trouble of trying to find a third-party cooler.
It is possible among the most affordable and lowest ranking CPUs in Intel’s 10th generation line-up. Still, it puts out an impressive performance, particularly for gaming applications, delivering good value for money.
The chip has four cores and eight threads. With the hyper-threading, that translates to 4 cores and 16 threads, not to mention the increased processing power because the threads can now handle two tasks simultaneously.
Other notable features include the base frequency, which stands at 3.60GHz, a max turbo frequency of 4.30GHz, an L3 Cache of 6MB, and a conservative TDP of 65W.
The cooler that comes with the processor is quite efficient and suited for the performance of the processor, so you don't need to worry about having to make an upgrade. It keeps the CPU running at acceptable temperatures, which is quite commendable and often considered a steal.
AMD Ryzen 5-3400G
If the Ryzen3-3200G we reviewed earlier doesn’t satisfy your needs, consider the Ryzen 5-3400G chip, which is not priced too far from the 3200G but offers substantially better performance.
The 3400G is an APU (Accelerated Processing Unit), which means the CPUs that come with the CPU and the GPU in the same die. In simpler terms, the CPU comes with integrated graphics.
The Ryzen 5 3400G comes with eleven Vega graphics cores has some of the best-integrated graphics performance ever seen on the market. It can swiftly run some of the latest AAA titles at acceptable frame rates in 1080p. If you consider scaling down the resolution to 720p, it fares even better.
Although the performance is not close to that of the most affordable dedicated graphics cards, the savings you make are reason enough to jump at the opportunity of purchasing this chip.
The processor has four cores and eight threads. It has a base clock speed of 3.7GHz, L2 Cache of 2MB and L3 Cache of 4MB, AM4 socket, Wraith Spire cooling system, and a TDP of between 45-65W.
It is not just the price of the Ryzen 5 3400G that is commendable but also the performance and the power consumption. It’s a steal if you can afford to get a dedicated graphics card at the moment or you don’t plan on playing any overly demanding games.
If you find the Ryzenn 5 3400G meets all your gaming needs, you can also check out our range of other Ryzen 5 gaming PCs that features various releases of the Ryzen 5 chips. You can also build yourself a customised PC using our range of Ryzen 5 processors and other components from leading brands in the gaming world.
Taking time to find the right gaming CPU is the best decision you could ever make regarding your gaming experience. Granted, it's not easy. There are tens of CPUs to choose from, and the terms can sound technical. But, taking the time to learn and soak in as much as possible will prove worthwhile in the long run.
Choosing the right CPU will not only save you money by helping you pick a chip whose features and functions you can maximise but will also prevent the need for premature upgrades that could cost even more.
At Fierce PC, you can also get fully assembled and tested gaming PCs at different budgets and for other applications that will ease the process of purchasing the components and putting them together.
We also offer customised PCs where we let you choose the components you want for your PC depending on your budget and needs. Our engineers then put together the PC, test it, and ship it out to you. This option gives you even more control over your budget while ensuring you get a PC that is customised to meet your needs.