Building a gaming PC in 2018 isn’t just about buying the best graphics card. RAM and CPU are just as important and in some games, the processor is more, yes MORE, important. This means you need an equal balance between graphics power, RAM and Processor in order to get the most from your computer. You don’t want to have a great graphics card with an underperforming CPU. With fast-paced games like first-person shooters, you would generally favour a graphics card but other types of games (Cities: Skylines, Crysis 3, Ghost Recon: Wildlands and even PUBG etc.) can be CPU intensive, it really comes down to how optimised a game is and which engine the game has been developed in. There is generally no hard and fast connection between the type of game and what you should focus the more power on. This is exactly why you should look to get a CPU that compliments your graphics card, existing hardware, preferences and more importantly your budget.
In this CPU buying guide, we will take a look at the best CPU for gaming in 2017 and into the future. We will break down the list into options for both Intel I7 and I5 and AMD’s Ryzen processors as well as budget and best value options. We will also try to direct you to the best types of PC builds as well as hardware such as the best Z370 motherboard for i7 8700k or the best AM4 Ryzen motherboard. Be sure to read through our guides to ensure you make the most informed choice on the best CPU for gaming.
Overall Best Processors
The table and processor reviews below cover what is considered the best processor for gaming. If you have visited before you will have noticed our list was full of Intel CPUs, whereas it is almost the exact opposite now.
The key to buying a CPU is to buy one which will not limit your graphics card, the ideal position to be in is to have your graphics card the limiting factor. While doing that we also need to take into consideration if you use the computer for other tasks such as video editing, content creation, do you use your computer for work etc. Overall the same Best Intel processors will work across all tasks but when you’re looking to use a computer for work, games and other tasks then Ryzen is the way to go. We will have a blog post about the differences between the best gaming CPU and for work in the coming weeks but in a sentence, it all comes down to how many cores and virtual cores (hyperthreading/SMT – Simultaneous Multi-Threading) a CPU has.
Best CPU for gaming
- Intel Core i7 8700K – The Best CPU For Gaming
- Intel Core i7 7700K – 2nd Best Performing CPU
- Ryzen 7 1700x – Solid Performer
- Ryzen 5 1600 – Best “For The Money” Gaming CPU
- Intel Core i5 7600K – Runner-up on the Intel side
- Intel Pentium G4560 – The Cheapest Gaming Processor
- Ryzen 3 1300x – The Best Entry Level & Budget Gaming Processor
The Best CPU For Gaming – Intel Core i7 8700K
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.7GHz | Turbo: 4.7GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 | Overclock Potential: 5.2GHz
The new coffee lake CPU lineup was announced recently and as we all expected it was a big one! Intel has been forced to compete with AMD Ryzen CPUs and like usual Intel blow the competition out of the water when going for a like-for-like comparison. That being said, the question of which CPU is best for gaming doesn’t have an exact answer that suits everyone.
The i7 8700K is by far the best CPU for gaming on the market, that is without a doubt a fact. It has just as many cores as the Ryzen 5 1600 but it has a boost clock of 4.7Ghz and overclocking potential of 5.2Ghz, some have reported higher. Overall, everyone should be able to achieve 5Ghz without too much trouble.
The question becomes do you have the budget for the 8700k? Granted the actual processor isn’t too much more expensive than its predecessor and its inline with most expectations. That doesn’t mean its as cheap as the Ryzen models though, as it certainly isn’t. Something else to keep in mind is that the new 8700K and coffee lake CPUs require a Z370 motherboard, the old Z270 and Z170 simply don’t support Coffee lake.
The Best Gaming CPU Runner Up – Intel Core i7 7700K
Cores: 4 | Threads: 8 | Base clock: 4.2GHz | Turbo: 4.5GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 | Overclock Potential: 5GHz
Overall the 7700k doesn’t offer too much in the way of progress when compared to its predecessor, the 6700K. That being said the improvements that have been made mean most overclockers should be able to achieve a 5Ghz overclock with enough cooling. The 7700K in all games we have tested returns a win over all other CPUs at this level. Ryzen isn’t too far off but if you’re looking for performance then there is a fairly “large” measurable gap between what the 7700K will do compared to the best performing 1700x or 1800x. If you are a heavy eSports player then you should ideally be looking at i7 7700k or the i5 7600k to ensure high IPC for those 4 core games.
One of the main pros to the 7700K is its mature architecture. In theory, we now have the most optimised version of the architecture Intel has been using for the past couple of generations. This means in something like 99% of cases we just need to build a computer, install our games and then play. Whereas a new architecture can lead to issues, read more about this below when we go over Ryzen and its current technical issues.
I myself am an FPS addict and I like to know I am getting the highest FPS possible so the 7700K is the editors choice. I actually have one on the computer I am typing on! Although, I do plan on creating a Ryzen gaming computer very soon to benchmark new games going forward.
The Best All Rounder Processor – Ryzen 7 1700x
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo: 4.1GHz | Socket: AM4 | Overclock Potential: 4.1GHz
Before we get into the discussion of Ryzen 1700x you should note that the 1800x is effectively the same CPU with a slightly higher XFR boost. Overall 1700, 1700x and 1800x can all be overclocked to the same levels which produce the same benchmarks. Choosing the 1700x over 1700 is down to value for money the slightly higher cost will guarantee you a higher clock speed for overclockers. With that in mind, the X models don’t come with a stock cooler so you do have to bear that in mind.
Why would you choose a Ryzen 1700x for a gaming build?
The answer is fairly easy, if you use your computer for more than just playing games then you will likely want to at least consider any Ryzen above R5 1600. For example, if you like to stream on Twitch, create YouTube videos, use your computer for work or if you’re a software developer having more cores at your disposal makes sense. Put it this way, if you make money using your computer then you should really be looking at optimising your work more than your gaming!
Overall the 1700x doesn’t fall all that far behind in benchmarks when compared to the Intel Core i7 7700k and in some games, it even overtakes it in performance. That being said since the Intel Core i7 8700K was released the gap has opened up quite considerably! One point you need to keep in mind is that Ryzen is a new architecture so it’s not as flawless as Intel’s Kaby Lake or Coffee Lake meaning there are still some minor compatibility issues, most games aren’t optimised for these new CPUs and you need to ensure you pick up a decent Ryzen motherboard to ensure overclocking and bios updates are viable going forward.
Best For The Money CPU – Ryzen 5 1600
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base clock: 3.2GHz | Turbo: 3.7GHz | Socket: AM4 | Overclock Potential: 4GHz
If you have jumped to this section straight away I advise you read about the 1700x first as I have mentioned a lot of notes that I won’t repeat here which are applicable to all the Ryzen’s 1600 and above.
The Ryzen 1600 is by far the best value for money gaming processor on the market today, making it arguably the best gaming CPU overall! For your money, you get a processor that delivers almost 80% of the performance that a 7700k can deliver in games while also coming in around $110 cheaper. That is also not mentioning that the 7700K doesn’t come with a cooler which if you wanted to overclock to 5Ghz would set you back another $100 at least! In other words, by choosing 1600 you will save around $200 alone. That can buy you a better graphics card, faster RAM, a larger SSD to store games or even $200 more to spend on games.
Now if we wanted to do an i7 8700k vs Ryzen 5 1600 then based on benchmarks and results the 8700k would win in ALL cases. These benchmarks don’t take into consideration the saving you will make meaning you can upgrade other parts of your system or that fact that you might want to stream your games to Twitch too. Most importantly though many people miss-read benchmarks and look just at the average FPS or just look at the max FPS. What you should be looking at is the 1% and 0.1% lows on FPS, this is where all the AMD chips push ahead when compared to the older i7 7700K as they will provide a more stable gameplay with less large dips.
The Runner-Up Gaming Processor – Intel Core i5 7600K
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.8GHz | Turbo: 4.2GHz | Socket: LGA 1151 | Overclock Potential: 5.1GHz
If we rewind back to January 2017 then i5 7600K was the budget king CPU for all gamers. Now though it shares its position with the R5 1600. Both CPUs have different price points, both have different cores, frequency boosting and overclocking potential. Overall you can’t go wrong with either providing you make your choice based on what you want to use the computer for.
In many games, the 7600K will win hands down compared to the 1600 but the gap does close in some titles. For example, the only significant difference between the 7600K and 1600 in GTA V at 1080p on high settings is the stability of frames. 1600 will have higher 1% and 0.1% lows than the 7600K but on the flip side, the 7600K will have a higher average FPS across the game.
What does this really mean?
It tells us that the experience isn’t as smooth as 1600 with some stuttering and larger drops below 60FPS. In the grand scale of things though, does it really matter if your game drops down to below 60 frames per second for 6 seconds in 10 minutes of gaming? Hell no it doesn’t, you likely wouldn’t notice it either.
The Cheapest Gaming Processor – Intel Pentium G4560
Cores: 2 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Turbo: N/A | Socket: LGA 1151 | Overclock Potential: N/A
The Intel Pentium G4560 is the newest entry-level CPU from Intel. The G4560 isn’t going to wow you with its performance but it will with its price, you can find it for less than $100. What this CPU is good for is allowing gamers a gate into PC gaming. The G4560 is an LGA 1151 socket which means straight away you can pair this with an entry level graphics card and game while saving a little more cash to upgrade to the 7600K without having to start from scratch on a new socket.
If you’re into MMOs and eSports then the G4560 with an entry level graphics card will likely be more than enough. Just don’t expect to be entering massively competitive games and winning anytime soon. Your frame rate will be more than playable but it won’t be as smooth or fast as someone else on a 7700K with a better graphics card than you.
The Best Budget Gaming Processor – Ryzen 3 1300x
Cores: 4 | Threads: 4 | Base clock: 3.5GHz | Turbo: 3.7Ghz | Socket: AM4 | Overclock Potential: 3.9Ghz
AMD has now released their latest CPUs the Ryzen 3 tier with a 1200 and 1300x and it does stack up fairly well. It falls into the same category as the Intel Core i5’s in that it comes with 4 cores, 4 threads. That being said the pricing of Ryzen 3 means it actually competes with the Intel Pentium G4560 and the Intel Core i3’s which all range between $80 and $120 (at the time of writing).
But does a Ryzen 3 work for gaming, well actually yes. Now, unfortunately, we didn’t get our hands on a review Ryzen 3 but having scoured through the launch day benchmarks it looks like Ryzen 3 does OK compared to Intel Core i3 when not overclocked, but when it is overclocked it will either match or perform better in gaming.
The launch of the Ryzen 3 has blown a hole in the budget gaming CPU market as the Intel Pentium G4560 was always our favoured cheap CPU but as of today, that has changed. We will, of course, be keeping our eyes on benchmarks over the coming weeks to make sure the early reviews are correct.
What does this all mean? Well, it means we now have an Intel and AMD choice at the lowest budgets which can only be good for technology in general. It will be interesting to see how Intel react going forward but for now, it looks like Intel expected Ryzen 3 to blow them out of the water, hence the recent price drop on Intel Pentiums.
Best Intel Core CPU for Gaming
Intel’s I7 7700K CPU is arguably the best when it comes to performance. It is a well-known fact that if you’re looking for performance than Intel’s flagship is by far the best option at this moment in time. Intel’s I7 7700K tends to achieve better gaming benchmarks when compared to the AMD Ryzen counterparts. For example, when you compare the Intel i7-7700K with the Ryzen 5 1600 or 1700x the clear benchmark winner is Intel. With that in mind, the cost of the I7 7700K is significantly higher than the 1600 and it also lacks 2 cores when compared to the 1600 and 4 cores when compared to 1700. This is where you need to think carefully about your computer and what you use it for.
If you use your computer for playing games mostly then the 7700K is the best option for you. If you like to stream to Twitch, create videos, use your computer for work or College/University work then might be a better choice. In reality, most gamers will opt for one of two CPUs. The 7700K and 1600.
The 7700K is the powerhouse that can provide the highest performance possible but it does cost more than 1600. Speaking of the R5 1600 it isn’t far off when compared to the 7700K in benchmarks and it speeds passed when compared to other tasks such as streaming and other non-gaming tasks. Also, the R5 1600 is one of the cheapest on the market.
Something to note: To get the most from the new 7th generation CPU you would be best served looking for the best Z270 motherboard.
Best AMD CPU for Gaming
Having read about the Intel CPUs above you might be thinking why even bother with AMD. If you’re looking for sheer gaming performance and you have the budget for a good Intel-powered PC then I would urge you to go down that route. Again, on the other hand, if you use your build for things out with gaming then AMD’s Ryzen is more than likely your best bet right now. The best Ryzen CPU for gaming right now is the 1700x if you have the budget but the sweet spot is the R5 1600 with its 6 cores and 12 threads. Crank either of these up to 4Ghz and you will get at the VERY least 80% of the i7 7700K benchmarks for almost half the cost! 1600 as it stands right now is the value for money King that all budget gamers should be buying.
Please note that those looking to upgrade to Ryzen will require an AM4 motherboard as Intel and previous AM3 socket motherboards will not support the new lineup.
How To Choose a Processor
Making sure you get the correct processor is critical for any PC build as it can either mean you have a computer that you can simply maintain with a new graphics card every couple of years or if you make the wrong decision you have to change the whole system. Take my previous computer, for example, I started with an Intel Core i5 2500K, GTX 560Ti and a 500GB hard drive back in 2011. In 2013 I upgraded to a 1TB hard Drive and 250GB SSD. Then in 2015, I upgraded to a GTX 970. Through all of these minor upgrades, my motherboard and CPU remained the same. I upgraded that machine one last time with the best GTX 1080.
With the upgraded graphics card in 2017 I started to feel the age of the i5 2500K kick in, simply put my CPU was maxing out in most games I was playing. So, in May 2017 I upgraded to the best CPU for my use case. The i7 7700K.
So as you can see the main system remained unchanged from 2011. That is 6 years of use from a mid-range CPU. Even in 2018 the i5 2500K was performing great and the only real reason I needed to upgrade my CPU was for VR and some other intensive games. If I hadn’t gotten into VR I likely would have waited till the next iteration were released.
Back to the point though… Picking the right processor for you doesn’t come down to buying the fastest, best or one with most cores. It comes down to two things, how much you can afford and what you want to do with the computer in the medium to long-term. If for example your brand new to PC gaming and you have a micro-budget just to get your feet wet then your best bet would be either the Intel Pentium G4560 or if your budget can stretch to it a Ryzen 5 1500 or preferably 1600 (or Intel i5 7600K if you want to keep the option of a future 7700K upgrade open). All of those CPUs will provide you with a level of performance that is more than acceptable for a budget gaming PC build. Pair any of these with a budget graphics card like the GTX 1050, 1060 or RX 560 and you should be able to start playing games at a decent level. The added bonus is they give you headroom to upgrade in the future without the requirement of a motherboard change (the motherboard will need to be changed if you choose to upgrade to enthusiast level CPUs or if you wait till the new iteration is out).
Should You Buy More Cores?
Welcome to 2018 the year that AMD forced Intel to rethink their strategy. With the release of Ryzen CPUs, there has been lots of discussion around how many cores is right and if it really matters.
Firstly, does it really matter how many cores you have on a CPU? Hell yes, it does! Throw a single core in the mix and see your performance suffer. On the other hand, running with 16 cores and 32 threads is truly overkill, at least for gaming. See what I did there? Exactly, if you’re running a workstation, server, creating digital content and streaming videos to the net then a 16 core CPU might not be so crazy.
The debate with gamers through stems from how games are optimised. In some cases, a game will prefer clock speed over how many cores, whereas some will prefer to grow into 4, 6 or even 8 cores if possible. In 2018 though most games perform at their best with a high clock speed (IPC) across 4 cores and 8 threads. This is simply because game developers have been optimising for the technology that most gamers were using. If Intel and AMD start turning to 6 or 8 cores then games going forward will certainly adapt.
This process of adapting is already happening with some previously released games being patched to perform a little better on Ryzen. The proof in the pudding will come over the next 12 to 18 months once we see major triple-A games hit the market.
For now, you can’t go wrong with a 4, 6 or even 8 core solution as they will all perform more than acceptable for the foreseeable future. Put it this way, I didn’t drop cash on the recent i7 7700K upgrade because I expect to upgrade again next year!
Something to keep in mind is that AM4 is rumoured to be a 4-year life cycle which means if you buy Ryzen now you shouldn’t need a new motherboard for at least 4 years if you choose to upgrade to new iterations. That being said, this may change.
Overclocking and then Upgrading
Most gamers at some point will always want to extend the life of their CPU by overclocking. Some of us though like to overclock from the beginning. In order to overclock, you will require with a good Z270 motherboard for Intel or a comparably good B350 or X370 motherboard for AMD Ryzen.
We won’t be getting into the specifics of overclocking here but both Intel and AMD processors are easy to overclock providing you have a good aftermarket cooler. The stock coolers from AMD will allow you to overclock a little but they’re certainly not good enough for a 24/7 4Ghz overclock. Likewise with Intel’s Kaby Lake which is infamous for running hotter than expected. In order to achieve a 5Ghz overclock, you will need a perfect cooling solution to ensure your temps don’t increase into the dangerous zones.
Now it is true that Intel overclocks easier and further than AMD can at the moment but the clock speed advantage is stripped away when using a game that utilises more than 4 cores. In other words, an overclock will simply get the most out of a CPU and graphics card but it is unlikely to turn a 2nd placed into a 1st placed in benchmarks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Seeing as we have covered the main points of each processor above there will more than likely be a few questions that come up. If you have a question leave a comment below.
Does a faster clock speed mean a faster frame rate?
General speaking… maybe. In 2018 most games rely on multiple cores with a high clock speed but if this question stems from overclocking a Dual-Core so you don’t have to upgrade to a Quad-Core then the answer is likely yes but you will still want to upgrade soon.
When buying a CPU for gaming you will want to balance clock speed and the number of cores/threads available. If you’re looking for one that has a good spread of cores and clock speed then you have two options. The Ryzen 5 1600 with 6 cores, 8 threads and a potential overclock of 4Ghz and the Intel Core i7 7700K, 4 cores, 8 threads with overclocking potential of 5Ghz+.
Do I need to buy a new motherboard?
This is a difficult question as most of you who ask are likely new to building PCs. The only real time you need to upgrade your motherboard is when your upgraded CPU uses a different socket. In short, the best way to find out if you need to buy a new motherboard if to find out which socket you are using by researching your current motherboard and then comparing that to the exact CPU your wanting to buy.
How easy is it to overclock my CPU?
This is the most common question I see being asked. These days overclocking is fairly easy with only a few settings needing to be updated. If you have yet to buy you should ensure you Intel processor has a K in the name which stands for unlocked. On the Ryzen side, all of their CPUs are overclockable.
Depending on your CPU you should look for a tutorial which shows your motherboard and a list of safe voltages to test.
Do I need to match an AMD CPU with an AMD Graphics card?
This is a strange question which I have been asked a few times. The answer is no, you can buy whichever CPU and Graphics card combination you want to provide your motherboard support with both. Overall if you can make sure your motherboard has at least a PCIE 2.0 or 3.0 port then you are covered. If you plug your graphics card into a PCIE 2.0 port you will suffer a large performance drop which is why all of the motherboards we recommend have at least one PCIE 3.0.
In short, you can buy whatever GPU you want.
Is Ryzen 3 good enough for gaming?
Ryzen 3 was launched so this is a genuine question which will come up over the coming weeks and months. The Ryzen 3 CPUs are meant for students, basic work computers and those who do casual gaming. This means if you want to play the likes of GTA V, Battlefield 1 or any other AAA title then the Ryzen isn’t where you should be looking to invest. If you play casual eSports games then you should be absolutely covered with a Ryzen 3 1300x.