So you are ready to build your much-desired and longed-for PC and decided that your main use case for it will be gaming; and that’s fine, who doesn’t love playing games? If you’re in such a spot then this following article will help you decide which of the latest Ryzen or Intel CPUs will be the best fit for you regardless of the budget; that’s right, because we’ll discuss all the best CPUs at all price ranges!
The CPU is the most important component in any PC and it comes to no surprise that it will make or break any aspect of the gaming front as well. This is because it is responsible for almost everything that is going on inside your computer.
In a gaming PC, the CPU plays the major role of scheduling all the frames that need to be rendered by the GPU; failing to do that fast enough will mean that your GPU won’t be working as hard as it can to deliver you with smooth game play. Often, when it comes to buying the best CPU for gaming in your budget, its core architecture, IPC (instructions per clock), cache and clock speed will matter considerably. Follow us in this review of the AMD Ryzen and Intel Core CPUs to see what fits best in any budget!
Understanding the role of the CPU
Firstly, the central processing unit (CPU), also referred to as the “processor,” carries out and controls the computer program’s instructions by performing input/output (I/O) operations, basic arithmetic, and logic. An essential part of any computer, the CPU receives, directs, and processes the computer’s data. Since it’s usually the most critical component, it’s often characterized as the “brain” or “heart” of the desktop or laptop PC, depending on which body part you’d consider the most important. And when it comes to gaming, it’s a pretty important component of the gaming system.
Secondly, we believe the role of the CPU is often misunderstood by people who buy the most expensive piece of hardware out there because “higher price means its better”. You will need to understand that there are many cases in which much lower-priced CPUs perform on par in Gaming when compared to much more expensive processors; there are even more extreme margins out there. How you would ask? Processors serve different purposes and gaming isn’t, of course, their sole one.
Let’s take for example an Intel Core i7 9700K which currently retails for around $370. This CPU will game better with an advantage of even 10% in some games over the Ryzen 9 3950X which is a $750 CPU. This is important because in this comparison we have a CPU that’s half the price of the mighty 3950X that’s beating it in gaming scenarios. There are other examples, even more extreme than this one out there but we’ll leave it for you guys to find other examples.
A simple explanation of how a CPU – GPU combo works is the following: a processor is meant to organize and power all calculations and draw calls of a game; these are then communicated to the GPU and the requested frames are rendered and displayed. If the CPU isn’t fast enough, the GPU will have to wait too much for the CPU and stutter may appear.
Lets further talk about what’s important to consider when deciding to buy a CPU from Intel or AMD for your gaming PC.
What matters most in a CPU for gaming
1. Number of cores:
- Many of the current games out there like (e.g Battlefield V, CoD: Modern Warfare, Shadow of the Tomb Raider) make use and leverage many cores at the same time in order to provide the smoothest user FPS experience with no interruptions. Its important that the CPU you choose has enough cores and threads for the game (you can usually make sure of this by consulting the Recommended section of hardware requirements in the game’s description).
- Intel processors sometimes get a bad reputation for getting 100% utilization in games and thus stuttering. This happens because of this very reason we’re discussing: hardware limitations. While CPUs like the Intel’s current midrange, the Intel Core i5 9600K (6 cores and 6 threads) are great for easier to run games (Fortnite/CS:GO/Apex Legends/etc), they rapidly fall to pieces in heavier games because there are simply not enough resources for the game engine to use.
- AMD has been fine on this aspect in the past and especially in the present because almost all of their CPUs have SMT (simultaneous multi threading = hyper threading).
2. Single core speed (IPC x Core Clock):
- Even more important for gaming, the single core speed can simply be represented by the product of IPC (instructions per clock) and clock speed. Single core speed measures how fast a core can do sequential instructions and is the main measure of a CPU’s power. Take for example the new midrange Ryzen 5 3600X CPU which is a 6 core and 12 threads CPU on AMD’s new 7nm process and refined architecture. It features much improved IPC over the previous generation top of the line Ryzen 7 2700X which is a 8 core and 16 threads CPU. Because of this much improved IPC (and slight clock speed boost), the new 6 core Ryzen 5 3600X beats the Ryzen 7 2700X (an 8 core) in all gaming tasks and almost all multicore applications while having two fewer cores and four fewer threads!
- From the example above we can take that IPC and clock speed are very important when choosing a gaming CPU. In 2020, 500$ will buy you either a Intel Core i9 9900K or a Ryzen 9 3900X. The Intel part can achieve a clock speed of 5.0Ghz and the AMD part can achieve 4.6GHz but even if the top attainable clock speed is lower for AMD’s 3900X, the Single core speed is similar for the two CPUs because AMD’s CPU architecture has a 9-10% better IPC.
For those out there that are struggling to understand this concept, let’s try an analogy. If the CPU in this instance was a factory, then having more cores and threads would be like having extra factory workers. This would mean a higher Gigahertz (GHz) would be like having a faster workforce.
It’s worth noting that all of the CPUs we talk about below have varying levels of speed, cores, and threads, meaning they all have specific pros and cons.
|CPU Name||Design||RRP||Power Consumption||Cores / Threads||Boost Clock||Gaming Performance||Cost/Frame Value|
|AMD Ryzen 5 1600||$119||96 W||6 / 12||3.6 GHz||8 / 10||1.1|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600||$149||97 W||6 / 12||3.9 GHz||8.3 / 10||1.3|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600X||$195||132 W||6 / 12||4.2 GHz||8.6 / 10||1.62|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600||$200||90 W||6 / 6||4.2 GHz||9.25 / 10||1.58|
|Intel Core i5 9600K||$255||102 W||6 / 6||4.6 GHz||9.35 / 10||1.88|
|AMD Ryzen 7 2700X||$270||161 W||8 / 12||4.35 GHz||8.85 / 10||2.16|
|AMD Ryzen 7 1800X||$260||131 W||8 / 12||4.0 GHz||8.5 / 10||2.2|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||$330||104 W||8 / 12||4.4 GHz||9.3 / 10||2.46|
|Intel Core i7 9700K||$365||169 W||8 / 8||4.9 GHz||9.95 / 10||2.48|
|Intel Core i7 8700K||$350||136 W||6 / 12||4.7 GHz||9.65 / 10||2.48|
|Intel Core i9 9900K||$485||204 W||8 / 16||5.0 GHz||10 / 10||3.27|
|AMD Ryzen 9 3900X||$440||164 W||12 / 24||4.6 GHz||9.35 / 10||3.7|
With this table we wanted to represent as easy as we can, most of Intel and AMD’s lineup of CPUs and their corresponding gaming performance. The data is based on TechSpot’s 1080p benchmarks for these CPUs when using a Nvidia RTX 2080Ti in an average of 9 popular games. In the representation you can see older CPUs like the AMD Ryzen 5 1600 but also the newest ones like the Intel Core i9 9900K and the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X.
We strictly analyzed their gaming performance, power consumption and cost per frame, compiling them together to make it easier for you to pick what your next CPU should be. You also should take into consideration the core count of these CPUs since you’re probably not only going to game on your system but also do some other tasks from time to time. A good example for this in the table above is the Intel Core i5 9600K CPU which scored very well in gaming benchmarks, tying the mighty 12 core AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. As such, the i5 9600K will deal well with the majority of games but as a disclaimer, our readers should consider that the processor’s 6 cores and 6 threads will rapidly begin to cause problems with 100% CPU Utilization if the user is used to multitasking a lot; among other issues with such a low core count and lack of hyper threading comes the minimum FPS metric (based on frame times) – basically, the 9600K will sometimes stutter in heavy games. For peace of mind we recommend at least a 6 core / 12 threads CPU and for future proofing, at least an 8 core / 16 threads CPU in 2020.
The rest of the table should be self-explanatory and aid you in your decision. Cost per frame would be the most important part to consider if building a gaming machine; there’s a small caveat though when buying Intel CPUs because you’ll also need to factor in the cost of a 3rd party cooler as the CPU box doesn’t come with an included one. As an example, you can get away with a $40 CM Hyper 212 for a CPU like the Intel Core i5 9600K but for the 8700K up to the 9900K you’ll probably need something beefier; a common cooler paired with these CPUs would be the beQuiet! Dark Rock Pro 4 Air Cooler.
Best Ryzen & Intel Processors for Gaming: By Budget
Next, we’re going to recommend CPUs which are best for gaming alone as well as best CPUs for multitasking while gaming (Discord/Skype/Spotify/Browsing/Streaming). We’re dividing these recommendations into those sections because we believe that there are people out there who may not be interested in heavy usage and primarily just want to game as well as people who want a more rounded up experience with gaming and seemless multitasking on the side.
Best Gaming CPU under $100
Best $100 CPU for gaming alone: Ryzen 5 1600AF
This CPU is just an unexciting refresh from the original Ryzen 5 1600’s 14nm to the newer 12nm process Zen+ was on; it is essentially a Ryzen 5 2600 with slightly lower clock speeds. What’s really exciting about the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is its price as it retails as an $85 CPU, making it a no brainer to recommend in this price range. Other close competitors would be the Intel Core i3 9100/F and 9400F but with MSRPs around $95 and retailing well over $120, the Ryzen 5 1600AF wins in gaming by a big margin of 15-20% while being cheaper and with more cores and threads.
Best $100 CPU for gaming and multitasking: Ryzen 5 1600AF
Normally, this second category would be for the best CPU for gaming and multitasking at the same time but in this case, the AMD Ryzen 5 1600AF still holds the lead over the Intel Core i3 9100F, thanks to its additional 2 cores and 8 more threads! The 1600AF also represents the cheapest CPU we can recommend for entry level budget gamers who want to stream smoothly on platforms like YouTube and Twitch while playing their favorite game. The Ryzen 5 1600AF is also unlocked and can be overclocked to 4.0-4.2GHz easily for even better performance. All Intel chips at this price point are locked.
Best Gaming CPU under $200
The $200 price point is more heavily contested and we will have different CPUs for best in gaming alone and best in gaming & multitasking.
Best $200 CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-9600K
This CPU currently retails for around $200 and features 6 cores and 6 threads with an unlocked clock multiplier, meaning that it can be overclocked to around 5.0GHz with a custom and rather inexpensive air cooler. Because of this, it is the best gaming CPU at this price point as it beats the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 by 3-4% in pure gaming performance. You should keep in mind that the 9600K comes without an included CPU cooler in the box and one needs to be purchased; a ~$30 compatible air cooler should do the trick.
Best $200 CPU for gaming and multitasking: AMD Ryzen 5 3600/X
This CPU currently retails for around $173 and features 6 cores and 12 threads with an unlocked multiplier and an included cooler in the box. If you can get over the fact that the 9600K (when overclocked) is 3-4% better in pure gaming, the Ryzen 5 3600 will both be cheaper and better in everything else; rendering/editing/streaming/multitasking while gaming are big strengths for the Ryzen 5 3600 and the 9600K can’t touch that. The 3600 or the 3600X (if you can find it close to 3600’s price) are the current hottest CPUs on the market thanks to their incredible value and performance. If you think about it, the Ryzen 5 3600 is equivalent in multicore performance to a last-gen top of the line Ryzen 7 2700X while beating it in gaming.
Best Gaming CPU under $400
This price range has a similar story to the previous one. The mightiest competitors here are the Ryzen 7 3700X/3800X and the Intel Core i7 9700K. All three are unlocked CPUs that can overclock to squeeze extra performance and are great at gaming and multitasking at the same time.
Best $400 CPU for gaming alone: Intel Core i7-9700K
This 8 core 8 thread part from Intel has a 4-6% gaming performance advantage over its competitors, the Ryzen 7 3700X and Ryzen 7 3800X. It retails for a hefty $370 and even though it has marginally better gaming performance against the 3700X, the value is worse. That being said, its still a very good CPU for gaming and multitasking at the same time; streaming is possible but nothing to shout about because the CPU is limited to just 8 threads. It can be overclocked to 5.0GHz and needs a rather good cooler to keep the temperatures in check; a ~$90 Dark Rock Pro 4 cooler should do the trick nicely.
Best $400 CPU for gaming and multitasking: Ryzen 7 3700X
This 8 core 16 thread part from AMD is a big step up from the previous generation Ryzen 7 2700X. It features an unlocked multiplier for easy overclocking, comes with a great bundled cooler and has SMT (Hyper-Threading). It loses to the 9700K in pure gaming by a small margin but beats it everywhere else; render times are much shorter, streaming is a breeze and higher quality presets can be used and in general, its a snappier CPU to multitask with all thanks to its 8 additional threads over the 9700K. The Ryzen 7 3700X retails for around $295, making it also a good value for the people interested in such a CPU.
Best Gaming CPU under $500
We’ve already passed the high-end CPUs and got to the enthusiast zone. Here lie two big competitors, in the name of the Core i9 9900K and the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and a similar story as previous price ranges can be said.
Best $500 CPU for gaming alone – Intel Core i9-9900K / KF
The only unlocked Intel consumer CPU with Hyper Threading, the 8 core and 16 core beast from Intel is a great gaming performer and scores the win in this category. It can also be used as a streaming CPU though the 3900X is better. Its only downsides are its big price for an 8 core and the need for a beefy CPU cooler because the 9900K is notorious for getting very hot when overclocked.
Best $500 CPU for gaming and multitasking: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
This 12-core, 24-thread behemoth actually retails for around $430 even though it was a $500 MSRP part at launch. When both are overclocked, the 9900K and 3900X trade blows in many gaming titles but overall, the 3900X is around 4% worse in average FPS; 3900X though has more consisted 1% minimum FPS values (smoothness). When it comes to streaming or rendering/editing, you’d be very lucky with a 3900X in your system as its 12 cores and 24 threads make short work of everything you throw at it. It usually even asks for more because it has so many space resources!
Before AMD’s newest line of 3rd gen Ryzen chips, if your goal was to try and push a CPU as fast as it’ll go, Intel’s Core line wins out over AMD’s Ryzen. Your base clock speeds are lower, but when Turbo Boost takes over, you see significant increases in speed. However, Ryzen has bridged the gap considerably.
As the case is with the AMD Ryzen line, the core line offers an excellent range of processors to choose from. They offer both budget and enthusiast-friendly CPUs.
AMD also introduced the Ryzen 9 3950X 16-core processor for $749 in November 2019. AMD’s chip outperforms every Core i9 CPU in multi-core workloads, and is the best gaming CPU AMD has ever made, even if it’s only by a percent point or two. That’s not really its focus, as it acts as an HEDT-lite chip, but it’s still an amazing achievement to pack so many cores in a single die, but not lose any single-threaded performance.
AMD’s CPU momentum makes recommending Intel for gaming harder now than in the past. If you only game, then Intel’s 9700K, 9900K, and 9900KS are the best CPUs you can buy. If you do anything alongside or when you aren’t gaming, however, Ryzen 3000 chips are a better bet. They’re sold at similar prices, deliver comparable performance in games, and offer much better performance elsewhere.
During an everyday workload, a top-end AMD chip and a top-end Intel chip won’t produce radically different outcomes. There are clear distinctions in specific scenarios and benchmarks, but the CPU isn’t the keystone of PC performance that it once was.
That said, AMD’s CPUs, especially its newest Ryzen 3000 models, offer amazing value and performance throughout the whole range. From the modest 3600 right up to the 3950X, the bang for the buck is arguably much better with AMD CPUs, even if you’re mostly a gamer. Intel CPUs are still great, but if they are to remain hotly competitive with AMD, Intel will need to lower its prices — which might be worth holding out for if you’re only interested in buying Intel.
There’s no clear “best CPU.” Both companies offer a fantastic line of processors, with AMD offering them at a lower price. There are cases to be made for both companies for gaming. If you’re looking for an easy to upgrade, budget-friendly, multitasking CPU, then AMD might be for you. That being said, Intel single-core performance still benefits the average gamer, and when you pair that with fast clock speeds and overclocking room, you can squeeze out every last drop of value.
The battle for dominance between AMD and Intel is far from over, and although AMD has dealt a large blow, the ball is now firmly in Intel’s court. Can AMD hold onto their well-deserved performance trophy for much longer?