We already have a comprehensive collection of the best CPUs on the market that goes into detail about the various CPU options across different categories and workloads. However, we think gaming by itself deserves a dedicated list due to the sheer number of options that can’t possibly fit into an article detailing multiple workloads. Things are now more exciting than ever for gamers with some seriously strong contenders from both AMD and Intel.
Gaming is one of the most prominent reasons to build a PC at all. But getting the best doesn’t just mean getting the most expensive, most spec-filled parts you can find. Gaming requires less CPU power than you probably think, and as such, a mid-tier CPU is almost always a better value investment.
But with the rise of content creation such as streaming and creating YouTube videos alongside gaming, there will always be times you need a little more. Fortunately, there are plenty of great choices.
Editor’s note (October 3, 2022): AMD’s newest generation CPUs, the Ryzen 7000 series, have just launched (and we’re in the process of reviewing them) and the Intel 13th Gen desktop CPUs will be available from October 20, 2022. The latest generation from both brands will surely feature, so this list will be going through some changes in the coming weeks.
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Best Intel CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-12600K
Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs arrived with a powerful combination of solid performance and competitive pricing. Intel has been under pressure from AMD in recent times and is trying to make a statement by making an entry into Ryzen’s traditional stomping grounds. The 13th Gen Intel CPUs are almost here, but until they are, the Intel Core i5-12600K is the best all-around CPU for gaming.
The Core i5-12600K is a 10-core, 16-thread CPU built around a hybrid design. The new heterogeneous design means high-priority tasks are executed by the P(performance)-cores, while the background and multi-threaded workloads are handled by the E(efficient)-cores. This allows the Core i5-12600K to excel in multiple benchmarks and different workloads and will be built upon by its eventual successor, the Core i5-13600K.
The Intel Core i5-12600K’s price tag also makes it extremely attractive, with no significant increases generation on generation. It goes toe-to-toe with the six-core twelve-thread Ryzen 5 5600X and represents the lowest point of entry for gamers to Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake family. The 12600K brings six multi-threaded P-cores to the table that operate at 3.7 / 4.9 GHz. It also has four E-cores that run at 2.8 / 3.6 GHz, and a total of 16 threads. We’re also looking at 20MB of L3 and 9.5MB of L2 cache.
In terms of performance, Intel certainly won back the crown with 12th Gen. The rival AMD chip consumes less power, but the new Intel 7 process reduces power consumption by up to a third over its predecessor. The Intel Core i5-12600K is an easy recommendation for us with roughly 40% performance improvement in multi-threaded applications than the Ryzen 5 5600X processor. It can even go up against the Ryzen 7 5700X and come out looking good.
Enthusiast gamers can also tweak the 12600K to get better performance with overclocking on supported platforms. It works best with Windows 11 since that’s the only OS with support for Intel’s new Thread Director tech. The new Alder Lake CPUs bring massive gains in throughput via DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interface. You can retain DDR4 memory with the Core i5-12600K but you’ll be leaving performance on the table.
If you can score a Core i5-12600K on a good deal it still represents a solid investment even with its successor looming. 13th Gen is compatible with the same motherboards, memory and coolers as 12th Gen, so you have an upgrade path, too.
Intel is back into the race with its 12th gen processors and we think the new Core i5-12600K is the best overall gaming CPU you can buy right now.
Best AMD CPU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 5 7600X
There was a time that when buying a CPU you would go AMD for multi-core, multi-thread performance, and Intel for that single-core burst. The latter helped Intel edge out in front for pure gaming, but it fell behind Ryzen for everything else. The tables have now been fully turned, though. Where Intel has its hybrid design CPUs with high-core counts, AMD has retained a more traditional design and with it, impressive single-core performance.
The Ryzen 5 7600X is also now the entry-level model for AMD, at least for the time being. There’s currently no Ryzen 3, and for gamers, a Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 9 is overkill. The sweet spot is the most affordable. It’s this one. On paper, it’s familiar territory. 6 cores, 12 threads, only now for the first time, also integrated graphics. The base frequency is 4.7 GHz and the boost frequency is 5.3 GHz, and like all Ryzen chips, it’s also unlocked if you want to tinker. Not that you really need to.
As you would hope, for gaming it outperforms Intel’s Core i5-12600K, in no small part thanks to that better single-core performance. Things are less clear when you switch to multi-core, but Intel’s hybrid design and higher core counts account for some of that. But the Ryzen 5 is no slouch, just like its predecessors, and it’s a solid all-rounder. Tasks such as encoding, and in software like Blender, the Ryzen 5 7600X is ahead. But it also has a new competitor on the way. With all that performance does come a side effect of a little heat, up to 95C in fact, so good cooling is vital.
The 7000 series from AMD is the first new socket in a number of years, moving to AM5. With it, you’ll only be able to use DDR5 RAM as well, which while unlocking serious performance, also adds to your overall budget. It also supports PCIe 5.0 which is limited right now but will start to be a thing in the not-so-distant future. AMD has a history of supporting its platforms in the longer term, so even though it requires a full new system now, you’ll be set for many years to come.
AMD’s new entry level chip is actually its best for gaming with incredible single-core performance and an attractive price tag to boot.
Best high-performance CPU for gaming: Intel Core i9-12900K
The unlocked Intel Core i5-12600K is a fantastic all-rounder for the price, but the Core i9-12900K is simply the best there currently is in Intel’s lineup. It’s currently the most powerful high-performance mainstream Intel chip on the market right now. Its successor, the Core i9-13900K is looming, though, and you would assume on what we know already that it’ll be replacing this one when it arrives.
The Intel Core i9-12900K represents Intel’s best efforts in making the most disruptive architectural shift in a decade — a combination of P-cores and E-cores. The Golden Cove architecture powers the P-cores whereas the E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture. Both of them work together to provide impressive IPC improvements.
The Core i9-12900K is based on the ‘Intel 7’ process and has 16 cores and 24 threads. We’re looking at eight P-cores that support hyper-threading, along with eight single-threaded E-cores for a total of 24 threads. The P-cores have a base frequency of 3.2Ghz and a peak frequency of 5.2Ghz thanks to Intel’s Turbo Boost Max 3.0 feature.
Intel says the 12900K comes with 125W Processor Base Power (PBP) and 241W Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) power rating. The values are higher because Intel has also changed its default boost duration for all K-series chips from the 56-second duration with Rocket Lake to an unlimited value. What does it mean? Well, it means the 12900K will essentially operate at the 241W MTP when it is under load.
The Core i9-12900K isn’t for those on a tight budget, but there is also a way to save a few bucks. Check out the graphics-less Core i9-12900KF which should be about $30 less. It’s unlikely you’ll be using one of these without a graphics card, especially if you’re gaming. So it’s easy money to save. The same will be true of its eventual successor, the Core i9-13900K, which will also have a cheaper, graphics-free version. It’s worth holding out for the new one if you can, but the Core i9-12900K is still an incredible CPU if you can get a good deal.
The Intel Core i9-12900K is currently the best high-performance processor you can buy right now. It topples the Ryzen 9 5950X to become the new performance champ.
Best for streamers: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X
AMD’s newest, most powerful Ryzen CPU is one that will have the streamers out there pricking up their ears. One of Ryzen’s strengths ever since it first hit the market has been incredible multi-thread performance, important for taxing workloads. Intel has gone down a different route with its hybrid designs, but AMD is still keeping it a little more traditional and the Ryzen 9 7950X is 16-cores and 32-threads of raw, immense power.
Gamers can better spend their money since 16-cores is overkill and then some, but where the 7950X comes in is those who want to game and create. When you consider it in that context it makes much more sense. Want to game and stream? Render high-resolution video? Use software such as Blender or Unreal Engine? In taxing processes like all of these sometimes there’s just no substitute for more. More cores, more threads, more performance.
The Ryzen 9 7950X is one of the first Zen 4, AM5 chips from AMD, the first time we’ve had a new socket in some years. As such you’ll need to upgrade everything in your rig. It only supports DDR5, you’ll need a new motherboard, too. It’s built to support PCIe 5.0, though admittedly there are limited use cases for that right now, but you can transfer over your existing PCIe 4.0 drives.
In our testing, the Ryzen 9 7950X is every bit as impressive as you would hope it to be. It outclasses the Intel Core i9-12900K in almost every benchmark, even in single-core performance at times. Temperatures can get a little on the warm side but doesn’t exceed the 95C (203F) that AMD has previously declared. At idle it’ll sit happily at 40C (104F) under an AIO cooler, and you’d be able to drop that even further with some serious liquid cooling. It’s still a bit toastier than Intel’s competing CPUs though, and we’re yet to see the 13th Gen Core i9 on the test bench.
Ultimately AMD has made a pretty meaningful update to the Ryzen family and its flagship model is going to be popular with creators. The days of needing two PCs to stream with, for example, are increasingly looking like being over thanks to advances such as this one. It’s pricey, yes, but it’s as powerful as you can get right now on a consumer platform. And AM5 is going to be here for many years to come, so you’re as future-proofed as it gets right now.
AMD’s latest flagship is a perfect CPU for creators who need a lot of cores for intensive workloads. It’s not too bad for gaming, either.
Budget Best CPU for Gaming: Intel Core i5-12400
Intel’s Core i5-12600K gets our top recommendation, but we think there’s another one that deserves attention in the budget space. It’s the Intel Core i5-12400 and we think this is the best budget CPU out there right now when it comes to gaming.
In terms of specifications, the Intel Core i5-12400 has a base frequency of 2.5GHz and a max turbo boost frequency of 4.4GHz. We’re looking at six cores and twelve threads for this chip and an 18MB L3 cache. This chip, unlike the high-end Alder Lake parts, only comes with six performance cores and no efficiency cores. The lack of efficiency cores means it’s not a hybrid chip, but it still packs the Golden Cove architecture inside its performance cores. And that’s perfect for gamers because it means you’ll get better single-core performance.
As for the performance, it’s right up there with a lot of other higher-end chips on the market for gaming. It offers great single-core performance and a relatively commendable multi-threaded performance to deliver impressive gaming results. It handily beats a lot of previous-gen chips including remarkably the 11th-gen’s hero product, the Core i9-11900K. The 11900K performs better in heavily multi-core focused tasks, but the budget Alder Lake part easily topples it on other tests.
The Core i5-12400 is also very forgiving when it comes to power draw and thermal performance. It goes easy on the power consumption front, thereby producing significantly less heat. Even a decent air cooler is plenty to tame this chip. In fact, Intel’s own Laminar CPU coolers that are bundled in the box should be enough to keep the thermals in check for this chip. That makes it a solid offering for budget-conscious shoppers who are looking to save as much money as they can on their new build.
We recommend pairing the Core i5-12400 with a B660 chipset-based motherboard for maximum bang for your buck. There are plenty of budget B660 motherboards out there with support for DDR4 memory. You’ll also be able to take advantage of all the speedy PCIe 4.0 SSDs out there on that board, so it’s a great choice, even for budget shoppers. The Core i5-12400 is no ‘K’ series chip, but you can still overclock it thanks to the support for base clock overclocking (BCLK OC). That being said, the 12400 performs great at stock settings and we don’t recommend overclocking it. But it’s there if you like to tinker.
There’s no direct replacement coming just yet from the 13th Gen, either, so this will continue to be a great budget buy for a while longer.
The Intel Core i5-12400 is a solid entry into the budget space. It’s a great processor to consider for budget gaming builds in 2022.
Best for gaming without a graphics card: AMD Ryzen 5600G
AMD Ryzen APUs have integrated graphics processors and take advantage of the system memory to deliver impressive gaming performance. AMD has a solid lineup of APUs on the market under its 5000-series. The Ryzen 7 5700G is a slightly more powerful APU but we think it’s the Ryzen 5 5600G that deserves a spot inside your PC. The hype around the Ryzen 7 5700G quickly wears off once you get your hands on the Ryzen 5 5600G that servers up ~96% of its performance for less of your money.
The Ryzen 5 5600G has six cores and twelve threads and it comes as a part of AMD’s first of 7nm ‘Cezanne’ APUs for desktop PCs. The Cezanne APUs come with Zen 3 execution cores paired with the Radeon Vega graphics engine. The Ryzen 5 5600G comes with a 3.7 GHz base and a 4.4 GHz boost clock, 16MB of L3 cache, and seven Radeon RX Vega CUs operating at 1.9GHz.
We’re also looking at a configurable TDP that stretches from 45W to 65W, although you can expect it to operate mostly at 65W TDP under load. As a Zen 3 processor, the Ryzen 5 5600G steps up to the DDR4-3200 interface from DDR4-2933. This will further boost the overall gaming performance with the iGPU. The addition of an iGPU means you’ll be sacrificing a little bit of peak CPU frequency. And you should remember you’ll lose some of your overall system memory capacity to the Vega graphics.
That being said, the Ryzen 5 5600G is the current leader of the pack when it comes to processors with the integrated graphics engine, especially at its price point. It’s capable of running most new titles in the market, although you may have to keep your expectations in check when it comes to the overall graphical fidelity. We’d recommend a discrete GPU over an APU for serious gaming but entry-level gamers will find a lot of value in APUs. It’s also a perfect CPU choice for small form or home entertainment PCs.
You can always step up to the more expensive Ryzen 7 5700G for a better overall experience if you plan to buy a discrete GPU at a later date. But for others, we think the Ryzen 5 5600G comes close to the 5700G’s performance at a much more palatable price point.
The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G is a great APU for those who are currently struggling to buy a GPU on the market.
Best CPUs for gaming: Final Thoughts
Well, that concludes our list of the best CPUs for gaming you can buy right now. A CPU is one of those core components of a build that you may not upgrade quite often unless there’s a lot of money burning a hole in your pockets. Your GPU is going to play a huge role in deciding which games you can and cannot play on your PC, but the CPU is just as important. The last thing you want to do is settle for a Ryzen 3 3300X and buy an RTX 3080 GPU to face severe bottlenecks. We’re right in the middle of new CPU season, too, so it’s a little difficult to definitively say you should get Intel or AMD.
On one side, you can still buy Intel’s Core i5-12600K and have an amazing gaming PC. But it’s also not totally fair to compare it to AMD’s Ryzen 7000 series. Intel’s answer to that is due in late October 2022, so we’ll have a clearer picture then.
Our collection of the best gaming CPU, as we mentioned earlier, reflects the ever-evolving market, so we keep updating this page to add newer and better CPUs for gaming as they’re released into the wild. Be sure to drop a line and let us know in case we missed any of your favorite gaming CPUs. You can also join our XDA Computing Forum to see if others have any solid recommendations for your build. You’re bound to have some burning discussions around hot topics like Windows 11 and more. We also encourage you to check out some of our other collections like the best monitors and the best webcam to find the best options on the market.