Best CPU for gaming 2018

What's the best CPU for gaming? We've tested all the top AMD and Intel processors to help you make the right decision

Best CPU for gaming

Picking the best CPU for gaming means that, while it’ll still be heavily reliant on single-threaded processor power in terms of raw performance, you can’t just get a couple of speedy cores and hope they’ll keep your graphics card fully fed.

Despite the dominance of quad-core CPUs – or above – in today’s gaming rigs, the difficulty in coding for multi-core processors has meant we’re still not seeing many modern game engines taking full advantage of the powerful CPUs many of us have in our machines. In fact, now that AMD has decided to take the fight to Intel in terms of core-count, even six cores is becoming more and more common.

But games are slow to catch up. But that could be set to change with an increased number of dedicated DirectX 12 (and, to a similar extent, Vulkan) games offering a more streamlined method for delivering all that processing power into the hands of gamers. It’s been a long, slow march, but processor power may soon become a vital component of gaming performance once more. Though I have been saying that for the last ten years…

AMD has usurped the top spot for the best gaming CPU with its Ryzen 2 processors, but it still has fierce competition from Intel’s Coffee Lake chips. Take a look below to find the processor that fits you best.

Also, if you need a refresher course on techie-phrases, here’s our processor glossary of terms.

The best CPUs for gaming are:

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Best CPU for gaming - AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Winner: Best CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 5 2600

Approx. – $190 | £160

Vital stats

A fantastic combination of gaming power, genuine processing chops, and serious value.

  • Cores6
  • Threads12
  • Base clock3.4 GHz
  • Turbo3.9 GHz
  • SocketAM4

The AMD Ryzen 5 2600 isn’t just a great gaming CPU with serious multi-threading chops, it’s also an incredibly good-value chip, too. We had originally pegged the 2600X as the go-to gaming chip due to its high-end performance, but struggled a little with how much more expensive it was compared with the Core i5 8400.

The 8400 still retains a slight gaming performance lead, but the fact the Ryzen 5 2600 costs almost the same as the rival Intel chip means that there’s only going to be one winner in this battle. With a little judicious overclocking, at a level which isn’t going to put any undue strain on your silicon, you can get the same level of performance as the 2600X, and only a few fps lower than the Core i5. But with a huge amount more multi-threading capabilities for the same price.

In the end, AMD’s non-X 2600 has more power inside it than you’re likely to use, and is still able to offer all that for a mighty tempting price. You might need to get your hands dirty to get the most out of it, but it’s well worth the minimal effort.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 2600 review.

Best CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

Approx. – $210 | £195

Vital stats

For a little more than the price of the straight 2600 the 'X' chip delivers a slightly higher Turbo clock.

  • Cores6
  • Threads12
  • Base clock3.6 GHz
  • Turbo4.2 GHz
  • SocketAM4

The 2600X has double the thread count of its closest Intel rival, the Core i5 8400, which makes it a genuinely impressive computational chip – as fast as the far more expensive i7 8700K. And though we are talking about the 8400 being quicker in gaming frame rates it’s only ever by a few frames per second on average. And that’s at 1080p. Push the resolution up to a more GPU-intensive 1440p or 4K and the difference becomes essentially zero.

But it’s the straight 2600 CPU from AMD that pushes the X-series variant down into second place. That’s a cheaper chip that just needs a very small amount of overclocking effort to get running at the same speed. If you know you’ll never bother, and have the spare cash, go for the 2600X, but everyone else would be better off with the non-X Ryzen 5 2600.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 2600X review.

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Intel Core i5 8400

Approx. – $179 | £153

Vital stats

Our favourite Coffee Lake CPU offers six Intel cores and an impressively low price tag.

  • Cores6
  • Threads6
  • Base clock2.8GHz
  • Turbo4GHz
  • SocketLGA 1151 v2

I’ve been struggling with which chip to pick from the i5 8400 and the new Ryzen 5 processors as to the best CPU for gaming. While the cheaper 8400 does have marginally better gaming performance I’d struggle to really recommend it as an overall package. The new mainstream chipsets, the H370 and B360, mean that the non K-series Coffee Lake SKUs have a more affordable platform, but how long they’re going to last is anyone’s guess.

Intel has a habit of nixing backwards compatibility for its new Core CPUs, while AMD has confirmed that your AM4 motherboard of today will be compatible with all its Zen-based mainstream processors up to 2020.

But the 8400 is a lot cheaper right now, given the fact the 2600X has launched more recently, though, it’s only slightly less than the standard Ryzen 5 2600. And that only makes it a tempting prospect if you’re seriously limited on price. Price is really the only reason you’d pick the 8400 over the 2600 – the future-proofing, multi-threaded performance, and near-as-dammit gaming performance, means the Ryzen 2 CPU is the better overall CPU.

Read our full Intel Core i5 8400 review.

 

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 5 1600X

Approx. – $200 | £143

Vital stats

The first Ryzen 5 chip was stunning at launch, and is still a great option thanks to its low price since the 2nd Gen chips launched.

  • Cores6
  • Threads12
  • Base clock3.6GHz
  • Turbo4GHz
  • SocketAM4

The 1600X was a fantastic processor when it first launched. It was a symbol that AMD could actually make genuinely competitive gaming CPUs, and not just from a straight cost perspective.

But the 2600 is here now and is making it tough to recommend picking this first-gen Ryzen over the new Ryzen 2 CPU. Well, it would be if the 1600X wasn’t available for a great price right now. In the US it’s still $200. But in the UK it’s a snip at around £150. That makes it cheaper than the 8400 with almost the same level of gaming prowess.

If you do anything else with your PC alongside gaming – the sort of productivity shizzle that demands multi-threaded CPU performance – then the old-school Ryzen, with twice as many active threads as even the K-series Intel competition, is the better bet and more affordable than the Coffee Lake options.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 1600X review.

Best CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Core i5 8600K

Runner-up: Best CPU for gaming

Intel Core i5 8600K

Approx. – $239 | £213

Vital stats

The 8600K is still a good chip, but the quality of the 8400 almost entirely offsets the benefit of the K-series' overclocking performance.

  • Cores6
  • Threads6
  • Base clock3.6GHz
  • Turbo4.3GHz
  • SocketLGA 1151 v2

This is a bit of a surprise if I’m honest. I genuinely thought that, after what happened with previous Intel generations, the K-series Core i5 would be the go-to gaming CPU. But because the Ryzen 5 2600 has the multithreaded chops, and the Core i5 8400 is just so damned good when it comes to pure gaming performance, there’s almost no need to spend the extra on the 8600K.

Where the 8600K does have relevance is its overclocking skills. Running at a comfortable, stable, 5.1 GHz the Coffee Lake chip is capable of delivering the same level of multi-threaded CPU performance as the competing 12-thread Ryzen 5. To be honest, that seems to have been this processor’s raison d’être – beating Ryzen at all costs.

But it’s more expensive than the 1600X, and you’re stuck with having to go for the pricey Z370 platform to get that overclocking speed.

Read our full Intel Core i5 8600K review.

Winner: Best high-end CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 7 2700X

Approx. – $320 / £284

Vital stats

16 threads of processing power, a gaming performance boost, and a stellar price point. Top chip, indeed.

  • Cores8
  • Threads16
  • Base clock3.7GHz
  • Turbo4.3GHz
  • SocketAM4

If you’re after a mix of great multi-threaded computational chops and decent gaming performance then look no further than the new 2700X. It’s a great-value Ryzen 2 CPU that’s the top-chip in the latest range, and yet costs way less than the 1800X did when it first launched. It’s even cheaper than the 1700X it’s nominally replacing.

But it can outperform them both thanks to higher clockspeeds and a processing management engine that’s better at giving you that power when you need it. No longer are you limited to the base frequency as soon as you start using more than a single core, now it’ll top 4 GHz even when all eight cores are at 100% load.

That makes it a great chip in productivity terms and a CPU with gaming performance that is practically indistinguishable from the Intel competition.

These second-gen Ryzen chips prove that AMD has been listening, and the fact that the manufacturer has managed to whisk out the lumps in the Ryzen batter (mmm, pancakes…) and get it to market in a little over a year is mighty impressive. It’s not just the 12 nm chips that are lithe – the whole CPU side of the business seems to be, too. AMD has been smart to hold back the inevitable Ryzen 7 2800X to combat whatever Intel can muster in response.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 2700X review.

Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Core i7 8700K

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

Intel Core i7 8700K

Approx. – $349 £313

Vital stats

The full-fat Coffee Lake CPU is a bit of a beast, but with it lacking the thread count of the top Ryzen it falls just behind.

  • Cores6
  • Threads12
  • Base clock3.7GHz
  • Turbo4.7GHz
  • SocketLGA 1151 v2

The Coffee Lake K-series i7 is a cannibal. Not only has it eaten the Kaby Lake i7 whole, it’s also gone to town on both the hexcore i7 7800X and the unashamedly irrelevant Kaby Lake-X parts. And those last three were only around for a matter of months before they were swallowed whole. Brutal. But that’s what had to happen for Intel to get Coffee Lake out early and in the sort of shape that would give it a chance against AMD’s Ryzen.

But with the second generation of the Ryzen CPUs having now launched the 12-threaded 8700K doesn’t have the same gloss it once did. The 2700X has arrived with essentially the same level of gaming performance and way more computational power. And it’s turned up a good chunk cheaper too. Factor in the need to purchase a separate cooler with the 8700K and you’re looking at the 2700X being around $70 less expensive.

It does have the slightest of leads in gaming frame rates, but only by a couple of frames per second on average. In short, an invisible lead.

Read our full Intel Core i7 8700K review.

Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 7 1700X

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 7 1700X

Approx. – $250 | £207

Vital stats

It doesn't have the improved gaming support of the 2nd Gen Ryzen chips, but if you do a little productivity on the side it's a great option.

  • Cores8
  • Threads16
  • Base clock3.4GHz
  • Turbo3.8GHz
  • SocketAM4

If you’re not comfortable running your brand new processor overclocked out of the box then the Ryzen 7 1700X is possibly a better option for you than the cheaper Ryzen 7 1700. And chances are you’re looking at the Ryzen processors because you’re after their high core and thread counts for productivity tasks over and above gaming performance.

For general rendering and encoding you’re going to want your chip to be as stable as possible and still run at a high clockspeed. The R7 1700 is a great choice if you’re willing to overclock, but the safer option is this ‘X’ suffixed version of AMD’s octa-core range.

In terms of gaming performance, you’re leaving some of your GPU’s potential frame rate in the box when pairing it with a first-gen Ryzen processor. But with the multi-threaded performance on offer, at this price, if you’re interested in using your PC for anything outside gaming this OG Ryzen is a great option.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1700X review.

Best high-end CPU for gaming runner-up - AMD Ryzen 7 1700

Runner-up: Best high-end CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 7 1700

Approx. – $220 | £195

Vital stats

With a little judicious overclocking you can get eight cores and 16 threads running at serious speeds.

  • Cores8
  • Threads16
  • Base clock3GHz
  • Turbo3.7GHz
  • SocketAM4

If you’re happy with carrying out a little light overclocking on your new processor then the Ryzen 7 1700 is a great choice with a heady mix of fantastic eight-core pricing and impressive number-crunching chops. At roughly the same price as Intel’s quad-core i7 7700K, the 1700 will be a rather tantalising prospect for anyone that isn’t primarily going to be gaming on their PC.

By manually pushing the somewhat miserly stock clocks up to the same levels as the other Ryzen 7 chips you can get pretty much the same overall performance out of the 1700 for a lot less cash. It’s still not a dedicated gaming chip, but it’s got the multi-threaded performance that might make those lower frame rates more palatable .

Read our full AMD Ryzen 7 1700 review.

Best cheap CPU for gaming - AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

Winner: Best cheap CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

Approx. – $96 | £84

Vital stats

With the Vega graphics power inside it, you could create a tiny 720p gaming rig around this CPU alone.

  • Cores4
  • Threads4
  • Base clock3.5GHz
  • Turbo3.7GHz
  • SocketAM4

AMD began retiring the Ryzen 1000-series processors even before the April release of the Ryzen 2 CPUs. The new AMD Raven Ridge APUs are replacing both the Ryzen 5 1400 and the Ryzen 3 1200 in the red team’s processor stack. But this bargain 2200G APU pretty much puts the Ryzen 3 1300X out of a job.

That ol’ Ryzen 3 used to be our favourite budget gaming chip, but the mix of serious quad-core CPU performance with the addition of surprisingly effective Vega GPU silicon make the this APU a winner whether you’re plumbing a graphics card into your rig or not.

As the basis for a budget gaming rig the 2200G can deliver decent 720p gaming performance. Well, if you’re not too ambitious about the game settings, that is. The Ryzen 5 2400G does have more about it on that front, but it’s a good chunk more expensive and the performance difference can largely be made up by overclocking the internal GPU.

Because AMD has also managed to jam in a full quad-core Ryzen CPU into the package it performs admirably when you plumb in a discrete GPU. It loses a little against the 1300X on straight CPU performance, potentially because it’s got half the L3 cache, but in gaming terms it’s close enough that it doesn’t really make a difference. And the low-end Raven Ridge is a little cheaper too. Bargain.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 3 2200G review.

Runner-up: Best cheap CPU for gaming

AMD Ryzen 3 1300X

Approx. – $129£99

Vital stats

Four overclockable CPU cores for the price of an Intel dual-core. It's a bit of a bargain.

  • Cores4
  • Threads4
  • Base clock3.5GHz
  • Turbo3.7GHz
  • Socket AM4

I love budget kit. No, scratch that, I love budget kit that turns up offering the same sort of performance you would normally have to pay through the nose for. Loving your work, AMD. The Ryzen 3 1300X was the best budget gaming chip around when it first launched, packing four overclockable Zen cores into a dual-core price tag. And it’s only just been overtaken by the slightly cheaper Ryzen 3 2200G.

The Ryzen 3 platform is excellent too. When you can pick up the overclockable 1300X and a powerful B350 motherboard – for the same price as a multiplier-locked Core i5 on its own – it becomes mighty hard to make a case for Intel. That pricing means you can build yourself a Ryzen 3 gaming rig powered by the GTX 1060 for the same price as you’d pay for a locked down Core i5 rig with just a GTX 1050 Ti. And you know which one’s going to be winning the benchmarking battle there, right?

Read our full AMD Ryzen 3 1300X review.

Best cheap CPU for gaming runner-up - Intel Pentium G4560

Runner-up: Best cheap CPU for gaming

Intel Pentium G4560

Approx. – $59 | £40

Vital stats

Intel's Kaby Lake architecture at a sub-$60 price point - but it struggles against AMD's budget chips.

  • Cores2
  • Threads4
  • Base clock3.5GHz
  • TurboN/A
  • SocketLGA 1151

The Pentium G4560 is a decent budget CPU, offering Intel’s 14nm Kaby Lake architecture for a sub-$60 price point, and all without too much of a performance difference between it and the still too-expensive Core i3 7350K.

It doesn’t have any overclocking potential and no Turbo clockspeed to boost that miserly 3.5GHz stock frequency, but it has Intel’s Core architecture, which will help get the most out of your GPU. The issue is that it’s a dual-core CPU. It does have HyperThreading enabled, which is a definite bonus in this budget arena, but it’s still at the bottom end of acceptable for most games’ minimum system specs. In fact, with the Ryzen 3 CPU and APUs being only a little more expensive, buying a new dual-core CPU is arguably not acceptable if you hope to be able to keep using that chip a year or two down the line.

What it does have is an upgrade path for your platform. It uses the LGA 1151 socket, so with a suitable motherboard, such as an H270, you’ll be able to drop a speedier i5, or even i7, processor into your board later on down the line.