The best gaming CPU plays a large part in determining the capabilities of your system. This bit of silicon can make all the difference in hitting your target average frame rates, particularly if you play on a high refresh rate display or enjoy gaming with ray tracing enabled.
The two main players are AMD and Intel, and competition has never been more fierce, with the 14th Gen Core and Ryzen 7000 series each offering high levels of performance. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to picking the perfect processor for your PC, which is why we’re here to make your search easier.
The AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D rules the roost according to our testing. However, the Intel Core i9 14900K can pull ahead in some benchmarks, providing you have a strong enough cooler and power supply to tame that particular beast.
When looking for a new CPU, we’d generally suggest looking at options with at least six cores. Hexacore chips are now the standard among gamers, and a growing number of AAA PC games expect as much. There are great current generation options that fit this bill, like the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X, but don’t feel sheepish about opting for a 12th Gen Core or Ryzen 5000 series model, as they’ll be fine for years to come too.
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Best CPU for gaming FAQ
How we tested the best gaming CPUs
There are a lot of gaming CPUs on the market, and it can be hard to know which processors are genuinely worth your money. To help you decide which CPU is right for your system and budget, we evaluate each chip’s gaming capabilities paired with the most powerful graphics cards, including the AMD Radeon RX 7900 XTX and Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090.
When we test gaming CPUs, our benchmarks include our usual suite of PC games with a few extra additions, including 3DMark, Civilization VI, and Cinebench 2024. We also observe what temperatures the processor hits under load, noting how long it’s able to maintain its advertised boost clock speeds.
How do I choose a CPU for gaming?
Once you’ve figured out your budget, choosing the right CPU for your system comes down to what you plan to use it for. Are you someone who primarily plays games at 60fps, 120fps, or higher? Do you predominantly play competitive shooters and RTS games or lean more to action-adventure games or RPGs? All of these variables should impact your purchase decision.
Core i5 and Ryzen 5 chips pack plenty of processing power that should sate the needs of most people. However, those looking for more CPU performance should opt for Core i7 and Ryzen 7 options. While Ryzen 9 and Core i9 options offer more power still, they’re best suited for production workloads. Ryzen 3 and Core i3 are still solid options for budget builders, but opting for a more expensive chip is ideal.
Can I upgrade my CPU?
To upgrade the CPU in your gaming PC, you’ll need to physically swap it out for one of the more powerful processors in this list. It’s more straightforward than you’d think, provided you have a compatible chip, an adequate cooling solution, and the right tools.
You need to check that a new CPU is compatible with your motherboard before upgrading. Intel’s compatibility tool lets you look up any Intel processor and view all compatible motherboards, while AMD’s search tool does a similar thing.
When you’re ready, our 7-step CPU upgrade guide has plenty of advice on how to install a new processor.
When to upgrade CPU for gaming
There isn’t a set amount of time that a CPU will last you, but there are several ways to determine when the best time to replace your CPU is. Either you’ll find that your current system has slowed and is no longer meeting your needs, you have a fast processing speed and want to keep it that way, or you want to futureproof yourself with the latest processor.
If you’re not sure whether the CPU is the weak link in your gaming machine, there are tools to help you figure it out. CapFrameX and Rivatuner Statistics Server can be used to display CPU and GPU loads when you boot a game with it running in the background. If your GPU hovers around 90-100% then upgrading to the best graphics card you can is in order rather than a CPU upgrade.
What should CPU usage be when gaming?
In a balanced system (i.e. a PC with a CPU and GPU of similar caliber, think RX 7700 XT and Ryzen 5 7600 or RTX 4090 and Core i9 14900K) your CPU usage will largely depend on the types of games you’re playing.
Certain genres, such as RTS games, will lean more heavily on the CPU as more computational performance is required to manage things like artificial intelligence. That said, more often than not, your GPU usage will be at 100% long before your processor is but higher frame rates (120+) will put more strain on it.