Choosing the best gaming CPU in 2022 can be a difficult task, as there are plenty of great options to choose from. 12th Gen Intel Core processors have proven to be worthy competitors to AMD Ryzen 5000 chips, making it a great time to upgrade your gaming PC. However, the battle for the CPU performance crown could get ugly, with AMD Zen 4 and Intel Raptor Lake components due to release later this year.
Quad-core processors remain the most popular CPU spec among Steam users, but hexa-core chips will likely overtake them in popularity over the coming months. This doesn't mean that four cores and eight threads aren't enough for the best PC games, far from it, as many videogames still predominantly rely on single-core performance above all.
It's worth noting, however, that there's little point in buying one of the best graphics cards from AMD or Nvidia and pairing it with a budget CPU. If you're hoping to make use of some of the best gaming monitor's refresh rates, like 120Hz and above, you'll want a strong processor that doesn't bottleneck your performance and stifle your frame rate.
Here are the best gaming CPUs:
Intel Core i9-12900K
The best gaming CPU is the Intel Core i9-12900K.
If you need a CPU that’s enough to handle the most powerful GeForce or Radeon cards, then look no further than the Intel Core i9-12900K. Built on Intel’s new Alder Lake architecture, its hybrid core design outperforms even the might AMD Ryzen 9 5950X in the best PC games.
With 16 cores, 24 threads, and a max boost clock of 5.20GHz, the 12900K is an absolute beast when it comes to gaming performance. Plus, if you don’t need integrated graphics, you can snag it for $25 USD cheaper by opting for the 12900KF without forgoing any of its other specs or overclocking potential.
What we like:
The most powerful gaming CPU bar none
Hybrid core design ensures background tasks don’t hurt performance
|Intel Core i9-12900K specs|
|Clock speeds (base / boost)||3.20GHz / 5.20GHz|
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
The best Ryzen CPU for gaming is the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X.
The 5900X’s 12 Zen 3 cores and 24 threads are enough to take on even the most demanding of videogames, and its specs make it great for production workloads too. While it isn’t quite as powerful as the Intel Core i9-12900K, the 5900X is just as good as the more expensive 5950X for gaming and is much cheaper too.
If you already own a Zen 4 motherboard, chances are that the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X is compatible with your existing setup, saving you a pretty penny on upgrade costs. Just make sure that your motherboard is compatible by contacting your manufacturer, and you’ll likely need to update its BIOS.
What we like:
Fantastic gaming and production workload performance
Backwards compatible with many existing Zen 4 motherboards
|AMD Ryzen 9 5900X specs|
|Clock speeds (base / boost)||3.70GHz / 4.80GHz|
Intel Core i3-12100
The best budget gaming CPU is the Intel Core i3-12100.
It may be hard to believe, but Intel has crafted the new budget king with its Core i3-12100. While the latest Celeron or Pentium processor may be slightly cheaper, we recommend stretching to the manageable $130 USD MSRP of this i3.
Paired with a B660 motherboard, the i3-12100 is one of the cheapest ways to get into PC gaming without skimping too much in the way of performance. In fact, it goes head-to-head with the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 in many games and production workloads.
What we like:
Punches well above its price point in terms of performance
Can be bought for $25 USD without an integrated GPU, for $105 USD
|Intel Core i3-12100 specs|
|Clock speeds (base / boost)||3.30GHz / 4.30GHz|
AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
The best CPU with integrated graphics is the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G.
Graphics cards are hard to come by right now, so the Vega-based integrated graphics on the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G could make for a useful stopgap solution. While it can’t compete with many discrete GPUs, it should be plenty for light gaming. Better still, the 5600G is AMD FSR compatible, which means you can easily boost fps in supported titles.
It’s no slouch of a CPU either, with all the performance of a Ryzen 5 5600X and more with higher clock speeds. While it’s not as cheap as the Intel Core i5-12400, the UHD Graphics 730 found on that processor are no match for the Vega GPU on the 5600G.
What we like:
Best-in-class integrated GPU performance
Offers better performance than the Ryzen 5 5600X at a lower price
|AMD Ryzen 5 5600G specs|
|Clock speeds (base / boost)||3.90GHz / 4.40GHz|
Intel Core i5-12400F
The best CPU for the money is the Intel Core i5-12400F.
It may be hard to believe, but the Intel Core i5-12400F easily beats any AMD Ryzen chip for the title of best value CPU. At just $190 USD, this peppy little hexa-core CPU handily competes with the beloved AMD Ryzen 5 5600X, a processor that costs $299 USD. Despite not featuring the efficiency cores found on the pricier Alder Lake chips, the i5-12400F is extremely capable of managing background tasks with minimal impact on frame rate.
While we recommend pairing the 12400F with a discrete graphics card, you can find the i5-12400 with integrated graphics for an additional $25 USD. However, we have another recommendation in mind if you absolutely can’t afford to splash on a new GPU that you can find by reading on.
What we like:
Performs as well as AMD CPUs that cost over $100 USD more
Supports DDR5 RAM with the right motherboard chipset
|Intel Core i5-12400F specs|
|Clock speeds (base / boost)||2.50GHz / 4.40GHz|
is the cpu important for gaming?
There’s no point in investing in the best graphics card available only to kneecap your performance with a processor that simply can’t keep up, creating what’s known as a CPU bottleneck. Your processor plays an important role in managing the frame rate of videogames, particularly when it comes to consistent frame times.
It’s worth noting that you don’t need the best gaming CPU to enjoy high frame rates, as the amount of work a processor does varies between games.
intel or amd?
While AMD Ryzen CPUs have been the processors of choice for many over the past several years, Intel’s 12th Gen Core lineup has really spiced up competition between the two manufacturers.
If your number one priority when buying a new CPU is pushing gaming performance to the max, then we suggest going with Intel. The company’s new Alder Lake chips are best-in-class for games, and there’s an option suited for practically every kind of budget in its lineup.
If you’re a creative, someone who primarily uses Adobe Creative Suite and other production applications, then AMD is the way to go. The multi-core performance of Ryzen is still extremely strong, and the AM4 platform is very mature now so there are plenty of purchasing options available.