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Hey Intel and AMD, give us the gaming CPU we really want

A great gaming CPU needs a high clock speed, no more than eight cores, a fair price, and loads of cache. Why will no one make it?

Intel Core i9-14900K and AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D

Either Intel or AMD could make an absolutely killer gaming CPU right now. It would flat-out win all the awards for gaming performance, it wouldn’t cost as much as the current Ryzen 9 and Core i9 chips, and it would nail all the features needed to make the ultimate gaming chip. Gamers represent an enormous part of the CPU market right now, but manufacturers insist on circling us them rather than giving us what we want.

Now, before you mention the Ryzen 7 7800X3D, yes this is indeed the best gaming CPU available, but it could be loads better. And I don’t mean in the next generation, I mean right now, with all the technology AMD has at its disposal. Likewise, the high clock speed of Intel’s Core i9-14900K makes it great for gaming, it could be much better optimized. Gaming has a very specific set of demands, but despite it being one of the main drivers of the desktop PC business, gamers’ needs aren’t being met to the fullest.

There’s a wide-open secret among those in the know, which is that you don’t need more than eight cores for gaming. In fact, in my own tests I’ve found that a six-core CPU will be fine. Heck, a quad-core CPU will do the job in most cases. You can point to extreme outliers, such as Ashes of the Singularity, or the latest update for Cyberpunk 2077, but the truth is that you absolutely don’t need a 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X or a 24-core Core i9-14900K for the vast majority of games.

Even the latest Cyberpunk 2077 update is still much more dependent on a good GPU than having loads of CPU cores. At the most, what you need for gaming is eight high-performance cores – that’s not only adequate, it’s actually more than enough.

The killer CPU feature for gaming at the moment, of course, is AMD’s 3D V-cache, which gives its X3D CPUs immediate access to a big pool of high-speed memory, reducing the latency that comes from having to regularly use slower system RAM. However, the other important part of the equation for gaming is clock speed.

A few of those cores need the ability to boost to high clock speeds for gaming, and that’s where the Ryzen 7 7800X3D falls down. It only boosts to 5GHz, which is undoubtedly quick, but the 16-core Ryzen 9 7950X3D can boost to 5.7GHz in lightly threaded workloads, assuming you have the cooling headroom. Either way, AMD clearly has the ability to make the 7800X3D boost further, but instead gamers have to pay the extra money for eight largely unused CPU cores to get it.

Not only that, but the design of the 7950X3D can cause latency problems in gaming that aren’t an issue on the 7800X3D. The latter has one eight-core chiplet, with a stack of cache on it, but the 7950X3D has two eight-core chiplets, but only has a stack of cache on one of them, so if your game accesses a core on the wrong chiplet, you lose the benefit of that extra cache. Basically, it’s the 7800X3D that should have the extra clock speed headroom for gaming.

Likewise, the best Intel 14th gen gaming CPU should be the Core i5-14600K, but it only boosts to 5.3GHz, while the 14900K boosts to 6GHz. Yes, you could overclock the 14600K, but only if you have a Z-series motherboard and you’re comfortable with pushing up the clock speed of all your CPU cores, rather than just a couple of them. A Core i5-14600K that boosts to 6GHz makes much more sense for gaming than a 14900K, where all those extra cores just crowd the thermal envelope. In fact, a highly clocked Intel CPU with eight P-cores, and no E-cores, would be the best option for gaming.

This isn’t to say that CPUs with loads of cores aren’t necessary. If you do a lot of heavily multi-threaded work, such as video encoding, then a Core i9 or Ryzen 9 CPU will be ideal, and they’re good for gaming too. But there’s a colossal gap in the market for a proper gaming CPU, a chip for people whose first priority is gaming and don’t want to waste extra money on workstation features.

For AMD, that would be a chip with eight cores, a high clock speed, 3D V-cache, and a much lower price than the 7950X3D. For Intel, that would be a CPU with eight P-Cores, no E-Cores, and a 6GHz boost clock, again with a much lower price than the 14900K.

Both companies could make these CPUs right now, but sadly I don’t think we’ll ever see them. Core counts are now the key differentiator when it comes to price, and we swallow it, but gamers deserve better. Intel and AMD, stop forcing gamers to buy expensive CPUs with loads of cores to get the best gaming performance. Give us the killer chip we need, and that we know you can make.