The best CPU for gaming

Gaming & Accessories

Most CPUs out today can perform more than 1 billion instructions in a single second.

BestReviews is reader-supported and may earn an affiliate commission. Details.

Which CPUs are best for gaming?

A computer processor provides all of the instructions and processing power required for your PC to do all of its necessary work. The more powerful the processor, the faster a computer will complete its required tasks. A CPU essentially acts like the brain of a computer, allowing it to think faster and work harder, which can mean everything when building a gaming PC.

Most top-end gaming computers will have i5 or i7 processors with up to 8 cores of power, but for less powerful, cost-saving gaming setups, four cores will often be more than enough. On the higher end, specific processors can make their way up to i9 processors. With this in mind, our top pick is the Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor, capable of handling the hottest new AAA game titles. 

What to know before you buy a CPU

Intel processors

Intel processors have four distinct product lines: i3, i5, i7 and i9. The i9 processors are the fastest and boast the newest technology. Core i5 processors are still solid choices for all-purpose use, offering reliable gaming performance and light productivity. Core i7 processors have more power and are able to run more demanding apps and games at their highest performance settings. By contrast, core i9 processors have even more power than previous generations of processors. 

AMD processors

AMD processors are broken into two distinct lines. First, there is their traditional FX processor line. The second type of AMD processor is their Ryzen line. In recent years, the Ryzen line of CPUs has become the king of CPUs. They are fast, can handle the most immediate applications and can tackle multiple tasks at once. The AMD Ryzen product line includes the Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7. Like Intel’s processors, the higher the number in the line, the faster the processor’s performance. Ryzen processors are highly recommended when looking for processors for your PC build setup. 

Processor cores

Processors are made up of cores and threads. All CPUs have multiple cores, which allow them to do numerous tasks simultaneously. The higher the amount of cores, the more capable your CPU is of understanding and processing the instructions of various problems all at once. This makes it much easier for it to accomplish the tasks you’ve set for it. If you’re interested in learning more about the ins and outs of CPU cores, check out the best CPU processors review at BestReviews.

What to look for in a quality CPU

Integrated graphics

Some CPUs come with integrated graphics chips, allowing them to work independently from dedicated graphic cards. While many integrated graphics chips are not as powerful as most standard graphics cards, they can still be very effective. Many standard integrated graphics cards are capable of between 30 and 60 frames per second and can play many older — and quite a few newer! — games. 

Power and thermals

These two factors are rated together by the thermal design power rating, which will give you a rough estimate of how much power a CPU will require from a power supply and what level of cooling you will need to keep it from overheating. This is very important in ensuring your PC does not overheat and fail when working overtime, such as when it is overclocked. 

Clock speed

CPU clock speed is the megahertz and gigahertz rating of the CPU and represents how many collections of tasks a processor can perform per second. Essentially, it is a representation of the individual core speeds of the processor. The higher the clock speed, the faster a CPU will perform. As a general rule, CPUs with higher clock speeds are faster at most tasks, aside from productivity tasks. 

How much you can expect to spend on a CPU for gaming

The least powerful CPUs on the market can range between $50-$250 and can be great options for things such as building servers. Mid-range CPUs cost between $250-$500 and are capable of handling most gaming setups. The newest top-of-the -ine gaming CPUs cost upwards of $500, sometimes into the four-digit range and can easily handle gaming, video editing, streaming and just about any other task you can think of. 

CPU FAQ

Can laptop CPUs be updated?

A. No, unfortunately not. CPUs are not designed for upgrades as they are hardware, not software. However, a desktop computer’s CPU can be replaced with newer or more powerful models. On the other hand, modern laptop CPUs usually cannot be replaced. If you feel it’s time to upgrade your gaming desktop’s CPU, make sure to double-check that the model you prefer is compatible with your PC’s current components. 

What is liquid cooling?

A. CPUs require low temperatures to operate. Because of this, each CPU has some sort of cooling mechanism attached to it in order to prevent overheating. Liquid cooling uses a liquid coolant to draw the heat away from the CPU components as opposed to air cooling methods such as more basic fans.

What is the best CPU to buy?

Top CPU

Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor

Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor

What you need to know: The Intel i9 processor is great for playing most contemporary games at their highest settings. 

What you’ll love: With an 18-core design, this processor can effortlessly handle extreme workloads at optimized performance. 

What you should consider: This is an expensive model and is only compatible with motherboards based on Intel x299 chipsets. 

Where to buy: Available at Amazon.

Top CPU for the money

Intel Core i9 Unlocked Processor

Intel Core i9 Unlocked Processor

What you need to know: Powerful yet affordable, the i9 unlocked processor can get the job done without breaking the bank. 

What you’ll love: It has an 8-core design optimized for gaming and creative programs.

What you should consider: Some users reported processor gets hot.

Where to buy: Available at Amazon.

Worth checking out

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X

AMD Ryzen 9 3900X 

What you need to know: The Ryzen 9 can turn your gaming PC into a processing juggernaut capable of handling the latest games at their absolute best. 

What you’ll love: Features a 12-core design to run modern games while dissipating heat efficiently. This model also boasts color changing LEDs built into the cooler, perfect for showing off newer model glass-sided PC cases. 

What you should consider: Due to being AMD’s top-tier Ryzen processor, the price is quite hefty.

Where to buy: Available at Amazon.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Jared Lindsay writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.