Best Gaming CPUs for 2021

Best Gaming CPUs for 2021

When shopping for the best gaming CPU, you’ll want to balance performance and features with your PC budget. Our tips and picks below will help you choose the best CPU for gaming. You can also see how all of these processors stack up in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy. But for detailed help on picking the best processor for your gaming rig, you can check out our 2021 CPU Buying Guide. And if you’re on the fence about which CPU company to go with, our AMD vs. Intel feature dives deep and comes up with a clear winner.

AMD’s Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 processors have taken the lead as the fastest gaming CPUs on the market, largely due to a 19% increase in IPC and unified L3 cache that reduces latency. Our AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 article has all the details on the new CPUs, but you can check out our full lineup of detailed reviews of each model, like the Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X, Ryzen 7 5800X, and Ryzen 5 5600X.

Unfortunately, supply issues have plagued AMD, though those issues do seem to be improving with the Ryzen 7 5800X and Ryzen 5 5600X. In fact, you can often now find those processors in stock at recommended pricing, which was a rarity during the global chip shortage. However, recently the company has been unable to satisfy demand on its older and newer processors alike, and supply at retail remains spotty for the highest-end models.

We’re on the cusp of Intel’s Rocket Lake processors, which promise to shake up the gaming scene when they launch later this month. Rocket Lake comes with Intel’s first new architecture in the last six years, albeit with the caveat that the company still uses the 14nm process and the chips top out at eight cores. In either case, Intel claims the Rocket Lake chips will steal the gaming crown back from AMD’s potent Ryzen 5000 series processors. Intel also has its Alder Lake processors waiting in the wings for later this year, portending even bigger shakeups to our list of best CPUs for gaming. As you can imagine, it won’t be long before we have the full scoop on performance.

Choosing the Best Gaming CPU for You

For a list of all processors by performance, check out our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy for CPU comparisons backed by processor benchmarks. We also maintain a list of best CPUs for workstations, for those who frequently tackle high-end content creation, or other tasks that benefit from high core counts. Higher-end chips benefit the most from the best thermal paste, so check out our guide if you’re shopping for a new processor. But if you’re after the best gaming CPU, you’re in the right place.

If your main goal is gaming, you of course can’t forget about the graphics card. Getting the best possible gaming CPU won’t help you much if your GPU is under-powered and/or out of date. So be sure to check out Best Graphics Cards page, as well as our GPU Benchmarks Hierarchy to make sure you have the right card for the level of gaming you’re looking to achieve.

Quick Shopping Tips

When choosing a CPU in 2020, consider the following:

You can’t lose with AMD or Intel: We recently pointed out that AMD makes better CPUs overall these days in our AMD vs. Intel feature. But so long as you’re considering current-generation parts, the performance debate is basically a wash, particularly when it comes to gaming. Some of the most-expensive mainstream Intel processors do slightly better on gaming, and AMD handles tasks like video editing quicker (thanks largely to extra cores and threads).

For gaming, clock speed is more important than core number: Higher CPU clock speeds translate to snappier performance in simple, common tasks such as gaming, while more cores will help you get through time-consuming workloads faster. In the end, the fastest CPUs of any family of processors have the highest clock speeds.

Budget for a full system: Don’t pair a strong CPU with weak storage, RAM and graphics.

Overclocking isn’t for everyone: For many who want to just get to gaming, it makes more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip, rather than spending money on a higher-end cooler and spending lots of time tweaking to achieve slightly higher performance.

Best gaming processors at a glance:

1. AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

2. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

3. AMD Ryzen 7 5900X

4. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

5. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

6. AMD Ryzen 5 3400G

CPU Gaming Benchmarks

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We rank all the Intel and AMD processors based on our in-depth CPU benchmarks. You can see some of those numbers in the charts above, including overclocked performance results (marked as PBO for AMD processors).

This group of results comprises only the chips that have passed through our newest test suite, while the tables in our CPU benchmark hierarchy include rankings based on past CPU benchmarks, and also include breakdowns of single- and multi-threaded performance across a broad spate of processors. Finally, the pricing in the charts above represents MSRPs. Given the current state of chip shortages, you likely won’t find many of these chips at these prices at retail.

Best Gaming CPUs for 2021

(Image credit: AMD)

1. AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Best Overall SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen 3 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 6 / 12 | Base Frequency: 4.1GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.8GHz | TDP: 65W Reasons to Buy Strong gaming performance Strong in single- and multi-threaded workloads Relatively easy to cool PCIe 4.0 Bundled cooler Power efficiency Works with existing 500-series motherboards Reasons to Avoid Higher gen-on-gen pricing Prime $299 View at Amazon

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X takes the top spot in the gaming PC market with a solid blend of Intel-beating performance in both gaming and application workloads. The six-core 12-thread chip lands at $299, a $50 price hike over its previous-gen counterpart, but brings more than enough extra gaming and application performance to justify the premium. The Ryzen 5 5600X even beats the Intel Core i9-10900K at gaming, which is an incredible feat given its price point. Not to mention that it’s the most power-efficient desktop PC processor we’ve ever tested.

AMD’s Zen 3 microarchitecture results in a stunning 19% increase in IPC, which floats all boats in terms of performance in gaming, single-threaded, and multi-threaded applications. In fact, the chip generally matches the gaming performance of its more-expensive sibling, the $449 Ryzen 7 5800X. That makes the 5600X an incredibly well-rounded chip that can handle any type of gaming, from competitive-class performance with high refresh rate monitors to streaming, while also serving up more than enough performance for day-to-day application workloads.

The Ryzen 5 5600X has a 3.7 GHz base and 4.6 GHz boost clock, but with the right cooling and motherboard, you can expect higher short-term boosts. The chip also has a 65W TDP rating, meaning it runs exceptionally cool and quiet given its capabilities (the previous-gen model was 95W). Existing AMD owners with a 500-series motherboard will breathe a sigh of relief as the 5600X drops right into existing 500-series motherboards. Support for 400-series motherboards will come next year, so those users will have to wait for a drop-in upgrade until then. If you need a new motherboard to support the chip, both 400- and 500-series motherboards are plentiful and relatively affordable, with the B550 lineup offering the best overall value for this class of chip.

Read: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Review: The Mainstream Knockout

Intel Core i5-10600K (Image credit: Intel)

Intel Core i5-10600K Best Overall – Alternate Pick SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Comet Lake | Socket: 1200 | Cores/Threads: 6 / 12 | Base Frequency: 4.1GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.8GHz | TDP: 128W Reasons to Buy Lower per-thread pricing Leading gaming performance Strong in single- and multi-threaded workloads Overclocking headroom Relatively easy to cool Reasons to Avoid PCIe 3.0 No bundled cooler Requires new motherboard Prime $226.12 View at Amazon

For gamers looking for the edge of performance, enthusiasts who like to tune their processors without expensive supporting components, or those who simply prefer Intel chips, the Core i5-10600K is a solid chip with a good price point. The 10600K isn’t as fast as the Ryzen 5 5600X but has integrated graphics and is competitive on a pricing basis, so it’s a solid value alternative. Especially as we wait for AMD’s Ryzen 5000 stock and pricing to stabilize.

Intel’s Core i5-10600K comes with six cores and twelve threads, a doubling of the thread count compared to the previous-gen Core i5-9600K, but slots in at the same $262 price point for the fully-equipped model and $237 for the graphics-less KF variant. The increased thread counts, paired with substantially higher boost frequencies across the board, equates to much faster gameplay than the previous-gen Core i5 and generally matches the previous-gen Core i7-9700K. That makes this chip a great deal for gamers who prize high refresh rates, particularly if they plan to move forward to the new AMD or Nvidia graphics cards.

The Core i5-10600K’s twelve threads also reduce the gap between it and competing AMD processors in heavily-threaded workloads. Still, AMD’s Ryzen 5 3600X and Ryzen 5 3600 are viable alternatives if you’re looking for a chip that comes with a bundled cooler and a lower price point. You’ll need to pick up a new LGA1200 motherboard and have a compatible cooling solution to run the Core i5-10600K (it doesn’t come with a bundled cooler, but LGA1151 coolers work fine). However, the Core i5-10600K offers solid gaming performance in its price bracket, delivering previous-gen Core i7 gaming performance at Core i5 pricing.

Read: Intel Core i5-10600K Review

AMD Ryzen 9 3950X (Image credit: Future/Shutterstock)

2. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X Best High Performance Value SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen 3 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 16/32 | Base Frequency: 3.4GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.9GHz | TDP: 105W Reasons to Buy Class-leading 16 cores & 32 threads Overclockable Higher boost frequencies Reasonable price-per-core Power efficiency PCIe Gen 4.0 Reasons to Avoid Requires beefy cooling No bundled cooler Higher gen-on-gen pricing No integrated graphics $854.99 View at Staples

High end desktop processors have long offered the ultimate in performance, as long as you were willing to pay the price. Aside from high MSRPs, the chips also require expensive accommodations, like beefy motherboards and the added cost of fully populating quad-channel memory controllers. Add in the inevitable trade-offs, like reduced performance in lightly-threaded applications and games, and any cost-conscious users who could benefit from the threaded horsepower of a HEDT chip just settle for mainstream offerings.

AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, expands on its predecessors’ mission of bringing HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. The 5950X carries a $799 price tag, but that’s downright affordable compared to competing HEDT processors that don’t offer the same class of performance.

We generally don’t recommend HEDT processors for enthusiasts that are only interested in gaming. Gamers are best served by mainstream processors (with fewer cores and higher clocks) that are often faster in games; the Ryzen 9 5950X also falls into the same category – AMD’s lesser 5000-series models are a better value for gamers. However, if you’re after a chip and platform that can do serious work seriously fast, but still be nimble enough to deliver high-refresh gameplay at the end of the day, the Ryzen 9 5950X fits the bill like no other CPU before it.

Read: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel Core i7-10700K Best High Performance Value – Alternate Pick SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Comet Lake | Socket: 1200 | Cores/Threads: 8 / 16 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 5.1GHz | TDP: 125W Reasons to Buy Lower per-thread pricing Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Excellent gaming performance High overclocking headroom Reasonable cooling requirements Reasons to Avoid No bundled cooler PCIe 3.0 interface Requires new motherboard Not much faster than Core i5 (in gaming) Prime $323 View at Amazon

If all you care about is gaming and you prefer Intel chips, the Core i7-10700K is a speedy chip with plenty of overclocking headroom that nearly matches the gaming performance of Intel’s flagship Core i9-10900K. The Core i7-10700K sports eight cores and 16 threads, and can now be found for $375, though we expect we will see price reductions in the coming weeks as Intel responds to AMD’s faster Ryzen 5000-series processors. It also comes with integrated graphics, which isn’t an option with AMD’s 5000-series processors.

The Core i7-10700K comes armed with eight cores and 16 threads that operate at a 3.8 GHz base and 5.1 GHz boost, making them adept at chewing through gaming workloads. However, AMD’s Ryzen processors offer more performance and value if you also cherish performance in productivity workloads. You’ll need to bring your own cooler for the 10700K, but higher-end watercoolers can unlock quite a bit of overclocking headroom. Intel’s next-gen Rocket Lake processors will also be drop-in compatible with the LGA 1200 motherboard you’ll need for this processor.

Read: Intel Core i7-10700K Review

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X (Image credit: AMD)

3. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X Best Overall Value SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen 3 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 12/24 | Base Frequency: 3.7GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.8GHz | TDP: 65W Reasons to Buy Support for PCIe 4.0 Unlocked multiplier Compatible with 500-series motherboards Excellent gaming performance Excellent single- and multi-threaded performance Reasons to Avoid No bundled cooler Higher gen-on-gen pricing No integrated graphics $549 View at Amazon

If you’re truly only concerned about the best gaming CPU and basic productivity tasks, you should go with the Ryzen 5 5600X and save yourself some money. But if you’re looking for the uncontested fastest gaming chip on the market, or thinking of getting into game streaming, occasionally edit video, or just like the idea of having more threads available when you need them, AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X is an incredible value.

The 12-core 24-thread Ryzen 9 5900X is rated for a 3.7 GHz base and 4.8 GHz boost, but we clocked it in at 5.0 GHz during our own testing. The 5900X offers the ultimate in gaming performance – it is the uncontested gaming chip on the market, but it is a bit overkill if gaming is all you do. However, if you feel the need for speed in productivity workloads, this chip’s 12 cores will chew through those workloads with aplomb.

There’s also support for PCIe 4.0 and overclockability to consider. The Ryzen 9 5900X drops into existing 500-series motherboards and support for 400-series motherboards is in the works for early 2021. You’ll need to bring your own cooler, and the bigger the better – cooling definitely has an impact on performance with the higher-end Ryzen 5000 processors. However, if you’re looking at the no-compromise chip for gaming, this is your chip.

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X (Image credit: AMD)

4. AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Best Mid-Range CPU SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 6/12 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz | TDP: 95W Reasons to Buy Leading gaming and application performance PCIe 4.0 Bundled cooler Power consumption Unlocked multiplier Reasons to Avoid Extremely limited manual and auto-overclocking headroom $199.99 View at Amazon 1 Amazon customer review ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Out of the box, the Ryzen 5 3600X is the best processor in its price range for gaming and productivity, marking a massive shift in the mid-range. At stock settings, the Ryzen 5 3600X regularly beat the more expensive Core i5-9600K in both categories, albeit by slim margins in gaming, reversing the long-held trend of Ryzen being best for productivity while Intel ruled the gaming roost.

If you’re into overclocking, the Intel processors are going to deliver more performance, but you’ll have to provide your own beefy cooler to get there, significantly adding to the cost, while AMD includes a capable, attractive cooler in the box. The majority of enthusiasts looking for a fast set-it-and-forget-it processor that can handle common computing tasks with relative ease will find incredible value in the Ryzen 5 3600X.

Read: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X Review

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X (Image credit: AMD)

5. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Budget Pick SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen 2 | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/8 | Base Frequency: 3.8GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz | TDP: 65W Reasons to Buy Low pricing Great gaming performance Solder TIM Overclocking ceiling PCIe 4.0 interface Power efficient Reasons to Avoid Lackluster bundle cooler Check Amazon

The Ryzen 3 3300X unlocks a new level of performance for budget gamers with four cores and eight threads that can push low- to mid-range graphics cards to their fullest. This new processor wields the Zen 2 architecture paired with the 7nm process to push performance to new heights while enabling new features for low-end processors, like access to the speedy PCIe 4.0 interface. The 3300X’s four cores tick at a 3.8 GHz clock rate and boost to 4.3 GHz, providing snappy performance in lightly threaded applications, like games.

AMD includes a bundled Wraith Spire cooler with the processor. Still, you might consider budgeting in a better low-end cooler to unlock the full performance, particularly if you are overclocking. Speaking of which, the Ryzen 3 3300X can overclock to the highest all-core frequencies we’ve seen with a Ryzen 3000-series processor, making it a great chip for enthusiasts. Unlike AMD’s other current-gen Ryzen 3 processors, you’ll need to pair this processor with a discrete GPU, but the low price point leaves extra room in the budget for a more capable graphics card.

You can stick with the value theme and drop this capable chip into existing X470 of B450 motherboards, but you’ll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for a lower price point. Better yet, AMD has its new B550 motherboards on offer. These new motherboards support the PCIe 4.0 interface but provide lower entry-level pricing that’s a better fit for this class of processor.

Read: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Review

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G (Image credit: AMD)

6. AMD Ryzen 5 3400G Entry-Level Pick SPECIFICATIONS Architecture: Zen+ | Socket: AM4 | Cores/Threads: 4/8 | Base Frequency: 3.7GHz | Top Boost Frequency: 4.2GHz | TDP: 65W Reasons to Buy Radeon Vega graphics Price Higher frequencies Passable 1080p, solid 720p gaming Auto-overclocking PBO support Solder TIM Bundled cooler Reasons to Avoid Lower performance in applications than alternatives Small performance advantage over previous-gen $149.99 View at Best Buy

The Ryzen 5 3400G is a great processor for budget buyers because it comes with an integrated Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics engine that enables playable frame rates in many new game titles, provided that you tweak your game to lower fidelity settings. That eliminates the need for a discrete graphics card in your new system, which equates to more money for other high-performance additives, like an SSD.

The Ryzen 5 3400G is a newer version of AMD’s previous-gen 2400G. AMD’s move to the 12nm manufacturing process, along with an optimized Zen+ design, yields solid performance improvements that include a nice bump to the CPU and GPU clocks. The more mature process paired with unlocked multipliers also facilitates higher overclocking ceilings for the CPU, GPU and memory. That combination, along with a beefier bundled cooler and Solder TIM, makes the Ryzen 5 3400G the processor to beat for systems built around integrated graphics for low-resolution budget gaming rigs.

Read: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G Review

If your budget is tight and you’re looking to build a system for modest gaming, you should check out our Best Cheap CPUs feature. Some of those chips can deliver passable gaming performance without a graphics card, and their prices start at just $55 (£40).