The best CPUs for gaming: Core i9-10850K and Ryzen 5 3600 price cuts shake things up

Buying a processor for a gaming rig isn’t as hard as it used to be. Now that Ryzen 3000-series and Intel’s 10th-gen Core CPUs come with more performance and cores than ever before, it’s hard to buy a stinker these days—especially because most games favor graphics firepower over CPU oomph. All that said, there are specific chips that stand out from the horde as the best gaming CPUs due to their price, performance, or nifty extras.

Whether you’re on a budget or willing to pay for sheer face-melting speed, these are the best CPUs for gaming PCs that you can buy.

Editor’s note: We constantly updated this article as necessary. The latest iteration added the Core i9-10850K to the best high-end gaming CPU section and replace the Ryzen 5 3600X with the Ryzen 5 3600 in the “best processor for most people” section after it received steep discounts.

Latest gaming CPU news

AMD revealed slightly faster versions of its popular Ryzen 3000 processors on June 16, adopting the “XT” moniker introduced by the Ryzen RX 5000-series graphics cards. The $249 Ryzen 5 3600XT, $399 Ryzen 7 3800XT, and $500 Ryzen 9 3900XT will launch on July 7 with moderate clock speed boosts and no cooler for the two top-end chips. Read all about Ryzen XT here.

The company kept the pedal to the metal with the announcement of Ryzen 4000 G chips on July 21, which pair 7nm “Zen 2” CPU cores with more potent 7nm versions of its Radeon Vega GPU cores. They’re basically desktop versions of the game-changing Ryzen 4000 laptop chips and culminate in a 8-core, 16-thread model. The bad news? These will only be available in prebuilt systems, though AMD promises that DIY APUs will be released in the future.  

Things are looking less rosy for Intel. While its 10th-gen Core chips earn recognition at several points in this roundup, the company announced during its second quarter financial earnings that its 7nm transition is running a year behind expectations, and Intel’s first 10nm desktop chips won’t be released until the second half of 2021.

The best gaming CPU for most people

AMD Ryzen 5 3600 ($160 on Amazon)

Intel’s ruled the gaming roost for seemingly time eternal, but in 2019, AMD seized the mainstream crown. Overall, the $160 Ryzen 5 3600 is the best gaming CPU for most people, though Intel’s rival 10th-gen Core processors compete much more fiercely than 9th-gen chips did. The $275 Core i5-10600K is a faster than the AMD chip at pure gaming frame rates, but costs significantly more overall and actually sells for closer to $300 on the street, so the Ryzen 5 3600 provides outstanding value. You can’t go wrong with either chip.