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Best CPU for Gaming for a Monster PC Rig

When building a gaming computer, the CPU and GPU will be the two most important components you’ll have to consider. CPU for gaming isn’t as important as the GPU, but it’s the second-most important component for gaming performance.

Pairing a weak CPU with a strong GPU will prevent the GPU from performing to its best ability, so it’s important that you invest in a high quality CPU for gaming.

Best CPU for Gaming Reviewed

Contrary to popular belief, the number of cores and the price of a CPU doesn’t tell you if it’s good enough for videogaming. For this reason, it can be a bit tricky for individuals with constrained budgets to find the best CPU for gaming.

We’ve reviewed 2018’s best CPUs that perform exceptionally for gaming, taking into consideration their pure gaming performance, raw power, overclocking potential, and price. To help you with your purchase, we’ve also included a detailed buyer’s guide after the reviews.

Our Top Pick

Our Top Pick

Intel Core i5 8400

Great Performance at an Incredible Price

The Intel Core i5 8400 can’t be overclocked, but this CPU offers incredible gaming performance for the price it comes for, only 3-4% slower than the much more expensive Core i7 8700K at stock speeds. The balance between price and performance makes this the best mainstream CPU for gaming out there.

The Intel Core i5 8400 is loved by gamers for its fantastic value and great performance for modern videogames.

Best Performance

Best Performance

Intel Core i7 8700K

The Best CPU for Gaming

The Intel Core i7 8700K is Intel’s best mainstream offering yet. It comes with a higher than normal clock speed and offers incredible overclocking that can touch 5GHz mark. You get the power of 6 cores and 12 threads that grants videogaming performance that is simply unmatched.

Though expensive, there isn’t a better CPU for gaming than the Core i7 8700K. It’s the ultimate solution due to its overclocking headroom and incredible base performance.

Intel Core i5 8400

Corei58400

  • Cores: 6
  • Threads: 6
  • Base Clock Speed: 8GHz
  • Turbo Clock: 0GHz
  • Overclock: None
  • TDP: 65W

Intel’s 8th generation Core i5 have finally gotten the upgrade they deserved, bumping their number of cores from 4 to 6. The Core i5 8400 is simply astounding in its performance for the price you have to pay for it. In fact, it is only 3-4% inferior than the Core i7 8700K in most videogames at max settings.

It has higher clock speeds than previous generation Core i5 processors, and as a result the gaming performance is amped up to a degree that will serve most gamers’ preferences. The performance generally matches that of last year’s i7 7700K, yet the pricing is simply incredible.

The main downside to the Core i5 8400 is that it is missing the “K”. In Intel CPU nomenclature, this means that the CPU is memory locked and cannot be overclocked. If you’re looking to overclock your gaming CPU, you’ll be better served with the 8600K or one of AMD’s Ryzen processors.

However, Core i5 8400 has even the best Ryzen processors beat in pure gaming performance. Overclocking is only going to squeeze out a few extra frames per second, and it’s worth questioning if the price you have to pay for some of those CPUs is worth it.

For most individuals, the Core i5 8400 is the best CPU for gaming right now. It won’t bottleneck modern GPUs and comes at a wonderful price point.

Pros

  • Fantastic gaming performance for the price
  • Excellent value
  • No aftermarket cooler required

Cons

  • Can’t be overclocked

Intel Core i7 8700K

  • Cores: 6
  • Threads: 12
  • Base Clock Speed: 7GHz
  • Turbo Clock: 7GHz
  • Overclock: Typical 5.0GHz
  • TDP: 95W

When it comes to pure gaming performance, there isn’t a single better CPU for gaming than the Core i7 8700K. This monstrosity is the industry standard for videogaming because of its incredible overclocking ability and raw speed.

The Core i7 8700K has the highest stock clock speeds you’ll find on a mainstream Intel processor if you don’t count the limited Core i7 8086K. You get six powerful cores that can be furthest boosted with perhaps the best mainstream overclocking potential, allowing you to touch the much coveted 5.0GHz mark with a decent CPU cooler.

Performance in videogaming is simply unparalleled with the Core i7 8700K. It has every CPU out there beat due to its high clock speeds and multiprocessing power. The 8700K isn’t the overall fastest mainstream CPU on the market (some of the Ryzen processors have it beat), but it’s the fastest when it comes to pure gaming.

The downside to the Core i7 8700K is that it offers diminishing returns for the high price compared to the Core i5 8400. You’re expected to pay $150 more for only an (on average) improvement of 3-4 frames per second. You also don’t get a cooler with this processor, which is an added cost that can go up to $100 extra, depending on how serious you are about overclocking the CPU.

Of course, hardcore overclocking enthusiasts and those who want the best processor available right now for gaming will still opt for the Core i7 8700K, and we can’t blame them.

Pros

  • Best CPU for gaming in-terms of pure performance
  • Fantastic for other tasks due to core and threads
  • Great overclocking headroom

Cons

  • Requires aftermarket cooler
  • Diminishing return over the Core i5 8400

AMD Ryzen 5 2600X

AMDRyzen52600X

  • Cores: 6
  • Threads: 12
  • Base Clock Speed: 6GHz
  • Turbo Clock: 2GHz
  • Overclock: Typical 4.2GHz
  • TDP: 65W

The AMD Ryzen 5 2600X is the perfect solution for those who want a CPU for gaming they can overclock and also utilize for other tasks. In-terms of gaming, it is inferior to the listed Intel models, but it comes at a great price for a 6 core, 12 threads CPU that can out-perform similarly priced competitors in non-gaming tasks.

The 2600X delivers almost the same performance in videogames as the more expensive Ryzen 7 2700X. The main performance difference between the two is in raw processing power used in tasks such as streaming or video editing.

It is very similar to its younger brother, the 2600, which comes at a lower price. However, the 2600X offers superior overall performance and slightly better gaming performance. It still isn’t as fast as the Core i5 8400 (let alone the Core i5 8600K or i7 8700K), but it offers slight overclocking and comes in a few dollars cheaper due to Intel’s surge in pricing.

Another great feature unique to the Ryzen CPUs is that they come with 20 PCIe 3.0 lanes as opposed to the 16 you see on mainstream Intel processors. This allows you to pack m.2 NVMe PCIe drives, which offer the fastest storage technology in the world.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Faster than most Intel processors in non-gaming tasks
  • Comes with a great cooler

Cons

  • Limited overclocking potential
  • Can’t compete in pure videogaming with similarly priced Intel processors

AMD Ryzen 7 2700

  • Cores: 8
  • Threads: 16
  • Base Clock Speed: 2GHz
  • Turbo Clock: 1GHz
  • Overclock: Typical 4.2GHz
  • TDP: 65W

If you’re looking for a CPU for gaming that doubles as a great CPU for all other processor intensive tasks, then the Ryzen 7 2700/2700X is the best choice out there. The regular 2700 costs around the same as a Core i5 8400, but offers superior processing power for nongaming applications thanks to its 8 cores and 16 thread technology.

For gaming, the regular 2700 is slightly slower than the 2700X, but with its decent overclocking potential you can easily match the speeds of its bigger brother. By investing in a better cooler than the (fairly decent) Wraith Spire that comes with it, you can push the overclocking potential of the 2700 even further and match the performances of the Core i5 8400 for certain games.

With the new technology, the Ryzen 2700 has the ability to manage your power to give ample boost to your base frequency when only a handful of cores are in use. Most modern videogames aren’t designed to use more than 4 cores, though a handful of AAA games are soon to arrive with that feature. In all those respects, the Ryzen 7 2700 makes a fantastic option due to its price and future-proofing.

It’s the best option for individuals who balance videogaming with processor-intensive tasks out there, especially given its cost-effectiveness.

Pros

  • Great value
  • Incredible raw processing power
  • Future proof

Cons

  • Stock cooler limits overclocking potential
  • Can’t compete in pure videogaming with similarly priced Intel processors

Intel Core i5 8600K

  • Cores: 6
  • Threads: 16
  • Base Clock Speed: 6GHz
  • Turbo Clock: 3GHz
  • Overclock: Typical 4.8GHz
  • TDP: 65W

Core i5 8600K is a bit of an oddball in terms of pricing and where it stands in its performance. It’s awkwardly stuck right in between the i5 8400 and the Core i7 8700K. It offers minimal increase in performance to the 8400 and is marginally inferior to the 8700K.

So why would anyone go for it? There are several reasons to consider the 8600K over either of the other two Intel processors listed in this article. The first is that, unlock its younger brother, this Core i5 CPU is overclockable. You can push it all the way to 4.8GHz (and beyond if you have great cooling).

Yes, you will need the pricier Z370 intel chipset to overclock, but it also makes it future-proof in case you want to upgrade to a Core i7 or mainstream Core i9.

The other essential reason to opt for the Core i5 8600K is its price. It will cost you $50 more than the Core i5 8400 but nearly $100 less than the Core i7 8700K.

The downsides however are shared with the Core i7 8700K. This processor doesn’t come with a cooling fan, so as a gaming CPU you will need to invest in a pricey cooler, especially if you plan to overclock it.

Performance-wise, the Core i5 8600K can go neck-and-neck with the i7 8700K and even beat it at times when overclocked. Its awkward pricing and performance placement though prevents it from trumping the other two Intel CPUs featured in this article as the best gaming CPU in the market.

Pros

  • Great performance at a price that costs less than the Core i7 8700K
  • Future-proof
  • Good overclocking headroom

Cons

  • Requires aftermarket cooler
  • Diminishing return over the Core i5 8400

Buyer’s Guide

    The number of cores aren’t as important for gaming as you’ve been made to believe. In fact, majority of the videogames out there don’t even fully utilize 4 cores, let alone 6 or 8. Some modern AAA games have finally begun utilizing multiple cores more efficiently, but the bulk of the weight is still lifted by the GPU.

    When choosing your CPU for gaming, you need to look at the clock speed more than the core numbers. Yes, having at least 6 cores is a good idea for future-proofing. However, the speed at which these cores run will determine whether your CPU can keep up with your graphics card.

    Higher clock speeds will result in snappier performance in tasks such as gaming, while more cores will aid in complex time-consuming workloads such as video editing, streaming, and simulation.

    Overclocking is a way to further boost the clock speed of your processor beyond what it comes in stock. When a CPU is overclocked, it consumes extra power to run the cores at a faster rate. This can improve the performance of the CPU, particularly in gaming.

    Overclocking is a risky practice, but not anything unknown to gamers. It’s a great way to squeeze out a few extra framerates. The challenge with overclocking is keeping the CPU stable and ensuring it remains cool.

    You need to decide beforehand if overclocking is your thing. If it is, you will likely need to invest in a high quality aftermarket cooler as well as a powerful PSU to ensure enough cooling and raw power is provided to your CPU.

    If you’re not into overclocking, you should consider a CPU that is locked such as the Core i5 8400, as it is more cost effective and comes with a cooler.

    Don’t just buy any CPU. You need to make sure it is compatible with the motherboard you’ve chosen. In fact, the motherboard should be chosen after you’ve finalized which CPU you’re buying.

    Socket

    The socket is the most important factor. You can’t fit a CPU into a motherboard that doesn’t have the socket to support it. The 8th generation Intel Core processors utilize the LGA1151 socket while the AMD Ryzen CPUs use the AM4 socket.

    Chipset

    Motherboards have specific chipsets that run them, and certain CPUs can only work with certain chipsets. These chipsets from motherboard to motherboard. Chipsets have a range and determine how fast the motherboard performs as well as how much overclocking it will allow for the CPU.

    Make sure you research carefully about which chipsets are compatible with your CPU, so you can determine your budget and which motherboard you will buy. The motherboard you buy will also influence the size of the aftermarket cooler, the RAM sizes, the size of your chassis, and more.

    Many processors come with cooling fans that are mounted on them. However, some of the costlier Intel models such as the Core i5 8600K and Core i7 8700K don’t come with a cooler. Additionally, many of the basic coolers are inadequate if you are looking to overclock your CPU.

    In both scenarios you will need to purchase an aftermarket cooler. Cooling is very important as CPUs can run very hot during gaming, especially if they are overclocked. To ensure safe function of your processor, you will need to utilize efficient cooling systems. There are a huge number of aftermarket thermal solutions for variety of different CPU sockets to choose from.

    What’s better, AMD or Intel?
    Had this question been asked a few years ago, the unanimous answer would’ve been Intel. Now, we’re not so sure. With the Ryzen processors, AMD is back in competition with Intel. The difference merely comes down to what you’ll be using your PC for.

    For a pure gaming PC, Intel is still the preferred choice. However, if you want a powerful PC that also plays games exceptionally well, AMD’s Ryzen processors are superior due to the larger number of cores and threads.

    How important should I consider overclocking?
    Overclocking isn’t for everyone. It’s a skill that requires good knowledge of what you’re doing, and will often require more expensive PC components such as an aftermarket cooler, multiple fans, or even liquid cooling if you really want to push it.

    Modern CPUs are powerful enough not to require overclocking. Many gamers still opt to overclock to get the best possible performance from the CPU for gaming and other tasks. However, the investment required to get a considerable difference would be better put in a superior chip instead of the components required to keep your CPU cooled when overclocked.

    Do the number of PCIe lanes make a difference?
    The number of PCIe lanes don’t make any direct difference to the processor’s performance. However, having a higher number of PCIe lanes means you can add m.2 NVMe SSDs which can greatly improve the gaming and general performance of your PC.

    How important is CPU for gaming performance?
    Having a great CPU for gaming is important because it needs to keep up with the GPU. The term “bottlenecking” is well known among gamers, and it refers to the CPU overloading during videogames and preventing a comparatively powerful GPU from performing at its optimum potential.

    Modern CPUs are more powerful than before, so the problem of bottlenecking is rapidly diminishing. Still, you want a CPU that can easily keep up and process the intensive task of videogaming. The GPU will remain the most important component of your PC for videogames, but the CPU is a close second.

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