For a while there, Intel was running a near-monopoly on CPUs. Thankfully, AMD has stepped up to the plate in recent years with the advent of Ryzen. Now, the CPU market is the most vibrant its been in many a year, with exciting new processors released last weekend from AMD. We will incorporate those into this page very shortly.
If you're on the hunt for a new CPU though, it can be tough to know where to start. The good news is that the performance of most mid-range and high-end processors massively outstrip the demands of today's games. Once you start hitting about the best value threshold, you're really paying for stronger performance in threaded workloads outside of gaming.
It means that, unlike the Best Graphics Cards, your CPU shouldn't have a massive impact on frame rates. As long as it's enough, you're golden. Which then means that in today's market, you don't need to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a gaming CPU - there's plenty of processors out there with great gaming performance for sub $200. Obviously, we all still eye the top-end processors and want that power for ourselves, but it's not essential outside of those who crave ultra-high refresh rates on 144Hz monitors and their ilk.
Here we've outlined five of the best CPUs to buy right now, ranging from the best CPU on a tight budget all the way up to the best that money can buy. We will continually update this article as better options at these price points become available, such as the newly launched AMD Ryzen 3000 processors.
Best on a Budget
AMD really upset the market lately with its top-notch CPUs at fantastic prices. At $99, the Ryzen 3 2200G is a bargain, and not the sort you’d find thrown in a bargain bin. To our eyes, the Ryzen 3 2200G is the ultimate budget CPU in the world today, offering up quad-core performance and discrete Vega graphics which has a damn good stab at playing games at 1080p. It’s the ultimate all-in-one part for those who want to put together a dirt-cheap gaming built quickly.
With a price that doesn't exactly break the bank, the Intel Core i3-9100 offers solid quad-core performance albeit minus hyper-threading support. Dual-core just won't cut it for gaming these days, so quad-core should be viewed as the minimum for a satisfactory gaming experience in modern titles. The Core i3-9100 is modest yet capable, offering a 3.6GHz base clock and 4.2 GHz boost righty out of the box. It's not one for performance gamers but if you've got a low to mid-range graphics card then the i3-9100 is a great pairing.
Whilst certainly not the best value for those who prioritise content creation and workstation usage, the Intel Core i5-9600K is nevertheless hitting that sweet spot for gamers between price and performance. Any more power than this hexa-core CPU from Intel isn’t particularly necessary at all, while the 9600K’s immensely strong single-threaded performance makes it a formidable gaming processor. Those looking for a CPU better capable of multi-threaded workloads would do well to look towards Ryzen but for pure gaming needs, the Core i5-9600K is the don in terms of value and performance.
Best High-End Gaming
AMD has gone on upset the apple cart with this one. The Ryzen 7 3700X is an octa-core monster that can tackle whatever you're going to throw at it both in terms of gaming and productivity. There are faster processors out there in terms of single-core performance but this is double the threads of an Intel Core i7-9700K for a comparatively cheaper price. Top-tier performance from a CPU has seldom come as affordable as the Ryzen 7 3700X.
Ultimate High-End CPU
Intel Core i9-9980XE - 18C/36T @ 3.0 GHz / 4.4 GHz
The Intel Core i9-9980XE is utter insanity for those who want the absolute best of the best. If your core use of a CPU is intended to be gaming, this is a ludicrously unnecessary (and expensive) purchase. Multi-core performance on the i9-9980XE is through the roof, propped up by 18 cores and 36 threads courtesy of HyperThreading. Generational improvements to frequency and efficiency help the 9980XE to the top of the heap. This will just absolutely blitz through multi-threaded applications such as rendering, encoding, and compiling, although gaming applications will enjoy precious few benefits from the eye-watering price tag.