Buying a processor for a gaming rig isn’t as hard as it used to be.Now that AMD’s Ryzen 5000-series and Intel’s 12th-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.And they won’t all break the bank like the Core i9-12900KS and Ryzen 7 5800X3D flagships revealed in recent weeks to slug it out for gaming supremacy, either.
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.
The best CPUs for gaming Intel Core i5-12400 – Best gaming CPU for most people MSRP: $192 Best Prices Today: $198.99 at Amazon Midrange CPUs are the sweet spot for PC gamers.In fact, if you don’t need the additional cores of pricier CPU options, this class of chip offers essentially the same gaming experience of processors that cost hundreds more.The reason? Most of the computing burden falls on your graphics card.
At an MSRP of about $200, the Intel Core i5-12400 strikes a smooth balance between performance and affordability.Sure, you don’t get the fancy mix of performance cores and efficiency cores found in the faster Alder Lake chips, but this six-core, 12-thread processor doesn’t suffer by having only performance cores.Have a peek at gaming benchmarks in reviews (like those at Guru3D and PCGamer ) and you’ll see the Core i5-12400 usually trails behind the $320 Core i5-12600K and $589 Core i9-12900K by only a handful of frames at 1080p, 1440p, and 4K.
You also don’t need to upgrade to Windows 11 to get the most out of this chip.
This CPU also outperforms AMD’s rival Ryzen 5 5600 slightly, which also just launched.If you’re upgrading from an older AM4 B450 motherboard, you may find it more cost-effective to stick with AMD, but otherwise, the 12400 is the chip to get.
Intel Core i9-12900K – Best high-end gaming CPU MSRP: $589 Best Prices Today: $599.99 at Amazon | $649.99 at Antonline | $649.99 at Newegg Need more cores for productivity tasks, want eight cores for streaming or future-proofing against console hardware configurations, or simply demand the absolute fastest potential frame rates in any situation? The $589 Intel Core i9-12900K is the 16-core, 24-thread processor for you.
Its even faster variant, the newly released Core i9-12900KS , now holds the title of “fastest gaming processor,” but this standard version is the one you want.Paying an extra $150 nets you just a tiny bump in gaming performance.You may as well invest that money instead into cutting-edge (read: pricey) DDR5 memory and get most out of the 12900K.
AMD’s $550 Ryzen 9 5900X is another solid option that offers high frame rates, but paying that much for a 12-core chip doesn’t make sense if pure gaming is your goal.
If you simply want ultra-fast gaming frame rates and don’t need a borderline insane amount of CPU cores for productivity work, consider the step-down Core i7-12700K and Ryzen 7 5800X as well.Each costs roughly $450 and offer 12 and 8 cores, respectively.
Intel Core i3-12100F – Best budget gaming CPU MSRP: $104 Best Prices Today: $108.95 at B&H Photo | $108.95 at Newegg | $109.99 at Best Buy At last, builders on a budget finally have affordable chips to choose from.In a throwback to better times, you have several options in the $100 to $135(ish) range, with one extremely compelling standout among them.As you’ll see in gaming benchmarks from sites like Tom’s Hardware and TechSpot , Intel’s $110 Core i3-12100F doesn’t just offer a hefty boost in frame rates compared to AMD’s comparable offering.It also posts gaming performance nearly on par with Intel’s last-gen Core i5-11600K—a processor that costs twice as much.
You must have a dedicated graphics card to pair with this CPU, however.
This variant of the $135 Core i3-12100 lacks integrated graphics, which is how you save cash.If you’re still saving your pennies for a (reasonably) affordable graphics card, you may instead want one of AMD’s APUs, which we discuss in the next entry below.
Ryzen 5 5600G – Best CPU if you can’t get a graphics card MSRP: $269.99 Best Prices Today: $199.00 at Amazon | $209.99 at B & H Photo | $219.99 at Best Buy It’s a rough time to build a gaming PC on a budget, especially given the availability and pricing of graphics cards.One workaround is to purchase an APU, or CPUs with supercharged integrated graphics.Both the $260 Ryzen 5 5600G and $360 Ryzen 7 5700G processors let you play most games at 720p or 1080p resolution.And after you snag a graphics card, you can simply drop it into your system, because the CPU cores are very good for mainstream gaming, as our Ryzen 7 5700G review showed.
The 5600G offers 6 cores and 12 threads, paired with 7 Radeon graphics cores clocked at 1.9GHz.The step-up 5700G bumps that up to 8 cores and 16 threads, alongside 8 Radeon cores running at 2GHz.Most shoppers on a budget are better off with the cheaper part, unless you have a specific need for the higher CPU core count in the Ryzen 7 chip.
How we test CPUs We evaluate CPUs based on the benchmark results that span multiple use categories.Gaming performance is a key focus, and we run both synthetic tests (that is, dedicated benchmarking programs) and in-game benchmarks in a variety of modern titles.
Our current suite includes Far Cry New Dawn , Gears Tactics , Horizon Zero Dawn , Metro Exodus , CS: Go , Red Dead Redemption , Ashes of the Singularity , and Rainbow Siege Six .
Test PCs are built with the CPU’s capabilities in mind—for example, Intel’s Core i9-12900K supports DDR5 RAM.Rival and older chips used for comparison are retested at the same time, with a similar use of appropriate contemporaneous hardware.In all our test rigs, we use a current high-end flagship graphics card to better isolate differences in the CPUs’ performance.
CPUs and Processors Computers Gaming Computers and Peripherals Intel AMD.