Finding The Best CPU For Gaming In 2019

If you’re here, chances are you’re a gaming enthusiast or soon-to-be member of the PC gaming community. In either case, welcome: we’re going to walk you through our picks for best CPU for gaming, along with detailed breakdowns of each selection.

If you’re worried that you can’t afford the best processor for gaming, don’t worry- there are options across all kinds of budgets on this list.

Regardless of which one you go for, you should be getting the best CPU for the money..provided you’ve chosen in accordance to your needs. (If all you’re doing is playing games, don’t buy a Threadripper, okay?)

With no further ado, let’s begin.

Best CPU For Gaming In 2019

CPUSpecificationClock SpeedPrice
Intel Core i5-9600K ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – Intel 300 Series

Cores and Threads – 6 cores, 6 threads

3.7 GHz stock, 4.6 GHz boostCheck Price
Ryzen 5 2600X ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – All Up-To-Date AM4 Chipsets and B400/X400 guaranteed.

Cores and Threads – 6 cores, 12 threads.
Up to 4.2 GHzCheck Price
Intel Core i5-8500 Processor Compatible Chipsets – Intel 300 Series.

Cores and Threads – 6 cores, 6 threads.
Up to 4.1 GHzCheck Price
Intel i3-8100 ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – Intel 300 Series.

Cores and Threads – 4 cores, 4 threads.
Up to 3.6 GHzCheck Price
AMD Ryzen 5 2400G APUCompatible Chipsets – All Up-To-Date AM4 Chipsets and B400/X400 guaranteed.

Cores and Threads – 4 cores, 8 threads.
Up to 3.9 GHzCheck Price
AMD Ryzen 3 2200G APUCompatible Chipsets – All Up-To-Date AM4 Chipsets and B400/X400 guaranteed.

Cores and Threads – 4 cores, 4 threads.
Up to 3.7 GHzCheck Price
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – All Up-To-Date AM4 Chipsets and B400/X400 guaranteed.

Cores and Threads – 8 cores, 16 threads.
Up to 4.3 GHzCheck Price
Intel Core i7-9700K ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – Intel 300 Series.

Cores and Threads – 8 cores, 8 threads.
Up to 4.9 GHzCheck Price
Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – Intel X299.

Cores and Threads – 18 cores, 36 threads.
Up to 4.4 GHzCheck Price
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX ProcessorCompatible Chipsets – AMD X399.

Cores and Threads – 32 cores, 64 threads.
Up to 4.2 GHzCheck Price

Best Intel CPU For Gaming – Intel Core i5-9600K Processor

Best Intel CPU For Gaming – Intel Core i5-9600K Processor
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the best Intel processor for gaming is the Intel Core i5-9600K.

Historically, the Intel Core i5 processors have always been the best for gaming. While i7s and now i9s are technically faster and have more cores, these improvements usually have little, if any, impact on actual gaming performance. This makes the Intel Core i5 processor, specifically the current gen’s K model, the best CPU for gaming in that particular generation.

Past generations generally restricted i5s to 4 cores, with hyper-threading and higher core counts restricted to the i7 line. Increasing competition from AMD has forced Intel to step up, though, so now the i5-9600K has six cores, which is a pretty good improvement.

In terms of pure gaming-only performance, you can’t do much better than this CPU. If that’s all you’re doing with your system, congratulations: you found the CPU for you. The “K” designation also means you can overclock, to push this one even further.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • Stellar gaming performance
  • Suited for serious gaming and semi-frequent streaming/rendering
Cons:

  • High price
  • No cooler included
  • Poor integrated graphics

The Catch

As it tends to be the case with Intel processors, the biggest catch is price. You’re going to spend a lot more for an i5 than you would a comparable AMD processor, and for a K version of an i5, you’re going to spend even more. You’ll also have to shell out more for a compatible Z370 or Z390 motherboard, if you want to make use of that overclocking feature.

Intel K-series processors also have another key flaw: no cooler is included. This is a fair enough cost-cutting measure- after all, if you’re going to overclock, you’re probably going to get a third-party cooler anyway. However, if you don’t plan on overclocking right away, or just want the best CPU and don’t plan on overclocking anyway, this is a notable downside.

Last and least is the integrated graphics suck. You aren’t going to be playing any remotely modern games with the included graphics chipset here. However, if you’re buying a high-end gaming processor, chances are you have the money for a discrete GPU to go with it, which means this shouldn’t be a big problem.

Best AMD CPU For Gaming – Ryzen 5 2600X Processor

Best AMD CPU For Gaming – Ryzen 5 2600X Processor
Similar to the Intel Core numbering system, the Ryzen 5 2600X is the best AMD processor for gaming. It isn’t the overall best processor for gaming, but it’s close and comes with some extra capabilities that Intel can’t quite match.

The main benefit of Ryzen 5 over Core i5- or, really, Ryzen over Intel in general- is performance in multi-threaded applications, namely streaming and rendering. The pricing is also typically a good bit lower than competing Intel processors, despite slightly lower gaming performance.

The way that the Ryzen 5 2600X accomplishes superior streaming and rendering performance versus the i5 9600K is actually pretty simple: more threads!

While the i5 only has six threads for its six physical cores, the Ryzen 5 has two threads per six physical cores, resulting in a whopping 12 processing threads for your entire system. You have your typical ~4 threads to be used for gaming purposes, with the vast majority of your remaining threads being usable for multitasking, streaming, and more.

In our humble opinion, this is a very worthwhile trade-off.

In addition to the benefits of more threads, the Ryzen 5 also offers a pretty great stock cooler! You should even be able to push a modest overclock with it, though we recommend getting an aftermarket cooler if you’re serious about overclocking.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • Great gaming performance
  • Suited for serious gaming and frequent streaming/rendering
  • Great stock cooler included
Cons:

  • High price
  • No integrated graphics
  • Slightly worse single-core performance than Intel competitors

The Catch

As much as we love the Ryzen 5 2600X, we do have to admit it has a few flaws. Namely, it’s biggest weakness in comparison to its rival, the Core i5 9600K is weaker single core performance.

While this isn’t a massive gap like it used to be for AMD, it’s still a gap. For most titles, it’ll be 5 percent or less, but for some, it can be as high as 10 percent. If you’re running a 144 Hz or VR setup, this little bit of performance can make a big difference (though we also recommend getting faster RAM for those setups, to reduce lag spikes).

In addition, there are no integrated graphics to speak of in this chip. While it’s an acceptable compromise- and won’t matter to most of you- it does make a difference if you’re like many gamers on a tight budget, who first buy a PC minus the GPU so they can have a basic desktop until they can afford to turn it into a gaming rig. That option doesn’t exist here- you’ll want to be ready to drop for the whole system at once, or downgrade to an APU build.

Finally, this CPU does come at a high price. This is ultimately standard for CPUs in this range of performance, but there are better pure-value options available, at least for gaming.

Best CPU For The Money – Intel Core i5-8500 Processor 

Best CPU For The Money – Intel Core i5-8500 Processor
If you want the best bang for your buck, you’re in the right place. The best processor for the money is the Intel Core i5-8500 (or the near-identical 8400- whichever is cheaper), providing most of the pure gaming performance as the 9600K at a much lower price.

If you aren’t ready to drop $250+ on a CPU at once, the i5-8500 is a fairly compelling option for the value-oriented gamer. Why pay $50-$70 more for just a few more FPS? (Note: There is a difference between “value” and “budget”. This is still a pretty penny.)

Like the big brother i5 in this article, the 8500 also boasts six cores and six threads. This is perfect for gaming workloads (which usually use no more than four threads, and experience only marginal benefits past that if they do), and with certain titles may also be appropriate for streaming in the background.

Since you can’t overclock with this CPU, you won’t really need an aftermarket cooler: and what do you know, this comes bundled with Intel’s stock cooler! That’s one less thing for you to worry about buying.

Pros:

  • Great gaming performance at a fair price
  • Suited for serious gaming and rare streaming/rendering
  • Decent stock cooler included
Cons:

  • Not overclockable
  • Poor integrated graphics

The Catch

All that praise being said, let’s address the problems this CPU still has.

First and foremost, the loss of overclocking, and the lower overall clock speeds. These compromises are what make the chip cheaper, but is also where it loses performance especially when compared to an overclocked 9600K, which actually would be significantly better, rather than marginally. In this price range, however, that shouldn’t matter too much, especially if you’re only gaming in 1080p Max/1440p Medium.

Next up, the integrated graphics. Like with any other Intel CPU, the integrated graphics suck for anything more demanding than common desktop usage and watching videos. However, this can still be workable if you want to buy and use a functioning system before upgrading to a discrete GPU, just don’t expect to play any of your favorite games.

Best Budget Gaming CPU – Intel i3-8100 Processor

Best Budget Gaming CPU – Intel i3-8100 Processor
If you’re on a tight budget, we have you covered. Meet the Intel Core i3 8100, our pick for best budget gaming processor. It’s far from the overall best gaming CPU, but it should actually do a very good job for a mid-range gaming PC.

The biggest compromise of the Core i3 versus the current-gen i5s is a lower core count: there are only 4 cores and 4 threads here, which is a little low by modern standards. This should be just fine for most games, though, allowing you to play modern titles at 1080p60 as long as your other components, like your GPU, can keep up.

Thanks to those quad cores and Intel’s stellar single-core performance, this is still a perfectly adequate CPU for a gaming system. The included stock cooler will also be more than enough for keeping this running cool and (relatively) quiet in most scenarios.

Pros:

  • Good gaming performance at a better price
  • Suited for serious gaming
  • Decent stock cooler included
Cons:

  • Not overclockable
  • Poor integrated graphics
  • Poor streaming/rendering performance

The Catch

However, the lack of extra cores or threads means that streaming with this CPU is pretty much impossible. Any game that utilizes more than 2 of your cores, which is most modern games, won’t be even remotely streamable with this CPU. Even where it can, having half of your cores grinding out on streaming will result in this chip being pushed to its limits, resulting in more frequent stuttering and a lower overall framerate.

At the risk of triggering Deja vu…the integrated graphics still suck. If you’re reading through this article in order instead of jumping around the list, this won’t surprise you at this point. It is unfortunate for a budget processor like this one, though, and is actually a more significant downside when compared to the Ryzen APUs.

Also, you can’t overclock it but it’s an i3. It’s not like you were going to get much out of doing it anyway.

Best CPU With Integrated Graphics – AMD Ryzen 5 2400G APU

Best CPU With Integrated Graphics – AMD Ryzen 5 2400G APU
The best processor with integrated graphics is AMD’s latest APU, the AMD Ryzen 5 2400G.

Think of the Ryzen 5 2400G as a combination of two different products: the last-gen Ryzen 5 1500X, and the RX 550. This is essentially the combination of a pretty strong gaming/streaming CPU with a very entry-level GPU for 720p/1080p gaming on a single chip.

This is…actually a fairly compelling option, even if you’re buying it to use as a plain old CPU. The Ryzen 5 1500X’s heart beats inside this chip and is still more than capable as a modern gaming and streaming processor.

The GPU performance may not be a substitute for a proper GPU, but you actually can push playable framerates in quite a few modern games at low settings and 720p/1080p. eSports titles, which are lighter on graphical requirements, are even better for this kind of chip.

The most compelling case for the Ryzen APUs is buying them for budget builds that can be upgraded to full-fat gaming boards with a proper GPU later down the line. The improved integrated graphics makes light gaming actually possible without a discrete GPU, and is more than adequate for basic media consumption tasks.

The strength of the underlying CPU also ensures that you won’t be bottlenecking whatever GPU you slap into this later, within reason. Both the CPU and GPU cores onboard are overclockable, too, allowing you to push it even further?

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • Strong gaming (CPU) performance
  • CPU suited for serious gaming and semi-frequent streaming/rendering
  • Great stock cooler included
  • Best integrated graphics
Cons:

  • Integrated graphics not suited for serious gaming
  • Weaker single-core performance versus Intel
  • High price

The Catch

All that being said, there is one key weakness in this CPU: value.

Compared to its younger brother, the Ryzen 3 2200G, the Ryzen 5 2400G doesn’t offer nearly the same value. Its integrated graphics and CPU are superior, but this is still ultimately a chipset for a starter build to be upgraded later- and $150+ is a lot to spend on that proposition.

Additionally, while these do offer the best integrated graphics out there, you are dramatically unlikely to be able to push modern games at 1080p and high settings, much less anything better. Your best gaming experience with this APU by itself is likely still 720p High or 1080p Low, which can be a little low by today’s standards.

Best AMD APU – AMD Ryzen 3 2200G APU

Best AMD APU – AMD Ryzen 3 2200G APU
The best AMD APU is the Ryzen 3 2200G, no question. While it is weaker than the Ryzen 5 2400G, it is the much better value proposition: in fact, it even competes with other budget gaming CPUs, like the Intel Core i3-8100 and i5-8400, at least in terms of gaming performance.

Unlike those CPUs, the Ryzen 3 2200G also comes packed with…you guessed it, a pretty great integrated graphics solution. With modern games, the integrated graphics inside this APU won’t push you very far, but they are still playable at 720p with the right settings. Older games or lighter modern games should even be perfectly playable at 1080p60- not bad for a CPU + GPU combination you spent ~$100 on.

The Ryzen 3 cores inside this APU (comparable to the last-gen Ryzen 3 1300X) by themselves are easily worth the $100 asking price. The added GPU horsepower pretty much comes for free, which makes this an excellent starter for a budget PC gaming build. (We have this APU in an AMD alternative build later in the article.)

The value is great, the integrated graphics are finally okay, and the CPU by itself is enough to stand on its own. What’s the catch?

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • Good gaming (CPU) performance at a stellar price
  • CPU suited for serious gaming and light streaming/rendering
  • Great stock cooler included
  • Second-best integrated graphics
Cons:

  • Integrated graphics not suited for serious gaming
  • Weaker single-core performance versus Intel
  • May bottleneck future upgrades

The Catch

The long game.

More specifically, bottlenecking. If you’re building your PC around the idea of upgrading in the future- which you should, be with an APU build- you may want to go for high-end GPUs, like the Vega 64 or RTX 2070. Unfortunately, as great as the Ryzen 3 cores in here are, they still almost certainly bottleneck high-end GPUs like those.

We wouldn’t recommend using this CPU with anything stronger than a GTX 1060 6GB or RX 580 8GB. Past that, you’re guaranteed to start bottlenecking your gaming performance, which you don’t want.

Besides that downside, there are the obvious caveats: you don’t want to use integrated graphics for serious modern games, and the single core performance is a little bit worse than Intel’s. This is to be expected at this point, though.

Best CPU For Streaming – AMD Ryzen 7 2700X Processor

Best CPU For Streaming – AMD Ryzen 7 2700X Processor
If we had to pick the best processor for streaming, there’s not really any competition: it’s the Ryzen 7 2700X. You have 8 cores and 16 threads- the Ryzen 5 2600X was already great for streaming purposes, with 66% of the threads. If you’ve been reading the article up this point, this conclusion shouldn’t surprise you whatsoever.

In addition to the raw performance offered by this chip, you also have unlocked overclocking capabilities and a surprisingly great stock cooler. The included stock cooler, the Wraith Prism, is an RGB air cooler with a great heatsink and fan. Your CPU should run nice and cool, even if you decide to overclock it a little bit.

Like before, the single-core performance is marginally worse than its Intel rival. Outside of very specific gaming scenarios, though, this won’t make a big difference. If what you need is the best streaming CPU, there’s no question: this is the right one for you.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • Stellar gaming performance
  • Suited for serious gaming, streaming, and rendering
  • Great stock cooler included
Cons:

  • High price
  • Single-core performance falls short of Intel’s

The Catch

The usual downsides for an AMD processor apply here: lower single-core performance is the biggest one, but it’s not very major.

The price is also high, but in a more “standard” way. Technically, its high pricing is nothing compared to the 9700K , which it directly competes with despite being a full $100 less expensive on most days. The gaming performance difference is a bit higher here, though, especially for games that can utilize more cores.

Best CPU For Video Editing – Intel Core i7-9700K Processor

Best CPU For Video Editing – Intel Core i7-9700K Processor
If you’re less of a Twitch streamer and more of a YouTuber, this CPU might be what you’re looking for. Meet the Intel Core i7-9700K, the best processor for video editing and, we’d say, the best processor for gaming (sort of).

In terms of gaming performance, let’s get this bit out of the way: it’s not that different from the i5 6700K. If all you’re interested in is gaming, seriously don’t buy this CPU- the marginal improvement over the i5 is not worth the extra $150 that you’re spending for it. Got it? Got it.

The i7-9700K offers 8 cores and 8 threads. Unlike its Ryzen rival and previous-gen i7s, it doesn’t offer hyperthreading…but the sheer number of physical cores means that it should still be pretty adequate for streaming performance, and is particularly good for gaming.

We recommend this one for video editing in particular since that generally isn’t something you’re doing while in-game. A CPU with single-core performance this fast is going to blast through high-quality video renders more quickly than ever, allowing you to iterate on your video more rapidly than you could with other CPUs.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • The best gaming performance (by a thin margin)
  • Suited for serious gaming, rendering, and streaming
Cons:

  • High price
  • No stock cooler included
  • Poor integrated graphics

The Catch

All that being said…the price on this one isn’t great. You can get somewhat comparable rendering performance on the rival Ryzen  7, and better real-time streaming performance there as well. While the i7-9700K does beat everything else in terms of gaming performance, it doesn’t do so at a particularly good value.

If you’re only gaming and you care even a little bit about saving money, get the i5 or Ryzen 5 instead. If you’re streaming or rendering video, however, either the Ryzen 7 or i7 9700K will be a great option.

Strongest Intel CPU – Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor

Strongest Intel CPU – Intel Core i9-9980XE Extreme Edition Processor
The Intel Core i9-9980XE is, without question, the strongest Intel processor. With a whopping 18 cores and 36 threads, that probably doesn’t surprise any of you: especially with an equally-whopping $2000 asking price. For those of you with too much money or really serious CPU power needs, this i9 might be just what you’re looking for.

Rendering and streaming are really just the tip of the iceberg here. Any multi-threaded application, no matter how intensive, can be brought to its knees by this CPU with no issues to speak of. If you want the best of the best, you’ve found one of them.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • World-class performance in just about everything
  • Suited for just about everything
  • More overclocking headroom
Cons:

  • Extremely high price
  • Despite being more expensive, doesn’t beat the cheaper Threadripper 2990WX in multi-threaded applications
  • Produces more heat than competing AMD CPU, no cooler
  • Slightly lower gaming performance versus i7-9700K

The Catch

However, there are a few issues.

If the price tag and core count didn’t clue you in, no, this is not a gaming processor. In fact, it actually performs a little bit worse than the 9700K in games, which makes sense: it’s not built as a gaming processor. It’s built for intense productivity workloads, not for gaming.

Other problems include the heat- somewhat unusually for Intel, this CPU puts out more heat than competing processors. Less unusually for Intel, it’s much more expensive than its competition…but that’s actually where we get to the biggest problem.

Despite being as much as $300 more expensive, this CPU loses to the competing Threadripper. This is not the best overall CPU, just the strongest Intel CPU.

Strongest AMD CPU – AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX Processor

Strongest AMD CPU – AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX Processor
Last but certainly not the least is the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX. This is our pick for strongest AMD processor, and best gaming CPU if you like wasting money. Seriously, don’t spend this much on a CPU for your gaming build.

Outside of gaming, however, this processor simply cannot be beaten. It has the best overall multi-threaded performance out of any CPU on the market, and that can be attested to its 32 core, 64 thread setup. “Threadripper” has never been a more appropriate name for a processor.

In addition to its stellar performance, it actually outperforms the competing Intel processor…at a lower price, by at least a couple hundred. There’s undercutting the competition, and then there’s completely decimating them.

There’s no question: the Threadripper 2990WX is the best processor of its kind, and the strongest CPU overall.

Pros:

  • Overclockable
  • World-class performance in everything, especially multi-threaded applications
  • Suited for everything
  • Produces less heat than competing Intel CPU
Cons:

  • Extremely high price
  • Very marginally weaker single-core performance versus Intel
  • Less overclocking headroom, no cooler included
  • Slightly lower gaming performance versus Ryzen 7 2700X

The Catch

The downsides of the Threadripper really just boil down to its stupid-high pricing and slightly worse gaming performance than the Ryzen 7 but that’s to be expected at this point.

Additionally, its pricing compared to Intel’s demonstrates at least this: this could be a lot more expensive than it is, and you aren’t going to find this performance any cheaper.

What You Need To Know About CPUs

In this section, we’re going to walk you through CPU specs and what they actually mean.

Coolers

But first, let’s talk about CPU coolers!

Specifically, stock coolers that are included with some CPUs.

The Intel stock cooler has a quieter, low-profile design with a small fan. Despite its size, it can cool your system pretty well, even without overclocking, and you’re only going to encounter issues with it if you attempt to overclock.

AMD’s has a few different Wraith stock coolers, and these are larger air coolers with big heatsinks. While this means it’s louder, it also means it’s cooler, and there is more headroom for overclocking- with all the Wraith coolers except Stealth, you should actually get quite a bit of overclocking headroom. The Wraith Prism includes RGB lighting, and the Wraith Stealth still keeps your CPU cooler than the stock Intel cooler.

If you aren’t an enthusiast who plans on overclocking, chances are you’d like your cooler cheap and bundled with your system for free. If you’re on desktop platforms, all Ryzen processors and non-K/X Intel processors will come with coolers. For the higher-end platforms (Threadripper and i9), you won’t get bundled coolers at all, and are typically recommended to opt for a water-cooling setup.

Cores and Threads

These are probably the most important spec to consider when buying modern CPUs. Since single-core performance has become nearly standardized (Ryzen’s being only 5-10% slower than Intel’s at worst), assessing core and thread counts will show you what your PC is capable of.

First, let’s define the two.

  • Core – A processing core. The earliest CPUs had only one core, but the onset of multi-core technology has allowed CPUs to tackle more, greater tasks over the years.
  • Thread – A processing core, as seen by your system. In non-hyperthreaded CPUs, the number of threads will correspond directly to cores, making this distinction meaningless. With hyper-threading enabled, however, you get two threads per core, effectively multiplying the processing power available.

So, more cores/threads = better, right?

Yes and no.

For gaming specifically, you generally won’t see performance benefits past the quad-core or quad-thread mark. Extra threads come in handy for multitasking and other tasks, like video rendering, streaming, and more. There are also a few games that are optimized to utilize more than four cores- while these are on the cutting-edge and don’t usually make a massive difference, these scenarios do exist.

In general, however, if you’re looking for more threads…you shouldn’t be running a gaming-only system. You should be streaming or rendering semi-frequently to make the investment worth it.

Clock Speed

Clock speed is the measure of Speed. Shocker.

Specifically, the speed at which the cores in your system run. The practice of “overclocking” involves pushing clock speeds higher, resulting in speed increases for your system.

Part of the reason that Intel CPUs have an advantage in single-core performance is that Intel CPUs are able to push higher clock speeds than AMD’s, even before overclocking. Out-of-the-box turbo frequencies on modern Intel CPUs are going as high as 5 GHz, while AMD doesn’t seem to be able to push too far past 4 GHz yet. Overclocking can push these numbers even higher, but the trend doesn’t change.

That being said, clock speed generally doesn’t work as an effective measure of speed across different architectures. 3 GHz on 4 Ryzen cores will perform very differently from 3 GHz on 4 Coffee Lake cores, for instance. When running clock speed head-to-head, it’s best to do it between the same or similar architectures: modern Intel CPU vs modern Intel CPU, as opposed to Intel CPU vs AMD CPU.

In simplified terms, the rule of higher number = better performance applies here. Only between CPUs of the same architecture, though. It gets fuzzier when comparing across architectures.

Integrated Graphics

Integrated graphics refer to graphics chips built into your CPU. In the old days, these would sometimes be built into the motherboard instead but that has long been phased out. Nowadays, your graphics are integrated into your CPU or running off of a discrete GPU, with no in-between.

If the choice is between integrated graphics and discrete graphics, we’ll make the answer simple: if you can afford it, go discrete. There are very few situations where we recommend running a system on integrated graphics alone, for a few different reasons:

  • Integrated graphics take from other system resources, namely system memory. If your CPU and GPU are sharing the same RAM pool, one of them is going to suffer, usually the GPU. That’s just how it works.
  • Integrated graphics are a magnitude of performance worse than entry-level GPUs, especially Intel’s integrated graphics. AMD is a slightly different story.

Intel CPUs with integrated graphics don’t get any special designations, but AMD’s do. An AMD CPU with integrated graphics is referred to as an APU, or Accelerated Processing Unit. This distinction is mostly marketing, but APUs do have a notable advantage over Intel CPUs: the graphics performance is massively superior.

Make no mistake: an APU still isn’t a substitute for a proper gaming PC. However, especially for low-end builds ($300-$400), they can provide a great starting point and low-end gaming experience until you can afford a discrete GPU. The same cannot be said for Intel CPUs.

Memory Cache

A CPU’s memory cache refers to the amount of memory available on the chip itself. This isn’t used for the entire system- it’s used by the CPU itself, for coordination between the cores. For this reason, it’s usually only a few megabytes large, with the amount of memory cache increasing in scale to core/thread count.

This doesn’t really matter, since modern CPUs are simply equipped with the cache they need. You don’t need to worry about this, but if you were: there you go.

Chipsets and Sockets

Socket refers to the physical socket that your processor is installed into. For mainstream desktop platforms, these are AM4 for AMD and LGA1151 for Intel. Socket only determines physical compatibility, however: the software still needs to be compatible.

Chipsets are hardware as well, installed directly onto the motherboard. These are a better way to gauge if your CPU is compatible with a motherboard, however: while some LGA1151 CPUs may or may not be compatible with an LGA1151 motherboard, all 300 Series chipset processors will be compatible with 300 Series chipset motherboards.

In some cases, motherboards with older chipsets may have BIOS updates that can make newer CPUs of the same socket compatible with the system. Before buying a motherboard with an older chipset, make sure that it ships with a BIOs update like this pre-applied, or that you have a last-gen CPU that you can use to update the BIOs.

Besides compatibility, different chipsets will also enable different features. This includes the addition of more PCI Express lanes, higher RAM speeds, more RAM slots, and perhaps most importantly, overclocking.

Overclockability

If you want to overclock your CPU, follow this questionnaire:

1. What CPU are you using?

  • Intel – Continue to 2.
  • AMD – Continue to 3. All AMD CPUs are overclockable, sans the lowest-end APUs…and even they can be overclocked, sometimes.

2. (Intel CPUs) Is your CPU a K-Series or X-Series CPU?

  • If yes, you can overclock! Continue to 3.
  • If no, you can’t overclock.

3. Does your motherboard support overclocking?

  • Intel – Your Z and X-Series motherboards will support overclocking.
  • AMD – Your B350 and higher motherboards, as well as your X-series motherboards, will support overclocking.

If it seems a little complicated…that’s because it is. If you can’t figure out if your setup can overclock, comment below and we’ll try to help.

FAQ

Are more cores better for gaming?

Yes and no.

What matters most in terms of raw gaming performance is what’s called single-core performance. Single-core performance refers to how well single cores in a CPU operate, and Intel has long held the advantage in this arena: for that reason, Intel processors across the board always perform just a little bit better in most games than AMD’s do.

When it comes to multi-core, it depends on what the game is equipped to handle. Most games will only utilize two cores to their fullest, with true quad-core and higher optimizations being much rarer. For gaming purposes, this means that all you really need is about four cores for most scenarios…though if you want to stream and game, you’ll definitely want more.

Core count, overall, is far from the most accurate manner of gauging performance. Keep this in mind when shopping for gaming PC builds.

Is it true that Intel CPUs better than AMD CPUs?

Depends on what you’re doing.

If you’re gaming- just gaming- then yes, usually. You’ll be paying a good bit more for an Intel branding and a performance difference that’s usually less than 5%, but that could be important if you’re, say, a competitive gamer. However, even this point can break down if you’re a budget gamer, since AMD’s low-end prices and new Zen APUs can provide most, if not all of the Intel performance at a much lower price. Intel’s dominance really only kicks in at high-end gaming.

If you’re doing more than just gaming, AMD will be even more enticing. Ryzen 5 and better processors, for instance, can handle high-end gaming tasks while also streaming with very little stutter and performance loss, thanks to their high core and thread count. They’re also generally much cheaper than Intel’s counterparts for the same purpose, making Ryzen CPUs an ideal pick for Twitch streamers and gaming YouTubers alike.

To provide a more definitive answer: no, Intel CPUs aren’t better than AMD CPUs. They aren’t worse, either, they just serve different purposes.

If you want every little bit of gaming performance you can get, and you’re willing to pay a higher price premium for streaming capabilities with it, go Intel. Their stellar single-core performance won’t leave you hurting for FPS, provided the rest of your system can keep up.

If you’re on a tighter budget, or streaming/rendering are common workloads for you, go AMD. The Zen architecture is excellent for multithreaded workloads like these, and the single-core performance is still good enough to be within spitting distance of Intel’s.

Are APUs any good? What makes them different from normal CPUs?

At first, APUs…weren’t all that great. We’ll explain why below.

APUs are also generally the same thing as a CPU, especially Intel CPUs with integrated graphics. Their integrated graphics performance is much higher than Intel’s, though.

AMD debuted APU technology back in 2014. APUs were touted as the next big thing in computing, with far superior integrated graphics technology compared to Intel processors, and many manufacturers eagerly jumping onboard. In the laptop market, APUs were particularly potent, making cheaper gaming and productivity laptops easier than ever to produce.

In the desktop market…it was a different story. AMD was still on its AM3 architecture back then, which was showing its age. Their CPU releases simply couldn’t keep up with Intel on their desktop platform, and APUs generally didn’t pose a good enough value proposition to justify buying one instead of an Intel CPU + discrete GPU. The technology didn’t live up to the hype in the desktop space.

As of 2018, that has changed. AMD’s latest APUs utilize Ryzen cores and Vega graphics chips, enabling a level of performance previously unheard of for integrated graphics chips. The new Ryzen APUs, especially the Ryzen 3 2200G, offer a fairly compelling value for budget systems…and since they’re still using Zen cores, can serve as perfectly adequate gaming CPUs even after the user gets a discrete GPU.

If you want to save money on a PC build, it’s easy for us to recommend an AMD APU build. You can always add a discrete GPU later, or even bump up to a Ryzen 5/7 to create a better experience.

How much RAM do I need? Will it impact my CPU performance?

Great question!

We’ll divide this into tiers and bulleted lists, for your convenience.

Tier 1 – Basic/Gaming

  • 4 GB RAM – With this amount of RAM, you’re pretty much destitute for modern games, but should be fine with last-gen titles and the right settings. General desktop usage should be perfectly fine, as well.
  • 8 GB RAM – For gaming-centric builds, this is the ideal point of entry. Most modern games have yet to utilize more than ~6GB of RAM, and 8GB leaves 2GB for the rest of your system to work in the background. General desktop usage will excel here.
  • 12 GB RAM – For gaming-centric builds, you’re already pretty well-covered here. The extra RAM you have can now be put toward tasks like light streaming in the background.

Tier 2 – Gaming/Streaming

  • 16 GB RAM – If all you’re doing is gaming, you don’t need this much RAM. Take it down a notch. If you’re also streaming and rendering, or if you just like having 20 Chrome tabs open while you’re in-game, then this might be right for you.
  • 24 GB RAM – You aren’t just gaming at this point- you’re streaming and rendering regularly alongside your gaming workloads. You won’t experience any gaming performance benefits with this amount of RAM, however.

Tier 3 – Extreme

  • 32 GB RAM – This is for truly extreme workloads. Perhaps you’re streaming and rendering 4K video, or running many file compression/video conversion tasks on your PC.
  • 64 GB RAM – Essentially the same usage scenario as 32 GB, but more extreme. That, or you’re running your own server. At this point, take your pick.

RAM and CPU Performance

CPU and RAM are actually tied pretty close together. If your RAM is too slow or there isn’t enough of it, your CPU’s performance will be bottlenecked by its limitations. Once you’ve hit 8GB or higher, your basic CPU performance won’t change much…as long as you’re running a dual-channel configuration or better.

Aside from having the right amount of RAM for your CPU, you’ll also want to keep configurations and frequency in mind.

  • Single-Channel RAM – A single RAM stick. This will effectively limit your RAM’s speed to half of its potential capacity, which will bottleneck your CPU’s performance significantly.
  • Dual-Channel RAM – Two RAM sticks. In a dual-channel configuration, these RAM sticks will be able to synchronize and run faster, allowing them to reach their rated speeds. This won’t bottleneck your CPU’s performance in any meaningful manner, and is recommended for any gaming system.
  • Quad-Channel RAM – Four RAM sticks, running together. This won’t offer the same kind of performance jump that single-channel to dual-channel will, but it’ll still make a difference. This is ideal for the aforementioned Tier 2 or Tier 3 RAM setups.

Now, for RAM frequency, or RAM speed.

For most systems, a basic dual-channel DDR4 kit running at 2133 MHz is all you’re going to need. Even when you start pushing RAM frequency higher, you’ll see almost no change in average framerates: however, you will notice improvements in minimum framerates, which means you’ll experience less severe frame drops. Higher RAM speed will also benefit streaming, rendering, and other multi-threaded workloads.

Do I need water cooling?

Not at all.

The main benefits of water cooling setups are more overclocking headroom (especially with custom loop setups), quieter operation, and low profile builds (especially AIO coolers). If you don’t care about these things, an air cooler will suffice just fine for your needs.

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