So, you’re gearing up to buy the new RTX 3080. After all, it is said to be twice the performance of the older 2080 Ti. And it’s half the price! But, wait, can your CPU keep up?
We think many desktop PC builders and enthusiasts will be asking this question – which CPU is best paired with the 3080. And while there is no single answer that will satisfy everyone, there are still some standout choices in today’s processor market. In this article, we have tried to separate a few segments, according to different use cases and budgets, to present the very best CPU chips you should be using with the Ampere series cards.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, though. We have simply pitted the market’s extremes against each other, and you won’t go wrong with processors in between two products if that fulfills your need.
Before we dive into the individual recommendations, first answer a few questions related to what kind of CPU you should be looking for, actually. There’s a lot of hype about the 3000 series from Nvidia bringing new features, some of which your current CPU might not have, like PCIe Gen 4. Which of these features matter, and whether it is even necessary to upgrade your processor is essential to understand before making your purchase.
|AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT||Best Overall Performer||8/16||AM4||Check Price|
|Intel Core i9 10900K||Best Single-Core Performance||10/20||LGA1200||Check Price|
|AMD Ryzen 9 3950X||Best Multithreaded Performance||16/32||AM4||Check Price|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3400G||Decent APU for Upgrade||4/8||AM4||Check Price|
|AMD Ryzen 3 3100||Cheapest Decent Option||4/8||AM4||Check Price|
|Intel Core i5 10600K||Intel Budget||6/12||LGA1200||Check Price|
|AMD Ryzen 3 3300X||AMD Budget||4/8||AM4||Check Price|
|AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X||Unparalleled Workstation/Server||64/128||sTRX4||Check Price|
Which CPUs are Best for You?
There is no such thing as a perfect product, and this is true for CPUs as well. Since there are different needs of different people, a variety of processors might be best suited for specific applications. In this article, we’ll exclusively be talking about desktop CPUs, which does narrow down the choices somewhat.
If you’re buying a 3080, chances are that you are a power user. This graphics card is unnecessary for running generic word and spreadsheet processing tasks or attending online classes and whatnot. Two main camps are drawn to the RTX 3080: gamers and content creators/editors.
- If you are a gamer, you are much more focused on single-core clock speeds rather than the total number of threads. Since it is difficult for game designers to really make use of multithreading properly, CPU-heavy games are usually helped by higher GHz. Still, aim for at least 4 cores, preferably with SMT/hyperthreading support.
- If you are a content creator or use software such as Adobe’s heavily, the number of threads is much more critical in general. Most software used for rendering/processing/editing are optimized around multithreading, so single-core clock speeds are not that impactful in general.
Processor Availability and Pricing
One final note before we head to the roundup. While we have spent a while trying to narrow down which is the best CPU for you to pair with your 3080 might be, unlike other gadget recommendations, these are flexible. Due to availability and pricing changes, some chips that could otherwise be overlooked become potential purchases.
Since it all depends on what you can buy in your region, don’t forget to do your own research. Sorting by price and checking what alternatives exist at the same price bracket is very useful for CPUs. As long as you don’t get massively under- or overpowered CPUs, you will most likely not regret your purchase.
The Best CPUs for the RTX 3080 – A Roundup
Best Overall Performer: AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT
- 8 cores with 16 threads
- 3.9 GHz base clock, 4.7 GHz boost clock
- 32 MB L3 cache
- 105 W TDP
You might have known by now that Intel has a lead in single-core performance, while AMD does better with threads. The XT lineup, however, is a slight tune-up to the X series for getting more cycles out of the few cores.
The XT being marked the same price as the X series is a big win in its favor. It can squeeze out a bit more over the 3800X for games while being absolutely fine for multi-threaded usage as well. The memory compatibility is also no issue, and you should be able to go up to 3600 MHz for your RAM comfortably.
The downside to this performance is that this chip produces a lot more heat than the X version, so you do need an adequate cooler. Going with the 3800X can also be fine if your system doesn’t run many single-core workloads, and you cannot afford the cooling.
All in all, the Ryzen 7 3800XT should be an easy choice for those building a medium-to-high-end rig with a 3080. Some other CPUs above its price might have it slightly beat in terms of benchmarks, but in the real world, you probably will not see much difference.
You should pair the 3800XT with an RTX 3080 if you want near-best gaming performance with flexibility enough for multithreading at a reasonable price.
Best Single-Core Performance: Intel i9 10900K
- 10 cores with 20 threads
- 3.7 GHz base clock, 5.3 GHz boost clock
- 20 MB L3 cache
- 125 W TDP
The fastest processor on the market. That’s all there is to it. For now, at least. While getting the best, in terms of single-core speeds at least, might sound super, there is a price to pay. And not only in terms of money but also increased thermals.
With an RTX 3080, this is ideal to which bottlenecking can be measured. And for 1080p at least, the increase in fps from other processors is certainly there. For people living on the bleeding edge, or those who have money to spare for showcase builds, the 10900K is the monster to go for. The rest of the population, though, might look elsewhere. The massive power draw and corresponding heating mean you need to invest in a pricier PSU and cooling. If you intend to stick with it for years to come, then PCIe 4.0 might become an issue after a couple of years. This chip is still on 14 nm, and while you may not care – this product is more of a last-ditch effort by Intel than elegant design.
Keeping that in mind, for most PC builders on a reasonable budget, this CPU will be a no-go. For those who can afford it and the other headaches it brings, the performance is certainly there to squeeze out.
Pair the 10900K with an RTX 3080 for unmatched single-core performance, especially at 1080p (until Ryzen 5000 series hits, at least).
Best Multithreaded Performance: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X
- 16 cores with 32 threads
- 3.5 GHz base clock, 4.7 GHz boost clock
- 64 MB L3 cache
- 105 W TDP
On the other camp, AMD’s answer for its flagship (excluding threadrippers) is the 3950X. With 16 cores, this CPU pushes the limits of what can be considered a consumer desktop into the sky.
Two major upgrades combine to give the 3950X its strength: Zen 2 architecture and 7 nm. Without this, AMD would not have been able to cram the number of cores in the same AM4 socket. If you calculate price-per-core, it is very competitive as well, while including PCIe 4.0 for future-proofing. The base clock is average, but the boosts go up quite high to allow for demanding workloads. And the efficiency is truly a design marvel. However, you cannot expect such performance without the necessary cooling. And if you look at the price itself, well, you can build a decent PC at that price.
If you are a gamer with a 3080, it doesn’t offer as big a leap from something more reasonable, like the 3700X. If you do not make use of multithreading on a regular basis, this CPU is overkill for you. But for people whose job, say, is reliant on software that benefits from more than a dozen cores, then the 3950X is the one to get.
Pair the RTX 3080 with a Ryzen 3950X for excellent multithreading performance, while still being able to game at high frames.
Decent APU for Later Upgrade: AMD Ryzen 5 3400G
- 4 cores with 8 threads
- 3.7 GHz base clock, 4.2 GHz boost clock
- 4 MB L3 cache
- 65 W TDP
- Integrated Radeon RX Vega 11 graphics
- Comes with Wraith Spire cooler
Now for something different. The RTX 3000 launch has been a letdown in terms of one thing: actual stock. The availability has suffered, even by the standard of hardware manufacturers selling out quickly after launch. If you really want the RTX 3080, but have difficulty finding one and don’t want to put down money on a throwaway GPU, the Ryzen 5 3400G might be interesting. Later on, once you can actually get a 3080, you can still use the 3400G with very minimal bottlenecking.
The 3400G is a very value-oriented CPU. It brings its own graphics and bundled cooler to the party. The integrated graphics is no slouch, either. It can handle some basic workloads and push out decent frames for 1080p or 720p games on miserly settings. If you play MMOs or something like LoL, DoTA, for instance – the 3400G can be good enough to game on. The CPU itself has decent frequencies and boosts. Of course, it is no match for even an older discrete graphics card. And later on, when you complete your build, that -G extension might weigh as something useless inside your rig. The 3400G is not that big an improvement from the 2400G, either. This is because the APUs lag a generation behind the CPUs for AMD, and Zen 2 is a massive leap forward which this product misses out on.
Still, for the entry-level consumer, like students, this is a smart choice to opt for. If you don’t have all the money right now, but still need a functioning computer, then an APU is necessary. The 3400G ensures that you will still be able to upgrade to a mid-tier system in the future while causing no serious complaints at present.
Pair a Ryzen 3400G with an RTX 3080 if you are building a new (or very first) system, but simply cannot find 3080 stock.
Cheapest Decent Option: AMD Ryzen 3 3100
- 4 cores with 8 threads
- 3.6 GHz base clock, 3.9 GHz boost clock
- 16 MB L3 cache
- 65 W TDP
- Comes with Wraith Stealth cooler
Before you ask, yes, this CPU will probably present a bit of bottleneck. But it might not really matter in the real world. Along with the 3300X, the 3100 is a milestone CPU for the bang it offers for your buck.
We talked earlier about how many cores you probably need, four, and that’s exactly the number here. New design and architectural improvements with Zen 2 also means that 3100 is extremely power efficient. So while costing less itself, it can save you money on your PSU, and the bundled cooler can keep up as well. Bringing SMT to budget processors is another win on the part of AMD. You even have a healthy amount of cache and PCIe 4.0, and for the budget, it truly is a mind-boggling product. Overclocking potential, even with the bundled cooler, is another huge win. Perhaps its biggest rival is the last one on our list, the 3300X, which is very competitive and only slightly more expensive. Content creators also might find this CPU too puny to accomplish anything.
You can totally make use of your 3080 with your 3100, especially at higher resolutions. It is a fantastic budget CPU. Your choice of costly GPU might come into question when cutting such price corners, though.
Pair a Ryzen 3100 with an RTX 3080 if you are unconcerned about slight bottlenecking (or playing at higher resolutions) and want to go absolute cheapskate on the CPU.
Budget Intel Choice: Intel i5 10600K(F)
- 6 cores with 12 threads
- 4.1 GHz base clock, 4.8 GHz boost clock
- 12 MB L3 cache
- 125 W TDP
- Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630
Intel is not synonymous with a budget, so this is not truly as low-price as our AMD options. The reasoning is that the i3 options are just not good enough to take into consideration. The break-even point for AMD and Intel finally arrives near the price of the 10600K. Opt for the graphics-less KF version, and this CPU can easily fit mid-tier builds.
With hyperthreading, this i5 chip has more threads than previous-gen i7 models, so that might give you an inkling of how big a deal it is. For gaming performance, it seriously challenges the Ryzen 5 lineup and even makes a few jabs at Ryzen 7. The 10600K is no one-trick-pony either since the thread count should suffice for most multi-threaded workloads. Unlike its Intel sibling on our list, the normal power consumption is acceptable and leaves room for some overclocking. Therein lies the Achilles heel for this CPU. To overclock, you’d prefer a Z490 board, which is not optimal for the budget. The Z490 boards are expensive while having PCIe 4.0 that you cannot use with the 10th gen i5.
Thus the 10600K sits at a weird spot where it is an excellent bang-for-buck CPU slightly let down by Intel’s motherboard lineup. It does have excellent synergy with the 3080 for gaming, which is why it deserves a spot on our list.
Pair the 10600K with an RTX 3080 if you want the best of all worlds – gaming, multithreading and overclocking – on an Intel rig.
Budget AMD Choice: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
- 4 cores with 8 threads
- 3.8 GHz base clock, 4.3 GHz boost clock
- 16 MB L3 cache
- 65 W TDP
- Comes with Wraith Stealth cooler
The Ryzen 3 3300X is one of the most beloved and high-rated CPUs for a good reason. It is an easy recommendation both for budget builds as well as to newbies in the PC market who haven’t figured what they need just yet.
The slight price increase over the 3100 is justified by the single-core performance increase. It even goes head-to-head with something like the i7-9700K, which is quite a feat. There is an important distinction that allows it to be faster than the 3100. All four of its cores are packed in the same CPU Core Complex (CCX), which means they share the same L3 cache, and there is lesser lag. However, one drawback to this is the increased thermals. For pushing the 3300X to its limits, the bundled cooler might not be enough. Also, AMD already seems to be squeezing the most performance out of this thing, so there is not much room for overclocking. This makes it almost on par with an overclocked 3100.
One final reason to recommend the 3300X is that the next leap to the 3600 is quite large compared to the one from the 3100. On stock settings, at least, the performance gain is worth the slight price hike, and the 3300X is a great partner to the RTX 3080.
For running a well-priced gaming rig with very minimal bottlenecking, try pairing the 3300X with an RTX 3080.
Unparalleled Workstation/Server: AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3990X
- 64 cores with 128 threads
- 2.9 GHz base clock, 4.3 GHz boost clock
- 256 MB L3 cache
- 280 W TDP
- Socket sTRX4 with 88 PCIe 4 lanes and NVMe RAID support
If you do not know what a threadripper is, or why you would need one, the list is over for you. The rest of you read on.
Threadripper is built for workstations and servers, and that’s where it shines. The per-core pricing and the edge it has over Intel Xeon is astounding. And it manages to pull off an amazing trick – blending the ridiculous core counts of processors like the EPYC Rome with the high clocks of desktop PCs. Thus the Threadripper can even act like a 3950X, using only a few cores at higher frequencies, and again moving into thread ripping mode for server usage and rendering. It also manages to work with the existing TRX40 motherboards.
Be warned though, even for rendering and whatnot, the 3990X is suited for an extremely narrow task range considering its price. For most rendering tasks that are short-duration and periodic, the lower thread rippers like the 3960X should be enough. Also, most programs cannot really make use of this monstrosity, so it is a bit overpowered in that sense. It requires extensive cooling, but well, what did you expect from 64 cores? The 3990X is another milestone chip from AMD in terms of moving the industry forward. You can expect this one to age gracefully as software support increases in the coming years. Yes, it is massive in terms of price and power draw, but if it suits you, then there is nothing better in its class.
For running a server-class/workstation rig with no expense spared, pair the Threadripper 3990X with an RTX 3080 to speedrun through workloads.
What Specs Matter?
Okay, so we talked a bit about the number of cores/threads and clock speed. Obviously, getting more is better for both, but the price also increases. What about the rest of the specs and features? Do they even matter?
Of course, they do, but perhaps another most essential thing is the generation of the processor. Since we only really have two options, Intel or AMD, there are very few hidden pitfalls you might face, unlike other electronics. Here is the tradeoff: newer generations are better, but older can be found cheaper. If going the Intel route, 8th to 10th generation is fine; there are no vast leaps that matter. For AMD, Ryzen has really seen extensive improvements in recent generations. Try for a 3000 series processor, if only for the PCIe 4.0 future-proofing. Or popular chips like the Ryzen 5 2600 can be good alternatives for budget buyers, but try not to get 1000 series chips.
Some other specs and how they affect your PC are as follows.
- Cache: The cache is a fast, expensive memory that speeds up the pipeline between your processor and RAM. As the number of cores and separate programs running in different threads increases, a larger cache is often necessary. The effect of a bigger cache is undeniable, yet whether you will notice it in real life will depend upon your workload. L1 cache is the smallest and fastest, while L3 is the largest and slowest.
- TDP: The Thermal Design Power helps to understand both the power draw and the heat shed by your CPU. The larger the TDP, the more watts your PSU needs and the better cooling options you need for your processor. If you are not using all the performance gain a bigger TDP allows for, you might unnecessarily need to spend more on cooling.
- Memory frequency: The RAM speed your CPU defaults also matters a big deal, with older and cheaper CPUs opting for slower speeds. Yet, you can manually override the speed, so this CPU spec is not that essential.
- Overclocking: So, this is not precisely a specification, but some chips are more conducive to overclocking, and some are not. Some CPUs come kind-of pre-overclocked (eg, CPUs ending with an X from AMD); that is, they automatically hit higher boost clock speeds without manual interference.
- Socket Compatibility: The socket of your CPU is a certain standard that motherboards also support, which is why you can’t just use the same mobo for your Ryzen and Intel builds. Once you become sure what platform you are aiming for, get a compatible motherboard for your CPU.
Will it Bottleneck Games?
This is a common question for anyone pairing non-flagship processors with hefty graphics cards. A bottleneck essentially means that the component in question simply cannot keep up when pushing for higher framerates. Since the RTX 3080 is such a powerful card, it is natural to think that average CPUs might not be able to keep up.
However, the answer is: probably not.
Now, don’t get us wrong, using an ancient CPU or something meant for mobile systems will definitely create a bottleneck. But, the fact is that the RTX 3080 is intended for 1440p Ultra and 4K gaming. CPU bottlenecks for most games are present at 1080p resolutions or lower; as you move higher up, most of the heat is on the GPU. If you’re going to be gaming at only 1080p, wait for the cheaper 3070 and 3060 to drop! It’s that simple.
Going from something like a Ryzen 3 to a Ryzen 9 will have very minimal effects on 4K resolution, where most games are supposed to be played on the 3080. There are exceptions such as Microsoft Flight Sim, which are just about unplayable at high settings by anything but the beefiest of builds. For the average user casually playing popular or indie titles, CPU bottlenecks will be rare if you go with anything on our list. Of course, there is a natural eyebrow raise if you’re spending $100 on your CPU but $800+ on your GPU, but who are we to judge?
Blue vs. Red, and What about PCIe 4.0?
To go Intel or AMD, that is the question. The answer is that for budget users, AMD is the clear winner. The value-for-money is just so much better than anything Intel is offering, and you even get bundled Wraith coolers that work pretty well. It doesn’t really matter at the higher-end, except in the Threadripper category, where AMD wins again. Yes, Intel’s i9-10900K is the most powerful desktop CPU yet, but not by much. Also, AMD’s most recent batch supports PCIe 4.0, which compensates for the difference.
So, Gen-4 PCIe, one of the prominent features of the RTX 3080; does it matter? And the simple answer is not yet.
In best-case scenarios, ie, extreme rigs at 1080p where you also see CPU bottlenecks, the double bandwidth of Gen 4 over Gen 3 can make a slight difference. But almost none of today’s games are really built to even use the bandwidth that Gen 4 offers; most would be OK with Gen 2 speeds. The same is the case for storage. Yes, you can buy expensive Gen 4 NVMe drives right now that only work with AMD’s 3000 series chips. But, they suffer from thermal throttling issues and aren’t as big of a leap as going from HDD to SSD is, for instance.
In a few years, though, this may all change. As Intel also pushes out PCIe 4.0 with Rocket Lake and the storage manufacturers figure out how to properly use the bandwidth, we’ll see definite improvements. So if all things are equal, then sure, go for a CPU and motherboard with Gen 4. Even if you don’t, it’ll take a few years before you even need to worry.