These are the Best CPUs for Gaming in 2021
We already have a comprehensive collection of the best CPUs on the market that goes into detail about the various CPU options across different categories and workloads. However, we think gaming by itself deserves a dedicated list due to the sheer number of options that can’t possibly fit into an article detailing multiple workloads. Things are now more exciting than ever for gamers after the recent launch of Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs. We encourage you to check out our detailed review of the Intel Core i5-12600K and Core i9-12900K to know everything about them. In this best CPUs for gaming article, we’ll be taking a look at how the new Intel processors stack up against AMD’s existing line of high-performance mainstream chips on the market. So without wasting any more time, let’s jump right into the list to check out all the available options right now when it comes to high-performance gaming CPUs:
Note: This is an ever-evolving list that we keep updating over time to reflect the current market scenario. We recommend you check back every time a new processor is launched to see if it made it to our collection.
Navigate this article:
- Best overall CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-12600K
- Best high-performance CPU for gaming: Intel Core i9-12900K
- Best value CPU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
- Budget Best CPU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
- Best Mid-Range CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-11400
- Best APU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 5600G
Best overall CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-12600K
Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs have finally arrived with a powerful combination of solid performance and competitive pricing. Intel is looking to take the lead over AMD by making an entry into Ryzen’s uncontested stomping grounds. Well, we think the blue team is off to a great start as the new chips are incredibly competitive across multiple workflows like productivity tasks, gaming, and more. As such we think the new Intel Core i5-12600K is currently the best gaming CPU you can get your hands on.
The Core i5-12600K, in case you don’t know, is a 10-core, 16-thread CPU that’s stretching its arm with a hybrid design. The new heterogeneous design means high-priority tasks are executed by the P-cores, while the background and multi-threaded workloads are handled by the E-cores. This allows the Core i5-12600K to excel in multiple benchmarks and different workloads and it topples the competing CPU from the house of AMD.
The Intel Core i5-12600K’s $289 price tag remains the same as the previous-gen Core i5-11600K. This means it lands as a solid replacement to the outgoing CPU without adding any extra cost for the unit itself. It goes toe-to-toe with the $299 six-core twelve-thread Ryzen 5 5600X and it represents the lowest point of entry to Intel’s new Alder Lake family. The 12600K brings six threaded P-cores to the table that operate at 3.7 / 4.9 GHz. It also has four E-cores that run at 2.8 / 3.6 GHz, and a total of 16 threads. We’re looking at 20MB of L3 and 9.5MB of L2 cache.
In terms of the performance, well it’s safe to say that Intel is the new gaming champion now. Sure, the rival AMD chip consumes less power, but the new Intel 7 process reduces power consumption by up to a third. In fact, it even doubles power efficiency to reduce AMD’s massive advantage in that particular key area. The Intel Core i5-12600K is an easy recommendation for us with roughly 40% performance improvement in multi-threaded applications than the Ryzen 5 5600X processor. In fact, the new baseline Alder Lake unlocked CPU also performs better than the Ryzen 7 5800X.
It also goes without saying that enthusiast gamers can also tweak the 12600K to get better performance with overclocking on supported platforms. It works best with Windows 11 since that’s the only OS with support for Intel’s new Thread Director tech. The new Alder Lake CPUs bring massive gains in throughput via DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interface. And as we mentioned in our review of this new chip, you’ll have to spend a lot of money upfront to get the most out of it. We’re talking about the new DDR5 memory and the new Z690-based motherboards that act as significant cost-adders to the overall build. You can get away with DDR4 memory kits, but a new motherboard is a must to run these new chips that now use LGA 1700 sockets. Not to mention, you’ll also need a CPU cooler since the 12600K doesn’t come with a stock cooler.
That being said, we think the Core i5-12600K should definitely be on top of your list if you are shopping for a new gaming rig. Of course, we expect AMD to bounce back with its new chips soon, but the 12600K will definitely keep up with your gaming needs for many years to come.
Second best overall CPU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
AMD’s Ryzen CPUs have been enjoying the top spot in all CPU recommendation lists for a long time now. Now, even with the arrival of Intel’s Alder Lake CPUs, we think the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is a very good CPU for gaming. Sure, it’s not as powerful as the new Core i5-12600K, but it delivers a stunning blow to Intel’s previous-gen processors. In fact, it even beats Intel’s $488 halo Core i9-10900K and isn’t far from the performance of 11900K in 1080p gaming.
The Ryzen 5 5600X has good control over the mid-range CPU segment with six cores and twelve threads powered by the Zen 3 architecture. It’s one of the most power-efficient chips on the market and it’s hard to pick a CPU that comes too close to it in this regard. AMD’s Zen 3 microarchitecture results in an impressive 19% increase in instructions per cycle (IPC) throughput. This means it delivers solid performance across the board — be it gaming, single-threaded, or multi-threaded applications.
One of the main reasons we picked the Ryzen 5 5600X as our best overall gaming CPU from AMD is because it matches the general performance of the Ryzen 7 5800X, which is its more expensive sibling. This goes to show how impressive the Ryzen 5 5600X really is and the kind of value it brings to the table for its asking price. The Ryzen 5 5600X has been benchmarked a lot and the results are all over the internet. This processor is capable of handling any type of gaming. Heck, it’s a fantastic processor for content creators and streamers too who make a living by playing video games.
The Ryzen 5 5600X, in case you don’t know, has a base clock of 3.7Ghz and a boost clock of 4.6GHz. However, this processor is proven to have higher clock speeds in bursts with a potent cooling solution and a good quality gaming motherboard. The Ryzen 5 5600X also has a TDP of 65W, which means it’s going to run exceptionally cool and quiet. You’ll definitely appreciate that since the bundled CPU cooler is plenty to keep it running if you’re not too bothered about getting past the advertised boost clock speed. We say the TDP rating of 5600X is fantastic because the previous-gen processor was rated at 95W TDP.
Also, if you’re an existing AMD CPU owner, then you can drop this new CPU right into your 500-series and 400-series motherboards. This is where we think AMD currently has an upper hand over the new Alder Lake chip. Yes, you get better performance out of the Core i5-12600K but it requires a new motherboard and a CPU cooler, which makes it an expensive purchase for those who’re upgrading from an existing build. We expect things to remain the same until the new Z690 motherboards go mainstream and more manufacturers start dishing out their affordable options on the market. Overall, we think the Ryzen 5 5600X is still a stellar choice for a gaming rig and it’s arguably a better purchase than other high-performance AMD chips on the market.
Best high-performance CPU for gaming: Intel Core i9-12900K
Intel’s new Alder Lake chips have made a huge splash in the market by making a solid entry. The entry-level unlocked Intel Core i5-12600K is a fantastic all-rounder for the price, but the Core i9-12900K is simply the best there is. It’s currently the most powerful high-performance mainstream chip on the market right now. At $589, it performs AMD’s $799 Ryzen 9 5950X in both gaming as well as multi-threaded tasks such as streaming. And on top of that, the Core i9-12900K is also leading the pack with its might impressive single-threaded performance.
The Intel Core i9-12900K, for those of you who don’t know, is the most expensive and the most powerful processor out of the Core i9, i7, and i5 families in the market right now. It represents Intel’s best efforts in making the most disruptive architectural shift in a decade — a combination of P-cores and E-cores. The Golden Cove architecture powers the P-cores whereas the E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture. Both of them work together to provide impressive IPC improvements. that Intel desperately needed to take over the charts.
The new Core i9-12900K is based on the ‘Intel 7’ process, which means Intel is finally leaving the 14nm node after six long years for the desktop chips. The Intel 7, by the way, is the second generation of Intel’s 10nm process, not to be confused with the company’s 7nm process that’s arriving later according to the roadmap. The new Core i9-12900K with its 16 cores and 24 threads, finally achieves a comparable core count to AMD’s mainstream chips. We’re looking at eight P-cores that support hyper-threading, along with eight single-threaded E-cores for a total of 24 threads. The P-cores have a base frequency of 3.2Ghz and a peak frequency of 5.2Ghz thanks to Intel’s Turbo Boost Max 3.0 feature.
Intel says the 12900K comes with 125W Processor Base Power (PBP) and 241W Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) power rating. The values are higher because Intel has also changed its default boost duration for all K-series chips from the 56-second duration with Rocket Lake to an unlimited value. What does it mean? Well, it means the 12900K will essentially operate at the 241W MTP when it is under load.
At $589, the Intel Core i9-12900K costs $40 more than the previous-gen counterpart. It also squeezes between the $799 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X and $549 Ryzen 9 5900X, provided you manage you buy these at retail prices. We also encourage you to check out the graphics-less Core i9-12900KF for around $560. We think the 12900KF makes more sense for a lot of users since you most likely have a discrete GPU for this high-end build involving a top-of-the-line CPU. You can use the reserve money to fetch a new Z690 motherboard or grab one of the new DDR5 RAM kits that are now starting to become available. Intel has indeed done a commendable job with the new Alder Lake processors and we can’t wait to see what other SKUs are waiting to be rolled out.
Second best high-performance CPU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Intel’s new Alder Lake CPUs may have taken over the top performance CPU charts now, but AMD’s Ryzen chips continue to remain some of our favorite processors. They may not be as powerful as Intel new 12th gen CPUs but there’s a lot to be desired. These 7nm based processors offer density advantages, allowing them to be more powerful, have more cores and cache memory, and most importantly, be more efficient. These Ryzen chips based on the Zen 3 microarchitecture are some of the most power-efficient processors you can get your hands on.
As such the Ryzen 9 5950X is our pick for the second-best high-performance CPU you can buy right now. It’s the most powerful mainstream chip option for those looking to build an AMD-based PC in 2021. We expect this chip to be on top of the AMD Ryzen line-up at least until the company fires back with its 3D V-Cache processors. The Ryzen 9 5950X blurs the line between mainstream and HEDT lineup. It brings HEDT-class performance to the friendlier pricing of mainstream motherboards.
The Ryzen 9 5950X wields 16-cores and 32-threads. We’re looking at a base frequency of 3.4GHz and a Turbo max frequency of 4.9GHz. The 5950X brings 64MB of L3 cache and 8MB of L2 cache. It’s rated for a default TDP of 105W although it’s known to boss above the rated TDP in short bursts to pump out higher frequencies. As AMD’s most powerful CPU with all the bells and whistles, the 5950X is also unlocked for overclocking and it’s got a max TJMax threshold of 90°C.
Unlike the new Alder Lake CPUs though, the 5950X is far more accessible. It uses DDR4 memory modules and drops right into the older 500-series and even 400-series motherboards. This means you don’t have to splurge on a brand new motherboard or even consider picking up the DDR5 memory, thereby increasing overall investment to get started with these desktop chips. Sure the newer Intel chips are faster and offer better performance, but an expensive entry-point will surely keep potential buyers away at least until the prices stabilize.
The Ryzen 5950X’s $799 pricing places it a tier above Intel’s current mainstream halo processor. We think most people are still better off buying a 5600X for gaming but the 5950X is a superior CPU overall and it’s perfect for power users looking to do more than just gaming. Content creators, especially streamers, will greatly benefit from having a high-performance CPU like the 5950X to dish out content at a rapid pace.
You can also step up to a HEDT processor, but we generally don’t recommend them for gaming. We strongly believe gamers are best served by mainstream processors. They’re proven to be faster in games and offer a better value for money overall. That being said, the Ryzen 5950X is still capable of more than just gaming. It fits the bill for even the most demanding workflows, and it does it like no other CPU. The Ryzen 9 5950X tends to fluctuate in price, so be sure to hit the link below to find out the best price for this CPU right now.
Overall Value Best CPU for Gaming: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X
Much like our overall best CPU collection, the AMD Ryzen 9 5900X is our pick for the best value gaming CPU you can buy right now. This particular chip deserves a spot in this collection even with all the new Alder Lake options. In fact, we think it’s better than then Ryzen 5950X for most users looking to get the best performance for titles in 2021 and beyond. In fact, it should be plenty to work through workloads other than gaming too if you don’t necessarily need the absolute best a.k.a the Ryzen 9 5950X processor.
AMD leap-frogged with its transition to the denser 7nm process technology and Zen 2 microarchitecture for the Ryzen 3000 chips. The 5000-series just make everything that much better to further reduce Intel’s gaming advantage. Yes, things have changed since then the 5000-series chips are still more desirable due to the power efficiency gains. The 12-core, 24-thread $549 Ryzen 9 5900X costs $50 more than the previous-gen 3900XT, but the boosts reach 4.8GHz. Intel’s 10th gen i9-10900K is the same ballpark if you’re not looking to spend anything more than that for a CPU.
The 5900X exposes 20 lanes of PCIe 4.0 to the user and stick with DDR4-3200 memory as the base spec. DDR4, though not as robust or powerful as the relatively new DDR5 memory, is still the go-to choice for most gamers. We don’t expect the DDR5 memory to become widely available at an affordable price anytime soon. Until then, we think DDR4 still has a lot to offer. You can always overclock the modules to get faster memory speeds and tighter memory timings in comparison to DDR5 modules. The 5900X also drops into existing AM4 motherboards with 500-series or 400-series chipsets. There are plenty of options on the market right now including the X570, B550, and A520 models.
The 5900X CPU not only offers a stellar performance improvement over its previous-gen counterpart, but it also topples Intel’s Comet Lake flagships. It’s also worth pointing out that the 5900X, just like the 5950X, often breaks the 5GHz barrier at stock settings. AMD’s decision to unify the L3 cache also pays huge dividends in applications that take advantage of low-latency memory access. Gaming fits that boat perfectly, so it’s just a no brainer in this category.
One of the major gripes about these processors is that they land at a significantly higher price than the previous-gen models. Not to mention, you’ll also have to bring your own CPU cooler since the top-end Ryzen chips don’t come with a bundled cooler. The overall platform pricing makes the upgrade a bit more palatable. Despite the arrival of the new Alder Lake CPUs, the Zen 3’s performance is not something to be ignored. It’s nothing short of spectacular. Pair the 5900X with one of the high-end GPUs on the market like an RTX 3080 or the Radeon RX 6800 XT to build yourself a PC that’s sure to last more than just a few years to quench your thirst for gaming.
Budget Best CPU for Gaming: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
AMD’s 3000-series represents what we call “peak-performance”. High-performance chips like the Ryzen 3 3300X just the CPU landscape by a huge margin since AMD’s Zen architecture arrived a few years ago. The Ryzen 3 3300X entered the arena with four cores and eight threads to beat Intel’s 7700K which was the leading CPU market at that time the blue team’s Halo part. It was a no-brainer back in the day as a high-performance chip. Although things have changed for the better now, we think the Ryzen 3 3300X is still a fantastic budget CPU for those looking to dip their toes into the world of gaming.
The Ryzen 3 3300X can hit the highest core frequencies on all cores, which is pretty impressive and plenty for most games out there. The Zen 2 microarchitecture and the 7nm process give it an unprecedented lead against the budget offering from Intel. The Ryzen 3 3300X is not a flagship by any means, but it’s the best CPU on the market right now with a 3.8GHz base and 4.3GHz boost clock. At $120 retail, there’s nothing else that comes close to the performance of 3300X in the budget space.
The Ryzen 3 3300X servers impressive performance in gaming thanks to its low inter-core latency and the single 16MB slice of L3 cache. Also, being able to drop this processor in an existing 500 or 400 series motherboard means the entry price is still lower for new users looking to build a new PC. You’ll need at least a 500-series motherboard to take advance of PCIe 4.0, but we think users shopping at this price point are better off with a 400 series board to sacrifice PCIe 4.0 and save that money.
The Ryzen 3 3300X has 16 PCIe 4.0 lanes for GPU and an additional four PCIe 4.0 lanes for storage direct to the CPU. With a B550 motherboard, you also unlock dual GPU configuration with this chip, but that’s probably going to throw you out of the budget space. The Ryzen 3 3300X is a great option if you’re looking for a potent gaming processor at an incredibly low price point right now. It’s truly the gaming champion for economical shoppers right now.
The 3300X performs just as good as the 3600 at a significantly lower price point. It also supports overclocking which means you can get more performance out of it to power through more demanding titles on the market now. You may, however, need a relatively powerful GPU too to alleviate graphics-imposed bottlenecks. We think the 3300X is a better pick if you’re solely interested in just gaming. The 3600 is also a great option if you’re after better multi-threaded performance, though. 3300X may not be able to keep with your ambitious needs for multi-tasking while gaming. So streaming is definitely out of question here.
With a third-party aftermarket CPU cooler, we think the Ryzen 3 3300X still has a lot of potential in 2021 and it’s easily our pick for the best budget CPU you can buy right now. This might change very soon as Intel’s new Alder Lake chips are here. AMD might drop the ball and shave a few dollars off some other CPUs, so keep your eyes peeled.
Mid-Range Best CPU for Gaming: Intel Core i5-11400
Intel’s Rocket Lake family didn’t break any charts with its halo units but the Core i5-11400 is a solid offering that is often seen in many recommendation lists. It’s a surprising entry that ended up being our favorite mainly because of the kind of performance it brings to the table. This is a particularly interesting chip because AMD doesn’t have a competing chip in this price range in the 5000-series. You either pick up the 11400 or settle with a Ryzen 3 3600 which is almost three years old now.
One-sided battle side, the Core i5-11400 has plenty to offer for economical gamers in the entry-level segment. The Rocket Lake architecture isn’t as impressive as what Alder Lake processors bring to the table but there’s still a lot of positives to look forward to. The Cypress Cove architecture grants a 19% IPC increase over the older Intel chips. It also hits high boost clocks, thereby allowing it to deliver reliable performance in single-threaded workloads such as gaming.
The Core i5-11600K may seem like a better offering in comparison to the 11400, but the unlocked CPU cost a lot more money for value-conscious buyers in the market who are looking to get started. You’re only missing out on overclocking, which makes it a far better option for entry-level gamers who aren’t too keen on squeezing the best performance out of a CPU by tweaking.
The Intel Core i5-11400 tops out at a 4.4 GHz turbo on one core and 4.2 GHz on all cores with a little help from Intel’s Turbo Boost 2.0 (TB2) technology. Unlike Turbo Boost 3.0, the Turbo Boost 2.0 is Intel’s most basic mechanism meant to work with low-powered chips like this one. Despite its low-frequency range, the 11400 is capable of beating all similarly-priced CPUs on the market. Besides that, if you pair the CPU with a potent cooling solution, you’ll be hitting the turbo max speeds more often than you’d expect, which is great for the overall gaming performance. It’s also great to be paired with a lot of GPUs on the market, so you don’t have to worry about compatibility.
Another thing we like about the Intel Core i5-11400 is its TDP rating. It comes with a 65W PL1 (base frequency-TDP) rating and a 154W PL2 (power during boost) rating. It’s considerably better than 11600K’s 125W PL1 and 251W PL2 ratings. It means the 11400 has a far less thermal output and is more efficient than the unlocked processor. You also get a stock cooler with the Core i5-11400, which is slowly becoming a dying breed in the world of CPUs. Sure, it’s not as good as an aftermarket cooler, but it should keep things running for most users who’re not pushing these units beyond the stock settings.
Intel has also stepped forward from DDR4-2933 to DDR4-3200, which means you can take advantage of faster DDR4 memory modules on the market. All of this applies to the Intel Core i5-11400F too, which is essentially the same CPU without the integrated UHD graphics 750Xe engine and its 32EUs. Integrated graphics are great but you’ll most definitely need a discrete GPU for gaming, so it’s best to pick up the 11400F over the standard variant.
Best APU for gaming: AMD Ryzen 5600G
Buying an APU for gaming makes more sense than ever now that it’s almost impossible to get your hands on a GPU in 2021. APUs have integrated graphics processors and take advantage of the system memory to deliver impressive gaming performance. AMD has a solid lineup of APUs on the market under its 5000-series. They’re simply too good to be ignored, especially for gaming. The Ryzen 7 5700G is arguably a more powerful APU but we think it’s the Ryzen 5 5600G that deserves a spot inside your PC. The hype around the Ryzen 7 5700G quickly wears off once you get your hands on the Ryzen 5 5600G that servers up ~96% of its performance for significantly less money.
The Ryzen 5 5600G has six cores and twelve threads and it comes as a part of AMD’s first of 7nm ‘Cezanne’ APUs for desktop PCs. The Cezanne APUs come with Zen 3 execution cores paired with the Radeon Vega graphics engine. The timing of Cezanne couldn’t have been better as the market is going through the worst graphics card shortage in history.
The Ryzen 5 5600G comes with a 3.7 GHz base and a 4.4 GHz boost clock, 16MB of L3 cache, and seven Radeon RX Vega CUs operating at 1.9GHz. We’re looking at a configurable TDP that stretches from 45W to 65W, although you can expect it to operate mostly at 65W TDP under load. As a Zen 3 processor, the Ryzen 5 5600G steps up to the DDR4-3200 interface from DDR4-2933. This will further boost the overall gaming performance with the iGPU. The addition of an iGPU means you’ll be sacrificing a little bit of peak CPU frequency. In comparison to the Ryzen 5 5600X, the Ryzen 5 5600G sacrifices 200 MHz of peak CPU boost clock and half the L3 cache. You’re also looking at shared memory bandwidth which means having a good quality memory module is a must for running APUs.
That being said, the Ryzen 5 5600G is the current leader of the pack when it comes to processors with the integrated graphics engine, especially at its price point. It’s capable of running most new titles in the market, although you may have to keep your expectations in check when it comes to the overall graphical fidelity. We’d recommend a discrete GPU over an APU any day of the week, but entry-level gamers will find a lot of value in APUs. You can also grab one of these APUs and wait for the GPU market to stabilize a little. The Ryzen 5 5600G is also a great option for those building an SFF build for entertainment purposes.
You can always step up to the more expensive Ryzen 7 5700G for a better overall experience if you plan to buy a discrete GPU. But for others, we think the Ryzen 5 5600G comes close to the 5700G’s performance at a much more palatable price point. It’s a fantastic stop-gap chip until the GPU shortage exists, and we think it deserves a spot on our list of the best CPUs for gaming on the market.
Best CPUs for gaming: Final Thoughts
Well, that concludes our list of the best CPUs for gaming you can buy right now. A CPU is one of those core components of a build that you may not upgrade quite often unless there’s a lot of money burning a hole in your pockets. Your GPU is going to play a huge role in deciding which games you can and cannot play on your PC, but the CPU is just as important. The last thing you want to do is settle for a Ryzen 3 3300X and buy an RTX 3080 GPU to face severe bottlenecks. Intel has done a commendable job with its new Alder Lake CPUs and we think they’re here to stay on top of our list at least until AMD delivers its new chips. As such, the Intel Core i5-12600K is currently the best gaming CPU on the market, unless you are hellbent on building an AMD-based system. In that case, we think you choose the Ryzen 5 5600X over the more powerful options like the Ryzen 9 5950X for gaming.
Our collection of the best gaming CPU, as we mentioned earlier, reflects the ever-evolving market, so we keep updating this page to add newer and better CPUs for gaming as they’re released into the wild. Be sure to drop a line and let us know in case we missed any of your favorite gaming CPUs. You can also join our XDA Computing Forum to see if others have any solid recommendations for your build. You’re bound to have some burning discussions around hot topics like Windows 11 and more. We also encourage you to check out some of our other collections like the best monitors and the best webcam to find the best options on the market.