Choosing the best gaming CPU for your build is a defining part of the PC building experience, and alongside the graphics card is one of the most critical components that determines its ultimate performance. With that said, the CPU market is in a confusing state for casual buyers, with multiple generations in play and great-sounding options available from both AMD and Intel.
With this in mind, we’ve formulated this guide to the best gaming CPUs money can buy today, based on our own testing, current prices and critical reviews from other publications. Whether you’re a fan of Team Red or Team Blue, we’ve got you covered with recommendations from the budget and value-oriented categories right up to each company’s high-end and flagship options.
Click the links below to jump right into the category you’re most interested in, or scroll on for our recommendations in full. We’ve chosen an AMD and Intel option for each price bracket, with a focus on gaming performance and full system build costs plus other considerations.
Best gaming CPU 2023
Best budget AMD processor: AMD Ryzen 5 5600
The £126/$145 Ryzen 5 5600 is the cheapest Ryzen 5000 processor, and therefore is the most affordable way to get the excellent single-core performance that defined this series of CPUs. It’s noticeably faster in many games than earlier Ryzen designs, so it makes a great upgrade for folks still using popular older processors like the Ryzen 7 1700X, Ryzen 5 2600 or Ryzen 7 3700X.
Compared to the more expensive Ryzen 5 5600X, the 5600 has a 200MHz deficit in terms of its rated core clocks – a tiny margin that is more or less erased due to how Ryzen processors boost until they hit thermal or power limits. This means that the two CPUs offer basically identical performance, within two or three percentage points, so just take whichever is cheaper.
Elsewhere, the six-core and 12-thread design allows you to do things like recording video or running background applications while gaming. Higher core counts are helpful for more strenuous content creation tasks, like video transcoding or 3D rendering, but for most people this design is more than sufficient.
In terms of upgrade options, you could later replace the 5600 with the 5800X3D for significantly better gaming performance, or something like the 5900X or 5950X if content creation becomes more of a focus.
To get an idea of the 5600’s performance, check out our Ryzen 5 5600X review.
Best budget Intel processor: Intel Core i3-12100F
The £87/$85 Core i3 12100F is a surprisingly fast entry-level processor, which gives full access to modern components like PCIe 5.0 SSDs and DDR5 RAM whilst also costing less than any other option on this list. Its quad-core design even manages to outperform the previous-generation mid-range value heroes in gaming, like the Core i5 11600K and the Ryzen 5 3600.
This power can be attributed to the big boost to single-core performance that Intel achieved with their 12th-gen designs, plus a straightforward four-core eight-thread design that eschews the P-core and E-core architecture of the higher-tier Intel processors of this generation. That ensures a consistent level of performance across a range of games and operating systems.
Going with the 12100F gives you a solid base level of performance for gaming right away, while giving you plenty of room for a meaningful upgrade later – as both cheap DDR4 motherboards or more future-looking DDR5 boards accept up to a 13900K for a massive upgrade to CPU power. Note that with the 13100F not being meaningfully faster than the 12100F, we’ve opted for the cheaper option in this category.
Best value AMD processor: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D
The £282/$332 Ryzen 7 5800X3D is an easy pick for best value AMD processor for gaming. Its larger 96MB L3 cache plus a sensible eight-core, 16-thread design allows it to hit incredible frame-rates compared to anything else in its generation, even facing off favourably against AMD’s flagship Ryzen 9 5950X or Intel’s Core i9 12900K.
For example, in Flight Simulator 2020, it’s more than 33 percent faster than the 5800X, which is the difference between a meagre 44fps average and a solid 60fps. However, that cache isn’t a magic bullet in absolutely every game, with esports fare like League of Legends and CS:GO running about the same on the 5800X and 5800X3D. Still, the extra cache is often transformative in CPU-limited scenarios, making the 5800X3D the ultimate gaming upgrade for the huge number of older Ryzen systems out there.
Even if you’re building a new system, the 5800X3D earns its best value title through compatible DDR4 RAM and AM4 motherboards being extremely affordable these days. In fact, you can pay less for the 5800X3D, a decent motherboard and RAM combined (~£360) than you would for a high-end CPU like the 13700K (~£375) or 7800X3D (~£400) alone. When you factor the more modern motherboards and RAM required by those newer CPUs into the equation, you’ll be hundreds of pounds ahead by going with the 5800X3D, allowing you to pick up a higher-tier graphics card – which provides a much bigger impact to gaming performance at 1440p and 4K.
For more detail, you can check out our Ryzen 7 5800X3D review.
Best value Intel processor: Intel Core i5-13400F
For Intel, the value sweet spot is occupied by the £197/$203 Core i5 13400F. While the 5800X3D represents the ultimate upgrade for AM4 systems, the 13400F is a more future-looking choice that allows for great performance in the short term and plenty of upgrade potential later on – plus compatibility with modern PCIe 5.0 SSDs.
With 10 cores, including six performance cores and four efficiency cores, the 13400F is a better choice than the 5800X3D for content creation and performs admirably in gaming scenarios too. Frame-rates in CPU-limited games at 1080p are in line with the 12600K or 11700K, while at 1440p or 4K you’d expect the GPU to be the bottle-neck in most titles.
As with other 12th and 13th-gen Intel parts, you have the choice between a DDR4 and DDR5 motherboard, with DDR4 RAM offering lower prices and DDR5 boasting a small speed boost and a more future-proof design. With DDR5 RAM kits dropping in price, I’d be tempted to go with the latter, but both are viable options – and it’s nice to have the choice, compared with AMD where Ryzen 5000 is DDR4 only and Ryzen 7000 is DDR5 only.
Best high end AMD processor: AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D
While it may seem a little odd to not recommend the flagship Ryzen 9 7950X3D in this category, the £411/$441 Ryzen 7 7800X3D actually delivered a higher average frame-rate in our testing while costing significantly less. In fact, the 7800X3D is the fastest CPU for gaming we’ve ever tested, knocking the Core i9 13900K into a cocked hat.
The reason that the 7800X3D outdoes the 7950X3D is that, while the more expensive CPU is marginally faster in most titles, some games don’t play well with the 7950XD’s asymmetric design, which turn into huge performance wins for the simpler single-chiplet 7800X3D. Against the 13900K, the 7800X3D is unabashedly faster in the vast majority of games. However, the 13900K achieves far better content creation performance in tasks like video transcoding and 3D rendering, thanks to its larger complement of cores (24 vs eight) and threads (32 vs 16).
The 7800X3D, like other Ryzen 7000 processors, requires DDR5 RAM and a 600-series motherboard, which are more expensive than their previous-gen counterparts – but do come with some nice performance advantages and feature additions.
We have a full performance break-down in our Ryzen 7 7800X3D review.
Best high end Intel processor: Intel Core i7-13700KF
The £370/$390 Core i7 13700KF is our high-end pick for Intel, delivering around 95 percent of the 13900K’s gaming performance at 70 percent of the price. That’s a winning formula that makes it hard to choose the 13900K for a gaming-focused build.
The 13700KF comes with 16 cores, split down the middle between eight performance cores and eight efficiency cores, making up 24 threads, and a boost clock of up to 5.4GHz, making it a powerful choice within its price range.
It’s also the first overclockable Intel chip we’ve recommended in this list, which allows you to tweak out a bit of extra performance. The chip runs slightly cooler than the 13900K, but still requires a robust cooling solution – ideally a tower air cooler or 240mm+ AiO.
As with other 12th/13th-gen Intel options, both DDR4 and DDR5 motherboards are supported, but as you’re opting for a high-end option then DDR5 is the obvious choice given its measurable edge in our testing for 1080p gaming.
Best AMD processor for content creation: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X
The £529/$549 Ryzen 9 7950X is a content creation powerhouse, giving a Threadripper-adjacent 16 cores and 32 threads for some outstanding performance in any task that can be run in parallel – from compiling code to rendering 3D scenes or transcoding video files.
The 7950X is also extremely efficient compared to Intel’s 13900K, delivering around 10 percent better performance in a Handbrake H.265 transcode test than the 13900K while drawing 100W less from the wall. What’s more, compared to AMD’s last-gen 5950X flagship processsor, the newer 7950X is 46 percent faster, – an impressive generation-on-generation upgrade.
Being the top of the line chip in AMD’s range, it also makes sense to find out that it’s also one of the most potent chips for gaming, too. It served up some solid results in the likes of Flight Sim 2020, with a posted result of 62fps at 1080p, although pairing it with AMD’s recommended 6000MT/s RAM helped to increase this to 73fps, proving the benefits that quicker RAM can provide in some titles.
Our Ryzen 9 7950X review delivers the full details on gaming and content creation performance.
Best Intel processor for content creation: Intel Core i9-13900K
The £548/$545 Intel Core i9-13900K is the obvious pick for our final Team Blue category, with its eight extra efficiency cores compared to the 13700K making it a far better option for content creation tasks – and the integrated GPU unlocking access to Intel’s excellent Quick Sync media encoder.
To recap then, the 13900K has a total of 24 cores (split between eight performance and 16 efficiency cores) for 32 threads in total and a boost clock of 5.8GHz. This gives it a blend of single and multi-core performance that’s unmatched in Intel’s arsenal. In fact, the 13900K offered the highest results we’ve seen in a Cinebench R20 3D render and in a Handbrake H.264 video encoding test.
It may not be as impressive for gaming as AMD’s more specialised lineup of X3D processors, but the 13900K is still a powerful performer that offers a small boost over the likes of the 12700K, 12900K and 13700K. However, you’ll need a powerful cooler too, with a 240mm+ AiO recommended to tame its powerful thermal load.
You can refer to our 13900K review for more performance data.
With that, our recommendations come to an end. I hope there’s enough there to give you some food for thought for which CPU is going to be the best for you to choose for your next build, or to an upgrade an existing one.
Of course, we’re always on the lookout for some of the best deals we can find on all manner of tech, including CPUs, and to keep informed with those, you’ll want to follow @dealsfoundry on Twitter and check out the deals sections at both Eurogamer and our sister site Rock Paper Shotgun for PC tech deals as we find them.