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AMD vs. Intel: The top gaming CPUs for pros, creators, and casual players

Whether you're an Intel or AMD loyalist, upgrading your CPU can extend the life of your gaming PC. And with discounts, newer CPUs are more affordable than ever.
Written by Taylor Clemons, Staff Writer on

While some DIY gaming PC enthusiasts will insist that a graphics card is the most important component of a build, that would actually be your CPU. The CPU is the brain of your computer, and without it, you're stuck with a very expensive box on your desk. 

Having the right CPU for your gaming PC is important to make everything run efficiently. You need to make sure you aren't mixing Intel and AMD components as well as incompatible generations -- new AMD 7000 series processors use an AM5 socket rather than the AM4 of the previous 5000 series. 

To help you find the right gaming CPU for your build, I've put together a list of the very best you can buy. I've also broken down their top features like base and boosted clock speeds as well as core counts to help you find the best fit for your budget and build.

Also: The best gaming GPUs from Nvidia and AMD

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Decent cache
  • Fair pricing
  • Excellent overclock ceiling
Cons
  • CPU cooler not included
  • Lower speeds
  • Not compatible with all games
More Details

Intel Core i5-12600K specs: Launched: 2021 | Product collection: 12th-generation | CPU type: Desktop | Total cores: 10 | Total threads: 16 | Performance-core max turbo frequency: 4.90GHz | Efficient-core max turbo frequency: 3.60GHz | Performance-core bass frequency: 3.70GHz | Efficient-core base frequency: 2.80GHz | Cache: 20MB Intel Smart Cache | Total L2 Cache: 9.5MB | Processor base power: 125W | Maximum turbo power: 150W | Maximum memory size: 128GB | Processor graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 770 | Warranty: Intel offers a three-year limited warranty with the Core i5-12600K

The 12th-generation Intel Core i5-12600K is a fantastic mid-range option. At around $300, it is an affordable CPU with decent speeds at around 3.70GHz, although it is the slowest option on our list. The 10-core processor combines solid speed with fast processing using six performance cores and four efficiency cores. It's a three-speed system that uses an LGA 1700 socket. 

The design incorporates hyper-threading architecture, which means you can count on this system to perform well despite demanding, power-hungry programs. It also features a signature turbo boost with new, revamped Intel UHD graphics. The L3 cache is capable of holding up to 16MB of data for improved performance with exclusive Intel 7 Architecture and incorporated microarchitecture for power efficiency. 

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • High-performing
  • Most threads
  • Solid cache
Cons
  • Requires a lot of power
  • Finicky with Windows 10
  • Expensive
More Details

Intel Core i9-18900K specs: Launched: 2021 | Product collection: 12th-generation | CPU type: Desktop | Total cores: 16 | Total threads: 24 | Max turbo frequency: 5.20GHz | Efficient-core max turbo frequency: 3.90GHz | Performance-core bass frequency: 5.10GHz | Performance-core base frequency: 3.90GHz | Efficient-core base frequency: 3.90GHz | Cache: 30MB Intel Smart Cache | Total L2 Cache: 14MB | Processor base power: 125W | Maximum turbo power: 241W | Maximum memory size: 128GB | Processor graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 770

The Intel Core i9-12900K uses an LGA 1700 socket, allowing for PCB installation. The L3 cache includes 30 MG of memory, which is average for the models on our list. This model features a 12th-generation Intel Core i9-12900K desktop processor and a maximum clock speed(1) of up to 5.2GHz. You can experience improved 10 nm performance per watt with the benefit of added power efficiency, thanks to integrated micro-architecture. 

The Intel Thread Director is able to sort and coordinate multiple workloads so your system won't get bogged down by internal minutiae. There are a whopping 16 performance cores and eight efficient cores for a total of 24 threads. Plus, the Intel Smart Cache enables 30MB of storage with 600 series(3) motherboard capacity and a 1700 socket. This comes unlocked and with the capacity of overclocking.  

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Cheapest on our list
  • Great graphics
  • Radeon-compatible
Cons
  • Restricted speed
  • Small cache
  • Low connectivity
More Details

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G specs: Launched: 2020 | Product collection: AMD Ryzen Processors | CPU type: Desktop | CPU socket: AM4 | Total cores: 6 | Total threads: 12 | Maximum boost clock: 4.6GHz | Base clock: 3.7GHz | Default TDP: 65W | Processor CPU Technology: TSMC 7nm FinFET | Total L2 Cache: 3MB | Total L3 Cache: 32 B | Warranty: The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G includes a warranty for parts that lasts three years

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G is our pick for the best cheap CPU for gaming. Because of the lower price, you get slower speeds with 4.4GHz and only a 6-core processor using a 7nm "Zen 3" core. There are 12 threads for 1080P graphics, plus 19MB of cache storage with a CPU Socket AM4. Like the Ryzen 5 5600X, it comes unlocked for clocking with Precious Boost Overdrive to offer faster clock speed and power limits. DDR4-3200 is supported. 

The AMD Ryzen Master is a nifty addition that allows you to personalize CPU performance for a fully customized experience, but it doesn't offer the power, speed, and memory of other models. However, it's still a great option when you don't have a lot of money to spend.

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • Large processor
  • Huge cache
  • Faster speeds
Cons
  • Most expensive on our list
  • Stock cooler not included
  • Requires a lot of power
More Details

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X specs: Launched: 2020 | Product collection: AMD Ryzen Processors | CPU type: Desktop | CPU socket: AM4 | Total cores: 16 | Total threads: 32 | Maximum boost clock: 4.9GHz | Base clock: 3.4GHz | Default TDP: 105W | Processor CPU Technology: TSMC 7nm FinFET | Total L2 Cache: 8MB | Total L3 Cache: 64MB | Warranty: A three-year warranty is included with the purchase of the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X. 

The AMD Ryzen 9 5950X is the most expensive on our list with a super-fast 16-core processor. The CPU speed operates with 4.9GHz Max Boost with a Socket AM4. Because of this, it works with PCIe 4.0 on X570 and B550 motherboards. 16 cores support it with 32 processing threads, the most by far of our picks, delivering AMD's elite 100+ FPS performance for today's top games. 

The CPU is unlocked for overclocking with 72MB of cache and DDR-3200 support. However, the cooler is not included, so an additional purchase is required -- which is a pricey inconvenience since this CPU is already expensive.  

Pros & Cons
Pros
  • 5.7GHz max clock speed
  • Integrated AMD Radeon graphics
  • Ubuntu support
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • Requires AM5 motherboard
More Details

AMD Ryzen 9 7950X specs: Launched: 2022 | Product collection: AMD Ryzen Processors | CPU type: Desktop | CPU socket: AM5 | Total cores: 16 | Total threads: 32 | Maximum boost clock: 5.7GHz | Base clock: 4.5GHz | Default TDP: 170W | Processor CPU Technology: TSMC 7nm FinFET |Total L3 Cache: 64MB | Warranty: 3 years

More advanced PC gamers know how important it is to be able to overclock your processor to get the most power. The AMD Ryzen 9 7950X has a base clock speed of 4.5GHz and allows you to boost it up to 5.7GHz, making it one of the fastest processors you can buy outside of high-end workstation units. And with a total of 16 cores and 32 threads, the 7950X gives you blazing-fast speeds and tons of power to launch and run graphically intensive games. Plus, it can handle just about any program you need for video and photo editing or even 3D modeling and animating. 

It features integrated AMD Radeon graphics so you can play basic games without a dedicated GPU, but to get the most out of the CPU, it's best to pair it with at least a mid-tier graphics card like an RTX 3050. You can even use this CPU with the Linux Ubuntu operating system if you don't use a traditional Windows-based computer.

What is the best gaming CPU?

The best gaming CPU you can get right now is the Intel Core i5-12600K. It has a base clock speed of 3.6GHz, but allows you to boost it to 4.9GHz for even faster performance. It also has integrated graphics so you don't need to invest in an expensive, dedicated GPU to play less graphically intensive games.

Gaming CPU

Price

Speed (base and OC)

# of cores

Intel Core i5-12600K

$242

3.7GHz/4.9GHz

10

Intel Core i9-12900K

$421

3.2GHz/5.2GHz

16

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

$140

3.9GHz/4.4GHz

6

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

$499

3.4GHz/4.9GHz

16

AMD Ryzen 9 7950X

$599

4.5GHz/5.7GHz

16

Which gaming CPU is right for you?

Aside from budget, it's important to choose a CPU that matches your gaming PC build, as AMD and Intel components do not work together. It's also important to make note of base and boosted clock speeds if you intend to unlock and overclock your CPU for enhanced performance.

Choose this gaming CPU...

If you need...

Intel Core i5-12600K

A well-rounded and balanced gaming CPU. It features an OC speed of 4.90GHz and integrated Intel UHD 770 Graphics.

Intel Core i9-12900K

A high-end CPU for gaming performance. It's pricey, but boasts a 3.90GHz base speed that can be overclocked to 5.20GHz as well as 16 cores and 24 threads for more efficient power usage and smoother multitasking.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

A budget-friendly gaming CPU. For under $150, you can upgrade your gaming desktop with a modest AMD Ryzen 5 5600G and keep up with triple-A releases (for a few more years at least).

AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

A performance-focused CPU. This processor is best for content creators and streamers who need to run applications, games, and programs simultaneously.

AMD Ryzen 9 7950X

A CPU capable of high overclock speeds. This is the best choice for DIY PC enthusiasts who value speed over everything else.

How did I choose these CPUs?

Shopping for a gaming CPU can be overwhelming if you're unfamiliar with CPU lingo. CPUs have their own language, which can be confusing to the novice user.

When searching for a new CPU for gaming, these are some considerations that can help you find the right CPU model for your needs.

  • Manufacturer: For better reliability, consider who makes your CPU. Both AMD and Intel are leading manufacturers of CPUs, and they both dominate our list. 
  • Launch date: Technology is quickly and constantly evolving, so a newer model may offer more features. Of course, you will likely pay for this with a higher price tag.
  • Generation: The type of generation can tell you which programming and processor the CPU uses.
  • Core: The CPU core count tells you how fast a CPU can operate with cores working to process several different instructions at the same time. Today's CPUs generally use multiple cores for greater performance.
  • Clock speed: Also known as the clock rate or frequency, the clock speed shows how many cycles per second a CPU can execute. It's measured in gigahertz (GHz).  
  • Overclocking: Overclocking allows you to increase the clock speed of your CPU. For example, the Intel® Performance Maximizer is one of the leading tools for overclocking with greater performance.
  • Integrated graphics: For better imaging, consider if integrated graphics are available with your CPU. This is especially important if you plan to edit and stream videos.

Another great way to find the best CPU for gaming in 2023 is to look at the PC games you intend to play. The specifications can help you buy the right CPU for your personal needs. 

What is a CPU?

CPU stands for "central processing unit." You can think of the CPU as the brain of your computer. It provides the basic structure and power the rest of your components need to carry out tasks and run programs.

Should I upgrade my CPU or GPU first?

That depends on what issues you're having. If games are running a bit slow or having trouble launching, it's time to upgrade your graphics card since that is what controls loading in-game assets. However, if your entire PC is running slow or having trouble performing basic tasks, it's probably best to get a new CPU.

What's the difference between AMD and Intel CPUs?

The difference between AMD and Intel components is similar to the difference between Windows and Mac-based computers. Both use proprietary programming languages and architecture to achieve desired results. And as such, they do NOT work together, which means that you can't buy a cheap Intel motherboard and AMD CPU and expect them to run your PC. Not only would the AMD CPU simply not fit into the motherboard, it also doesn't have the necessary programming to communicate with Intel components. 

To make sure your new gaming CPU is going to work with your build, you can check out PC Part Picker, a website designed to help you create a fully compatible build with a budget for new components. You simply select what components you want to buy, and the website checks to make sure everything is compatible. And if there are any problems, it flags the issue so you know exactly what you need to change to make everything work together.

What temperature should my CPU be while gaming?

A normal operating range for a CPU, while you're playing games, is 142-164 F (61-73 C). Your CPU may run a bit hotter at times, depending on graphical load and ambient temperature, but that shouldn't cause any damage. 

If your CPU is running at a much hotter temperature, you may need to invest in a better cooling fan, some thermal paste to help draw excess heat to the dissipation fins, or even a liquid cooling system. There are all kinds of programs out there to help you monitor your CPU temperature, and I highly recommend using one so you can catch issues before they ruin your gaming rig.

Are there alternative CPUs worth considering?

In our search for the best gaming CPUs, I came across several options that may be worth your consideration. These are some of the other CPUs I considered for 2023's best CPUs for gaming:

A box for the Intel Core i5-11400K on a grey background

BEST PRICE

Intel Core i5-11400K - Runner-up best budget gaming CPU

Here's a budget-friendly pick for Intel-based gaming rigs: the Intel Core i5-11400K. For under $150, you can upgrade your rig and still be able to keep up with triple-A titles for a few more years. And just because it's now two generations behind the latest CPUs from Intel, it still offers comparable performance like a 2.6GHz base clock speed that can be boosted to 4.4GHz and integrated Intel UHD 750 graphics. 

View at Best Buy
A box for the Intel Core i9-13900KS on a grey background

BEST PRICE

Intel Core i9-13900KS - Runner-up best high-end gaming CPU

This is part of the latest desktop CPU line-up from Intel and is the flagship processor for this chipset generation. It uses Intel's adaptive boost technology to automatically adjust power usage for ultra-fast processing while running single programs or multitasking. It has a base speed of 3.2GHz and can be overclocked to a truly impressive 5.4GHz. But all of this power and speed is going to cost you a pretty penny: the Intel Core i9-13900KS sells for about $1,000.

View at Newegg
A box for the AMD Ryzen 5 4600G on a grey background

BEST PRICE

AMD Ryzen 5 4600G - Great ultra-budget gaming CPU

If you don't mind running a CPU with a chipset that is now three generations behind the latest offerings from AMD, you can pick up the AMD Ryzen 5 4600G for just over $100. This means it's an excellent choice for ultra-budget builds or for an emergency replacement if your current processor decides to give up the ghost.

View at Best Buy

Once you find the right CPU for you, we can help you build a gaming PC or build a cheap PC that may require a slightly different setup. We can also help you construct a kid-friendly PC gaming build that's fun for the whole family! 

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