The best CPU for gaming doesn't necessarily need to break the bank. While the prospect of a beefy i9 or a Ryzen 9 is tempting, processing technology has come a long way, and you'd be surprised at the powerhouse performance you can get out of a more recent mid-ranger. In particular, the price-to-performance ratio of mid-rangers from the last few generations should really sell you. In fact, the real difficulty in choosing a CPU these days probably isn't which one will give you enough power, but which one will work with the rest of your rig, your motherboard, and what will futureproof you in the years to come.
For the vast majority of PC gamers, a 12th-generation Intel Core i5 CPU or AMD Ryzen 5000 CPU will do the trick, but you'll need to be doubly sure you've got the right motherboard socket for whatever CPU you go for. For example, AMD CPUs can't be used for Intel motherboards, and the same goes for the other way around. AM4 motherboards will seat a Ryzen 5000 series processor, but you'll need an AM5 for the latest 7000 series. On the Intel side, 12th and 13th Gen CPUs use the same socket, but any further back and you'll need to do your homework on what will fit.
The good news is, you're unlikely to bottleneck your rig with a CPU that's a generation behind, and like we mentioned at the top, you don't need a 7 or 9 to get exceptional gaming performance these days. The architecture of these chips has come a long way, and "mid-range" isn't necessarily all it sounds. But, if you want something that will keep up with the best gaming PCs, you don't need to look far. The chips on the list below will do you just fine, and shouldn't present any bottlenecks with even the best graphics cards.
Without further ado, here are the best CPUs for gaming on the market.
Best CPU for gaming 2023
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The Raptor Lake Intel Core i5 processor is an absolute powerhouse that should really make us question what we deem a mid-range CPU to be these days. Packed with 6 performance cores, 6 efficiency cores, and 20 threads, on paper this is essentially a cheaper and more efficient 12th Gen i7.
In gaming, benchmarking, and content creation, this CPU barely broke a sweat, and doing both at the same time barely used up to 15% of the CPU's capacity. That's so efficient that I thought there was something going wrong during testing, because an i5 definitely isn't expected to be this powerful.
If there are any flaws to note here, it might be that there's no turbo max 3.0 here - that's reserved for 13th gen i7 and i9 processors. Like the others in the Raptor Lake bunch, this CPU can be a tad more power hungry than you might like, and it can run hot under stress. Rest assured though, the i5 gives you the best all round package in these regards, and won't be nearly as extreme as an i7 or i9.
When you take price-to-performance into account, there really isn't any beating this CPU without moving to the AMD side. For the absolute majority of players, money shouldn't be wasted. An Intel Core i5-13600K is all you'll need for gaming this generation.
The AMD Ryzen 5600X may not blow anyone away with its sheer power, especially with AMD's 7000 series on the shelves now. But as far as AM4's last-generation chipsets from the company go, it's very hard to beat in terms of price. What's more, the 5600X is frequently on sale, down from its already competitive $260 MSRP.
The AMD Ryzen 5600X is a solid all-around performer with both its single-core and multi-core capabilities in-game, too. That's due in part to this CPU's higher-than-average clock speed combined with its quiet-yet-cool operation over extended periods of time. If you're after a processor to keep your rig ticking over at its best, then the 5600X continues to impress across the board.
The 12th generation Intel i5 Alder Lake processor does what people were expecting from Rocket Lake - and actually dethrones AMD Ryzen 5000 series for a competitive price-to-performance ratio that's hard to argue against.
Comparing the Intel Core i5-12600K with the less-than-well-received Intel Core i9-11900K, the 12600K actually outperforms it for a fraction of the cost. Indeed, its documented performance means it more than deserves a high spot in our roundup but misses out on that top slot for one simple reason: the 13600K is unreal.
Regardless, one of our editors has this as their CPU of choice, and it's handled gaming and benchmarking with an RTX 4090 with absolute ease. If you like the look and feel of the 13600K but don't wanna splash out as much dough, this isn't too far behind.
The Intel Core i9-12900K delivers on the chipset's flagship status with some of the fastest single-core performance on the market, even beating that of AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X in many instances (according to our colleagues at Tom's Hardware). For those in the know, that's the last-gen AM4 Ryzen chipset, and a CPU that will cost you significantly more than the i9-12900K's still hefty $589.
What that means in practical terms is that the Intel Core i9-12900K is not only one of the best CPUs for gaming but also one of the fastest chipsets currently available. The one downside at the time of writing, however, is that you'll need a DDR5-compliant motherboard like the Z690, for native PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support. If you've got the money for it, though, you're going to witness blisteringly fast speeds that chew through even the most processor-intensive programs and the latest games alike.
With its staggering 12-core (24 threads) architecture, it's no surprise that this Ryzen processor is an absolute beast for just about any task put in front of it - especially high-end gaming in 4K at exceedingly high frame rates (when paired with a capable graphics card, of course).
With that said, if you're only interested in a processor from a raw gaming perspective, then the 5900x is absolute overkill. Indeed, how this chipset handles everything else - such as video rendering/encoding in high resolutions - tips it over the edge. If you're in the creative field and need a real workhorse that can effortlessly game as well (and you've got the money), there's no doubt that this is the one to get. In terms of speed, it's the best CPU for gaming.
The Intel Core i7-12700K was our testing rig's processor of choice until very recently, and it offers similar performance to the 13th Gen i5 that's at the top of this list. That processor is actually cheaper, but for folks who want that next step up, the 12th Gen i7 offers impressive real-world processing prowess for both general computing tasks and in the latest titles alike.
We've contrasted the current generation of Intel CPUs against themselves, though, how does the $409 Intel Core i7-12700K stack up against the $549 AMD Ryzen 9 5900x? Remarkably well, as it goes. Though the 5900x may have more threads and a higher clock speed, we've seen that the i7-12700K either matches or surpasses it when the chips are down. We're currently testing out the 13th Gen Intel Core i7, so be sure to check back soon to see how that chip compares in terms of value.
Then there's also the consideration of PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 RAM support. The Intel Core i7-12700K will support DDR4 memory, but we advise going all-in with a future-proofed system to keep up with the ever-growing demands of modern games. If you're after an all-rounder of a chipset that's ready for the latest technological leaps in performance, then there's very little you can fault this processor on.
Gaming in Quad HD (1440p) in high refresh rates or 4K60 on PC doesn't need to be crazily expensive, and you can sure save a few bucks by opting for a just-as-capable 11th-gen i5 as opposed to an i7. Or an i9 monster, for that matter. The higher clock speed on the i5-11600K means it can hold its own effectively against Ryzen alternatives and some of the 11th generation i7 on CPUs (on a base level) from a purely gaming perspective as well.
That's to say nothing of the overclocking potential afforded by said-higher clock speed, with the potential of being able to be dialed up all the way to 4.90GHz. If you're after a faster-than-light setup for gaming at a competitive price, there isn't much better from Rocket Lake's revisions for the money.
Best CPU for gaming: FAQs
What CPU is best for gaming right now?
In our opinion, the best CPU for gaming right now is the 13th Gen Intel Core i5-13600K. On paper, it's a slightly better 12th Gen i7, but it's a lot cheaper. Don't be put off by the fact higher tier processors exist, an i5 like this is an absolute powerhouse, and it'll save you money you can put into other expensive next-gen components.
What is the best CPU type for gaming?
If you're wondering which brand does it better, that's a hard question to answer. We've rounded up the best CPUs for gaming from both Intel and AMD, and depending on your preferences, and maybe the rest of your rig, one or the other might be better suited for you individually. Intel may have the edge on popularity, but AMD has come a long way to combat that in recent years.
For the majority of people, a 12th Gen Intel Core i5, or an AMD Ryzen 5 or 7 will be more than enough for gaming. If you're a streamer, or someone who spends a lot of time doing multimedia production, a higher-end CPU might be advantageous.
What CPU do pro gamers use?
While we can't speak for everyone, E-Sports athletes and streamers will likely use the best of the best, highest-end components they can get their hands on to optimise everything about their performance. Particularly streaming will put a lot of strain on hardware if its being done from the same PC that's running a game, so the most powerful CPU and GPU imaginable are necessary if content creators want their footage to look good. Most likely, we'd bet that professional gamers (the type that are draped from head to toe in RGB lighting at all times), will use 13th Gen Intel Core i5 or the most up-to-date Ryzen 9 CPUs.
What is the strongest CPU?
When it comes to the best CPU for gaming, content creation, or whatever other demanding tasks you might have for it, you're spoiled for choice these days. There's excellent value to be had with the AMD Ryzen 7000 series, especially the ones with X3D in their names, since they've been bred with unreal performance in mind. On paper, the Ryzen 9 in that family takes the cake. But the 13th Gen i9 also packs some outrageous power if you can afford it.