The best CPU for gaming 2024: Processing power unleashed

Best CPU for gaming 2023
(Image credit: Future)

The best CPU for gaming race is opening up this Summer. The Ryzen 9000 family is ready to debut, and big seasonal sales mean there will be loads of value to be had. I say it every month, but there's never been a better time to upgrade to a DDR5 system. There are so many great processors out there that will give you a genuine power boost, and almost all of them have never been more affordable.

The architecture of modern chips has come a long way, so much so that "mid-range" isn't what it used to be on the Intel or AMD side. But, if you want something that will keep up with the very 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.

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.

Best CPU for gaming 2024

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The best CPU for gaming overall

Specifications

Cores: 14
Threads: 20
Base clock speed: 3.5GHz
Max clock speed: 5.1GHz
Max recommended RAM speed: 5,600MHz
Motherboard socket: LGA1700

Reasons to buy

+
Great power for the money
+
Excellent performance
+
Perfect for gaming and content creating

Reasons to avoid

-
Runs hot under stress
-
More expensive than a current-gen AMD Ryzen 5

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.

Best CPU for gaming: Ryzen AMD 5600x

(Image credit: AMD)

2. AMD Ryzen 5 5600x

The best budget DDR4 CPU

Specifications

Cores: 6-core (12 threads)
Base clock speed: 3.7GHz
Max clock speed (Turbo): 4.6GHz

Reasons to buy

+
Outperforms 10th-gen Intel chipsets 
+
Holds its own against 11th-gen i5 
+
Competitively priced 

Reasons to avoid

-
It's still mid-tier for the 5000 line

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 best current-gen flagship CPU

Specifications

Cores: 24
Threads: 32
Base clock speed: 4.3GHz
Max clock speed: 5.8GHz
Max recommended RAM speed: 7,000MHz (5,600MT/s officially)
Motherboard socket: LGA1700

Reasons to buy

+
Powerhouse performance
+
Similar specs to 14th-gen i9
+
Decent price

Reasons to avoid

-
Overkill for most gaming scenarios
-
Forget about using a fan cooler

Intel's 13th Gen flagship CPU is a powerhouse that few will need, but if you're going to go for a top-of-the-range processor from the last few years, this is the sweet spot. Yes, the 14th Gen Core Ultra equivalent will likely give you better performance, but this is the one you'll get better value from in terms of price. The specs separating the latest model are few, so you really are getting the best deal with the Raptor Lake version.

This i9 sports a whopping 24 cores and 32 threads, which is enough to make even the busiest of workloads weep. With that amount of headroom, there just isn't anything that'll make this CPU struggle - in gaming, content creation, or anything else you have in mind. We've seen the sorts of performances that come from the lesser i7 and i5 in the Raptor Lake wave, and they were plenty for most gamers to get by on. If our review of this flagship is anything to go by, nothing will stop you with this i9 house in your rig. 

One of the biggest concerns we had with this chip was that it would be unruly in its temperature management. With the right AIO in your system though, we actually found very passable results. While providing the best benchmarking scores of any CPU we've tested until now, it remained below 66°C, which is very impressive for a generation of processors that are known to run hot. 

Again, let us stress that this processor is overkill for the majority of people. For most gamers, an i5 or i7 in the 13th Generation will get you by easily. For the enthusiast, however, there's no beating this right now.

The best Intel Core i7 without overspending

Specifications

Cores: 16
Threads: 24
Base clock speed: 3.4GHz
Max clock speed: 5.4GHz
Max recommended RAM speed: 6,500MHz (5,600MHz officially)
Motherboard socket: LGA1700

Reasons to buy

+
Noticeable boost over i5-13600K
+
Extremely capable performance for gaming and work

Reasons to avoid

-
Current Ryzen 7 is cheaper
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i5-13600K is still all most folks need
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Power-hungry
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Prone to high temperatures

Before there was a Raptor Lake Refreshed Intel Core i7, there was a Raptor lake Intel Core i7. While we're just about to start testing the 14th gen version of this processor, at this point in time, it's hard not to recommend the 13th gen model. It'll likely start to get cheaper now there's a new wave or Intel chips, and the performance it nets you is no short of ridiculous. 

The 13700K has 16 cores - only two more than the i5. These are made up of 8 performance cores and 8 efficiency cores. In terms of threads running through these cores, you have 24 - four more than the i5. So the real question remains - do you actually need this extra headroom for the money. For most people, we'd still recommend the 13th Gen i5, but for content creators looking for that extra piece of mind, that extra headroom does make a difference when gaming at higher resolutions and settings. 

For a full rundown of how benchmarking scores differ between the two, take a look at the reviews. For now, we'll say that if you're willing to spend that extra $100 or so, you'll get an increase in performance, but just be prepared to work harder when keeping the CPU cool. Similarly, check out the price of the latest AMD Ryzen 7, because the rival version will almost always be found cheaper. 

Regardless, this is i9 power in a chip with i7 branding. If you need the extra headroom compared to an i5 or Ryzen 5, you can't go wrong with this. 

Intel Core 12600K

(Image credit: Intel)

5. Intel Core i5-12600K

The best 12th Gen Intel CPU for gaming

Specifications

Cores: 10 Core (16 Threads)
Base clock speed: 3.70GHz
Max clock speed: 4.90GHz

Reasons to buy

+
Faster than 11th gen i9 CPUs 
+
Outperforms most of the Ryzen 5000 line 
+
Half the price of previous high-end Intel processors

Reasons to avoid

-
Raptor Lake is here
-
AMD's 7000 may offer better value

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. 

Intel Core i9 12900K

(Image credit: Intel)

6. Intel Core i9-12900K

The best cheap flagship CPU

Specifications

Cores: 16-core (24 threads)
Socket: LGA 1700
Base clock speed: 3.2Ghz
Boost clock speed: 5.1Ghz

Reasons to buy

+
Cheaper than more recent options
+
Outstanding single-core performance
+
Faster than the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

Reasons to avoid

-
It is very expensive
-
13th gen and 14th gen options are here

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 most affordable i9 processors that's compatible with the current-gen chipset. You'll need a DDR5-compliant motherboard like the Z690 for native PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 support, which could be a double-edged sword. This could mean upgrading your motherboard, but at the same time, you'll be futureproofing yourself for the next while. If you've got the money for upgrading but don't want to splash out on 13th or 14th gen flagships, the 12th gen option might be the one for you. 

Intel Core i7-12700K

(Image credit: Intel)

7. Intel Core i7-12700K

The best 12 core processor

Specifications

Cores: 12-cores (20 threads)
Socket: LGA 1700
Base clock speed: 3.6GHz
Boost clock speed: 4.9Ghz

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent price-to-performance ratio
+
Built for PCIe 5.0 and DDR5 
+
Competes against Ryzen 9 5900X

Reasons to avoid

-
Power-hungry 
-
You'll need a LGA1700 motherboard
-
13th Gen i5 is cheaper

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. 

Best CPU for gaming: Intel Core i5-11600K

(Image credit: Intel)

8. Intel Core i5-11600K

Best DDR4 Intel CPU

Specifications

Cores: 6 Core (12 Threads)
Base clock speed: 3.90GHz
Max clock speed: 4.90GHz

Reasons to buy

+
Similar performance for gaming with i7 
+
Affordable for a 6-core (12 thread) CPU 
+
Holds its own against Ryzen 5 models
+
Excellent value

Reasons to avoid

-
More elusive than other 11th gen i5 models 

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 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 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. 

Do you need a powerful CPU for gaming?

Thanks to modern processor architecture, you may not need as "powerful" a CPU as you think. Ryzen 5 and i5 chips are equivalent to the i9 CPUs from even a few years ago. While you'll still be able to play most games with a CPU that's a few years old, it can benefit you to pair your computer's brain depending on the GPU you use. Even folks with an RTX 4090 don't need an i9 to work with it. The best CPU for gaming for most people doesn't require you to spend that much these days. 

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.


Now you've got one of the best chipsets available for the money, keep your rig in top tier shape with the best gaming keyboard and best gaming monitor on the market, too. 

Duncan Robertson
Hardware Editor

Ever since playing Journey at the age of 15, I’ve been desperate to cover video games for a living. After graduating from Edinburgh Napier University with a degree in Journalism, I contributed to the Scottish Games Network and completed an Editorial Internship over at Expert Reviews. Besides that, I’ve been managing my own YouTube channel and Podcast for the last 7 years. It’s been a long road, but all that experience somehow landed me a dream job covering gaming hardware. I’m a self-confessing PlayStation fanboy, but my experience covering the larger business and developer side of the whole industry has given me a strong knowledge of all platforms. When I’m not testing out every peripheral I can get my hands on, I’m probably either playing tennis or dissecting game design for an upcoming video essay. Now, I better stop myself here before I get talking about my favourite games like HUNT: Showdown, Dishonored, and Towerfall Ascension. Location: UK Remote

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