5 Best CPUs for PC Gaming (2021)

Choosing a gaming CPU is not as easy as it was about 5 years ago. Gone are the days of Intel’s undisputed supremacy, with AMD Ryzen processors now taking center stage. With a cheaper platform, better upgrade paths, and better single-core performance, Ryzen was consuming Intel’s market share and how. However, the blue team isn’t one to sit on their laurels, and they’ve pushed hard to make their 11th generation processors as competitive as possible. While this isn’t an ideal time to build PCs, thanks to a global shortage of silicon and soaring GPU prices, it’s still a good time to weigh everything else until prices get back to normal.


What to look for when buying a PC gaming CPU

The CPU dictates the platform around which the architecture is built (Image via TL80)
The CPU dictates the platform around which the architecture is built (Image from TL80)

For most users looking for a gaming CPU, the focus should be on choosing the platform that suits them best. With Intel CPUs, upgradability is not a huge factor as most chipsets don’t have any compatibility with their CPUs. On the other hand, AMD’s Ryzen AM4 platform has the support of 4 generations of CPUs without the need to upgrade the motherboard. For now, the possibility of AMD’s AM4 upgrade should not be considered as we are already in the 4th generation of Ryzen desktop CPUs. AMD’s next generation CPUs will have a new socket and it remains to be seen if it’s built with future compatibility in mind.

As of October 2021, we’re left with 11th-generation Intel Core processors and AMD’s Ryzen 5000 mainstream gaming processors with Intel’s 12th-generation CPUs not going mainstream for some time until 2022. With Intel finally ramping up its core numbers recently, Ryzen Basics are more or less matched these days with situational workloads and games that work best on each platform. Ryzen has a slight advantage when it comes to single-core and multi-threaded performance but not by a huge margin.

As of now, objectively, the Ryzen 5000 outperforms the 11th-generation Intel Core in nearly every metric including power consumption due to the fact that it is built on a more refined 7nm process while Intel tracks at 14nm.

However, buyers should choose their platform with other components in mind. For example, Intel chipset motherboards are known to be more expensive and less feature-rich at mid-range pricing than the AMD platform. Benchmarks don’t paint the whole picture when it comes to CPUs either, as do a lot of other factors like RAM speeds, timings, and dependence on real-world GPU performance. Users must decide with the team in red or blue for the team based on budgets, upgradeability, and workloads.


What gaming CPU should I choose?

The CPUs listed here target different price and value ranges. While some are listed as entry-level CPUs for gaming, others are listed with no-compromise settings in mind. For those who tend to flow, they will also be mentioned. This list also takes into account that players will include a GPU in their setup and will not play on integrated graphics.

5. Ryzen 3 3300x – Entry Level King

The Ryzen 3 3300x is one of the best budget CPUs on the market right now (Image via AMD)
The Ryzen 3 3300x is one of the best budget CPUs on the market right now (Image via AMD)

to treat

TSMC 7nm FinFET

Basic count and clock speed

4 cores, 8 threads at 3.8-4.3 GHz

Power Consumption (TDP)

65 watts

price

100-120 USD

Positives:

  1. dirt cheap price
  2. Large numbers in both single-core and multi-threaded performance

Negatives:

  1. Previous generation devices, lower precision 7nm process
  2. It will be a bottleneck for more powerful GPUs like the RTX 3070 and above

4. Intel Core i5 11400F – Intel’s Best Value Deal Since Skylake

Intel Core i5 11400F targets a price range that AMD hasn't currently hit (Image via TechSpot)
Intel Core i5 11400F targets a price range that AMD is not currently reaching (Image via TechSpot)

to treat

14 nm

Basic count and clock speed

6 cores, 12 threads at 2.6-4.4GHz

Power Consumption (TDP)

65 watts

price

$160

Positives:

  1. Amazing gaming performance under $200
  2. Low energy consumption

Negatives:

  1. The 14nm process is inefficient and outdated
  2. A terrible stock cooler compared to its Ryzen counterparts. It will require another cooler to efficiently manage the CPU temperature under heavy load

3. Ryzen 5 5600x – Master of All Trades

The 5600x features the latest, greatest specs with solid performance and a great assembled cooler (Image via TechSpot)
The 5600x features the latest, greatest specs with solid performance and a great assembled cooler (Image via TechSpot)

to treat

Basic count and clock speed

6 cores, 12 threads at 3.7-4.6GHz

Power Consumption (TDP)

65 watts

price

$299

Positives:

  1. Best all-in-one CPU for the price of gaming and streaming
  2. Really high clock speeds help drive higher frame rates in heavy single-core games

Negatives:

  1. The launch price is higher than its predecessor
  2. Overclocking doesn’t seem to affect performance much

2. Ryzen 7 5800x – It’s All About Price-Performance Ratio

The Ryzen 7 5800x is more performance than most users need (Image via AMD)
The Ryzen 7 5800x is more performance than most users need (Image via AMD)

to treat

TSMC 7nm FinFET

Basic count and clock speed

8 cores, 16 threads at 3.8-4.7GHz

Power Consumption (TDP)

105 W

price

$449

Positives:

  1. Much cheaper than 5950x with nearly 90% performance
  2. Low power consumption for high quality chip

Negatives:

  1. Low overclocking
  2. Does not come with cooler included

1. Ryzen 9 5950x – The King of No Compromise

Ryzen 9 5950x is a performance beast without limitations (Image via HWcooling)
Ryzen 9 5950x is a performance beast without limitations (Image via HWcooling)

to treat

TSMC 7nm FinFET

Basic count and clock speed

16 cores, 32 threads at 3.4-4.9GHz

Power Consumption (TDP)

105 W

price

$799

Positives:

  1. Equip the best CPU on the market that can play and stream without throttling the GPU
  2. Incredibly fast clock speeds with low power consumption

Negatives:

  1. Much more expensive than other mainstream CPUs
  2. Does not come with cooler included

When it comes down to it, choosing a CPU simply depends on which GPU it will be paired with. Making a Ryzen 3 plus RTX 3080 combo would be a complete waste as the CPU would throttle the graphics card so much that the RTX 3080 would never show its potential.

Conversely, buying the 5950x just to pair it with the GTX 1650 will cause the GPU to be the bottleneck here. While the above options are among the best on the market, sometimes users don’t need that much power just to play at 1080p, which is still one of the most popular resolutions out there. In these scenarios, an Intel Core i5 11400F paired with an RTX 3060 is more than enough for gaming.

Ultimately, buyers need to measure their CPU and GPU purchases together, make sure there are no bottlenecks, and buy a set based on their budget.


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