If you don’t have the time to research benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.
July 2017 Updates
The last installment of our Best CPU article generated intense reader feedback. This month, we made a few adjustments to clarify this column's focus: we want to help you find the best CPU for your gaming rig.
It's been a busy few months in the lab. We examined Intel's Core i9-7900X and found some troubling performance regressions due to the new mesh architecture. We also encountered plenty of thermal headaches. In either case, the $1000 Core i9-7900X lands well above the price points we recommend for gaming processors. The high-end desktop tax typically isn't worth paying.
Interestingly, the Ryzen 7 1800X really stood out in our Skylake-X testing. We retested it after a string of motherboard firmware, chipset, and game patches, and discovered impressive improvements compared to our initial rounds of testing...
...which brings us to our current set of recommendations. AMD addressed many of the gaming-oriented concerns we had about Ryzen. Performance, stability, and memory compatibility are all notably better. And that's before testing the much-anticipated v.184.108.40.206 AGESA update.
We're using a geometric mean of the 99th percentile frame times, which we convert into an FPS measurement, to provide an easy-to-read performance outlook. The FHD 99th percentile results are a good indicator of smoothness. This methodology is applied to our entire suite, which includes six titles released in 2016 and four older games that launched in 2015. Many feel that Ryzen's extra threads could enable more performance in the future as software evolves to utilize them better, but what-ifs aren't factored into our data-based analysis. We can, however, provide additional charts that only include newer games, which tend to utilize host processing resources more thoroughly.
We also have price-to-performance charts that get split up to include both the price of the processor and extra platform costs. For the models that don't come with a bundled cooler, we add an extra $25 you'll need to spend. We also add $20 if overclocking requires a more expensive motherboard (going from a cheaper Intel chipset to Z270, for example).
The Core i5-7500 offers a solid dose of gaming performance that the overclocked Ryzen 5 1500X can't overcome. Like the 1500X, it comes with a bundled cooler, and a locked multiplier means you won't need a more expensive heat sink for overclocking.
However, the Ryzen 5 1600 is faster still, even in its stock form, for $20 more. Ryzen 5 1600 fills the pricing gap between Core i5-7500 and -7600K. Factoring in the unlocked ratio multiplier and beefy stock cooler, it's the best mid-range value choice. If you have the cash, we recommend stepping up to the Ryzen 5 1600 over Intel's Core i5-7500. At stock settings, it's also very close to the Core i5-7600K in newer games.
The capable Ryzen 5 1600X offers solid performance within a few FPS of Core i5-7600K in older titles, but you likely won't notice much of a difference if you're already bottlenecked by a mainstream graphics card. The Ryzen 5 1600X really shines in our suite's more modern titles. If newer games are your focus, you get a capable chip that leads the Core i5-7600K for only $11 more. Then again, the -7600K offers better performance once you overclock it, so long as you're willing to splurge on a beefier heat sink and Z270-based motherboard. We factored in those costs to reflect a price premium, but when it comes to the fastest possible chip for less than $250, the Core i5-7600K delivers after a bit of tuning.
The $85 G4560 and $115 Core i3-7100 remain uncontested at their respective price points, at least until the Ryzen 3 series lands. Intel's Core i3-7100 isn't the best value per se (you only gain ~10% more performance for an extra $30 over the G4560), but it plugs the massive $114 price gap.
There's plenty left to do in the lab, including testing the Core i7-7740X and i5-7640X. Given the high costs associated with Intel's X299 platform, we fully expect them to be no-shows on our Best CPU recommendations.
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