Best CPUs for Gaming: Q1 2019by Ian Cutress on February 8, 2019 9:00 AM EST
In our series of Best CPU guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Gaming CPUs list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing. Numbers in graphs reflect MSRP.
Best CPUs for Gaming Q1 2019
Sometimes choosing a CPU is hard. So we've got you covered. In our CPU Guides, we give you our pick of some of the best processors available, supplying data from our reviews. Our Best CPUs for Gaming guide targets most of the common system-build price points that typically pair a beefy graphics card with a capable processor, with the best models being suitable for streaming and encoding on the fly.
|AnandTech Gaming CPU Recommendations: Q1 2019
(Prices correct at time of writing)
|The $1500 Gaming PC||Ryzen 7 2700||$260||Core i5-9600K||$260|
|The $1000 Gaming PC||Ryzen 5 2600X||$200||Core i5-9600K
|The $700 Gaming PC||Ryzen 5 2600
Ryzen 5 2400G
|The $500 Gaming PC||Ryzen 3 2200G||$95||-||-|
|The $300 Gaming Potato||Athlon 200 GE||$60||-||-|
|Ones to Watch||AMD 3rd Generation Ryzen (Q2/Q3)
Intel F Processors (out now, sort of)
|To see our Best CPUs for Workstations Guide, follow this link:
The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well.
A Note on Favorite Choices:
For this version of the guide we have not selected ‘favorite choices’, purely because we are mid-cycle right now. Nothing much is going on until later this year. AMD has promised us its next generation Ryzen processors in the middle of the year (June?), and we’re not sure what Intel’s plans for the desktop are right now aside from filling out its 9th generation processor line, which is a minor bump on its 8th generation. Now is a good time to build a PC, given that the market will settle for the next few months.
The $1500-$2000 PC: Going for Gaming Gold
AMD Ryzen 7 2700 ($260, $50 cheaper than the 2700X) or
Intel Core i5-9600K ($260, $140 cheaper than the i7-9700K)
When building a gaming PC, the majority of the focus is on the graphics card: when all other components are sufficient, and the resolutions are high, the graphics card is often the limiting factor. Top-end machines will use cards like the RTX 2080 or the Radeon VII that cost around $700, sometimes even multiple cards, to push enough frames for that high-end 144 Hz display with a variable refresh rate. As long as the rest of the system is not a bottleneck, gaming enthusiasts are happy to sit higher up the price/performance curve with graphics. But with more games taking advantage of DirectX12, more CPU cores, virtual reality (VR), or even old games that rely on a single fast CPU core, having a processor that covers all areas is paramount.
Today we recommend the AMD Ryzen 7 2700 and Intel Core i5-9600K.
The AMD Ryzen 7 2700 ($260): The Smart Money on Performance
Both the Ryzen 7 2700X and Ryzen 7 2700 are the top tier AMD processors for the mainstream market today. The 2700X has the edge on peak TDP for longer turbo, a stock cooler with more bling, and higher frequencies, but for today we are recommending the Ryzen 7 2700, purely based on the price difference between the two.
Currently the Ryzen 7 2700 is $260, which is $50 cheaper than the 2700X. The MSRP difference between the two is $30, and at that difference, the 2700X is the smart choice. As that gap becomes wider, it starts to favor the 2700, as that CPU seems to be falling in price while the 2700X stays where it is.
The 2700 still gives eight full Zen+ cores of performance with hyperthreading, and the stock cooler still gives it some headroom for overclocking. Users in this price bracket might decide to get an after-market cooler (it will have to be beefy to compete with the Wraith Spire), in which case overclocking up to the 2700X (and beyond) should be very easy. But even at stock, the 2700 is a very nice performer.
You can compare the 2700X to the 2700, as well as any other CPU combination we have tested here at AnandTech, in our benchmark database, Bench.
The Intel Core i5-9600K ($260)
On the Intel side, our recommendation this time around has been upgraded from the i5-8600K to the i5-9600K, which sits at the same price. For the extra generational update, aside from frequency, this CPU also uses a soldered connection between the silicon and the heatspreader, which provides better thermals.
The launch of Intel’s 9th Generation Core processors has been an odd one – first there were three CPUs that were hard to find, and then in January another six CPUs were announced and their availability is also a factor in choosing a CPU. Stocks of those first three processors though, including the 9600K, seemed to have stabilized and you can pick one up today.
The Core i5-9600K is a six core processor with overclocking potential for $260. Sitting above it is the Core i7-9700K, an eight core processor also with overclocking, but for $410, and for raw gaming performance those two extra cores will not do much. According to our tests, at 1440p/4K resolutions, we’re seeing a tiny sub-2% performance difference, if at all.
You can compare the 9600K and the 9700K in our benchmark database, Bench.
Do I Buy AMD or Intel at $260?
If we directly compare the two, we see a mix and match approach. AMD, with two extra cores and hyperthreading, absolutely dominates in multithreaded testing, by almost 2x performance in some cases. For single threaded tests, Intel has the win. For gaming, Intel wins at low 720p/1080p resolutions more often than not, but at 1440p/4K gaming the results are practically identical across most of our tested titles since these resolutions are most commonly GPU-limited..
If you are gaming at low resolutions (720p) and high frame-rates (144-240 Hz), then the Intel i5-9600K might be the best buy. For anyone doing any additional productivity with the system, then the recommendation is the AMD Ryzen 7 2700.
The $1000 Gaming PC
AMD: Ryzen 5 2600X at $200 (Down $10 from $209)
Intel: Core i5-9600K at $260 or Core i3-8100 at $120
Our choices here essentially push the AMD and Intel options further apart due to pricing. AMD’s pricing allows us to recommend the more powerful 2600X part, but Intel’s recommendation is an odd one. In the $200 price band, we’ve previously recommended a Core i5-8500 or i5-8400 – not only does Intel not have a good 9th gen chip in that price, the Core i3-8100 is only $120.
AMD Ryzen 5 2600X ($200)
For a gamer who might be interested in streaming, or doing multiple tasks at the same time, the six-core Ryzen 5 2600X is eminently suitable. The gaming experience should be pitched for a very good quality 1920x1080 environment or a mid-quality 2560x1440 setup, with future upgrade options either on the CPU or processor. Users can take advantage of cheap B350 motherboards, or knock-down X370 with a relevant BIOS update, and still get a great experience.
This chip comes with its own good stock cooler, negating that extra cost, and for anyone building a workstation at this price, our Ryzen 5 2600X multi-threaded results easily surpassed anything Intel offers at the quad-core level, and even Intel’s latest chips are not competitive in multithreaded tests without spending double.
In our last few buyer’s guides, we have been deciding between the six-core i5-8400 and i5-8500 based on pricing around the $180 mark. They actually went up in price for our last guide. These processors are still at that level, however the quad Core i3-8100 is currently at a bargain price of $120. It’s hard not to be interested in that price, which could allow for a significant GPU upgrade in a $1000 PC.
There are some differences in gaming when comparing the quad-core i3 to a hex-core i5, especially in games like Ashes where more cores can help drive the number of units on screen. However in a lot of games, at a lot of different resolutions, the performance is almost identical when comparing the same graphics card. If you can afford a better graphics card due to the savings, then as long as there is no CPU bottleneck (depending on the title), then there is extra performance to be had.
I’ve also included the Core i5-9600K in here, as the new Intel 9th Gen processor with better thermal performance and overclocking ability. At $260 it might be a bit much for a $1000 build, depending on where you priorities lie.
The $700 Gaming PC
AMD: Ryzen 5 2600 at $160
AMD: Ryzen 5 2400G at $145 (was 2400G at $158)
Intel: Core i3-8100 at $120 (was i3-8100 at $130)
At this price point, I’ve decided to scale a little bit back on both CPUs to offer more money for a more rounded build. By cutting $40-60, this allows users to get a stage up on a GPU, or double the storage in a system.
While an AMD APU like the Ryzen 5 2400G is particularly good here, as it allows users to have a reasonable gaming experience with a discrete GPU, at the same price as our last guide now sits the Ryzen 5 2600, which will offer better performance. The 2400G is reduced by $15 compared to our last guide, that $15 price difference for two more cores when using a discrete GPU is likely to be better spent on the 2600. Users could go down another notch on CPU, to the Ryzen 3 2200G to save another $60 but still have a quad core, and spend more on memory/storage.
For the Intel side, the Core i3-8100 at $120 is a good recommendation here. The price provides room for other better components, and for this guide the price has dropped $10 since we last recommended it.
The $500 Gaming PC
At the $500 price point, the user needs to question if they have the budget for a discrete graphics card. In one swoop over half the budget could go to a GTX 1050, but having 4GB of DRAM and a 1TB mechanical hard-drive / 300W no-name brand PSU is just calling for a bad experience. AMD’s latest integrated graphics offerings are well positioned here, leaving more money for the rest of the system and a slot to upgrade in the future without having to sell an old card. Users looking at a GT 1030 graphics card with a reasonable CPU is really going to eat into the costs without compromising the CPU or the rest of the system.
For a $500 system, the top Ryzen 5 2400G APU is going to be a sweet purchase. It has four cores, eight threads, is overclockable to 3.9 GHz, and has integrated graphics that are more than acceptable for 1080p gaming and mid-quality settings. The 11 compute units in the integrated Vega graphics showcases AMD’s latest design, and the direct analogue from NVIDIA would be a GT 1030, which would impose an additional $100 cost to any price-equivalent Intel processor.
AMD’s APUs also comes bundled with a very decent stock cooler, which would also be an additional Intel system cost. With the extra money saved, going after some high speed memory to aid the graphics would be a good idea, which would also carry over if/when a big discrete GPU purchase is made in the future.
The alternative here from AMD is the other Ryzen APU, the Ryzen 3 2200G coming in at $99. This would allow a $500 system user that does not do much gaming to spend more money on the rest of the system, such as storage or memory, giving a system with a really nice setup. This also allows a future update to a large graphics card, again with performance within a couple percent of the big AMD chips.
A note on Intel: At this price point, we don’t think there’s room for an Intel system to do justice. Given Intel’s strategy of focusing more on the high end with its manufacturing, AMD has this market to itself.
The $300 Gaming Potato with Integrated Graphics
AMD Athlon 200GE at $60
For enthusiasts that have been building PCs for a number of years, it can sometimes be hard to re-image the brain to build for a low budget. At this price point the other options for gaming include consoles or last-gen consoles, so the idea here is to enable a user to do as much as possible for as little as possible. For gaming that is particularly difficult, as reasonably powerful discrete graphics cards start north of $150. Both AMD and Intel have chased after this price bracket with their integrated graphics solutions: pairing a CPU and GPU on the same piece of silicon and enabling both. Aside from a very expensive lunge from Intel a couple of years ago, AMD has been leading this space.
This time around, we’re actually downgrading from the Ryzen 3 2200G to the Athlon 200GE. Ultimately the 2200G is the better gaming processor, with Vega 8 over Vega 3, but $40 can go a long way in a system like this. It would mean moving to dual channel memory, which would have a direct impact on integrated gaming performance, or doubling or tripling the storage which would enable being able to game in the first place. Paired with a cheap A320 motherboard ($60), 8GB of DDR4-3000 memory ($72), a 1TB hard drive ($45), and a case/power supply combo ($50), it offers the seemless expansion to a faster storage driver later, or more memory, or a discrete GPU. There’s no need for a $30 cooler, as one of AMD’s good performing stock coolers comes in the box. The same motherboard and memory will also enable the top Ryzen 7 processor if a processor upgrade is needed further down the line.
The High-End Desktop Conundrum
It is worth noting that in these Gaming CPU Guides we have not recently recommended any high-end desktop processors. The base platform cost means that adding in any top model of graphics card at $600+ breaks our top $2000 budget band with ease, and the rest of the system would be a disappointment by comparison.
Something like an Intel Skylake-X build will start at a $999 processor (10-core) plus a $250 motherboard (X299) and ~$200 for memory (4x4GB) would already be $1400+ before we look at a top end graphics card or storage, going way above the $2000 budget of our top system.
Similarly with AMD, a 12-core Threadripper at $431 with a $249 motherboard (X399) and ~$200 for memory is only really valid with a high-end graphics card if the rest of the system is OK with being mediocre to average.
In both cases, there is little benefit of going beyond the best mainstream processors for single GPU gaming. For compute users, the story is different, but for anyone wanting the best from their money to play the latest titles, then a mainstream processor is needed.
With that all being said, we know that one or two new high-end desktop platforms are waiting in the wings.
The Ones to Watch
So far this year we have had AMD announce that they will be launching their new Ryzen 3rd Generation processors, using chiplets based on TSMC’s 7nm process, in the middle of this year. That normally means sometime in Q2 (April to June) or Q3 (July to September), and some smart money is predicting the around the middle of the year, given the Computex trade show is in June. AMD showed off an early sample, without final frequencies, of an eight core processor matching Intel’s best 14nm 8-core processor on a single benchmark. While AMD showed off an eight-core processor, they teased (based on the design) that it will have more. These processors will be drop in compatible with existing AM4 motherboards, allowing users to buy an AM4 system today and upgrade later when the processors are available.
On the other hand, Intel’s future launch schedule is a bit of an unknown. The company launched the 9th Gen Core processor line late last year, with three models that had soldered thermal material for better thermals and high frequencies that completely blew out any power budget left on the chips. Intel is now in the process of filling out that processor line, although due to high demand of its server chips, the company is spending more time making those, as it makes them more money. The news on Intel’s 10nm processor line is that they expect to have laptop chips available by the end of 2019, which means desktop chips might happen sometime in 2020. This leaves a gap for the rest of 2019, and no real answer to AMD, unless the company plans to launch another round of 14nm CPUs later this year. At this point, we do not know what Intel’s plans are.
Overall, we’re actually in a bit of a quiet period when it comes to CPUs. After the last 24 months being launch after launch, I’m a bit glad that I now have time to take stock of what has happened! But this means it is a great time for users looking to build a new PC. There’s nothing coming along so quickly that won’t have you biting your nails, and what is coming along in the middle of the year will be drop in compatible with what you buy today.
Today is a good day, for gaming!
The AnandTech CPU Coverage
Our big CPU reviews for the last 12 months have covered all the launches so far, and are well worth a read.
|AnandTech 2018 CPU Coverage|
|February||Ryzen 5 2400G
Ryzen 3 2200G
|March||Ryzen APU Delid||-|
|April||Ryzen 7 2700X
Ryzen 7 2700
Ryzen 5 2600X
Ryzen 5 2600
|January||Athlon 200GE||Core i3-8121U
Pentium Gold G5400
|All of our processor benchmarks can be found in Bench, our database.
|Ryzen 5 2500X
Ryzen 3 2300X
|Xeon E Quad Cores|
*If any Intel or AMD product managers want to get in contact to help sample more, please send an email.
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