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)
Segment AMD Intel
The $1500 Gaming PC Ryzen 7 2700 $260 Core i5-9600K $260
The $1000 Gaming PC Ryzen 5 2600X $200 Core i5-9600K
Core i3-8100
$260
$120
The $700 Gaming PC Ryzen 5 2600
Ryzen 5 2400G
$160
$145
Core i3-8100 $120
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:
https://www.anandtech.com/show/11891/best-cpus-for-workstations

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.

Intel Core i5-9600K ($260) or Core i3-8100 ($120)

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

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G at $169 or
AMD Ryzen 3 2200G at $99

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
Segment AMD Intel
2018
January - -
February Ryzen 5 2400G
Ryzen 3 2200G
-
March Ryzen APU Delid -
April Ryzen 7 2700X
Ryzen 7 2700
Ryzen 5 2600X
Ryzen 5 2600
-
May - -
June - Core i7-8086K
July - Xeon W-2195
Xeon W-2155
Xeon W-2123
Xeon W-2104
Xeon W-2102
August TR2 2990WX
TR2 2950X
-
September - -
October TR2 2970WX
TR2 2920X
Core i9-9900K
Core i7-9700K
Core i5-9600K
November - Core i9-9980XE
Xeon E-2186G
Xeon E-2176G
Xeon E-2146G
Xeon E-2136
December - -
2019
January Athlon 200GE Core i3-8121U
Xeon W-3175
Pentium Gold G5400
All of our processor benchmarks can be found in Bench, our database.
http://anandtech.com/Bench
Upcoming Testing
in Q1*
Ryzen 5 2500X
Ryzen 3 2300X
Athlon 240GE
Athlon 220GE
Xeon E Quad Cores

*If any Intel or AMD product managers want to get in contact to help sample more, please send an email.

If users have any requests, leave a comment below or ping me on Twitter @IanCutress

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79 Comments

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  • Oxford Guy - Sunday, February 10, 2019 - link

    3 GB is stupid. The 7970 came out with 3 GB three thousands years ago. Reply
  • letmepicyou - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    I would like to say something about the "budget gaming builds" like your "$300 gaming potato" and "$500 gaming build". Isn't it about time we stop promoting magical left handed near sighted unicorn riding leprechauns?
    How many times I must have argued against the very NOTION of a "$500 gaming computer". Invariably, what happens is somebody builds a $500 "gaming computer" and a week later they're scouring forums and message boards looking for a solution as to why they're getting 25 fps playing GTA V at medium settings.

    We need to stop lying to school children and telling them "You can be anything you want!" (a nice sentiment if their parents are millionaires) and be honest. "Most of you will work either factory or service industry jobs."

    And we need to stop lying to people that they can build a $400 or $500 "gaming PC". You might be able to build a $4-500 PC that can sometimes play a few light duty games. But you can NOT build a "$500 gaming pc".
    Figure $100 for Windows, just to start.
    Figure $100 MINIMUM for a case and decent power supply.
    Now you're going to buy a CPU, RAM, Motherboard, and a video card for $300?
    My lily white a$$ you are. And note how they always omit the cost of windows in their "budget builds". And gaming keyboards, mice, and monitors? Well sure you're in the market for a "budget gaming PC" but of course you already HAVE all those. Except...probably not.

    Can I interject a bit of realism? If $300 is your budget, you can slide into a nice Xbox or Playstation. There is a market already in existence for those folks, they're called "consoles". If you show up to this party with a $500 budget, I'm going to direct you elsewhere. PC gaming has a hobby is expensive. I didn't MAKE it so, but it IS so. You might ENVISION racing a turbo Porsche 911, but if your racing budget buys you a Neon, then you're in a Neon. And if your gaming budget says you fly a console, you fly a console.

    Imnsho, we need to stop making false claims to people about these magical budget builds. They're not REAL. If you want to stand up and argue "But I only spent blah blah" then I'll argue that you're FAR from satisfied with it, if you're HONEST. You're pushing 25 fps in a game that a console will do 40fps on with better graphics? You quickly begin making plans to spend a few more hundred dollars on your "budget gaming pc" to get it up to snuff.

    I'm just a bit tired of the PC gaming community NOT being honest for what it is. If you want to play at this poker table, the buy in is high, the rules are stringent, and the rewards are great. If you can't play with the "high rollers" at the $1000+ gaming PC table? There is plenty of room at the console table.
    Reply
  • Irata - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    It really depends on the kind of gaming you want to do - if it's for the kid playing games like Fortnite, then you can get a a machine that the parents can also work on and the performance for both is good.

    But yes, for the lower budget a console is imho really a better pick, especially if you picked up one of the Black Friday deals like an XBox One S with a game for €160 - there's still enough money to get a decent PC for Office and Internet tasks and stay under €500 total.
    Reply
  • kpb321 - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    A $500 gaming PC is pretty tight especially if you need to include KB/Mouse/Monitor in that but some of your numbers seem simply designed to make it impossible. Linux does exist and Linux gaming is a thing. Heck Steam is available on Linux. Most people will probably want windows but it isn't required. $100 for a case and power supply? You can get basic budget case and PS for ~$50 after MIR. There's almost always a Corsair/EVGA or similar 450-550W PS for ~$20 after MIR on newegg etc. Combine that with a generic case and you're good. Not going to get a 600W+ modular PSU or a fancy case with a bunch of stuff included but for a basic gaming system you're going to have to accept that to get something resembling decent performance. RX570's have been ~$120-$130 after MIR pretty regularly. Personally I got a RX570 8GB model for $100 after MIR which you can fit into a budget gaming build. Reply
  • letmepicyou - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    I have been gaming since "Pong" (I may be dating myself here). I have been using Linux-powered machines for at least 10 years. I have machines that currently run Windows as ones that run Linux. Having installed STEAM on my Linux-powered boxes, I can attest to one simple fact.

    Linux gaming is spotty at BEST.

    Out of all the games I have on my STEAM account, I can say a little more than HALF of my games won't run under Linux. Even games I have which I KNOW run under Linux (UT2004, anyone? We've ALL played UT2k4 on Linux at some point I would hope), STILL don't support running running under Linux in STEAM. Why? I have NO idea.

    So once again, CAN you run a Linux gaming rig? Absolutely. But, once again, guess what you'll be doing. Scouring message boards and forums trying to find "How to make game XXX work under Linux". Sounds like fun. So you want to build a gaming computer. Guess what. YOU NEED WINDOWS. Sorry, but this is the tall and short of it.

    As far as power supplies and cases go, you can even forego the case COMPLETELY and screw the board to the underside of your desk. Whatevs. But I'll also say this. If you get a $50 case with a power supply, once again, you'll be in the forums and message boards asking things like "I just built a new PC and it keeps restarting and blue screening, help!!!" and you'll see folks who say "What power supply?" and invariably the advice will be "Buy a better power supply."
    So once again, you're back to re-buying equipment in a desperate attempt to shoe-horn yourself into a budget gaming computer, when you could have spent the proper cost of entry to begin with.

    I will maintain the idea that, if you want to get into PC Gaming, you can do it ON THE CHEAP for $750. This is a realistic budget for a PROPER "Gaming PC". Honestly tho bring $1000 and the conversation will have a lot fewer furrowed brows and the games will have fewer stuttering framerates.
    Reply
  • kpb321 - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    Here's what I put together.
    https://pcpartpicker.com/list/qNjcsZ
    $515 AR with KB/Mouse/Monitor and even an optical drive included with a RX570. The PS isn't anything special but I've been using a comparable Corsair for years without problems and they are pretty common as inexpensive power supplies and lots of people haven't had problems with them. Again the case isn't anything special but once it's put together who cares? Windows is an omission and if you want a legitimate copy it will be another ~$100 or you can pick up a grey market license for cheap or always go for the tried and true option of pirating it. Like I said it is tight and does definitely have compromises but not impossible. Sure another $50 or $100 can make things a lot easier and bumping up to $750 can eliminate most of the compromises you have to make for a system like this. If you can reuse some parts, even KB/Mouse/Monitor, or pick up something used locally from Craigslist, goodwill, etc, it can help a lot.
    Reply
  • letmepicyou - Friday, February 08, 2019 - link

    Ok so, add a mouse and Windows and you're just over $650, but you're still running into stuttering frame rates with the Ryzen 3. When I talk "gaming pc" there are some assumptions.
    Such as, we're talking a modern "Gaming PC". That means that you can play any game currently being sold at a playable frame rate, and I would even go so far as to say that to justify getting into this arena in the first place, you'd like to see graphics levels that are at least equal to consoles, else...what's the point? Seeing as there are current games with recommended specs of Ryzen 5's and i7's, why on earth would you consider Ryzen 3 if it doesn't meet the recommended specs of modern games?
    Once again, we're talking modern gaming computers here. The assumption is you want to run GTA5, Assassins's Creed Odyssey, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Battlefield V, ect. If this is NOT your goal, building a modern PC for gaming is moot. Head to Craigslist and pick up a used Gen 1 i5 for $25 and load up GTA: San Andreas or UT2004. There is no use to even DISCUSS building a gaming PC if running 10 year old games is the goal. I can hobble a $500 pc together, too, Would take me about 5 minutes. Will it play Battlefield V at acceptable frame rates and detail levels? Nope. For that, we need something like...another few hundred bucks.

    I won't argue that it's possible to build a $500 pc. My argument is simply that you can't build a $500 pc that will do what you want it to do with modern games. And if it won't do that, then there is no reason to consider building it, and there is no reason to lure poor suckers into finding this magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, because it simply doesn't exist.
    Reply
  • WarlockOfOz - Saturday, February 09, 2019 - link

    My gaming pc still has a GTX750ti and an Athlon x4. There isn't a single game it's not capable of running; I've actually had the money put aside for a modern replacement (would be 2600x + 2070 if it dies tomorrow) for a couple of years but haven't bothered because it's still a great gaming experience - story beats don't lose power with fewer pixels. Given that a 2400G thumps the Athlon and is also within spitting distance of the 750ti I'd say it's very possible to have a good time with a cheap build. Reply
  • Death666Angel - Saturday, February 09, 2019 - link

    "My argument is simply that you can't build a $500 pc that will do what you want it to do with modern games. And if it won't do that, then there is no reason to consider building it," Then you are crap at arguing, because you are using all kinds of fallacies here, strawman, shifting goal posts etc. Reply
  • WarlockOfOz - Saturday, February 09, 2019 - link

    Even ignoring mixed use cases (how good is a playstation at writing an email, managing your budget or preparing a presentation?) there's a decent argument to get a technically weaker PC rather than a console with the same price point. You might have to drop a resolution or turn down detail in the latest shooter but there are whole genres on PC that are rarely seen on consoles, a far stronger indie scene, easier access to a wide and deep back catalogue, mouse controls and generally cheaper games. Reply

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