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 Q4 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: Q4 2019
(Prices correct at time of writing)
Segment Recommendation
  Top Choice Runner Up
Flagship Gaming Intel Core i9-9900KS $599 AMD Ryzen 9 3950X $749
The $1500 Gaming PC AMD Ryzen 7 3800X $355 Intel Core i7-9700 $323
The $1000 Gaming PC AMD Ryzen 5 3600X $235 - -
The $700 Gaming PC AMD Ryzen 5 2600 $120 Intel Core i3-8100 $130
The $500 Gaming PC AMD Ryzen 3 3400G $130 - -
The $300 Gaming Potato AMD Athlon 3000G $49 - -
Ones to Watch Intel Comet Lake?
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.

*Please note that the top image to our guide is just a fun picture, not actual recommendations.

Flagship Gaming PC

For the users that want a no-holds barred type of machine that specifically focuses on the system’s ability to push pixels proudly, then the key metrics of core frequency come into play. Going in at the high-end of the consumer market affords additional luxuries, such as the potential to game and stream from a single system, or multi-task between gaming and other uses. The top-end processors that fall in this category might not have the most number of cores, but they aim to offer the fastest user experience possible with your operating system of choice.

This year we’ve seen two high-powered processors battle it out on the stage. Intel has its new super binned Core i9-9900KS at $513 (1ku*), which offers more all-core frequency over its slightly cheaper i9-9900K at $488 (1ku*) which should give it a slight edge as games use more cores and users do more with it. The downside to this chip is that it needs to be cooled a lot (we saw 172W at peak), and users might have to add at least $80 or more for sufficient long-term cooling. But nonetheless, especially at low resolution high-frame rate gaming, the Core i9-9900KS hits the top spots.

*1ku means 1000 units, i.e. the price at which Intel sells to OEM partners who buy 1000 units at a time. Consumer retail price is usually higher than this by $15-$20, or more for premium CPUs.

There are two other caveats to this CPU, however. Firstly, Intel says that the 9900KS is only going to be produced for a limited time, so users who want one can’t sit waiting to decide. The other is the price – even though Intel’s OEM price is $513, it is currently listed for $599 on the popular online retailers.

9900KS Widget

The alternative is AMD’s flagship, the Ryzen 9 3950X which we reviewed very recently. This processor costs more ($749 is MSRP, expect it to be more if stock is limited), but claims to offer a 4.7 GHz single core turbo. The Zen 2 architecture technically has higher IPC than Intel’s Coffee Lake, so despite the lower frequency, should come out slightly ahead. In our testing, we see nearer 4.2 GHz when several cores are loaded, meaning that overall AMD is slightly behind, but the effective use of 16 cores means that for users that do workloads other than gaming, perhaps simultaneously, then this chip is preferred. It also runs at a lower power, offers direct M.2 storage, and PCIe 4.0 connectivity.

The Ryzen 9 3950X should be available at retail from the 25th November.

Both these systems, paired with something like an NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti ($1100-$1200), with an appropriate motherboard, 32 GB of memory, at least a 1 TB SSD, case, power supply, and everything else, is going to cost $2500-$3000, and more if we add more memory, go for a high-end motherboard, NVMe storage, etc.

The $1500-$2000 Gaming PC

AMD Ryzen 7 3800X ($355)
Intel Core i7-9700 ($323)

For anyone looking at a strong 4K gaming build, we have to look at the premium end of the consumer market in order to help drive those high-end graphics cards. Based on our testing at this resolution, the CPU starts to make little difference in frame rates, although as we look at higher refresh rates/lower frequency, getting a high frequency and high IPC does help. Both AMD and Intel have produced literature stating how their CPUs perform the best when it comes to gaming, but our pick here will be the AMD Ryzen 7 3800X.

3800X widget

At a price of $355 where available, users will be looking at one of NVIDIA’s Super cards for graphics, and then hopefully put together the rest of the system with a decent enough motherboard, storage, and DRAM. If we started looking at the $499 CPUs, then it would cut into that graphics card budget. Plus, at $349 we get the benefits of PCIe 4.0 with AMD, and in single chiplet mode there is no argument about cross-chiplet communication latencies. We have the Ryzen 7 3800X in our labs for testing soon, so stay tuned for that.

If users absolutely want Intel, then the Core i7-9700 is a good choice. It is slightly cheaper, but doesn’t come with a bundled cooler. It does peak at 4.7 GHz, and there’s likely to match the 3800X on variable core performance, although where the 3800X has 8 cores and 16 threads, the Core i7-9700 only has 8 cores and 8 threads, as well as slightly slower recommended supported memory. The potential upside is that there are plenty of cheap motherboards for the i7-9700 to go into, while the X570 motherboard market is still young and expensive.

The $1000 Gaming PC

AMD Ryzen 5 3600X ($235)

As we move down into more casual PC gaming territory, it starts to become difficult to recommend a good CPU at this price: naturally a lot of money will end up on graphics here, meaning that CPU+GPU could easily account for 60% of the total build cost. In that case, we have to make sure that the CPU can still take a good graphics card at high refresh rates or larger resolutions. For this, we’ve chosen the low-end of AMD’s newest offerings, the Ryzen 5 3600X, coming in at $235.

3600x widget

This six-core processor still has high frequencies, support for fast memory, and PCIe 4.0 for future upgrades, as well as a bundled stock cooler that’s pretty good. At this point, at this system price, it’s nice to be a little future proofed at any rate. Because of the microarchitecture, we still get real nice performance for day-to-day non-gaming workloads, and gaming still works out great for the price point. If we pair it with 8 GB of DDR4, a 512GB NVMe drive, and an RTX 2060, we’re at around $750, leaving $250 for a motherboard, case, and power supply.

The $700 Gaming PC:

AMD Ryzen 5 2600 ($120)
Intel Core i3-8100 ($130)

For the market at this time, the $700 PC is a bit of a black sheep. At this price, you ultimately don’t want to still be on integrated graphics, but users will end up spending almost 40% or more of the build on a graphics card, so the CPU has to be just right. AMD has APUs in this space built on the older architecture, whereas Intel offers some high-frequency quad-core CPUs that will power a good graphics card just fine. In this case we’re putting in for the i3-8100/i3-9100, depending on availability, which should retail for around $130. Again, add in 8 GB of DDR4, a 512GB NVMe drive, and an RTX 1650, and we have just enough left for that motherboard/case/power supply. Unfortunately here you also need a CPU cooler, which adds another $25.

AMD doesn’t have any of its latest Zen 2 offerings at this price (except in places like Russia, where the Ryzen 5 3500 might be available), however the previous generation Ryzen CPUs are getting very cheap. The Ryzen 5 2600 is currently available for $120, and comes with six core and twelve threads, a lot more than Intel can offer at this price, making it a better option for anyone that does more compute than just gaming.

The $500 Gaming PC

AMD Ryzen 5 3400G ($130)

Crossing down into the $500 system market and we really have gone into APU territory. At this price, NVMe might not even be a valid option either, depending on how much needs to be spent where, and we’re on the verge of moving from integrated graphics to discrete graphics. For our recommendation, we stay on integrated graphics, which puts AMD’s APUs in line for consideration. At $99, the AMD Ryzen 5 3200G offers AMD’s latest APU with Vega 8 graphics, which is certainly sufficient for a large number of popular games. For users willing to scrimp on other parts of the system, the Vega 11 AMD Ryzen 5 3400G, currently available at $130, will be a sizeable upgrade. The latter will certainly be capable should someone want to add in a discrete graphics card at a later point.

The $300 Minimum Spec

AMD Athlon 3000G ($49)

There’s no way around it here – in order to afford the bare minimum on motherboard, case, DRAM, and storage, it doesn’t leave much options for a CPU, with probably $70 left at most. In this category we either have a range of Intel dual core Pentiums to choose from, or dual-core Athlons for better graphics. In a gaming system, I’d pick the graphics option here, and with AMD’s unlocked 45W Athlon 3000G being bundled with a 65W cooler, I’d again go for AMD here. (There’s also the fact that Intel’s high demand issues means they are focusing on the high-end of the market right now, rather than at this end.)

The AMD Athlon 3000G should be available from the 19th November.

Just Launched: High-End Desktop

When we reviewed the AMD Ryzen 9 3950X recently, with its 16 cores in the mainstream AM4 platform, I posed the question on social media if this chip counts as a high-end desktop part, given the high core count and the price, or if the use of the AM4 platform, with only dual channel memory and 24 PCIe lanes, meant it was still mainstream. After almost 850 votes, in a 79:21 victory, users said that because it was AM4 still, this processor was still mainstream. Since this poll, we have had two high-end desktop launches: one from AMD and one from Intel.

AMD launched its 3rd generation Threadripper platform, along with associated TRX40 motherboards and processors up to 32 cores, on November 25th. These processors have the same Zen 2 chiplets as the popular Ryzen 3000 series, but now it is in a platform with double the memory bandwidth (four channels rather than two) and more than double the PCIe lanes (64 on the processor, rather than 24), along with quadruple the CPU-to-chiplet bandwidth than Intel. These processors will start at $1300, and are geared towards the workstation market, so expect to see some mention in our upcoming workstation guide. 

Intel’s efforts are directed at its new Cascade Lake-X processor family. The CPUs were also launched on November 25th, and give increased frequencies compared to the previous Skylake-X Refresh hardware. The top processor is the Core i9-10980XE, offering 18 cores for $999. Note that this is half the price of the Core i9-9980XE, which was released at $1979. These new Cascade Lake-X CPUs will fit in the same X299 motherboards, offer up to 48 PCIe lanes from the processor, and quad channel memory. But it is worth noting that Intel recently disclosed some security vulnerabilities which Cascade Lake-X is vulnerable to, and new microcode is being rolled out that could have a small performance deficit. At the same time, while Intel’s high-end desktop tops out at 18-cores, AMD’s HEDT platform starts at 24 cores. These are interesting times.

On The Horizon: Comet Lake?

Another wrench into the mix is Comet Lake, another round of Intel’s 14nm, coming to the desktop. We already know from various sources that parts and systems are being built for the new hardware, however Intel hasn’t mentioned it in any official briefing yet, nor is there a launch date, or how it will differ compared to the current Coffee Lake refresh hardware. Potential improvements could include Wi-Fi support directly on the chipset, or perhaps a higher binned memory controller, or perhaps more cores, but until Intel is ready to say something, we don’t know much at this point. We do have the annual CES trade show happening in early January, so come back then to see if Intel will say something more.

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  • Reflex - Sunday, November 17, 2019 - link

    Because whether or not there is expected failure, there is an expectation on the support side for what Intel will have available to OEM's and corporate clients in terms of replacement units and technical support. By limiting support to a year they both cost control support, and create a de-facto market limitation that prevents adoption into markets that expect long term support.

    There is no reason to put a long warranty on a CPU, as stated failure is rare. But they do serve as a method of signaling to potential customers where a product fits in their portfolio.
    Reply
  • Total Meltdowner - Tuesday, November 19, 2019 - link

    wew lad, warranty is important. It gives you confidence in your product.
    1year is basically saying you think it will die after 1 year at those GHz.
    Reply
  • bji - Saturday, November 30, 2019 - link

    I have never had a CPU fail in any system I have ever used, home or work. I have no idea how many computers that is, but it must be dozens and dozens. I have never even heard of a CPU failing, although I have no doubt it happens.

    CPU warranties are fairly meaningless. I don't even look at them and do not consider them in any way when choosing a CPU.
    Reply
  • EdgeOfDetroit - Saturday, November 16, 2019 - link

    The $1000 PC CPU choice should be the i3-9350KF at $180. Its has a better base clock AND boost clock and its latest-gen Intel which means better IPC, AND its cheaper by 23% ~ $55, money which can be used to get a better GPU, which will actually make a difference in performance. This i3 is the old i5, which is what you want at this price range. And all that is before considering overclocking. The 2 extra cores of the AMD makes no difference for gaming at this price range. Reply
  • AshlayW - Sunday, November 17, 2019 - link

    Commented because I actually thought you were joking but I think now it is beginningto sink in that you are indeed serious. My friend, you are blatantly clueless and should not be commenting recommending any CPU. $1000 CPU with an i3? 4 cores 4 threads? I rwecently bought an R5 2600X for $120, brand new; I don't have words to describe the kind of slaughter the 2600X does to the 9350 even in games (unless you love <30 FPS minimums). The 3600 is barely any more expensive and is superior in every conceivable metric including games.

    You are so clueless I am going away saddened that there are such people as ignorant as you commenting here :(

    Unless you are joking, then I'm sorry. the Sarcasm is a bit thick for me
    Reply
  • raddude9 - Sunday, November 17, 2019 - link

    There are very few reviews of the i3-9350 that I can find, but I did see this one:
    https://bit-tech.net/reviews/tech/cpus/intel-core-...
    While the games it's tested on do show impressive performance, there's a big caveat, have a look at the 3DMark Time Spy result, unlike the games tested, that's a directX12 test, and the i3-9350's result is nothing short of abysmal. That's Directx12 for you, it makes use of multiple cores much better and it's an indication of how poorly the 9350 is going to perform is the next year.
    Now have a look at that review again and notice that the 9350K performs worse than the i5-9400, now check out any review of the Ryzen 3600 (not the X version, that's just a lot of extra money for very little gain) and notice how it performs relative to the i5-9400.

    The core i3-9350KF is $183 on amazon at the moment, that's a lot of money for a meagre 4 hardware threads. The Ryzen 5-3600 is $194, for a 6-core/12-thread CPU that's going to last far better than the 9350.
    If you want to stick with Intel (maybe you like running games at a low resolution and very high frame rate?) the i5-9400F is $145 at the moment and the i5-9600KF is just $195, both 6-core/6-thread cpus.

    The core i3 9350 had a valid but narrow use-case when it was released, but there is no valid reason to buy one now.
    Reply
  • yetanotherhuman - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    ... no. Reply
  • flyingpants265 - Wednesday, November 20, 2019 - link

    What's an i3? Reply
  • GreenReaper - Saturday, November 23, 2019 - link

    Intel's marketing division segment for the CPU - less features than i5, no hyperthreading (multiple threads per core). Lower down is the Pentium and then Celeron brands. Of course a particular CPU design may spread across different product segmentation brands but with different restrictions and quality binning levels (which control speed at a given voltage). Reply
  • airdrifting - Saturday, November 16, 2019 - link

    Whoever thinks 9600K is a better choice for gaming clearly has never played a 64 player high CPU utilization FPS game. Also searching for "best XXXXX" on the internet hoping to get a good recommendation is not that different from pick a choice blindly, because all those articles are either written by idiots without a clue or paid infomercials. Good information comes at a price, those are easily obtained via one button search is usually junk. Reply

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