If you're building your own rig, it's vital you get the best CPU for gaming that you can afford.
While not as essential as tracking down a great graphics card, getting the right CPU can make a huge difference not only to your games but to everything you do outside of play.
Chances are you'll be using your gaming PC for other things, which is where the CPU comes into its own. There are a handful of options for CPUs nowadays, although Intel still dominates the landscape.
We bought these CPUs for gaming, for testing on Amazon from the official sellers and if you want to get the same experience that we did, we highly recommend that you buy from the same place.
Intel Core i9-9900K
The best processor can meet a lot of things, for pure gaming the Intel Core i9-9900K is overkill unless you're planning on an extreme build with a top tier graphics card.
For those that do more than just playing games however, the Core i9-9900K reigns as the overall king of performance. It's the fastest mainstream CPU for the LCA 1 1 5 1 platform period.
The Core i9-9900K doesn't have the core counts found in chips like the i9-7980XE or Threadripper 2990WX, but it boasts the highest clock speed of any current processor with excellent per core performance.
Put it in a good enthusiast motherboard and you're likely to see all core stock clocks of 4.7 gigahertz with lighter workload hitting five gigahertz out of the box.
You'll need to bring your own cooling, which is Intel's approach to all its K series and X series processors and definitely don't skip. The i9-990K can draw a lot of power and tends to run hotter than the previous generation thanks to the extra cores.Even if you don't plan to overclock I'd be hesitant to run the i9-990K on air cooling.
Intel's Core i7-9700K
Intel's core i7-9700K is an interesting step down from the i9-990K. It supports the same number of CPU cores and clock speeds are similar as well with most Z390 boards running the chip with all core turbo speeds of 4.6 to 4.7 gigahertz.
In games it's effectively tied with the more expensive core i9, but costs one hundred to one hundred fifty dollars less. That's because for the first time Intel has shifted core i7 without hyper-threading. It's a balancing act between price performance and features.
Compared to the Core i7-8700K, it has 33% more cores, which generally translates directly into multi-threaded performance. Hyper-threading typically only improves performance by 10% - 15% so it's a net win. The lack of hyper-threading also means the i7-9700K doesn't get nearly as hot as the core i9 so you can get by with a good air cooler.
If your live-streaming doing video editing or any other serious content creation work stepping up to the 9900K makes sense, but if you're primarily concerned with gaming an 8 core clocking close to 5 gigahertz is as good as it gets.
Intel Core i7-8700K
The core i7-8700K still boasts excellent performance and clock at 5 gigahertz with a good cooler. It's also less expensive than the above CPUs at use at least for the time being and works on the same motherboards.
It's a bit of a toss up between this and the 9700K right now with the 8700K currently saving you around $50. There are a few caveats as well, like the fact that the i7-8700K depends on software and firmware mitigations for side channel attacks like Meltdown, Spectre and Foreshadow.
You also still need to bring your own cooler and unlike the 9th Generation Intel CPU's, you don't get solder as a thermal interface material. Dealing and using liquid metal can be a good investment for a long term overclocking as it provides a potential 10 - 20 Celsius drop in thermals.
Intel Core i5-8400
The Core i5-8400 brings a powerful six core design to the mid-range, offering class leading gaming performance and competitive performance in heavier applications. More expensive models offer more performance in both categories, but the Core i5-8400 is easily the pound for pound gaming champion.
The i5-8400 comes equipped with six physical cores and no hyper-threading, which is a 50 percent increase in cores compared to the i5 Series. The two point 8 gigahertz base frequency jumps to 4 gigahertz on a single core. That's complemented by varying multi-core boost frequencies based upon the number of active course.
AMD Ryzen 7 2700
The best AMD CPU for overclockers is the Ryzen 7 2700. At stock its a bit slower than the 2700 X and even the previous generation 1800X, and it's also slower than i7-8700K, however with a better cooler and overclock you can erase most of these deficits.
If you don't care to overclock, the Ryzen 7 2700X gets you better stock performance for a minor increase in price and includes a better cooler.
The reason the 2700 is such a great CPU for overclocking is that it's still fully unlocked, just like AMDs other Ryzen processors. At stock there's a 65 watt power limit in effect, which means in heavier worthloads, the clock speed can drop to around 3.5 gigahertz. Overclocking can get you back up to around 4.05 to 4.1 gigahertz with one point four to five volts in my testing, which is only 100 megahertz behind the more expensive 2700X.
Intel Core i9-7980XE
If your livelihood depends on getting complex tasks done as quickly as possible and don't mind splashing the cash, you should be able to justify Intel's Core i9- 7980 XE. If you don't build by the hour and could save hundreds of hours over the course of a year look no further, just don't pretend it's necessary for gaming.
Even with 80 percent more cores, the lower clock speed to each core makes the 7980XE generally slower in games than the 7900 X, which is in turn slower than a 9900K, 9700K and 8700K. Even in non gaming heavily threaded applications, it's still only about 30% faster than the 7900X.
AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX
If you were a professional looking for the absolute fastest multi-threaded performance possible in a single socket, look no further than AMDs Threadripper 2990WX.
32 cores at 3.0 to 4.2 gigahertz is unstoppable in the right workloads like scientific calculations and 3D rendering.
But there are also weaknesses in the many tasks that simply don't scale to that many cores and threads. Gaming is one of the weaknesses, not because you can't game, but because you end up with a platform that generally loses the Ryzen 7 desktop processors.
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