Best CPU for gaming 2021: the top Intel and AMD processors

It’s easy to forget about your CPU when it comes to boosting your PC’s gaming performance, but finding the right processor can often make a surprising difference to your overall frame rate, especially if you tend to play games at 1920×1080. To help you get the best gaming CPU for you and your budget, we’ve put together this list of our top Intel and AMD processors. Whether you’re building a budget-friendly 1080p machine or a high-powered mega rig, here are my best CPU for gaming recommendations for 2021.

When it comes to picking the best CPU for gaming, there are a couple of things to bear in mind. First, you’ll need to make sure you pair it with the right motherboard, as Intel and AMD processors both use different sockets to slot into their respective boards. We cover all this in our dedicated motherboard and CPU guide, so make sure to have a read of that if you’re unsure what to go for. You’ll also find everything you need to know about how to install your CPU in our how to build a PC guide.

Secondly, it’s important to think about what you actually want to do on your PC. If you regularly stream games online, for example, or use your PC for intensive creative tasks such as video editing or animation software in addition to playing games, then you’ll want a CPU with lots of cores, as your PC needs to be very good at multi-tasking to stream, edit and render quickly. If that sounds like you, I’d recommend AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X or Ryzen 9 5900X, as they’re both quite a bit faster than Intel’s Core i9-10900K, especially when it comes to gaming.

The focus of this list, however, is finding the best CPU for everyday gaming PCs. The processors I’ve selected below offer everything you need for great value gaming performance, and they’ve all got more than enough power to handle general desktop duties, too. Remember, this list isn’t set in stone, and it will change over time as new CPUs get released and older models go end of life. It’s constantly evolving, but I’m confident that all of my choices below will provide a great foundation for your new gaming PC for years to come.

All pricing info is correct at time of writing, but if you want to try and bag yourself a CPU bargain, then you can keep track of all the latest CPU prices by reading our regularly updated CPU deals page.

Best CPU for gaming 2021

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

The best AMD CPU for gaming and best overall CPU for gaming

A photo of AMD's Ryzen 5 5600X CPU in front of its retail box and its accompanying Wraith Stealth cooler.

If there was one processor that really knocked our socks off at the end of last year, it was AMD’s Ryzen 5 5600X. Offering buckets of performance for almost half the power cost of Intel’s Core i5-10600K, the Ryzen 5 5600X isn’t just our pick for the best AMD CPU for gaming; it’s our choice for the best overall CPU for gaming as well.

Thanks to AMD’s new Zen 3 CPU architecture, the Ryzen 5 5600X isn’t just fast. It’s also highly efficient, allowing both its gaming and general desktop performance to soar above its Intel competition. It also comes with its own cooler in the box, and you don’t need mega expensive RAM to get the best out of it, either – which isn’t always true over on Intel’s side of the fence. What’s more, the Ryzen 5 5600X is also compatible with all of AMD’s X570 and B550 chipset AM4 socket motherboards, and most X470 and B450 motherboards will support it after a BIOS update, giving you loads of flexibility when it comes to picking a motherboard.

Yes, AMD’s Ryzen 7 5800X and Ryzen 9 5900X CPUs are technically a bit faster and better-suited for things like video editing and streaming and the like, but if all you’re after is a solid foundation for a good old-fashioned gaming PC, the Ryzen 5 5600X offers everything you need (especially when our tests show its gaming performance really isn’t that far behind its more expensive siblings).

It’s a fantastic CPU, and our number one pick for those building a new PC right now.

Intel Core i5-10600K

The best Intel CPU for gaming

The Intel Core i5-10600K is our best gaming CPU pick for 2020

Out of all of Intel’s 10th Gen Comet Lake processors, the Core i5-10600K is definitely the pick of the bunch. Yes, the Core i9-10900K is technically the best Intel gaming CPU you can buy right now, but it’s phenomenally expensive and is massive overkill for anyone building a regular gaming PC. If you’re an avid streamer, there may be a case for opting for the Core i9-10900K or the Core i7-10700K, but if you’re just playing games for your own enjoyment, then there’s really no need to go for anything more powerful or expensive.

Indeed, my benchmark results show the Core i5-10600K is actually just as powerful as Intel’s older Core i7-9700K, which is pretty spectacular for what’s traditionally always been a mid-tier gaming CPU. It’s pretty power hungry, though, so you’ll need to pair it with a decent CPU cooler and power supply to get the best out of it, which can add quite a bit extra onto its overall cost. However, provided you’ve got the budget for it, this is by far the best value Intel CPU around today.

That said, it’s also worth bearing in mind that the Core i5-10600K is about to get replaced at the end of March by Intel’s new 11th Gen Rocket Lake family of CPUs, so we’d recommend holding off buying one for now until the inevitable Core i5-11600K comes out.

AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

The best budget CPU for gaming

The AMD Ryzen 3 3300X is our best gaming CPU pick for those on a budget.

It’s been pretty much out of stock for much of the last year, but the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X remains the best value CPU around right now if you can get your hands on one. It’s significantly cheaper than all of its Intel rivals, and offers a surprising amount of power for its modest price. Indeed, in our tests, it’s pretty much on par with AMD’s more expensive Ryzen 5 3600 and Ryzen 5 3600X CPUs, making it a much better buy for cash-strapped PC builders.

The Ryzen 3 3300X’s general desktop performance is great for a quad-core CPU as well. In fact, its single core performance actually outranks the Core i5-10600K in my benchmark tests, cementing its status as one of the best value CPUs around. It’s a fantastic choice for both gaming and daily desktop tasks alike, and it also comes with its own, very good cooler in the box, making it even better value for money. This is why it’s my current CPU of choice for our RPS Rig build, which covers everything you need to build a gaming PC for less than £1000.

However, as previously mentioned, the Ryzen 3 3300X has been very difficult to get hold of since it first came out, and it’s currently unknown when or if it will come back in stock. We’re hoping AMD will release a new Ryzen 5000 model of the 3300X later this year (presumably named the Ryzen 3 5300X or something similar), so we’d strongly advise waiting for that instead of opting for one of their older Ryzen 5 3600 or 3600X CPUs instead. The latter are still excellent CPUs in their own right, and would be fine choices for budding PC builders, but if you want to make sure your PC is as future-proofed as possible, we’d recommend waiting a little while longer to see what else AMD have in store for the rest of their Ryzen 5000 family.

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