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The best budget processors for 2021

Your CPU takes part in everything you’re doing on your computer, be it work, gaming, or scrolling through social media, and often the more powerful it is, the better job it’ll do. But you don’t have to buy a super-expensive CPU to get a good one. In fact, the best budget processors can offer you amazing value for money.

We’ve compiled a list of the best budget CPUs available in 2021, from the cheap Intel Core i3-10100F to the one-time budget king, the Athlon 3000G. While they may not be topping the list of the best processors ever, they are all solid picks for any cost-effective build.

The best budget processors in 2021 at a glance

Intel Core i3-10100F

Box of the Intel Core i3 processor.

Why should you buy this: It’s a solid yet inexpensive processor that will support a variety of day-to-day tasks.

Who’s it for: Casual users who want the best bang for their buck.

Why we picked the Intel Core i3-10100F:

Finding a budget CPU that can stand its ground in 2021 isn’t easy, but Intel Core i3-10100F provides great value for the money. It’s discounted right now, which means savings of $30, and let’s be honest — finding a modern-day CPU for less than $100 just doesn’t happen these days. Even when the discount ends and it goes back to its usual price, this processor will still be amongst the best budget picks for well-rounded performance.

Part of Intel’s Comet Lake 10th-generation of processors, this CPU features four cores and eight threads. The clock speeds are a respectable 3.60GHz at base level and 4.30GHz on turbo mode. With a TDP of 65W, it’s not a very power-hungry CPU that will fit well with entry-level builds. It’s important to note that the Core i3-10100F does not feature integrated graphics, so keep that in mind when planning your component shopping list.

Given the four cores, you may find this CPU limiting if you like to engage in creative work such as video editing. On the other hand, Intel Core i3-10100F is more than good enough for most day-to-day tasks and even some light gaming. Paired with a decent graphics card, it can be used for both productivity and entertainment.

Intel Core i5-10400F

Intel Core i5 processor packaging.

Why should you buy this: While still in the budget range, this is processor is one of the best ones on our list.

Who’s it for: Casual gamers, non-demanding creatives, and day-to-day users.

Why we picked the Intel Core i5-10400F:

Although pricier than the Core i3-10100F, this processor earns its value through a boost in performance. It’s a straight upgrade in most lanes and a better, stronger CPU overall. The catch is that it can cost up to $80 more than the Core i3-10100F, although this is still very much a budget processor.

This CPU is part of the same generation of processors as the one above — Intel Comet Lake, the 10th-gen of Intel CPUs. It comes with six cores and 12 threads. While the base frequency is lower than in the cheaper model, clocking in at 2.9GHz, the turbo mode is the same with 4.3GHz. This is topped off by a 12MB cache and a reasonable 65W TDP.

Much like the previous pick, this CPU doesn’t come with an integrated graphics card. On the other hand, it has a more than sufficient cooler, so that’s one thing to cross off your shopping list.

If you can spare a bit more money, Intel Core i5-10400F is an entry-level processor, but it can handle a fair amount of tasks without any issues. Combined with a decent (still entry-level) GPU and an adequate amount of RAM, it will perform well in gaming, even if you like titles that are heavier on the resource side of things. You can use it for productivity, some light creative workflows, and entertainment without a major hitch.

AMD Athlon 3000G

Packaging for AMD Athlon 3000G.

Why should you buy this: It’s an extremely inexpensive processor that also has a built-in graphics card.

Who’s it for: Users in need of a very cheap desktop with acceptable integrated graphics.

Why we picked the AMD Athlon 3000G:

If your budget is ultra-tight, you might want to turn your eyes to less modern technologies. Hearing AMD Athlon might remind you of a PC you used to own years ago, but the truth is, AMD Athlon is alive and well — in very low-end builds.

AMD Athlon 3000G is a two-core, four-thread CPU with a clock speed of 3.5GHz. It comes unlocked, which means that, surprisingly enough, you can even overclock it to improve its performance. It has an extremely low TDP of 35W, meaning you won’t need much in the way of a power supply. Keep in mind that it’s old enough to not work with the latest motherboards, so you will need an AMD 300-Series or 400-Series chipset instead.

This CPU comes with a stock cooler and integrated graphics. If you’re not looking to do more than watch the occasional video, browse the web, or do some very light gaming, you might be satisfied with that, no discrete GPU necessary. This makes AMD Athlon 3000G a great pick if you’re looking to a lot of save money.

For such a low-end processor, this AMD Athlon provides good value for the money. It’s not going to blow you away with its performance, but considering the savings that it offers, it’s good enough for non-demanding users.

AMD Ryzen 3 1200

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 3.

Why should you buy this: It’s a good CPU for multitasking that will do the job well, both in games and in work situations.

Who’s it for: Gamers and less demanding users who want to pair it with a graphics card.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 3 1200:

Moving on from the days of old, let’s take a look at something much more recent — AMD Ryzen 3 1200. Cheap enough to not break the bank but effective enough to serve you well, this CPU is a solid pick for many budget builds.

It’s worth noting that AMD’s Ryzen 3 line has two variants — the basic Ryzen with simultaneous multithreading (SMT) technology enabled, and the G-Series that doesn’t come with SMT, but it does come with integrated graphics. This CPU belongs to the former line, meaning it will require you to buy a graphics card, but it will be a better multitasker than its G-Series cousins.

This processor comes with four cores, four threads, and a total cache of 10MB. The frequency offered is a 3.1GHz base and a 3.4GHz boost clock. Overclocking is not always an option in budget CPUs, so this is nice to see. The TDP is comparable to most others on this list with 65W.

AMD Ryzen 3 CPUs generally perform well in gaming. Although this one will require a stand-alone graphics card, it shouldn’t bottleneck if you’re playing games that are a few years old. If your goal is more work-oriented than gaming, you’ll find this processor more than adequate for your needs regardless of which GPU you pair it with. (Read: It’s OK to buy the cheapest graphics card you can find.)

AMD Ryzen 3 3200G

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 3 3200G.

Why should you buy this: It has a surprisingly decent integrated graphics card.

Who’s it for: Users who want to save on a GPU but still want the option to play games.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G:

If you like the idea of Ryzen but don’t necessarily want to buy a graphics card, AMD Ryzen 3 3200G is a good solution. The downside is that it costs a fair bit more than many other CPUs on this list, but you’d likely have spent more on a processor paired with a dedicated graphics card.

AMD Ryzen 3 3200G comes with a mix of four cores and four threads. It’s overclockable up to 4.0GHz with a base frequency of 3.6GHz, which is fairly impressive in such a budget CPU. The downside is the lack of multithreading. This means that each of its four cores can run only one software instruction thread at any given time. As such, it’s not the best multitasker, but what it lacks in multithreading, it makes up for in the integrated graphics card.

The iGPU in this model is surprisingly good for this price range. Equipped with AMD Radeon Vega 8 graphics, this processor can support light gaming without forcing you to shell out money on a discrete GPU. The integrated GPU has a frequency of 1250MHz and can hold its ground in many games.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600

Packaging for AMD Ryzen 5 1600.

Why should you buy this: It’s a multitasking dream in this price range, making it adequate for many tasks at once.

Who’s it for: Creatives, gamers, and others who value good performance.

Why we picked the AMD Ryzen 5 1600:

Surprisingly cheap for the performance that it offers, this processor can be referred to as “upper low-end.” Still in the budget category, AMD Ryzen 5 1600 can be found in many mid-range PC builds.

The number of cores and threads alone is an improvement over slightly cheaper CPUs. With its six cores and 12 threads, Ryzen 5 can support many tasks, from gaming and productivity to creative tasks such as photo and video editing.

It’s unlocked and supports multithreading, making it a strong multitasker, especially in this price range. Like most AMD processors, it comes with a stock cooler that is more than adequate for its needs. This is rounded up by a base clock of 3.2GHz that can be boosted up to 3.6GHz.

The downside of using this CPU over the Ryzen 3 3200G is the need to buy a dedicated graphics card. This makes it less optimal for those on a tight budget. However, if you’re looking for a solid mix of pricing and performance, going with Ryzen 5 is a reasonable choice.

Intel Core i5-10400

Intel Core i5 processor packaging.

Why should you buy this: It’s a reliable CPU that lets you save money on a graphics card.

Who’s it for: Intel fans who want a semi-modern processor with integrated graphics.

Why we picked the Intel Core i5-10400:

While this list is largely dominated by AMD processors, that is not to say that Intel doesn’t have a few horses in this race too. Very similar to the Intel Core i5-10400F, this processor delivers what the previous one didn’t — an integrated graphics core.

Intel’s dedicated graphics may not have the best rep, and the performance of this CPU may not be enough to rid the world of that notion. However, this processor/graphics card combo will provide you with decent frames per second (fps) in games — at least for this price range. It’s a six-core, 12-thread CPU with a base clock frequency of 2.9GHz that can go up to 4.3GHz during resource-heavy tasks, although it is not overclockable because it is not unlocked.

If you’re not much of a gamer and just want a solid CPU for day-to-day computing, you’ll be more than happy with this one. For gaming, however, you might want to try out the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G instead, as the graphics card solutions in that processor are a bit better than in this one.

Intel Celeron G5920

Packaging for Intel Celeron.

Why should you buy this: You’d be hard-pressed to find a working new CPU cheaper than this one.

Who’s it for: People who just want a functioning computer without much care for performance.

Why we picked the Intel Celeron G5920:

Intel Celeron, much like AMD Athlon, is an echo of the past that can still find a home in an extremely budget build. Priced at around the $60 range, it’s one of the cheapest CPUs out there.

G5920 is a dual-core, dual-thread CPU with a clock of 3.5GHz. Although Intel Celeron sounds like retired technology to many, this CPU is actually part of the Intel Comet Lake family and is just a bit over a year old. It’s based on the same LGA1200 technology as the other processors from that line, meaning it requires a fairly modern motherboard for such a budget CPU.

No one can expect fireworks from such a budget choice. There is no hyper-threading and no overclocking when it comes to this CPU. On the other hand, it comes with integrated graphics, which means that for such a low price, you’re knocking two major components out of the way — the CPU and the GPU.

This processor will do just fine for office work and light, casual computing in a cheap build. As far as gaming goes, even the AMD Athlon 3000G is likely to outperform this CPU, but this one is cheaper.

CPU buying guide and FAQ

What should you look for in a budget CPU?

The answer depends entirely on what you intend to use the computer for. If you are looking to do some light computing, such as browsing the web, working, and the occasional Netflix, you can do that on most processors, including the Intel Celeron G5920. However, if you are after something more powerful with a greater cost-to-performance ratio, it’s often better to invest just a little bit more and get a CPU that will stand the test of time. Two processors with great value are the Intel Core i3-10100F and the Intel Core i5-10400F.

Generally, for a mix of value and performance, it’s good to get at least four cores,  although six are ideal. Unlocked processors are nice because it means you can overclock them to improve their operating speed. However, if you’re not much interested in that, you don’t have to worry about whether it’s overclockable or not. Some budget CPUs come with built-in graphics cards, and that’s another thing to consider. If you don’t want to spend extra on a GPU, and you aren’t a gamer, it’s good to look for a CPU with integrated graphics.

Is AMD or Intel better for budget CPUs?

Both AMD and Intel have their merits, although AMD may offer slightly better value in this price bracket. Budget AMD processors generally have better built-in graphics cards, allowing for some light gaming even on systems without a discrete GPU. They are also usually unlocked, meaning you can overclock them, whereas only Intel K-series CPUs offer that option. On the other hand, while Ryzen CPUs are generally good multitaskers, not all of them offer multi-threading.

Overall, you may have an easier time finding a decently-priced AMD processor that performs well, but if you can get your hands on the right Intel model, you’ll definitely be happy.

How many cores does a budget CPU need?

For office work and browsing the web, two cores will suffice, and four will be plenty. For gaming, four cores are a minimum, with six or more recommended if possible, depending on the games you play and the performance you expect. Resource-heavy tasks, such as 3D rendering and video editing, benefit from the use of a six-core CPU, although the sky is the limit — or in this case, your planned budget.

Editors' Recommendations


The best CPU for gaming in 2021

The best CPU for gaming is actually a component you can buy today. After an extended period where you couldn't buy the processor you might want, it's generally possible to get your pick of the bunch. There have even been actual deals on some of the top CPUs too. Shocking, I know.

Every chip on this list has been tested through our intense CPU benchmarking suite on our PC Gamer test rig. This includes 3D and video rendering workloads as well and, most importantly, gaming performance.  

Right now, our favorite CPU is the Ryzen 9 5900X, along with much of AMD's current impressive Zen 3 chips, which give you the best performance and pricing combined. The release of Intel's Rocket Lake chips means we've got a bunch of CPUs of varying quality, with its flagship Core i9 11900K being a bit of an expensive letdown whereas the less powerful Core i5 11600K is the best value we've seen for Intel CPUs. But we've got another new generation of Intel chips on the way, with Alder Lake potentially capable of shaking off AMD's grip on the high end of the best CPU list.

Make sure you check ourbest gaming motherboard list if you are planning to do a brand new build.

The best CPU for gaming

1. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

The best CPU for gaming right now


Cores: 12

Threads: 24

Base Clock: 3.7 GHz

Boost Clock: 4.8 GHz

Overclocking: Yes

L3 Cache: 64 MB

TDP: 105 W

PCIe 4.0 lanes: 20

Reasons to buy

+The best CPU for gaming+Awesome performance throughout+Fast and efficient architecture

Reasons to avoid

-Needs a proper 3rd-party cooler

AMD's Zen architecture has improved with each generation, but the fact that AMD managed to knock out a 19 percent IPC improvement with Zen 3 is nothing short of staggering. The key takeaway for us as gamers is that this improvement means that AMD can now stand toe to toe with Intel when it comes to gaming. Honestly, there's so little between these two now that anyone claiming otherwise is delusional. 

Whatever resolution you are gaming at, this processor can handle it and keep your graphics card of choice fed with many juicy frames. The fact that this is a 12-core, 24-thread monster means that it can cope with anything else you throw at it as well. So if you have dreams of 3D rendering, video editing, or any other serious tasks, you'll know that you have the raw grunt to handle it. The fact that it won't hold you back when gaming makes it even sweeter. 

The only real downside is the pricing and the dropping of the Wraith cooler—don't forget to factor in when you buy. You do get what you pay for, though, and this is a phenomenal chip for gaming and anything else you might want to do. 

If you're in the market for absolute power, you could step up to the Ryzen 9 5950X, which gives you 16 cores and 32 threads. However, it costs $250 more, and for gaming purposes and even most content creation chores, the 5900X is more than sufficient.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 9 5900X review.

2. Intel Core i5 11600K

Intel's best gaming CPU is a great value proposition


Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base clock: 3.9 GHz

Turbo clock: 4.9 GHz (single core)

Overclocking: Yes, 4.9 GHz typical all-core

L3 cache: 12 MB

TDP: 125 W

PCIe 4.0 lanes: 20

Reasons to buy

+Undercuts 5600X on price+High-end gaming performance+Solid multithreading chops

Reasons to avoid

-iGPU is still quite weak

The Core i5 11600K is my favorite chip of the new Rocket Lake generation, which marks a nostalgic return to the old days of Intel CPU launches. The top processor was always a decent halo product, but the i5 was where the price/performance metrics really sold a new generation. Okay, with the 11900K being a frustrating chip, maybe it's not a total return to the old days, but the 11600K is still an outstanding six-core, 12-thread gaming processor.

It's also incredibly affordable too, with a price tag well underneath the Ryzen 5 5600X and performance figures that have it trading blows with AMD's otherwise excellent Zen 3 chip. The Cypress Cove 14nm backport may have made it relatively power-hungry, but that doesn't stop it from being a great gaming CPU and one that delivers a lot of processor silicon for not a lot of cash.

And PCIe 4.0 support on Intel 500-series motherboards. Though that is of dubious benefit at the moment as our testing has not so far gone well with supported PCIe 4.0 SSDs. That will hopefully change, but even so, this is still one of the best cheap gaming CPUs around.

Read our full Intel Core i5 11600K review.

3. AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

AMD's top affordable, and available, Zen 3 CPU today


Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base Clock: 3.7 GHz

Boost Clock: 4.6 GHz

Overclocking: Yes

L3 Cache: 32 MB

TDP: 65 W

PCIe 4.0 lanes: 20

Reasons to buy

+Awesome gaming performance+Great value for money+Decent overclocking potential+Wraith Stealth included

Reasons to avoid

-$50 more than 3600X-... 3600X came with a better cooler

When it comes to gaming, everything that's great about the 5900X rings true for this more affordable Zen 3 chip as well. There's nothing between any of the Ryzen 5000 chips in games, which means you'll hit the same frame rates with this chip as you will our number one pick. Which is incredible when you think about it—top-tier performance from the most affordable Zen 3 CPU? We'll say yes to that every single day.

This does have half the core count of that top chip, rolling in as it does with six cores and 12 threads. However, this is only an issue with those more serious workloads, which is more than sufficient for more reasonable stuff. You could argue that gaming could go beyond the 12-threads we have here, but there's no evidence that is the case so far, and that's even though the next-gen consoles are rocking 8-cores and 16-threads. 

The Ryzen 5 5600X also bucks the Ryzen 5000 family's trend by shipping with a Wraith Stealth cooler, so you don't have to drop extra money on a third-party chiller. You don't need to, but if you do, you'll hit higher clocks for longer and also open up the wonderful world of overclocking, which could make it worthwhile. This is a decent little overclocker, and while it won't affect gaming much, it'll help in other areas nicely.

Read our full AMD Ryzen 5 5600X review.

4. Intel Core i5 10400F

A great budget-friendly option for Intel builds


Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base Clock: 2.9 GHz

Turbo Clock: 4.3 GHz

Overclocking: No

L3 Cache: 12 MB

TDP: 65 W

PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16

Reasons to buy

+Affordable mid-range performance+Cooler included in box

Reasons to avoid

-Doesn't support overclocking

The Core i5 10400F is a surprisingly exciting option. It's slightly faster than the previous-gen Core i5 9400, but that F-suffix means it ditches the Intel integrated graphics completely. That's not a problem for gamers unless you want to use QuickSync, although Nvidia's NVENC is arguably better anyway. Overall, it's an excellent budget-friendly choice that doesn't cost much more than a Core i3 part.

There are other compromises, like the locked multiplier—no overclocking here. But you can save money and grab an H470 motherboard. At least you get a cooler in the box, something we'd like to see as an option with every CPU. Most boards will happily run the 10400F at 3.9GHz, so don't worry about the low base clock.

While the i5 10400F may not be as fast as other CPUs in multithreaded tests, in our gaming suite, it's tied with AMD's last-gen 3900X. Future games may start to push beyond its 6-core capabilities, but probably not before you're ready for an upgrade. Right now, the i5 10400F is plenty fast and extremely affordable.

5. AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

A great mid-range chip for serious work and gaming


Cores: 8

Threads: 16

Base Clock: 3.8 GHz

Boost Clock: 4.7 GHz

Overclocking: Yes

L3 Cache: 32 MB

TDP: 105 W

PCIe 4.0 lanes: 20

Reasons to buy

+The same great Zen 3 architecture+Awesome gaming performance+PCIe 4.0 support

Reasons to avoid

-Can fall behind Intel in gaming at this price

If the Intel Core i7 doesn't exist in a world, this would be an incredible chip and would have made it into our top three recommendations, no sweat. It's excellent for gaming, producing the exact figures that can be seen for the 5900X and 5600X. Still, it also appears to hit the sweet spot in configuration terms, with its eight cores and 16 threads surely seeing it right for the future, seeing as that is what the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 are rocking. 

Unfortunately for AMD, Intel does exist, and the blue company's Core i7 10700K matches this in plenty of the more critical metrics but has this chip beat in one significant way—value for money. This is faster in serious tasks, and if that's what you've got an eye on, then buy this and don't give it a second thought. But if you're mainly looking at gaming, Intel does pretty much the same but costs less. And that's hard for AMD to get away from. 

Competition aside, this is still Zen 3 strutting its stuff, and it does that impressively well. Throw in the support for PCIe 4.0 as well, and this is a forward-looking chip that will last you for years. 

Read the full AMD Ryzen 5 5800X review.

6. Intel Core i9 10900K

The Comet Lake flagship is still a powerful option


Cores: 10

Threads: 20

Base Clock: 3.7 GHz

Turbo Clock: 5.3 GHz

Overclocking: Yes, 5.0-5.3 GHz typical

L3 Cache: 20 MB

TDP: 95 W

PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16

Reasons to buy

+High performance gaming+Overclocking potential

Reasons to avoid

-Older Comet Lake architecture

Intel's top Comet Lake gaming chip, the Core i9 10900K, lost a lot of what made it special with the release of Zen 3. When the 10900K was unveiled, it came with the reassurance that it was the world's fastest gaming processor, but that's not a claim it can hold on to anymore, with plenty of games handing wins to AMD's Ryzen 5900X. It's still a cracking gaming chip, don't get us wrong, but it traded on being the very best, and once that went, it lost a lot of its shine.

What hasn't overshadowed it is Intel's latest release. The Rocket Lake i9 11900K is almost as powerful overall, but it's more expensive and still misses out on the multi-threaded side.

The 10900K is still overkilled for most cases, apart from possibly at the very high-end and for serious workloads; AMD chips make more sense, but there's still a bizarre charm to this CPU. You probably don't need it, but if you build a machine around it, you know it won't be this chip that's holding you back.

The Core i9 10900K is the first time Intel has squeezed ten processing cores into its mainstream lineup. Given it's capable of hitting 5.3GHz (however briefly), it represents an impressive outing for the 14nm technology Intel has been tied to for so long. Gaming still benefits from high clock speeds, which still delivers; it doesn't make much sense given the competition.

You'll need to invest in a Z490 motherboard to go along with this chip and some serious cooling (a decent PSU wouldn't go amiss either). Don't be fooled by that reasonable 95W TDP, as it'll push way beyond that, especially if you're thinking of exploring its overclocking chops. 

Read the full Intel Core i9 10900K review.

7. AMD Ryzen 7 5700G

The best chip with integrated graphics


Cores: 8

Threads: 16

Base Clock: 3.8 GHz

Turbo Clock: 4.6 GHz

Overclocking: Yes, 5.0-5.3 GHz typical

L3 Cache: 16 MB

TDP: 65 W

PCIe 3.0 lanes: 16

Reasons to buy

+The best Integrated GPU+Excellent thermals and power consumption+Strong all round performance

Reasons to avoid

-Lacks PCIe 4.0-Needs fast memory to be at its best-Expensive for an APU

AMD's APUs are the best processors to drop into your rig if you're not going to use a discrete graphics card, but still want a modicum of gaming performance out of your system. And the AMD Ryzen 7 5700G is the best of the latest Zen 3 based chips to deliver that.
Unlike previous APU offerings from AMD, the Ryzen 7 5700G is far more of a jack-of-all-trades chip because we are talking about an eight-core Zen 3 CPU component with 16 threads and a powerful Vega-based GPU to back it up. That makes this a chip that's almost up there with the best of the Ryzen 5000-series CPUs in processing power, but with the graphical grunt to deliver 1080p gaming on low settings in some seriously demanding titles.

In a GPU drought, that makes the 5700G a tantalizing APU as it will get your new gaming PC up and running. At the same time, you wait for discrete graphics cards to be available and without compromising too heavily on your system performance in the meantime.

The issue is that, as the 5700G is a monolithic design rather than chiplet, there are some performance differences compared to the standard Ryzen 7 5800X, a straight eight-core, 16-thread CPU without graphics. It also lacks PCIe 4.0 support to run the fastest SSDs and demands high-speed memory to make the most of its GPU power. But it's still an excellent all-around AMD processor and a handy option when graphics cards are still so rare.

Read our complete AMD Ryzen 7 5700G review.

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The best CPU for gaming FAQ

How do you test CPUs?

While gaming resolutions run from 720p to 4K, we largely test at 1080p. This will show the most significant difference in gaming performance you're likely to see and pushes the CPU into the spotlight instead of the GPU—an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, in our case.

We've also used high-end G.Skill Trident Z and Flare X DDR4-3200 CL14 memory on all modern platforms, in either 2x 8GB or 4x 8GB configurations. Again, this is to eliminate any potential bottlenecks and let the CPUs reach their maximum performance. Liquid cooling was used on all CPUs, though for stock performance, we saw zero difference between that and the box coolers on those parts that included cooling.

The motherboards used in testing include the MSI MEG Z390 Godlike for Intel LGA1151, MSI MEG X570 Godlike, and Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master for third-gen Ryzen and MSI X470 Gaming M7 for first and second-gen Ryzen CPUs. AMD's APUs were tested on an MSI B350I Pro AC motherboard, as we needed something with video ports. For the HEDT platforms (not that we recommend those any longer for gaming purposes—or most other tasks), we used an Asus X299 Extreme Encore for Intel LGA2066, Asus ROG Zenith Extreme for TR4, and Zenith II Extreme for TRX40.

AMD CPU reviews:

Intel CPU reviews:

What motherboard is right for my CPU?

The latest AMD Ryzen 5000 CPUs still use the AM4 socket and are only compatible with X570, B550, and A520 motherboards (oh, and B450 and X470 motherboards). 

Whereas Intel's Comet Lake chips use the LGA 1200 socket, Rocket Lake has introduced new 500-series boards. Unless you're desperate for the still slightly awkward Intel PCIe 4.0 solution which the latest Intel chips offer, go with either a Z490 or cheaper B460 motherboard at this point for Intel. 

Is Intel or AMD better?

This is a rather loaded question. Right now, the consensus is that AMD has superior CPU technology, with its chiplet design allowing it to produce processors with far higher core counts at prices and thermal levels that Intel cannot match.

However, Intel has historically been better for gaming workloads, with an all-important advantage in single-core performance and instructions-per-clock (IPC). That has slowly been eroded by AMD's subsequent Zen architectures, to the point where there is little difference between them in gaming terms.

The other point to make is that most games are GPU-limited, which means the graphics card is the limiting factor in terms of performance, and you would likely see the same essential frame rates with either CPU manufacturer when a discrete graphics card is used.

Should I overclock my CPU?

The honest answer is: no. Overclocking your processor is not necessarily the risky move it once was, but equally, the benefits of doing so have drastically dropped in recent times. When we're talking about gaming performance, having a slightly higher clocked CPU can make a bit of a difference, but arguably your graphics card will be the part that limits the speed of your system.

There is also the point that overclocked CPUs create more heat, require more intensive and expensive cooling solutions, need those coolers to work harder, and are, therefore, often louder.

For us, overclocking your CPU to gain real-world performance benefits is not something we'd recommend most PC gamers do.

Jargon buster

Caching - A small segment of high-speed memory dedicated to storing and executing frequently used commands/instructions to speed up software execution. CPUs contain caches designated as Level 1, 2, and 3, with L1 being the fastest and smallest and L3 being the slowest and largest.

Core - Modern CPUs can contain anywhere from two to 70+ cores (in supercomputers), though CPUs housed in most consumer machines will generally carry between four and eight, with AMD's latest CPUs sporting up to 16 cores.

Clock speed - The speed at which a CPU can execute instructions, measured in hertz. A processor with a 3.7 GHz clock speed can process 3.7 billion instructions a second. Clock speed is one of the most critical factors for determining performance in games and workload functions.

Heat sink - A cooling solution for PCs that utilize fans or liquid cooling (active) or aluminum radiators (passive) that rely on convection to regulate a component's temperature.

Hyper-Threading (SMT) - Intel terminology for a tech that allows a processor to handle two sets of instructions 'threads' simultaneously. AMD and other CPU vendors call this SMT, Simultaneous Multi-Threading.

Socket type LGA (Land Grid Array), PGA (Pin Grid Array), or BGA (Ball Grid Array) - The way a CPU interfaces with the socket on a motherboard. LGA is used on Intel sockets with pins as part of the socket. AMD's AM4 solution, PGA, has the processors' pins, which fit into holes on the socket. AMD's Threadripper CPUs also use LGA sockets. A BGA socket is when the processor is permanently soldered to the motherboard, typically on a laptop.

TDP - Thermal design power, the maximum amount of heat a system or chip can produce that the attendant cooling system is designed to deal with under workload. This term can apply to PCs as a whole, GPUs, CPUs, or nearly any other performance component that generates heat and is in large part an indicator of how much power a part draws.

Thread - A thread refers to a series of CPU instructions for a specific program. Older CPUs and SMT disabled run one thread per core, but most modern AMD and Intel CPUs can simultaneously run two threads, sharing some resources (e.g., cache). 

Turbo Boost - Intel technology that allows processors to run at higher clock speeds under demanding loads. AMD also supports turbo or boost clocks, and we use the terms interchangeably regardless of CPU vendor.

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.

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Best processors 2021: the best CPUs for your PC from Intel and AMD

Let one of the best processors of 2021 do the heavy lifting whether for gaming, video editing, or multi-tasking at work. Sure, lesser chips might see you through the most basic tasks, but it’s only their most powerful and efficient counterparts that can really handle your more demanding computing needs (and stay cool under pressure).

As your computer’s brain, a CPU is responsible for executing all its commands, tasks and processes. So, going for a mediocre one and hoping for the best, especially if you expect it to perform intensive tasks, isn’t going to cut it – no matter if you’re building a new PC or upgrading your current one. And, thanks to Intel and AMD still battling it out in the CPU arena, we have a lot more excellent options at more affordable prices.

With chips like the Comet Lake-S and the Ryzen 5000 more powerful and more affordable than ever before, you no longer have to settle for less or the second best if you’re on a budget. To make it easier for you to choose, we found the best processors on the market for playing the best PC games, getting through your creative workloads, and more.

What's the best processor for gaming?

One of the best processors on the market today, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800X, combines excellent single-core performance and a massively improved multi-core one with its low power consumption and a fairly approachable price. And, it’s a strong option for gaming.

Scratch that: it’s arguably the best processor for gaming. It even beats out the Intel Core i9-10900K in Total War: Three Kingdoms, a game optimized for Intel hardware, by 7%. Based on AMD’s 7nm manufacturing process, its Core Die (CCD) design allows for one Core Complex per die. That means every Ryzen 7 5800X’s CCX has 8 cores, each of which direct access to 32MB of L3 cache, resulting in a breathtaking gaming performance.

Best CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Best CPU for high-end gaming


Cores: 12

Threads: 24

Base clock: 3.7GHz

Boost clock: 4.8GHz

L3 cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Amazing performance+A new single-core champion+Same power consumption

Reasons to avoid

-Price went up-No included cooler

The AMD Ryzen 9 5900X brings the biggest gen-on-gen jump in a single performance in years, making it a terrific upgrade. This latest release from AMD is not just a stronger processor across the board. It’s also an incredibly powerful processor for gaming and creative work full stop. The fact that you won’t need a new motherboard is just a nice perk.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Best high-end CPU: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

A mainstream CPU moonlights as an HEDT processor


Cores: 16

Threads: 32

Base clock: 3.5GHz

Boost clock: 4.7GHz

L3 cache: 64MB

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Performance powerhouse+Cheaper than HEDT+PCIe 4.0

Reasons to avoid

-Needs extra cooling-Limited gaming advantage

The highest tier in the Ryzen 3000 series is the performance powerhouse you’re looking for, if you want something for heavily threaded computer work. Besides high-end gaming, the Ryzen 9 3950 also blasts through processing tasks. It’s expensive, but for a mainstream processor that can go toe-to-toe with HEDT processors, that’s hardly a surprise. And, it’s also well worth the price, if you need its level of performance. Just remember that it may take a bit to keep cool so be sure to follow AMD’s guidance.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X

Best mid-range CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

Top performance on a budget


Cores: 6

Threads: 12

Base clock: 3.8GHz

Boost clock: 4.4GHz

L3 cache: 32MB

TDP: 95W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent performance+Affordable+Includes a cooler

Reasons to avoid

-Still 6-cores

With more threads than the Intel Core i5-9600K, this mid-range graphics card delivers impressive multi-threading performance. However, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600X doesn’t just stop there: it takes that budget-minded stage of performance to a new level, with its increased IPC (instructions per clock) performance and a higher clock speed while staying at the same price point. It also stays competitive in even the most intense single-threaded applications.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 5 3600X

Best entry-level CPU: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

PC gaming just got cheaper


Cores: 4

Threads: 8

Base clock: 3.5GHz

Boost clock: 3.6GHz

L3 cache: 16MB

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Excellent performance+Affordable+Doesn't suck up much power

Reasons to avoid

-Not as fast as the 3300X-May bottleneck high-end GPUs

Budget-minded consumers who missed out on all the 3rd-generation Ryzen excitement the first time will appreciate AMD’s latest attempt in the entry-level sphere. There’s no denying that the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 is appealingly cheap, but it does so without compromising on performance. In fact, this chip delivers a performance that could almost rival that of processors double its price, without sucking up much power. And, it’s an excellent choice for budget gamers who are looking for something that can handle 1080p gaming.

Read the full review: AMD Ryzen 3 3100

Best gaming CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Ryzen to the top


Cores: 8

Threads: 16

Base clock: 3.8GHz

Boost clock: 4.7GHz

L3 cache: 32MB

TDP: 105W

Top 5 Best CPUs, Intel Steals AMD's Spot [April 2021]

Best Budget CPU for Gaming 2021

Best Cheap Gaming CPU Brands in 2021

The first thing to do when in pursuit of a budget CPU solution for gaming is to explore the major brands. Like the remaining gaming equipment, the best cheap CPUs for gaming are made by prominent companies.

To help in your mission of finding the best affordable CPU, we have decided to focus on two major brands. Players looking for a good CPU for gaming at a fair price should certainly look into AMD and Intel processors.

These developers offer some of the best premium gaming processors, but they also focus on budget options. Let’s see what makes their budget gaming CPU options stand out among the rest of the affordable solutions.

AMD Budget Processors for Gaming

There is no doubt that AMD is the industry giant and its rivalry with Intel has given birth to some incredibly cheap CPUs. The prime goal of the developer was to provide enough options for users with all budget ranges.

So, you can run on AMD CPUs for gaming worth $1000 or more, but you can find cheap options as well. Another standout trait of cheap AMD processors is that they allow overclocking.

With such potential, you can upgrade your gaming CPU to withstand even higher clocking speeds and improve game rendering. Adding an affordable AMD cooler and quality GPU can improve the regular budget CPUs.

So, if you decide to go with one of the AMD options, you won’t be disappointed with the choice. Not only are there many cheap processors in the selection, but the tuning ability is there to boost the performance as well.

Affordable CPUs from Intel

Over the years, Intel has strengthened its choice of budget CPU variants for gaming. As you are probably familiar with, Intel is one of the greatest names to ever produce computer processors. Logically, they are also responsible for some of the best cheap solutions.

You can find various choices of i3, i5, or even i7 Intel CPUs for gaming within an affordable price range. A downside is that Intel CPUs that allow overclocking are rare. Even so, if you are looking for a good cheap gaming processor, Intel options come with premium quality even at lower levels.

It’s not all about finding the cheap option; it is also about finding a solution that lasts.

Intel processors are made to last and with the right choice, you can use them to process high-quality and demanding games.

Best Gaming CPUs on a Budget in 2021

When buying the budget CPU for gaming, there are several factors to have in mind. First, we have already mentioned the quality developers of affordable gaming processors. Now, when you know where to look, it is all about finding the perfect mixture of features.

For instance, clocking speed is one of the most relevant factors that affect your gameplay. You can find decent clock speed chips within the affordable price range with AMD and Intel processors.

The number of cores and threads also affects your gaming, but more in a time-efficient processing manner. So, you must find a processor with decent clock speed, and possibly, with an overclocking option.

Of course, it’s not obligatory to boost your CPU performance with additional parts if you are not an expert. With this in mind, we have decided to list some of the best budget CPUs for gaming solutions in 2021!

AMD Athlon 240 GE for a competitive price

One of the best things about the AMD gaming chips is that you can find them at all price levels you can think of. Among them, the AMD Athlon 240 GE is one of the cheapest options. It still offers a quality build and processing quality with a price level of just above $100.

The base frequency is set for 3.5GHz and it works on a well-known Zen architecture from AMD. Here are the main features of this chip:

  • Decent graphics support with Radeon Vega 3
  • Possible to boost the clock speed
  • Considerable processing speed for the budget
  • Integrated GPU as a standout from competitors.

You can’t find a matching chip to this one in terms of price range and integrated graphics. It makes a solid solution for gaming, while the chance to boost the processing speed even further sounds incredible.

Intel Core i5 10400

Although you have to own an LGA 1200 socket to pair the Intel Core i5 10400 processor, it makes a great option. If you do happen to combine the mentioned layout with the integrated graphics that Core i5 comes with, it makes a solid CPU.

You will surely be able to process demanding games with 6 cores and 12 threads supported. As far as graphics are concerned, Intel UHD graphics are integrated into the chip. Overall, the i5 10400 stands strong at a price value of just above $170.

The Comet Lake technology with hyper-threading makes this chip stand out among other affordable solutions. You won’t be able to overclock this CPU and its processing is still far from the premium Intel processors.

Still, it makes a solid solution with integrated graphics, hyper-threading, and a solid clock speed of 2.9GHz.

For ultimate budget experience – the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

If you are looking for a budget solution, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G is perhaps the best processor for gaming laptops in 2021. It may not be your first choice for a cheap processor for gaming, but it still makes a budget option.

This is because of its price of $250, which is not that far from a budget option considering what you get. The AMD Ryzen 5 5600G is an unprecedented gaming processor for its price, and the following features confirm it:

  • The base clock speed is 3.9GHz
  • Integrated graphics processor
  • Radeon Vega RX 7 graphics system

The base clock speed of this processor proves that it is possibly the best budget CPU for gaming. This statement can be backed up by the fact that even higher AMD CPUs in class offer the matching base speed.

Also, you can overclock this processor to even greater processing limits with additional AMD components. It beats off the competitor gaming CPUs from Intel in the same price range in graphics and clock speed easily.

With this in mind, the price is not that high when you think about all the benefits you can get from this chip.

One of the best cheap options – Intel Core i3 10100F

If you are still not convinced to spend over $200 for AMD Ryzen 5 level CPU, Intel i3 10100F could be your choice. When it comes to price, everything is clear with this choice as you can find it for less than $150.

As a cheap processor for gaming, this CPU will blow you away with performance capability. Starting with a 14nm lithography, Comet Lake technology, and 6MB of Intel Smart Cache, this CPU is gold among budget options.

It uses 4 cores and 8 threads and offers an immersive 3.6GHz clock speed as a base level! For its price, the gaming capability it provides is outstanding.

By boosting the processing power, even more, you can get a solid result of having a 4.3GHz base frequency. Nevertheless, with the Intel turbo boost technology, you should be careful of your PC assembly.

If you can match the power of the boosted CPU with quality Intel components and cooler, you can get great gaming at a fair price.

AMD Ryzen 3 2200 G for a great price to performance ratio

We have covered many great budget CPU solutions so far, and it is only logical that we end it with a bang! The AMD Ryzen 3 2200G is a good cheap gaming CPU with incredible boost potential.

It is all packed up in a power chip worth around $200 at an affordable price. Here are some of the main benefits of this processor:

  • The base clock speed is 3.5GHz

With this in mind, this processor is a good AMD CPU for gaming and it delivers more than decent performance. Ability to further boost it only makes it better on the list of the best cheap CPUs for gaming.

How do Strafe Experts look for affordable Budget Gaming CPUs?

Our experts have specific methods of figuring out what is the best budget CPU for gaming in 2021. With a clear set of guidelines, we look for the best gaming thrills accomplished by using budget solutions.

If you want to find the best budget CPU for gaming, follow our lead on recommended solutions and review methods.

First, we consider the base clock speed of the good cheap gaming processor that we review. Afterward, we check the number of cores and threads as well as the hyper-threading capability of the processor.

The best cheap CPUs for gaming can be found on the product lists of the two major brands – Intel and AMD. When we review the best budget options, we consider the best Intel processor for gaming and compare it to cheaper options.

We usually come by surprising results in terms of the processing power of the cheap processor for gaming we review. With worthy budget options, you can encounter the clock speed matching to one of the premium CPUs.

We also take a look into the integrated graphics and graphics support technology in-built in the chips. With AMD processors, Radeon Vega graphics can lead to the best gaming results.

Overclocking is yet another aspect that we take into consideration when recommending the best budget CPUs. You just have to boost your processor for gaming with other gaming components to get the best gaming machine.

We made sure to include at least a few chips with clock boost traits in the list to help you with the choice. Finally, we also review the price to performance ratio which leads to getting the most out of your gaming CPU.

At competitive prices in comparison, we focus on the base clock speed and general performance potential of the CPU. Some of the best cheap CPUs for gaming can be found once you implement these factors in the search!

Why focus on the Budget Gaming CPU reviews?

You should always follow the lead of experts when going for budget gaming CPU solutions. It is quite straightforward: if you are not an expert in the field, you could make the wrong choice of the best low-cost gaming processor.

To find the best budget CPU for gaming, you should focus on the review and take what you feel is worthy. Of course, every gamer has unique taste and choice when it comes to gaming equipment and gear.

This is just more of a reason to combine your desires and knowledge with our pieces of advice listed. By sticking with the review, you will be able to consider the whole picture of the budget gaming CPU solutions.

A good cheap gaming processor should be able to support all the demanding premium games in 2021. With that being said, we could say that you need at least 2.9GHz power and integrated graphics with a bundled cooler.

Of course, such processors can be found at higher prices as well, but we did our best enlisting the most convenient ones in terms of price!

Final Thoughts on the Good Cheap Gaming Processors in 2021

Hopefully, this review has been helpful to you in the mission to find the best budget options among gaming CPUs. Not all of the options come at the same price level, but even the seemingly more expensive options are beneficial in their way.

So, regardless if you go with the AMD Ryzen 5 5600G or the lower-budget options, you can get pleasurable gaming.

Luckily, the current market offers something for everyone. So, even if you don’t want to pay more than $200 for a gaming CPU, the choice of available options will have something to suit your taste!


Which brands of budget CPUs for gaming are the best in 2021?

It is always best if you go with reliable and proven brands in the development of quality CPUs for gaming. In 2021, the worthy brands to look for are AMD and Intel with their Ryzen and i5 budget options.

Which are the best Budget solutions for gaming processors?

If you wish to get a quality solution out of the gaming CPU, you can have a look at the budget solutions of all levels. So, you can go with the AMD Ryzen 5 5600 for a higher limit of price value, or the Intel i3 10100F for lower limits.

How do Strafe experts evaluate the budget gaming CPUs in 2021?

Our experts always consider several indicators when deciding on the best budget CPU options. Gamers in 2021 can rely on our evaluation tips, such as looking for the base clock speed, boost potential, integrated graphics, and price to performance value.


Budget cpu best

Best CPU for Gaming in 2021: The 10 Best Processors (Any Budget)

Best Gaming CPUs for 2021We rated, reviewed, & compared 10 of the best CPUs for gaming across various budgets. These top processors are perfect for gamers or anyone else looking for a solid desktop CPU.

The processor is at the center of everything on your computer. It is the “brains” of the operation. And, in order to build a solid gaming computer in 2021 and beyond, you’re going to need a quality CPU. While some games (like first-person shooters) are heavily dependent on your graphics card, other games (like RTS’ and MMORPGs) have many more calculations that need to be carried out and therefore utilize your processor more. This should factor into your decision when looking for the best gaming CPU for your build.

Another thing you’ll need to take into account is the total budget you’ve set for your build. You obviously don’t want to spend $300 on a processor if you’re building a $500 gaming PC because you wouldn’t have very much money left over for other parts. And, likewise, putting a $100 processor in a high-end $1,000 gaming PC probably isn’t a good use of your budget as well.

In this post, we will take a look at the best processors for gaming in 2021.

Our Top Picks for the Best Gaming Processors

For a quick look at our top choices for the best processor at a variety of different budgets, we’ve provided the table below. The table shows our top pick overall, our favorite option for gaming-only performance, our choice for a value-packed overclockable CPU, the best budget processor, and the best ultra-cheap entry-level CPU.

*To read our full overviews on our top CPU choices, just click the “Read Review »” button. You can also keep scrolling down to find more options based on your specific budget.

1. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

The best processor overall

The AMD Ryzen 9 5900X is a nice option for gamers who have a huge budget and have the need for a processor that can handle multi-threaded applications as well.

The 5900X comes with a whopping 12-cores and 24-threads, a 3.8GHz base clock, and a 4.8GHz boost clock.

Of course, the i7-11700K is no slouch in multi-threaded applications as well. And, really, both of these processors will serve well for gaming and CPU-heavy tasks.

So, really, while there are small performance differences between these two options in gaming , if you have the budget, you can’t go wrong with either option.

However, if you’re looking for something that will deliver extra performance in multi-threaded applications, the Ryzen 5900X is the superior option.

2. Intel Core i7-11700K

The best CPU for gamers

While AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X has really moved the bar in terms of what a high-end consumer-level processor can bring to the table, the truth is that, for purely gaming purposes, the much cheaper Intel Core i7-11700K is probably the better option.

Since the i7-11700K offers better single core performance, it actually benchmarks better in most games than the beefier Ryzen 9 5900X. Of course, the 5900X offers superior multi-threaded performance and so if you’re someone who will be doing more than just gaming, there is a case to be made to go with and AMD CPU instead.

But, if you’re looking for a powerful processor that will offer incredible in-game performance (assuming you pair it with a high-end graphics card) and will also serve pretty well in multi-threaded applications, then the i7-11700K might be what you’re looking for.

Just make sure, though, that if you are planning on getting the i7-11700K and you want to keep it cool that you pair it with a high-end air cooler or AIO cooler.

3. AMD Ryzen 5 3600

The best value CPU for gamers

As of right now, there are a handful of great gaming processor options in the sub-$200 price range. In my opinion, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 and Intel Core i5-10400f (listed below) are the best value options for gamers currently on the market.

We’ve given the edge to the Ryzen 5 3600, though, as it comes unlocked (which means it can be overclocked) and it comes with a better stock cooler

The i5-10400f is worth considering, though, if you aren’t planning on overclocking, as it can sometimes be had for significantly less than the 3600.

Overall, though, the Ryzen 5 3600 will offer excellent in-game performance and multi-threaded performance and you can grab it for just under $200.

4. Intel Core i3-10100f

The best budget CPU for gaming

If you’re looking for a budget-friendly gaming processor that will allow you to build a 1080P gaming PC, the Intel Core i3-10100f is an option worth considering. With four cores and eight threads, the i3-10100f will have no problems running any game you throw at it.

And, with a pricetag of just under $110, it will allow gamers with extreme budgets to fit in a decent graphics card into their build.

For instance, in our $500 gaming PC build, we were able to fit an Intel Core i3-10100f and a GTX 1650 GPU (under normal market circumstances) into the part list. That combination will be more than powerful enough to run most games on a 1080P monitor on at least medium settings.

If you’d prefer an AMD alternative, you could opt for the Ryzen 3 3100. However, the 3100 is currently much more expensive. So, for now, we’ve chosen the i3-10100f as our top budget gaming processor.

5. AMD Ryzen 3 3200G

The best entry-level gaming CPU

If you’re working with an extremely tight budget and you don’t have enough to fit a decent processor and graphics card combination into your build, you could always opt for AMD’s Ryzen 3 3200G APU.

The 3200G combines both a solid CPU and GPU onto one chip, allowing you to forego the cost of a dedicated graphics card. And, while the performance of the 3200G won’t match any of the options listed above in terms of CPU power, it will at least be able to hold you over until you have the money to upgrade.

The 3200G is strong enough to run most of today’s top games on at least lower settings. In fact, with a budget of just $300, you can build an entry-level gaming PC with a Ryzen 3 3200G that will allow you to run games like Rocket League and League of Legends with no problems.

So, even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, the 3200G gives you the option to build an entry-level gaming system now.

6. Intel Core i9-11900K

The best extreme Intel CPU

If you have a large budget and you want a more extreme processor option, you have a few choices. AMD has a number of Ryzen Threadripper CPUs that offer a ton of cores and threads and will give you insane multi-threaded performance.

However, they all cost well over $1,000. The Ryzen 9 3990X costs over $3,500. The 3970X costs just under $2,000. And, the 3960X costs a little over $1,300.

On the other hand, Intel’s Core i9-11900K costs under $600. It doesn’t have as many cores or threads as the options above and it won’t perform nearly as well in multi-threaded applications as AMD’s monster Threadripper CPUs. However, with 8-cores and 12-threads, it is no slouch in those types of applications. And, with excellent single-core performance, the i9-11900K will actually perform just as well as the Threadripper’s in purely gaming performance.

The counter-argument to that, though, is the for nearly half the price, you could get similar gaming performance, and better multi-threaded performance with the Ryzen 9 5900X. So, while the i9-11900K is a powerful processor, you would probably be better off by choosing the Ryzen 9 5900X over it.

7. AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X

Extreme multi-threaded performance

If you do have an enormous budget and you want serious multi-threaded performance, the AMD Ryzen Threadripper lineup is worth checking out. Of the newest Threadripper options, we like the 3960X simply because it comes in at the lowest pricetag.

The $3,600 pricetag on the 3990X is far too high for 99.9% of the population and the $2,000 pricetag on the 3970X isn’t much better. And, while the 3960X still comes in at ~$1,300, it is at least manageable to fit into a $3,000-$4,000 PC budget.

Ultimately, if you’re looking to build a PC for mostly gaming, you could opt for a much less expensive option and still get incredible performance (both in-game and in CPU-heavy tasks).

8. AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Another powerful AMD gaming CPU

For those that are looking for a slightly less expensive option than the Intel Core i7-11700K, or if you’re looking for better multi-threaded performance, the Ryzen 7 5800X is a great option.

At just under $400 it comes in at about the same price as the Intel Core i7-11700K. And, while the 11700K will provide a bit more in-game performane, the 5800X is strong enough to handle any in-game scenario.

So, if you’d prefer to choose an option that will perform well in gaming and give you a bump in performance in multi-threaded applications as well, the 5800X is worth considering.

9. Intel Core i5-10400f

An Intel-based value gaming CPU

Another solid CPU option if you’re looking in the ~$150 to $200 price range is the Intel Core i5-10400f. The Intel Core i5-10400f’s direct AMD competitor is the Ryzen 5 3600.

Both processors will work well for gaming and in multi-threaded applications. However, we like the Ryzen 5 3600 a bit more because of its ability to be overclocked (the 10400f is locked and, thus, cannot be overclocked), and the better CPU cooler it comes with.

The i5-10400f is a bit cheaper, though, and if you don’t plan on overclocking and you don’t mind using the ugly Intel stock cooler for the time being, it’s a decent option. Ultimately, both processors will perform similarly in terms of in-game performance.

10. AMD Ryzen 3 3100

An AMD-based budget gaming CPU

Another budget-oriented CPU option for gamers is AMD’s Ryzen 3 3100. Like the Intel Core i3-10100f, the Ryzen 3 3100 is perfect for gamers who are working with a tight budget.

When combined with a budget graphics card, the Ryzen 3 3100 is capable of delivering excellent performance on a 1080P monitor

And, unlike the Intel Core i3-10100f, the Ryzen 3 3100 can be overclocked.

The one downfall of the Ryzen 3 3100, though, is that, at the time of updating this post, it is significantly more expensive than the i3-10100f. If you can find it for a more reasonable price, it is perhaps a better option than the i3-10100f. Either option are great for their price range, though.

Which CPU is Right for You?

While this list covers my opinions on what the best CPUs for gaming are, it’s inevitable that others will disagree with me. And, that’s fine!

I based this list off of what I believed were the best options in terms of overall performance and value. And, because I mainly looked at price-to-performance, I left some CPUs completely off of the list.

Ultimately, though, if you’re in the market for a new gaming computer and you are planning on buying a new system, or if you are just looking for an upgrade for your current system, and if you have questions about choosing a processor, please post them below.

Filed Under: Gaming CPU, PC Hardware

What's The Best GAMING Processor In 2021?

Best CPU for Gaming in 2021

When shopping for the best gaming CPU, you'll want to balance performance and features with your PC budget. Our tips and picks below will help you choose the best CPU for gaming. You can also see how all of these processors stack up in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy. But for detailed help on picking the best processor for your gaming rig, you can check out our 2021 CPU Buying Guide. And if you're on the fence about which CPU company to go with, our AMD vs. Intel feature dives deep and comes up with a winner.

AMD's Ryzen 7 5700G and Ryzen 5 5600G APUs came to market recently, shaking up the entry-level graphics scene. We found that the duo has the fastest integrated GPU on the market, offering nearly twice the performance of Intel's integrated graphics. The Ryzen 5000G series is now the uncontested champ for extreme budget gaming, small form factor, and HTPC rigs. The 5000G could also slot in as a temporary solution for enthusiasts that can't find a graphics card at reasonable pricing during these times of severe graphics cards shortages.

However, the Ryzen 5 5600G, which now joins our list of Best CPUs for Gaming, is the best pick for that task. The $259 Ryzen 5 5600G's iGPU performance lands within 4% of the $359 Ryzen 7 5700G but for 30% less cash, making it the best value APU for gaming on the market. We also recently tested the Ryzen 3 5300G, but that chip remains OEM-exclusive, meaning that you can't buy it at retail. 

At launch, AMD's Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 processors took the lead as the fastest gaming CPUs on the market, but Intel's Rocket Lake chips tightened the race and actually took the lead in the mid-range, as you can see with the Core i5-11400.

Our AMD Zen 3 Ryzen 5000 article has all the details on AMD's new CPUs, but you can check our full lineup of detailed reviews of each model, like the Ryzen 9 5950X and Ryzen 9 5900X, Ryzen 7 5800X, and Ryzen 5 5600X for the detailed rundown.

Intel's Rocket Lake processors have arrived, too, as you can see in our Core i9-11900K and Core i5-11600K, Core i5-11400 and Core i7-11700K reviews. Rocket Lake comes with Intel's first new architecture in the last six years, albeit with the caveat that the company still uses the 14nm process, and the chips top out at eight cores. 

Intel has its Alder Lake processors waiting in the wings for later this year, portending even bigger shakeups to our list of best CPUs for gaming, especially given the extremely promising early test results we've seen crop up.

AMD also has its new CPUs with 3D V-Cache headed to production later this year. Those chips will bring up to 15% more gaming performance courtesy of up to an almost-unthinkable 192MB of L3 cache bolted onto a souped-up Zen 3 processor. So as you can imagine, it won't be long before we have the full scoop on performance.  

Best CPUs for Gaming at a glance (more info below):

Overall Best CPU for Gaming:
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X
Alternate: Intel Core i5-11600K

High Performance Value Best CPU for Gaming:
AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Alternate: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

Overall Value Best CPU for Gaming:
AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Mid-Range Best CPU for Gaming:
Intel Core i5-11400

Budget Best CPU for Gaming:
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

Entry-Level Best CPU for Gaming:

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

Choosing the Best Gaming CPU for You

For a list of all processors by performance, check out our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy for CPU comparisons backed by processor benchmarks. We also maintain a list of best CPUs for workstations, for those who frequently tackle high-end content creation, or other tasks that benefit from high core counts. Higher-end chips benefit the most from the best thermal paste, so check out our guide if you're shopping for a new processor. But if you're after the best gaming CPU, you're in the right place.

If your main goal is gaming, you of course can't forget about the graphics card. Getting the best possible gaming CPU won't help you much if your GPU is under-powered and/or out of date. So be sure to check out Best Graphics Cards page, as well as our GPU Benchmarks Hierarchy to make sure you have the right card for the level of gaming you're looking to achieve.      

CPU Gaming Benchmarks

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We rank all the Intel and AMD processors based on our in-depth CPU benchmarks. You can see some of those numbers in the charts above, including overclocked performance results (marked as PBO for AMD processors). 

This group of results comprises only the chips that have passed through our newest test suite, while the tables in our CPU benchmark hierarchy include rankings based on past CPU benchmarks, and also include breakdowns of single- and multi-threaded performance across a broad spate of processors. Finally, the pricing in the charts above represents MSRPs. Given the current state of chip shortages, you likely won't find many of these chips at these prices at retail.

Quick Shopping Tips

When choosing a CPU in 2021, consider the following:

  • You can't lose with AMD or Intel: We recently pointed out that AMD makes better CPUs overall these days in our AMD vs. Intel feature. But so long as you’re considering current-generation parts, the performance debate is basically a wash, particularly when it comes to gaming. Some of the most-expensive mainstream Intel processors do slightly better on gaming, and AMD handles tasks like video editing quicker (thanks largely to extra cores and threads). 
  • For gaming, clock speed is more important than the number of cores: Higher CPU clock speeds translate to snappier performance in simple, common tasks such as gaming, while more cores will help you get through time-consuming workloads faster. In the end, the fastest CPUs of any family of processors have the highest clock speeds. 
  • Budget for a full system: Don't pair a strong CPU with weak storage, RAM and graphics.
  • Overclocking isn’t for everyone: If you want to just get to gaming, it might make more sense to spend $20-$60 more and buy a higher-end chip, rather than spending money on a higher-end cooler.

Best Gaming CPUs for 2021

1. AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

Overall Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Zen 3

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 6 / 12

Base Frequency: 4.1GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.8GHz

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Strong gaming performance+Strong in single- and multi-threaded workloads+Relatively easy to cool+PCIe 4.0+Bundled cooler+Power efficiency+Works with existing 500-series motherboards

Reasons to avoid

-Higher gen-on-gen pricing

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X takes the top spot in the gaming PC market with a solid blend of Intel-beating performance in both gaming and application workloads. The six-core 12-thread chip lands at $299, a $50 price hike over its previous-gen counterpart, but brings more than enough extra gaming and application performance to justify the premium. The Ryzen 5 5600X even beats the Intel Core i9-10900K at gaming, which is an incredible feat given its price point. Not to mention that it's the most power-efficient desktop PC processor we've ever tested. 

AMD's Zen 3 microarchitecture results in a stunning 19% increase in IPC, which floats all boats in terms of performance in gaming, single-threaded, and multi-threaded applications. In fact, the chip generally matches the gaming performance of its more expensive sibling, the $449 Ryzen 7 5800X. That makes the 5600X an incredibly well-rounded chip that can handle any type of gaming, from competitive-class performance with high refresh rate monitors to streaming, while also serving up more than enough performance for day-to-day application workloads.    

The Ryzen 5 5600X has a 3.7 GHz base and 4.6 GHz boost clock, but with the right cooling and motherboard, you can expect higher short-term boosts. The chip also has a 65W TDP rating, meaning it runs exceptionally cool and quiet given its capabilities (the previous-gen model was 95W). Existing AMD owners with a 500-series motherboard will breathe a sigh of relief as the 5600X drops right into existing 500-series motherboards. You can also drop the chips right into 400-series motherboards. If you need a new motherboard to support the chip, both 400- and 500-series motherboards are plentiful and relatively affordable, with the B550 lineup offering the best overall value for this class of chip. 

Read: AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Review

Intel Core i5-11600K

Overall Best CPU for Gaming - Alternate Pick


Architecture: Rocket Lake

Socket: LGA 1200

Cores/Threads: 6 / 12

Base Frequency: 3.9GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.9GHz

TDP: 125W

Reasons to buy

+Competitive price-to-performance ratio+Solid gaming performance+Excellent performance in threaded applications+Snappy single-threaded performance+Overclockable

Reasons to avoid

-No bundled cooler-Comparatively high power consumption

At $270, Intel's speedy Core i5-11600K doesn't claim outright benchmark supremacy over the Ryzen 5 5600X. Still, you probably won't notice the relatively slight differences in gaming when you pair the chip with a mid-range GPU or play at heightened fidelity settings.

The Core i5-11600K is incredibly competitive in both gaming and multi-threaded work and comes with a friendly price tag. Also, keep your eye out for the $237 version, the Core i5-11600KF, which comes without integrated graphics. If you plan to use a discrete GPU, the KF model is your chip, as it is functionally the same as the standard model but comes at an absolute steal at $237. That is if you can't find a Ryzen 5 5600X in stock, of course.

The 11600K boosts to a peak of 4.9 GHz on two cores and can maintain a 4.6 GHz all-core frequency. The chip drops readily into either Z490 or 500-series motherboards and comes with an unlocked multiplier, meaning you are free to overclock. In fact, after tuning, the 11600K matches the Ryzen 5 5600X in gaming. It also supports PCIe 4.0 for the graphics card and a single M.2 slot.

The catch? The 11600K comes with a 125W PL1 (power Limit 1) rating, the same as the previous-gen 10600K, but has a 251W PL2, a whopping 69W increase compared to the previous 182W limit. That means you'll need a capable cooler to deal with the extra heat. Intel's K-series chips don't come with a cooler, so you'll have to budget one in if you pick the 11600K and also be willing to overlook its comparatively high power consumption.

Read: Intel Core i5-11600K Review

2. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X

High Performance Value Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Zen 3

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 16/32

Base Frequency: 3.4GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.9GHz

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Class-leading 16 cores & 32 threads+Overclockable+Higher boost frequencies+Reasonable price-per-core+Power efficiency+PCIe Gen 4.0

Reasons to avoid

-Requires beefy cooling-No bundled cooler-Higher gen-on-gen pricing-No integrated graphics

High end desktop processors have long offered the ultimate in performance, as long as you were willing to pay the price. Aside from high MSRPs, the chips also require expensive accommodations, like beefy motherboards and the added cost of fully populating quad-channel memory controllers. Add in the inevitable trade-offs, like reduced performance in lightly-threaded applications and games, and any cost-conscious users who could benefit from the threaded horsepower of a HEDT chip just settle for mainstream offerings.

AMD's Ryzen 9 5950X, with 16 cores and 32 threads, expands on its predecessors' mission of bringing HEDT-class performance to mainstream motherboards, lowering the bar for entry. The 5950X carries a $799 price tag, but that’s downright affordable compared to competing HEDT processors that don't offer the same class of performance.

We generally don't recommend HEDT processors for enthusiasts that are only interested in gaming. Gamers are best served by mainstream processors (with fewer cores and higher clocks) that are often faster in games; the Ryzen 9 5950X also falls into the same category - AMD's lesser 5000-series models are a better value for gamers. However, if you're after a chip and platform that can do serious work seriously fast, but still be nimble enough to deliver high-refresh gameplay at the end of the day, the Ryzen 9 5950X fits the bill like no other CPU before it.

Read: AMD Ryzen 9 3950X Review

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X

High Performance Value Best CPU for Gaming - Alternate Pick


Architecture: Zen 3

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 8 / 16

Base Frequency: 3.8GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.7GHz

TDP: 105W

Reasons to buy

+Strong gaming performance+Solid single- and multi-threaded performance+IPC gain, boost frequencies+Power efficiency+Overclockable+PCIe Gen4 support+400/500-series compatible

Reasons to avoid

-Price-No bundled cooler-No integrated graphics

The Ryzen 7 5800X provides a great blend of both gaming and application performance, but our initial concerns with the chip centered around shortage-induced pricing concerns. The Ryzen 7 5800X has been reliably in stock for nearly a month now and retails for $25 less than the official $450 suggested pricing. That reduction goes a long way to addressing our pricing concerns.

The Ryzen 7 5800X offers the same level of gaming performance as the Ryzen 5 5600X. If gaming is your primary intention, the Ryzen 5 5600X is a much better value and remains our top pick for gaming. However, if you're looking for more of an all-rounder that offers a bit more grunt power for applications, the Ryzen 7 5800X is your chip.

The Ryzen 5 5800X's suggested pricing lands at a $50 premium over the competing 11700K, but it has sold for ~$25 below that mark for the last month, and it's available now. This chip consumes much less power than the 11700K, resulting in more forgiving cooling requirements and the ability to run the chip on less expensive motherboards that don't require the full-fledged power circuitry needed to extract the best performance from the 11700K. Both of these factors reduce the 5800X's overall platform costs. Additionally, you can step up to 12- or 16-core Ryzen 5000 models in the future with 400- and 500-series motherboards.

Read: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X Review

3. AMD Ryzen 9 5900X

Overall Value Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Zen 3

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 12/24

Base Frequency: 3.7GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.8GHz

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Support for PCIe 4.0+Unlocked multiplier+Compatible with 500-series motherboards+Excellent gaming performance +Excellent single- and multi-threaded performance

Reasons to avoid

-No bundled cooler-Higher gen-on-gen pricing-No integrated graphics

If you’re truly only concerned about the best gaming CPU and basic productivity tasks, you should go with the Ryzen 5 5600X and save yourself some money. But if you’re looking for the uncontested fastest gaming chip on the market, or thinking of getting into game streaming, occasionally edit video, or just like the idea of having more threads available when you need them, AMD’s Ryzen 9 5900X is an incredible value.

The 12-core 24-thread Ryzen 9 5900X is rated for a 3.7 GHz base and 4.8 GHz boost, but we clocked it in at 5.0 GHz during our own testing. The 5900X offers the ultimate in gaming performance - it is the uncontested gaming chip on the market, but it is a bit overkill if gaming is all you do. However, if you feel the need for speed in productivity workloads, this chip's 12 cores will chew through those workloads with aplomb. 

There’s also support for PCIe 4.0 and overclockability to consider. The Ryzen 9 5900X drops into existing 500-series and 400-series motherboards. You'll need to bring your own cooler, and the bigger the better - cooling definitely has an impact on performance with the higher-end Ryzen 5000 processors. However, if you're looking at the no-compromise chip for gaming, this is your chip.

Read:AMD Ryzen 9 5900X Review

4. Intel Core i5-11400

Mid-Range Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Rocket Lake

Socket: LGA 1200

Cores/Threads: 6/12

Base Frequency: 2.6GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Solid gaming and application performance+PCIe 4.0+Bundled cooler+Memory overclocking

Reasons to avoid

-Power consumption

The Core i5-11400 is the best budget chip on the market, largely because AMD's only competing chip comes in the form of the two-year-old Ryzen 5 3600 that can't compete with the more modern 11400. In gaming, the $182 Core i5-11400 delivers a blowout victory over the Ryzen 5 3600 that often retails for $200 or more. In fact, you can pick up the graphics-less Core i5-11400F for $157, which is a steal given this level of gaming performance. (Remember, the 11400F will perform the same as the non-F model, but you lose QuickSync.) 

Taken as a whole, the Core i5-11400 has a better blend of performance throughout our full suite of application tests, too. The 11400's large lead in single-threaded work is impressive, and its only deficiencies in threaded work come when it is topped with its stock cooler. The 11400 roughly matches the 3600 in threaded work with a better cooler, even with the power limits strictly enforced, while removing those limits gives the 11400 uncontested lead.

The Core i5-11400 supports the PCIe 4.0 interface. Additionally, B-series motherboards, which make the best pairing with this chip, support both memory overclocking and lifting the power limits, both of which yield huge dividends with this chip while also giving enthusiasts room to tinker.  You'll have to overlook the higher power consumption if you go with the Core i5-11400, especially if you remove the power limits. Intel's stock cooler is also largely worthless for enthusiasts, so you should budget for a better cooler. 

 Read: Intel Core i5-11400 Review

5. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

Budget Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Zen 2

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 4/8

Base Frequency: 3.8GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.3GHz

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Low pricing+Great gaming performance+Solder TIM+Overclocking ceiling+PCIe 4.0 interface+Power efficient

Reasons to avoid

-Lackluster bundle cooler

The Ryzen 3 3300X is a hard chip to find because it is simply such a great deal. But if you do manage to nab one anywhere near its $120 MSRP, it's impossible to beat at its price point. The chip unlocks a new level of performance for budget gamers with four cores and eight threads that can push low- to mid-range graphics cards to their fullest. This new processor wields the Zen 2 architecture paired with the 7nm process to push performance to new heights while enabling new features for low-end processors, like access to the speedy PCIe 4.0 interface. The 3300X's four cores tick at a 3.8 GHz clock rate and boost to 4.3 GHz, providing snappy performance in lightly threaded applications, like games.

AMD includes a bundled Wraith Spire cooler with the processor. Still, you might consider budgeting in a better low-end cooler to unlock the full performance, particularly if you are overclocking. Speaking of which, the Ryzen 3 3300X can overclock to the highest all-core frequencies we've seen with a Ryzen 3000-series processor, making it a great chip for enthusiasts. Unlike AMD's other current-gen Ryzen 3 processors, you'll need to pair this processor with a discrete GPU, but the low price point leaves extra room in the budget for a more capable graphics card.

You can stick with the value theme and drop this capable chip into existing X470 of B450 motherboards, but you'll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for a lower price point. Better yet, AMD has its new B550 motherboards on offer. These new motherboards support the PCIe 4.0 interface but provide lower entry-level pricing that's a better fit for this class of processor.

Read: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X Review

6. AMD Ryzen 5 5600G

Entry-Level Best CPU for Gaming


Architecture: Zen 3

Socket: AM4

Cores/Threads: 6/12

Base Frequency: 3.9GHz

Top Boost Frequency: 4.4GHz

TDP: 65W

Reasons to buy

+Stellar price-to-performance ratio+Faster Zen 3 CPU cores+Passable 1080p, solid 720p+Excellent power consumption and efficiency+Great overclocking headroom+Bundled cooler+Compatible with some AM4 motherboards

Reasons to avoid

-PCIe 3.0 connectivity

The Ryzen 5 5600G comes to market during the worst GPU shortage in history, so many users will upgrade to this chip and use its potent integrated graphics for gaming until GPU pricing improves. The Ryzen 5 5600G lives up to that bill, too, stepping into the arena as the new value champ for APUs, which are chips that come with strong enough integrated graphics that they don't require a discrete GPU for light gaming, albeit at lowered quality settings.

At $259, the Ryzen 5 5600G gives you 96% of the gaming performance on integrated graphics than its more expensive sibling, the $359 Ryzen 7 5700G, but for 30% less cash. That makes it the best value  APU on the market. As long as you're willing to sacrifice fidelity and resolution, and keep your expectations in check, the Ryzen 5 5600G's Vega graphics have surprisingly good performance in gaming. The 5600G's Vega graphics served up comparatively great 1280x720 gaming across numerous titles, but options become more restricted at 1080p. Of course, you can get away with 1080p gaming, but you'll need to severely limit the fidelity settings with most titles.

With eight cores and 16 threads that operate at a 3.9 GHz base and boost up to 4.4 GHz, the Ryzen 5 5600G also offers solid performance for its price point in standard desktop PC applications. The chip also comes with a bundled Wraith Stealth cooler, sweetening the value prop, and drops into existing 500-series and some 400-series motherboards, though support on the latter will vary by vendor.

Read: AMD Ryzen 5 5600G Review

If your budget is tight and you're looking to build a system for modest gaming, you should check out our Best Cheap CPUs feature. Some of those chips can deliver passable gaming performance without a graphics card, and their prices start at just $55 (£40).

Deals on the Best CPUs

Whether you're buying one of the best CPUs we listed above or one that didn't quite make the cut, you may find some savings by checking our list of coupon codes, especially our lists of Newegg promo codes and Micro Center coupons.


Now discussing:

Best Cheap CPUs of 2021, Tested and Ranked

AMD's Ryzen 3000 and Athlon processors (including the unlocked $49 Athlon 3000G) have shaken up the low-cost landscape and made a splash on our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy, but crushing shortages of chips has gripped the industry, which impacts the low end of the market in a particularly painful way. So even though quad-core models with gaming-capable integrated graphics have an MSRP for a mere $100, and the Athlon lineup now dips below 50 bucks (although it's not always easy to find the 200GE at the moment), supply is short. Intel's response to AMD's challenge has brought Hyper-threading to its low-end Pentium processors and two additional cores to the Core i3 line, which greatly improves performance for its budget chips even though they're still limited in terms of their graphics.

AMD hasn't released its Ryzen 5000 chips for the low-end yet; the series bottoms out at the Ryzen 5 family. We expect that Ryzen 3 models will come in due course, shaking up our low-end rankings. Intel also has its Rocket Lake processors incoming next month, but these chips will use the refreshed Comet Lake architecture for the Core i3 and below chips, so they probably won't have much impact on our rankings. 

The 200-series AMD chips are surprisingly capable at gaming even without a dedicated card. For more details about how the 200GE stacks up against Intel's comparable budget chip, see our feature AMD Athlon 200GE vs. Intel Pentium Gold G5400: Cheap CPU Showdown.

For those looking for something with a bit more gaming prowess without having to resort to a dedicated graphics card,  AMD's Ryzen 5 3400G is tough to beat. While the Ryzen 4000 APUs are faster, they're not readily available and cost a lot more. The 3400G is a solid option but doesn't offer a big performance boost over previous-generation chips like the Ryzen 5 2400G.

If your budget is a bit more flexible and you're looking to pair your processor with dedicated graphics for gaming, AMD's Ryzen 3 3300X is great if you can find it at retail around the MSRP of $120, and Intel's new Core i5-10600KF is impressive at about twice that amount. But like so many other PC components, both of these processors are hard to find in stock at reasonable prices. Hopefully availability will improve over time, but it probably won't happen until later in 2021, at which time we'll have new processors.

Quick Shopping Tips

When choosing a CPU, consider the following:

  • You can't lose with AMD or Intel: Both companies offer good budget chips, and overall CPU performance between comparative parts is closer than it’s been in years. You can see how the chips stack up in our CPU Benchmarks Hierarchy. That said, if you’re primarily interested in gaming, Intel’s chips will generally deliver slightly better performance (and consume more power) when paired with a graphics card, while AMD’s Raven Ridge models (like the AMD Ryzen 3 2200G) do a better job of delivering gaming-capable performance at modest settings and resolutions without the need for a graphics card.
  • Clock speed is more important than core count: Higher clock speeds translate to snappier performance in simple, common tasks such as gaming, while extra cores will help you get through time-consuming workloads faster.
  • Budget for a full system: Don't pair a strong CPU with weak storage, RAM and/or graphics.
  • Overclocking isn’t for everyone, but the ability to squeeze more performance out of a budget offering is enticing. Intel doesn't have overclocking-capable processors for the sub-$125 market, but AMD's processors allow for tuning, and in most cases the bundled AMD cooler is sufficient for the task. Automated overclocking features in most motherboards make the process easy, so even the least tech-savvy users can enjoy the benefits.

For even more information, check out our CPU Buyer’s Guide, where we discuss how much you should spend for what you’re looking to do, and when cores matter more than high clock speeds. If you can expand your budget and buy a mainstream or high-end processor, check out our lists of Best CPUs for Gaming and Best CPUs for Workstations. Below, you'll see our favorite budget picks.

Best cheap processors at a glance:

1. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
2. AMD Ryzen 3 2200G
3. AMD Athlon 240GE
4. AMD Athlon 200GE

Best Cheap CPUs 2021

1. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

Best $100-$130 CPU Pick


Architecture: Zen 2

Cores/Threads: 4/8

Base/Boost Frequency: 3.8GHz

TDP: 65W

iGPU: ~

Graphics Frequency: ~

Reasons to buy

+Low pricing+Great gaming performance+Solder TIM+Overclocking ceiling+PCIe 4.0 interface+Power efficient

Reasons to avoid

-Lackluster bundled cooler-Almost impossible to find at MSRP

The Ryzen 3 3300X unlocks a new level of performance for budget gamers with four cores and eight threads that can push low- to mid-range graphics cards to their fullest. This new processor wields the Zen 2 architecture paired with the 7nm process to push performance to new heights while enabling new features for low-end processors, like access to the speedy PCIe 4.0 interface. The 3300X's four cores tick at a 3.8 GHz clock rate and boost to 4.3 GHz, providing snappy performance in lightly threaded applications, like games.

AMD includes a bundled Wraith Spire cooler with the processor. Still, you might consider budgeting in a better low-end cooler to unlock the full performance, particularly if you are overclocking. Speaking of which, the Ryzen 3 3300X can overclock to the highest all-core frequencies we've seen with a Ryzen 3000-series processor, making it a great chip for enthusiasts. Unlike AMD's other current-gen Ryzen 3 processors, you'll need to pair this processor with a discrete GPU, but the low price point leaves extra room in the budget for a more capable graphics card.

You can stick with the value theme and drop this capable chip into existing X470 of B450 motherboards, but you'll lose access to the PCIe 4.0 interface in exchange for a lower price point. Better yet, AMD will have its new B550 motherboards on offer in June 2020. These new motherboards support the PCIe 4.0 interface but provide lower entry-level pricing that's a better fit for this class of processor.

Read: AMD Ryzen 3 3300X

2. AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

Best $85-$100 Budget Pick


Architecture: Zen

Cores/Threads: 4/4

Base/Boost Frequency: 3.5/3.7 GHz

TDP: 65W

iGPU: Radeon Vega 8

Graphics Frequency: 1100 MHz

Reasons to buy

+Price+Higher frequencies+Solid 720p gaming performance+Unlocked multipliers

Reasons to avoid

-Eight lanes for PCIe slots-Need to ensure motherboard BIOS compatibility-Requires a better heatsink for overclocking

When money is tight, being able to game without a graphics card can lead to serious savings. And with RAM prices continuing to soar, those working with small budgets need to tighten the strings anywhere they can.

That makes the four-core, four-thread Ryzen 3 2200G particularly appealing for budget gaming builders and upgraders. The $99 chip delivers solid 720p performance thanks to its Vega on-chip graphics, decent CPU muscle for mainstream tasks, and can be dropped into an existing inexpensive 300-series motherboard (after a requisite BIOS update), to form the basis of a surprisingly capable low-cost PC. It’s also unlocked, so with proper cooling you can tune the graphics or the CPU to best suit your needs.

Read: AMD Ryzen 3 2200G Review

3. AMD Athlon 240GE

Best $60-$85 Entry-Level Pick


Architecture: Zen

Cores/Threads: 2/4

Base/Boost Frequency: 3.5/ ~ GHz

TDP: 35W

iGPU: Radeon Vega 3

Graphics Frequency: 1 GHz

Reasons to buy

+Attractive price+Includes a bundled thermal solution+Overclocking is possible, though officially unsupported+All models provide similar performance after overclocking

Reasons to avoid

-Graphics engine and memory can't be overclocked-Weak single-threaded performance

AMD's Athlon 240GE serves as the flagship of the company's budget lineup, but it still packs a convincing punch for low-end gaming systems. The integrated Radeon Vega 3 graphics facilitate playable frame rates at lower resolutions and quality settings, but the 3.5 GHz base clock is the only differentiating feature between the Athlon 240GE and its counterparts. Due to the unofficial support for overclocking, that means you can tune the Athlon 200GE to the same top performance as the more expensive chips, but at a $20 price savings.

If overclocking isn't in your plans, the Athlon 240GE is the best budget chip in its price band. Intel's competing Pentium lineup lacks the graphical horsepower to be serious contenders for the extreme low-end of the budget gaming market, but they are attractive if gaming isn't your primary goal. That is, of course, if you can find them.

Read: AMD Athlon 240GE Review

4. AMD Athlon 200GE

Best Under $60 Entry-Level Pick


Architecture: Zen

Cores/Threads: 2/4

Base/Boost Frequency: 3.2/ ~ GHz

TDP: 35W

iGPU: Radeon Vega 3

Graphics Frequency: 1.1 GHz

Reasons to buy

+Attractive price+Includes a bundled thermal solution+Overclocking is possible, though officially unsupported+All models provide similar performance after overclocking

Reasons to avoid

-Graphics engine and memory can't be overclocked-Weak single-threaded performance

AMD’s sub-$60 Zen-based Athlon is a good all-around value, thanks to its four computing threads and Vega 3 graphics that are capable of light gaming at lower resolutions and settings. Lightly threaded performance isn’t great, but when you’re spending this little on a CPU, you should expect compromises somewhere. And while it isn’t officially supported by AMD, if you have a compatible motherboard, this chip can be overclocked to eke out some extra CPU performance.

If your build budget can swing it, the $100 Ryzen 3 2200G is a much better chip with more cores and beefier graphics. But if you can only spend $60 or less on your CPU and you aren’t adding a dedicated graphics card, the Athlon 200GE is tough to beat. Intel’s competing Pentiums, the Gold G5400 and G4560, deliver better CPU performance. But they have higher MSRPs, and production shortages have made them hard to find unless you’re willing to spend close to $100 or more, making them incomparable in terms of budget CPUs.

Read: AMD Athlon 200GE Review

Integrated Graphics Gaming Performance

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You won't find many game titles that will play well at the popular 1920X1080 resolution on the sub-$80 chips, but there are a few. As we can see, AMD's $100 Ryzen 3 2200G is the undisputed king of the hill for 1080p gaming on integrated graphics, but the Athlon chips also push out playable frame rates in a few titles (if you're willing to tolerate lower graphics quality settings).

Switching over to 1280x720 finds the Athlon processors providing up to 50 FPS at stock settings and experiencing a decent performance boost from overclocking. Remember, all of the Athlon chips will benefit equally from overclocking, meaning the Athlon 200GE and 220GE will achieve the same level of performance as the overclocked Athlon 240GE. That's an amazing value for these low-cost chips. It should go without saying, but the Ryzen 3 2200G's Radeon Vega 8 graphics engine blows through the 1280x720 tests with ease.

Intel's Pentium lineup, and even the Core i3-8100 for that matter, struggle tremendously under the weight of these titles. Gaming at 1920x1080 is a painful experience: You won't find many games that are playable on Pentium processors at that resolution. Switching over to the 1280x720 resolution brings the Core i3-8100 and Pentium G5600 into acceptable territory, but those chips still can't match the Athlon's performance, not to mention the crazy good savings. Intel's Pentium G5400 is particularly disappointing, though, due to its pared-down UHD Graphics 610 engine. We wouldn't recommend this processor for gaming on integrated graphics.

But it's hard to recommend Pentium processors at all right now. Intel is struggling with a shortage of 14nm production capacity, so these chips are extremely hard to find, and when you do find them, they are subject to severe price gouging.

Discrete GPU Gaming Performance

We focus primarily on integrated graphics gaming performance for ultra-budget chips, but these processors are also a great pairing with low-end discrete graphics cards. Below, we've tested the chips paired with an Nvidia GeForce GTX 2080 at the 1920x1080 resolution to remove any GPU limitations from our tests below. We tested with an Nvidia GeForce 1080 FE graphics card to remove graphics-imposed bottlenecks, but the difference between the processors will shrink with the cheaper graphics cards that are commonly found in budget builds. Provided the performance deltas are small, you can select less expensive models and enjoy nearly the same gaming experience with graphics cards on the lower-end of the GPU benchmarks hierarchy.

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Intel’s Coffee Lake Pentium models come with slight frequency improvements, a 3W increase in the TDP rating, and 4MB of L3 cache. These slight adjustments deliver a surprising boost to performance compared to the previous-gen Kaby Lake models. The Coffee Lake Pentium Gold G5600 even beats out the Kaby Lake Core i3-7100 in most of our gaming benchmarks, highlighting the impressive performance gains Intel made within a single generation.

The G5600 grapples with the Ryzen 3 2200G. The Ryzen 3 2200G is relatively simple to overclock with single-click options in the BIOS, and the bundled cooler provides enough headroom for all but the most extreme overclocking efforts. At stock settings, the 2200G trails the Intel Pentium Gold 5600, but the advantage of AMD’s unlocked multipliers is clear: At $99, the tuned Ryzen 3 2200G’s performance nearly matches the $117 Core i3-8100.

The Ryzen 3 2200G also comes with powerful integrated graphics that provide surprisingly strong gaming performance at lower resolutions and quality settings. That’s a feat the Core i3-8100 simply cannot match. If you’re seeking the absolute best gaming performance (when paired with a dedicated card) regardless of price, the Core i3-8100 fits the bill. If you want the most bang for your buck or plan on gaming on integrated graphics, the Ryzen 3 2200G is the clear value winner.

Productivity Performance

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