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The best processors for gamers – CPUs for any budget in April 2017

We recommend CPUs for gaming PCs in three different price ranges,  including the new Ryzen-5 and Ryzen-7 processors from AMD.

Update – Mid-April 2017: AMD has released the second series of Ryzen processors. We have updated our purchase advice accordingly. The Ryzen-5 processors (from $150+) with four to six cores join the Ryzen 7 CPUs in fairly high price regions (from $300+) with eight cores. In the second half of the year, the even more favorable Ryzen 3 processors, which will have the price range of to $140, are expected to bring much choices to the table.

The Core i5 7500 from Intel’s current Kaby Lake generation offers a lot of performance at a fair price, so for gamers, it is currently a very good choice.

People who love games want them to run smoothly, so we are leaving very cheap budget processors in this overview. In a gaming PC, a four-core processor should be installed, even on a very limited budget, because of the much higher degree of future security. In addition, the PC also works faster when you use multiple programs at the same time.

However, with the Core i3 series, and especially with the new Pentium G4560, Intel looks still interesting, because these are very fast dual-core processors in the price range of around $100. Thanks to hyper-threading, they can handle four threads and for most current game titles, this must power is still more than enough. However, some games with significantly higher multi-core utilization and when running in maximum detail, do not run smoothly on the i3 Dual Cores and the Pentium. For such games, a better processor with four or more cores is required.

In addition, we limit our recommendations to AMD’s widely-used AMD motherboards with AM4 and Intel (primarily Socket 1151,) provided they are offered in the respective price ranges.

AMD’s Fusion APUs with a relatively powerful integrated DX11 graphics unit like the A10-7850K are suitable for entry-level PCs, but they also need a motherboard with socket FM2, which does not support the more fleeting FX processors (socket AM3 +) nor the new Ryzen CPUs (sockets AM4) is supported. However, since a combination of CPU and separate graphics card is much more powerful, players do not have any need of an APU.

For mid-range and high-end systems, AMD again offers an alternative to Intel. Since the beginning of March 2017, the Ryzen 7 processors have been on the market. In the middle of April, the Ryzen 5 CPUs followed. In games, they cannot always get their full potential, which some developers like the case of “Ashes of the Singularity” already are tackling with appropriate patches. Due to the high core number at a comparatively low price and the associated security of the future, Ryzen is, however, in most cases a a better overall package.

*Higher is Better

CPUs up to $140
In this price range, we have long recommended AMDs FX processors for the AM3 + socket, also because Intel has a maximum of dual core CPUs in the portfolio. But since there are no new processors for this aging socket and Ryzen-3 processors in this price range will appear later in the year, we advise against buying FX CPUs.

The fact that Intel processors have a maximum of two cores in this price range has not changed with the Kaby Lake generation. However, the Pentium processors are now dominating hyper-threading for the virtual core doubling, which is why just like low-priced dual cores, the i3 series from Intel can be suitable for a gaming PC. Lower future security offered by these CPUs due to the low core number, however is something you should consider in spite of the currently generally good performance before making a purchase.

Intel Pentium G4560
Intel’s Pentium G4560 costs only about $50, but it offers hyper threading which provides virtual core doubling. A novelty in the Pentium processors, that makes it quite interesting also for small budget players.

The two cores are clocked at 3.5 GHz, but there is no turbo boost. Possible alternatives are the Pentium G4600 (3.6 GHz, about $80) and the G4620 (3.7 GHz, about $90.) Whether this extra charge is worthwhile in view of the small clock increase, is however somewhat questionable.

A big advantage of the current Pentium CPUs is that they run on the motherboards with the socket 1151 like all current Kaby Lake processors. This makes it relatively easy to upgrade the PC later with a faster CPU.

Intel Core i3 7100
The best processor for low budget gaming. The Core i3 7100 is a dual-core processor from Intel’s Kaby Lake generation for just under $110. Compared to the Pentium G4560, it offers a 400 MHz higher clock rate. This is quite noticeable in games, but you must also see that the extra charge for this is disproportionately high.

At the moment, there are no more attractive offers in terms of price/performance ratio in the price range of up to $140, whereas AMD has only the outdated processors to offer; therefore it is not really recommended to buy any of the FX processors. You can wait up until the release of the new Ryzen 3 CPUs.

If you do not have a lot of money to spend on a CPU, they the Pentium G4560 is the best choice. At the same time, we recommend that you do not spend more than 150 Euros on a low-end (old) processor, you should therefore wait for the release of Ryzen 3, if possible.

CPUs up to $235
The price range from $140 to $235 belonged almost entirely/exclusively to intel since the appearance of the Sandy Bridge generation in early 2011, but this has changed with the new Ryzen 5 CPUs, finally. In games, Intel, despite the lack of virtual core doubling as opposed to the AMD processors, with its Core i5 CPUs, it is often the front runner in the overall performance of game and applications. If you look at the energy efficiency and price, then Ryzen 5 is slightly ahead.

Intel Core i5 7500
The core i5 7500 with four cores belongs to the Kaby Lake generation and it has a clock with 3.4 GHz base and up to 3.8 GHz turbot. He does not support hyper threading for the virtual core doubling in contrast to the more expensive Core i7 models, but the technology does not usually bring advantages in current games. In addition, Intel has reduced the L3 cache on the i5 models from 8 to 6 MB, which is synonymous in the game benchmarks; performance difference is barely noticeable.

In contrast to its similarly expensive predecessors Core i5 6500, the Core i5 7500 clocks with 200 MHz more. Therefore, it is no longer suitable to buy this Skylake CPU. A possible alternative is the 400 MHz higher clocked Core i3 7350K for about $180. However, it has only two cores (with the support of hyper threading,) In our test of the Core i3 7350K, it showed that a further overclocking of the free multiplier improves the gaming performance only slightly. We therefore recommend the Core i5 7500.

AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
Ryzen 5 1500X costs similar to the Core i5 7500; the clock rates differ only by 100 MHz. The Ryzen CPU, however, supports the virtual core doubling, and thanks to the free multiplier, it is comparatively easily overclocked, in contrast to the Core i5 7500.

According to our tests, the Intel CPU in games tend to be slightly ahead, while the Ryzen 5 1500X in applications use can register a small advantage. Ultimately, the two processors are currently neck to neck.

Intel Core i5 7600 (K)
Intel’s Core i5 7600 can easily set its clock higher by 300 MHz using the Turbo-Speed feature. This makes it slightly faster than Core i5 7500 and thereby, justifies paying an extra $20.

In contrast to the Core i5 7500, the Core i5 7600 also features a “K” model with a free multiplier. If you plan on overclocking your CPU, it is best to take advantage of this variant, which is delivered without a CPU cooler but at the same time also provides a 300 MHz higher clock. A possible alternative with price is the Ryzen 5 1600X with six cores.

CPUs $240+
In the price range over 240 US Dollars, Intel has not only other Kaby Lake processors, but also the Haswell E models and the Broadwell E successors with six to ten cores to offer. This is becoming more and more important in games, but since the Haswell-E/Broadwell-E models are very expensive, we do not recommend them for a pure gaming PC. At the very least, the most suitable CPUs (Core i7 5820K/Core i7 6800K) for a little more than $360 are worth a look; for the other models, the price/performance ratio does not look good.

Things look different in AMD’s significantly cheaper Ryzen CPUs with six and eight cores, some of which have found their way into our recommendations at the price range over $240. Although, they often do not reach the level of Intel’s fastest Core i7 processors in games, they already offer a high level of application performance and a high degree of future-proofing due to their core number, as the performance of the game is further enhanced by Ryzen-specific optimizations as the example of “Ashes of the Singularity” shows.

AMD Ryzen 5 1600 (X)
With Ryzen 5, it is possible for the first time in the desktop platform since AMD’s Phenom II X6 1000T, to buy a processor with six cores (and without AMDs module design of the FX-CPUs) for less than $290. The Ryzen 5 1600X is AMD’s hexa-core top model with high clock rates of 3.6 GHz in standard mode and 4 GHz in boost mode. In our game benchmarks, the Ryzen 5 1600X is almost as fast as the Ryzen 7 1800X with eight cores, which has almost twice the price.

The two additional cores of the 1800X offer advantages primarily in applications, players can therefore confidently buy the Ryzen 5 1600X. If you want to save even more money, you can also consider the Ryzen 5 1600. Its clock is 400 MHz lower than the 1600X, but it costs ~$25 less too.

Compared to Intel’s Core i5 processors, the Ryzen 5 1600 (X) scores above all with the two additional cores, the virtual core doubling, and the free multiplier that only the Core i5 7600K has to offer. The Core i5 7600K, however, according to our tests, is also still a good choice.

Intel Core i7 7700 (K)
Even if the Core i7 7700K has two cores less than the Ryzen 5 1600X, it is in games, according to our own benchmarks, usually a bit faster. This is mainly due to its higher clock rates; by default, it is 4.2 GHz, in boost mode it is 4.5 GHz. But its price is also a bit higher.

A possible alternative is the approximately $40 cheaper Core i7 7700. It has lower clock rates, in addition, it does not have a free multiplier, so overclocking is not possible with this CPU.

AMD Ryzen 7 1700
AMD’s smallest Ryzen 7 processor costs about as much as an Intel Core i7 7700K, but offers eight cores and 16 threads. Its base clock speed of 3.0 GHz (up to 3.7 GHz with boost) is clearly less then the Intel CPU, which is also noticeable in the game performance, but all Ryzen models have a freely selectable multiplier and can thus be overclocked ,

The 14-nanometer CPU has a TDP of 65 watts and is thus much more economical. When testing Ryzen 7 1800X, we saw a TDP of 95 watts; we also measured only a negligibly higher power consumption compared to Kaby Lake models from Intel.

The Ryzen 7 1700 is especially recommended if you do not just play games, but also use applications that run faster with the high core number. In addition, it is advisable to provide a good cooling solution in order to help you run your CPU at higher clock rates.

About the author

Adil Khan

Adil Khan

Adil Khan is a 30 years old Nerd who has been playing with his toys, computers and electronics, since the late 90's. His passion lies in the digital world of 1's and 0's i.e. until quantum computers are available for purchase :)

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