Best CPUs for Gaming: April/May 2020
In our series of Best CPU guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Gaming CPUs list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing. Numbers in graphs reflect MSRP.
For our April/May guide, we are eagerly awaiting both Intel’s Comet Lake (no announcement yet) to bring the latest 14nm generation to the market, as well as AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 3 low-cost processors (coming May) which should offer some pretty impressive gaming performance for the price.
Currently Amazon’s best sellers are AMD Ryzen processors, with the Ryzen 5 3600 taking the top spot. Intel gets into position from sixth, with the Core i7-9700K.
[#] is Amazon Best-Seller Position
|||R5 1600 AF||?||$60||P G5400|||
|Prices are the at the time of writing the best from Amazon or Newegg|
There are a few anomolies, however. The Ryzen 5 1600 AF, the newest variant of the popular Ryzen 5 1600, is no-longer at its very competitive $85 price point (at the time of writing). Perhaps the recent global situation has caused supply issues? We’re not sure. But similarly, the top end AMD APU, the Ryzen 5 3400G, is out of stock or only available at inflated prices. It’s unclear if these are specific issues, or something that the market is going to have to adjust to in these uncertain times. With this in mind, here are our latest recommendations.
Best CPUs for Gaming April/May 2020
Sometimes choosing a CPU is hard. So we’ve got you covered. In our CPU Guides, we give you our pick of some of the best processors available, supplying data from our reviews. Our Best CPUs for Gaming guide targets most of the common system-build price points that typically pair a beefy graphics card with a capable processor, with the best models being suitable for streaming and encoding on the fly. We consider many factors in our recommendations, focusing mainly on gaming, put also including such considerations as power, future-proofing, and other features like PCIe and motherboard pricing.
|AnandTech Gaming CPU Recommendations
(Prices correct at time of writing)
|The $1500 Gaming PC||Ryzen 7 3800X||$340||Core i7-9700F||$320|
|Ryzen 7 3700X||$300||Core i5-9600KF||$195|
|The $1000 Gaming PC||Ryzen 5 3600||$173||Core i5-9400F||$150|
|The $700 Gaming PC||Ryzen 3 3300X||$120||Core i3-9100F||$75|
|Ryzen 5 1600||***|
|The $500 Gaming PC||Ryzen 3 3200G||$95||–||–|
|The $300 Gaming Potato||Don’t Bother|
|Ones to Watch||Intel Comet Lake
AMD B550 Motherboards
AMD Renoir APUs ?
AMD Zen 3 ?
|To see our Best CPUs for Workstations Guide, follow this link:
The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well.
The $1500-$2000 Gaming PC
AMD Ryzen 7 3800X ($340)
Intel Core i7-9700F ($320)
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X ($300)
Intel Core i5-9600KF ($195)
For anyone looking at a strong 4K gaming build, we have to look at the premium end of the consumer market in order to help drive those high-end graphics cards. Users might have anywhere from $200-$350 on the processor, depending on what GPU configuration they want (and ultimately what else they might do with the system). Based on our testing at this resolution, the CPU starts to make little difference in frame rates, although as we look at higher refresh rates/lower frequency, getting a high frequency and high IPC does help. Both AMD and Intel have produced literature stating how their CPUs perform the best when it comes to gaming, but our pick here will be the AMD Ryzen 7 3800X.
At a price of $340 where available, and bundled with the Wraith Prism LED cooler, users will be looking at one of NVIDIA’s Super cards for graphics, and then hopefully put together the rest of the system with a decent enough motherboard, storage, and DRAM. If we started looking at the $499 CPUs, then it would cut into that graphics card budget. Plus, at $349 we get the benefits of PCIe 4.0 with AMD, and in single chiplet mode there is no argument about cross-chiplet communication latencies.
If users absolutely want Intel, then the Core i7-9700F is a good choice. It is slightly cheaper, it does peak at 4.7 GHz, and it’s likely to match the 3800X on variable core performance, although where the 3800X has 8 cores and 16 threads, the Core i7-9700F only has 8 cores and 8 threads, as well as slightly slower recommended supported memory. Some users will insist on Intel, hence the recommendation.
We’ve also put the Ryzen 7 3700X here as a third option, because of the $40 cost savings over the Ryzen 7 3800X. The difference here, aside from the cooler losing the RGB, is not only a few hundred MHz in frequency, but also the TDP: 65W for the 3700X and 105W for the 3800X. In this instance, the 3800X will offer a higher frequency for heavier workloads for longer (assuming the cooling environment is suitable). For users in this bracket, that might be a significant thing to have in the system, compared to an extra $40 to spend on other parts. Experienced users might get the 3700X and adjust the power limits in software to make it act similarly to a 3800X.
Read our review of the Ryzen 7 3700X here.
I’ve also put in the Core i5-9600KF as the low cost option, which is now even cheaper than our last guide. For someone who absolutely wants the RTX 2080 Ti in their $2000 system, the Core i5-9600KF is an overclockable 6-core CPU that comes in $100+ cheaper than the 8-core i7-9700F. A little more money might be needed for a cooler, and depending on your game choice (or if you don’t stream) it might be a better option.
The $1000 Gaming PC
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 ($173)
Intel Core i5-9400F ($150)
As we move down into more casual PC gaming territory, it starts to become difficult to recommend a good CPU at this price: naturally a lot of money will end up on graphics here, meaning that CPU+GPU could easily account for 60% of the total build cost. In that case, we have to make sure that the CPU can still take a good graphics card at high refresh rates or larger resolutions. For this, we’ve chosen the low-end of AMD’s offerings, the Ryzen 5 3600, coming in at $174. We’ve gone for a slightly cheaper option this time, because Intel has a storming price on its Core i5-9400F right now, for only $150. Both CPUs trade blows on gaming, and while the 9400F comes ahead on average, AMD has benefits in other areas for users that do more than just gaming. (Please note, this is why in some segments, we recommend both an Intel and an AMD CPU, due to metrics beyond raw frame rates.)
The six-core Ryzen 5 3600 processor, with simultaneous multi-threading, still has high frequencies, support for fast memory, and PCIe 4.0 for future upgrades, as well as a bundled stock cooler that’s pretty good. At this point, at this system price, it’s nice to be a little future proofed at any rate. Because of the microarchitecture, we still get real nice performance for day-to-day non-gaming workloads, and gaming still works out great for the price point. If we pair it with 8 GB of DDR4, a 512GB NVMe drive, and an RTX 2060, we’re at around $750, leaving $250 for a motherboard, case, and power supply.
The Core i5-9400F is also a six-core processor, but without hyperthreading, and benefits from a cheap ecosystem of motherboards for support. Most users will point to its slightly better gaming performance, as well as the price difference, and opt for this one instead. At the time of writing, the 9400F sits 11th in Amazon’s best sellers list, while the Ryzen 5 3600 sits in at number 1.
The $700 Gaming PC:
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X ($120)
AMD Ryzen 5 1600 ***
The market for the $700 PC is about to be blown wide open. In May, in most regions by the 21st, AMD is set to have the Ryzen 3 3300X in the market. This is a new Matisse based Zen 2 processor, featuring four cores and eight threads, and a turbo up to 4.3 GHz. With the better increased single threaded frequency and performance, the Ryzen 3 3300X would appear to be a really nice gaming chip on paper, and we can’t wait to test it. Users might look to the Ryzen 3 3100, which will be $20-$25 cheaper, however it has a slightly lower frequency. Both CPUs support DDR4-3200.
For users who want a system today, another option is the Ryzen 5 1600 – the AF variant. The AF means it was made on the optimized 12+ manufacturing process, rather than the normal 14nm process. This would effectively make it a Ryzen 2000 chip, and recently these processors have been getting a lot of praise for the six cores and an amazing $85 price point. However, at the time of writing, the Ryzen 5 1600 AF is neither at Newegg or Amazon for that price. We’re looking at $130, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the lockdown situation that the price is going up because they’re selling a lot, but it seems to be a very popular chip, 3rd on Amazon’s top seller list. If you can find one for $85, that’s great – however if not, a few weeks should yield the Ryzen 3 3300X. It’s going to be an interesting fight between these two.
Read our review of the Ryzen 5 1600 here.
As for Intel, last time around, we sort of recommended the Core i3-9100F, which is a quad-core part that currently sits at $75 at Amazon. This is a quad-core without hyperthreading, has a 3.6 GHz base frequency and a 4.2 GHz turbo frequency, and will provide some nice grunt for anyone who has a compatible motherboard already in hand. It doesn’t have the latest trimmings, such as DDR4-3200 or PCIe 4.0 support, which makes it less futureproof.
The $500 Gaming PC
AMD Ryzen 3 3200G ($95)
Crossing down into the $500 system market and we really have gone into APU territory. At this price, NVMe might not even be a valid option either, depending on how much needs to be spent where, and we’re on the verge of moving from integrated graphics to discrete graphics. For our recommendation, we stay on integrated graphics, which puts AMD’s APUs in line for consideration. At $95, the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G offers AMD’s latest APU with Vega 8 graphics, which is certainly sufficient for a large number of popular games. Normally in this price bracket we’d suggest something like the Ryzen 5 3400G around $130, however it seems that this CPU can’t be had for this price, with the closest being $169+, which is way out of budget for this sort of build. Nonetheless, the Ryzen 3 3200G will certainly be capable should someone want to add in a mid-range discrete graphics card at a later point.
We are waiting for AMD to launch its new 4000 series APUs in this market segment, however we’re not entirely sure when this will be. The new Renoir APUs are built for laptops first, and are currently being shipped to laptop OEMs which offer better margin for AMD right now. We had suspected AMD to launch desktop versions at Computex, which would be next month, but given the current global situation (as well as the success of Renoir laptops so far), we might have to wait a little bit longer.
The $300 Minimum Spec
There’s no way around it here – in order to afford the bare minimum on motherboard, case, DRAM, and storage, it doesn’t leave much options for a CPU, with probably $70 left at most. In this category we either have a range of Intel dual core Pentiums to choose from, or dual-core Athlons for better graphics.
In our last proper recommendation, I chose AMD’s unlocked 45W Athlon 3000G, being bundled with a 65W cooler, for $50. However, as with the 3400G being less available in Q1, the 3000G seems to only be available at inflated prices, above $60-70. Intel offers the Pentium G5400 at $60, which would be a potential difference, but either way, there doesn’t seem to be anything that fits nicely into that $50 bracket this time around.
On The Horizon: Comet Lake, B550. APUs, Zen 3
After the launch of high-end platforms from AMD and Intel in the last couple of quarters, the next wrench into the mix is Comet Lake for the desktop. This is another round of Intel’s 14nm, for anyone still wondering. We expect Intel’s Comet Lake CPUs to be coming shortly, given the number of unconfirmed leaks. We already know from various sources that Comet Lake parts and systems are being built for the new hardware, however Intel hasn’t mentioned it in any official briefing yet, nor is there a launch date, or how it will differ compared to the current Coffee Lake refresh hardware. Potential improvements we expect to see include a top-bin 10 core CPU, and we might expect to see a higher binned memory controller, but until Intel is ready to say something, we don’t know much at this point. These are expected to have new motherboards, the Z490 series, which we’ve seen some references to here and there, but no official word either.
On the AMD side, we are still waiting for the arrival of the mid-range B550 motherboard range, along with new APUs based on Zen 2. AMD recently released its mobile CPU range, the Ryzen Mobile 4000 series, showing up to 8 cores and 8 improved compute units, all for 15 W. I’m really excited to see these parts pushed up to 65 W for the desktop, but again, we don’t know when this is going to be. AMD has announced that its new B550 motherboard line, aimed at these lower parts (and the Ryzen 3 CPUs), to be coming to market on June 16th. These parts are usually cheaper than most of the X570 motherboards on the market, so we expect to see some B550 models in due course. AMD is set to give more details soon.
With reference to AMD’s Zen 3 desktop CPUs, we did get a short glimpse into plans from AMD’s Financial Analyst Day. The company stated that we will see ‘consumer-based Zen 3 by the end of the year’. That comment is as vague as you can expect, but overall it means we’re not expecting to see much disruption in the consumer desktop market for the next few months.
The AnandTech CPU Coverage
Our big CPU reviews for the last 12 months have covered all the launches so far, and are well worth a read.
*If any Intel or AMD product managers want to get in contact to help sample more, please send an email.
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