Best CPUs for Gaming: Q1 2020

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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.

Best CPUs for Gaming Q1 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.

AnandTech Gaming CPU Recommendations: Q1 2020
(Prices correct at time of writing)
Segment Recommendation
  AMD Intel
The $1500 Gaming PC Ryzen 7 3800X $340 Core i7-9700F $320
Ryzen 7 3700X $290 Core i5-9600KF $206
The $1000 Gaming PC Ryzen 5 3600 $175 Core i5-9400F $150
The $700 Gaming PC Ryzen 5 1600 $100 Core i3-9100F $80
The $500 Gaming PC Ryzen 3 3200G $95
The $300 Gaming Potato Don’t Bother
Athlon 3000G $63 Pentium G5400 $60
Ones to Watch Intel Comet Lake
AMD Renoir Desktop APUs + B550 Motherboards
AMD Zen 3 ?
To see our Best CPUs for Workstations Guide, follow this link:
https://www.anandtech.com/show/11891/best-cpus-for-workstations

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 ($290)
or
Intel Core i5-9600KF ($206)

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. 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, but doesn’t come with a bundled cooler. It does peak at 4.7 GHz, and there’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.

We’ve also put the Ryzen 7 3700X here as a third option, because of the $50 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 $50 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. 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 ($175)
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 newest offerings, the Ryzen 5 3600, coming in at $174. Last time we chose the 3600X, which was $235, now down to $200. 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.

The six-core Ryzen 5 3600 processor, with hyperthreading, 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. It doesn’t come with a cooler, like the 3600, and the frequency is a little less, but this would be a nice part for anyone looking at an Intel system, especially at this price.

The $700 Gaming PC:

Intel Core i3-9100F ($80)
AMD Ryzen 5 1600 ($100)

For the market at this time, the $700 PC is a bit of a black sheep. At this price, you ultimately don’t want to still be on integrated graphics, but users will end up spending almost 40% or more of the build on a graphics card, so the CPU has to be just right.

In Q1, we have a winner of a CPU on the market at this price point. In the last guide, we suggested the Core i3-8100 at $120, and the Core i3-9100F was no-where to be found. But this quarter, the i3-9100F is now available for as little as $80. That’s one of Intel’s latest generation 14nm quad-core processors, with a 3.6 GHz base frequency and a 4.2 GHz turbo frequency.

AMD doesn’t have any of its latest Zen 2 offerings at this price (except in places like Russia, where the Ryzen 5 3500 might be available), however the previous generation Ryzen CPUs are getting very cheap. In the last guide we had the Ryzen 5 2600 at $120, however compared to the i3-9100F, that would cost a bit much. The best we could compare it to was the new 12nm versions of the Ryzen 5 1600, known as 1600 AF, which are currently in the market for $100. These are on the older Zen architecture, but come with six core and twelve threads, a lot more than Intel can offer at this price, making it a better option for anyone that does more compute than just gaming. Read our review of the Ryzen 5 1600 here.

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.

The $300 Minimum Spec

Don’t Bother
or
AMD Athlon 3000G ($63)
Intel Pentium G5400 ($60)

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 guide, 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. Intel offers the Pentium G5400 at this price, 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 still don’t have a timeline for 10nm coming to the desktop. 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. 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. Given that the mobile APUs are PCIe 3.0 only, we expect the desktop APUs to be the same, which means the B550 boards are also likely to be PCIe 3.0 only.

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.

If users have any requests, leave a comment below or ping me on Twitter @IanCutress

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