Intel has been at the forefront of the processor world for a long time. Even after AMD’s rise – powered by AMD’s Ryzen series of processors – Intel continues to dominate the market. One contributing factor to that domination is gaming. In a nutshell, Intel produces the best gaming CPUs. However, as of Q4 2020, AMD’s 3rd gen processors have taken over the throne.
If you’re building a gaming PC, the only thing that matters more than the CPU is the GPU. While we list some of the best graphics cards for gaming too, this list is here to help you pick the best Intel CPU for gaming. With a good combination of both, you can’t go wrong. So, let’s get started.
Best Choice: Intel Core i7-9700K
Pros & Cons
- Excellent single-threaded performance
- Almost 5GHz clock speed
- A reduction in traditional overheating issues
- No Hyper-threading
- Eight cores and eight threads
- 12 MB of cache memory
- 4.9GHz Max Turbo frequency
- No Hyper-threading
- DDR4 memory
- L x W x H → 4.57 x 3.98 x 2.76 inches
- Wattage → 95
- Socket Model → LGA_1151
Intel Core i7 – 9700k Review
Cores – that’s what it’s all about, these days. Since the mid-2017, when AMD launched their Ryzen series, Intel and AMD are stuck in a battle to offer more cores to customers at desirable prices.
The Intel i7 9700k now offers eight cores as opposed to its predecessor’s six while axing four threads, leaving us with an eight-core and eight-thread combination. While the new mix is undoubtedly better, for the first time with an i7 CPU, there’s no hyperthreading.
Though the number of cores has increased, Cache has not. So, the 12MB L3 is now shared with eight cores instead of six, though each core can address the entire 12MB. It’s not all bad news though. Clock speeds have gone up, a lot. The i7 9700k has a maximum clock speed of 4.9GHz. At this price point, nothing even comes close to that figure. The Ryzen 7 2700x, primary rival in question, tops out at 4.3GHz.
As is the case with Intel, there are a few marginal improvements in terms of heating and power consumption as well. Given that power consumption and heating are directly proportional, you won’t even have to use an air cooler for this latest iteration.
Per usual, using vector-rendering applications, and heavy video editing will push the power consumption above 100W, at which point you might want to consider a good CPU cooler.
Intel Core i7 – 9700k Gaming Performance
There are two comparisons to be made here — one with the AMD Ryzen 7 2700x and the other with Intel i9 9900k.
With the Intel i9, the debate is rather simple. The i7 is about $130 cheaper and delivers an almost identical performance. The extra cash isn’t worth it if gaming is your primary concern.
A comparison with the Ryzen 7 2700x is quite impressive. AMD’s offering is $60 -$70 cheaper and at resolutions higher than 1440p, there’s not much difference between the two. Also, in games that use more than four cores, AMD’s performance is as good as the i7.
However, most games don’t use more than four cores, and most gamers don’t play in 4K. Most gamers play at 1080p and that resolution, Intel is far, far better. Higher clock speeds and more Instructions Per Clock (IPC) put Intel at a massive advantage. A higher IPC, in essence, means one Intel core usually does more work than a corresponding AMD core in a given time.
All this boils down to exceptional gaming performance. In terms of fps, you can expect a reliable 30% difference in most games.
Though i7 9700k is pricey, we feel there’s more than enough bang for the buck. All this makes it our best Intel CPU for gaming.
However, if you’re an AMD fan, you should look at the best AMD processor for gaming.
Premium Pick: Intel i9 9900k
Pros & Cons
- Hyper-threading performance is impressive
- Excellent gaming performance
- Up to 5GHz clock speed
- Works very well in both, single and multi-threaded scenarios
- Is not shipped with a cooler
- Sixteen threads and eight cores
- Clock Speed: 3.6GHz to (overclocked) 5GHz
- Cache Memory: 16 MB
- L x W x H → 2.9 x 4.4 x 4.6 in
- Weight → 0.74 lb
- Wattage → 95
- Socket Model → LGA_1151
Intel i9 9900k Review
The Intel i9 9900k a new processor. Built with an 8-core, 16-thread configuration, the main aim with the processor was to appease enthusiasts, who seemed to be drifting away to AMD, which offered more cores at similar prices.
Built to take on the Ryzen Threadripper series, i9 offers the highest clock speeds that we’ve ever seen in the consumer market. The 8 hyper-threaded cores have a clock speed of up to 5GHz. In essence, i9 – 9900k is the fastest mainstream CPU, ever. What’s more, the processor is compatible with the best motherboards for gaming as well.
It’s not all rosy, though. Obviously, a 5GHz clock speed is going to produce a lot of heat. To combat that, Intel doesn’t boost every core to that speed. It boosts only a single core to 5GHz and slows the other ones down. If four cores need boosting, they’re raised to 4.8GHz and all eight can be boosted to 4.6GHz.
To further bring energy consumption and heat levels down, Intel has reverted back to using STIM (Solder Thermal Interface Material) between the die and the heat spreader.
Even with all this extensive clock speed management and manufacturing-process changes, plenty of energy is consumed and extensive heat is released.
So, do you get a cooler with your CPU?
Unless you’re a hardcore enthusiast who uses heavily-threaded software or applications, the i9 is overkill. But, if the price doesn’t matter, this the processor to have. Also, be prepared to spend quite a bit on coolers if you plan on overclocking it.
Intel i9 9900k Gaming Performance
When introducing the i7 – 9700k, we said that it was the best gaming CPU you could buy.
Well, technically, the Intel i9 – 9900k is the best gaming CPU you are able to purchase. It is faster, returns better fps and overall, renders games better. Thanks to record clock speeds and high IPC rates, this is the fastest gaming CPU. In the gaming world, faster is better.
Better by how much, you ask?
1% to 2% in most games. When overclocked, maybe 4% to 5%.
For that increase, you have to splurge about $130 more than the i7 we talked about earlier. If money isn’t a concern, definitely get the i9. If you do a lot of video editing and 3D creation, but also want to play games, get the i9.
Best Value: Intel i5 – 8400
Pros & Cons
- No aftermarket cooler required
- Good enough for one GPU
- 9 MB cache
- No overclocking
- No Hyper-threading
- Six threads and six cores
- 2.8GHz -> 4 GHz clock speed
- Can't be overclocked
- Dimensions: 4.7 x 4.2 x 4.7
- Required Power: 65 W
- Socket Model: LGA_1151
Intel i5 – 8400 Review
If there’s one thing that AMD has done, it’s that it has forced Intel to consider its product-line very carefully. Year after year, we saw Intel dump lackluster processors onto the market, with no significant increase in cores, threads, or clock speeds.
Thanks to AMD, things changed rapidly. While flagship processors grab all the headlines, it is here, in the economy segment that things have improved the most. Welcome everyone, to my favorite CPU of them all. The Intel i5 8400.
The Intel i5 8600k grabbed all the headlines at the launch, but it doesn’t matter. This, the Intel i5 8400 is simply better at most things. 6 cores, 6 threads, up to 4GHz clock speed, and no overclocking – this is all that you need if you just want a good PC.
Let me be clear. This isn’t for you if you do a lot of video editing or 3D rendering. It also isn’t for you if you want the very pinnacle of gaming experience. However, if you just use your PC for normal, mundane stuff and want to have good gaming experience, look no further.
A BCS of 2.8GHz can seem very bad at first. But, most of the time, all the six cores run at 3.8GHz – which is very good – and a single core can be boosted to 4GHz. A cooler is bundled with the processor and the wattage rarely crosses 65, given that overclocking is not enabled.
All this said, there are a few drawbacks enthusiasts will notice. If you’re not buying this for its gaming prowess, there are better CPUs on the market. The Intel i5 8600k or the Ryzen 5 2600, which are both excellent at handling applications that rely heavily on multi-thread performance. However, as mentioned previously, most users won’t face any problems.
There’s one drawback, though, that applies to a lot of people. Backward compatibility. If you have a 200 series motherboard, you can forget about this new CPU. For all the changes that Intel is making, backward compatibility seems to be one change that they’re very reluctant to make. As a result, quite a lot of people who own 200 series motherboards will have an expensive upgrade at hand, if they want the i5 8400.
Intel i5 – 8400 Gaming Performance
This is why we love the i5 8400. It is all the gaming CPU you need. Obviously, if you’re a serious gamer, there are better options to consider. But for the casual gamer, the i5 has you covered. It performs almost at par with the much more expensive i7 processors.
The processor, coupled with a decent GPU, can render most games at very good resolutions and excellent frames per second. However, if your GPU is much lower-rated than your CPU, you might experience bad GPU bottlenecking.
Then there’s the obvious comparison to Ryzen 5 2600. The Ryzen 5 is one of the best gaming CPUs that we’ve seen in a long time. It has a good enough overclocking – something that the i5 does not, and excellent computational power. What’s more, the AMD is about $30 – $40 cheaper as well.
However, AMD still lags behind Intel in gaming performance. The margin isn’t gigantic. AMD is catching up fast. But, today, the results are simply this – the i5 8400 delivers better gaming performance.
Best Overall Runner-Up: Intel Core i7-8700k
Pros & Cons
- Designed for gaming
- Respectable core and thread count
- One of the highest clock speeds out of the box
- High power consumption
- Newer models are available
- Twelve threads and six cores
- The maximum clock speed of 4.7 GHz
- Cache Memory: 12 MB
- Dimensions: 4 x 2 x 4.6 inches
- Required Power: 95 W
- Socket Model: LGA_1151
Intel Core i7 – 8700k Performance
There are two reasons why the Intel i7 – 8700k features on our list. One, it’s about $40 cheaper than its successor, the i7 – 9700k. Second, getting your hand on the 9700k is proving to be quite difficult. Owing to manufacturing issues and very high demand, the i7 9700k is known to be out of stock for long times.
That being the situation, it’s worth taking a look at the 8700k. The 8700k was Intel’s 8th gen flagship that set out to make a point. Fewer cores could accomplish just as much. And it did. We saw the highest clock speeds we had ever seen and gamers loved it. Just until a year ago, before the launch of the 9700k, this was the best gaming CPU you could buy.
While the 9700 is clearly better, the 8700k is still an excellent choice for a gamer. To this day, it’s among the top three CPUs in gaming performance and unless you’re using the very best graphics card, you won’t even notice the difference. Furthermore, it would work perfectly combined with the best graphics card under $300.
Best Budget: Intel Core i3 – 8100
Pros & Cons
- Enough cores for most games
- Excellent single-threaded performance
- Has four physical cores
- No turbo boost
- No hyper-threading
- 4 cores and 4 threads
- 3.6GHz clock speed
- 6 MB cache
- 2 Memory channels
- L x W x H → 1 x 1.5 x 2.75 inches
- Weight → 4.32 ounces
- Wattage → 65
- CPU Model Socket → LGA_1151
Intel Core i3 – 8100 Review
Even before we take a look at the i3 8100, you should know about the AMD Ryzen 3 2200g. It comes with an integrated GPU and costs less than the i3. So, if you’re building a PC from scratch, you’d be better off with the Ryzen.
However, if you’re upgrading your existing PC or if you’re going to install a separate GPU anyways, it’s worth taking a look at the i3 8100. With a 4 core, 4 thread combination, the i3, coupled with one of the best gaming GPUs under $150 is good enough for most games.
It has a clock speed of 3.6GHz, which is quite decent at this price point. The overall performance is good too. Obviously, the CPU can’t handle too much at once. Opening too many tabs on a browser will leave you craving for more threads and cores. However, that is to be expected at this price.
In terms of outright gaming performance, when coupled with a basic GPU, the i3 is better. One point to note is that the i3 cannot be overclocked while the 2200g can be. When overclocked, the 2200g performs better. However, not everyone wants to tweak the CPU. Some would prefer a more plug-and-play path. If you’re one of those, consider the i3 very seriously indeed.
Best Intel Processors: Buying Guide
Choosing the right processor is all about balancing the performance of the product with your budget. Though all the products listed above have excellent gaming capabilities, some of them might not be for you. So, here are a couple of things you should consider.
If you’ve never built a gaming rig and find yourself scouring through forum after forum searching for elusive answers to your simple questions, remember this: it’s not really that complicated.
Yes, there is almost a million specifications that we enthusiasts like to throw around. However, if you’re new to this, knowing two particular figures will suffice.
For a gaming rig, this is perhaps the most important number. Clock speed, in essence, is the measure of how fast a processor can process instructions. And to that end, higher is better. There are no exceptions to this rule. Higher clock speed is better than a lower one, always.
One other thing you’ll notice is that most processors usually list two clock speeds. Base clock speed and boost clock speed. In most processors, all the cores cannot reach the boost clock speed. However, all the cores are able to operate close to the boost clock speed. So, when you’re buying a CPU, boost clock speed is a better indicator of real-life clock speed. Note that this isn’t true for every single processor on earth and is just what is generally prevalent.
Threads and Cores
The cheat sheet is quite simple here as well. Higher the better. There’s only one exception to this rule. When AMD processors cross the 12-core mark, they become quite mediocre for gaming. What’s to note is that it specifically applies only to AMD and only with respect to gaming. In all other cases, higher is better.
It might seem very tempting, if your budget permits, to just buy the most expensive one and be done with it. However, that isn’t always the right way to go. For example, the most expensive CPU we list in this article is the Intel Core i9 9900k. If you were to buy that processor, you would have to also spend extra on a cooler and the difference in gaming experience wouldn’t be much greater either.
So, take a step back and consider everything you need from your PC. Are you going to solely use it for gaming, or will you be running other multi-threaded programs as well?
Because, unless you want to experience gaming at its very best, most flagships are overkill. So, if gaming is the only concern, there’s no need for anything more than an i7 8700k or 9700k.
If you do decide on a high-end processor, check if a cooler is provided. If not, you will have to buy a cooler and you’ll have to buy very good ones. These processors produce a lot of heat and will consume a lot of power as well. If you plan to overclock these CPUs, you will want a liquid cooling solution.
Budget x GPU
Finally, there’s the fact that a GPU is more important to gaming than your processor. So, if you have spare cash after selecting all the components, it’s better to spend on the graphics card than your CPU. With a better GPU, you will be treated to a more substantial difference in your gaming experience.
Intel CPUs: FAQ
Are Intel Processors Better Than AMD for Gaming?
Usually, yes. Intel processors are more adapted for gaming than AMD CPUs. For a detailed breakdown, visit our Intel Core i3 vs. i5 vs. i7 breakdown.
The Reason: Most games, to this day, use only four cores. They are incapable of using more than 4 cores. Only a small number of games can harness performance from those other cores. In such a scenario, the strength of each core becomes the focus. If cores are stronger, they can render games better.
As of today, Intel cores are more powerful than AMD cores and therefore are better suited to gaming. However, it has to noted that at higher resolutions, say 4K, not much difference exists.
Which Is the Best Budget Intel CPU for Gaming?
The Intel i3 8100 is the best budget CPU for gaming. However, if you are building a new rig from scratch, you will be better off with an AMD Ryzen 3 2200g.
The summary of that review is that the Ryzen is almost as good as the 8100 in non-gaming tasks and far better in gaming tasks. This is because it’s shipped with Vega graphics at no extra cost.
What Is Bottlenecking?
This is one question that is fading into history rapidly. About one or two years ago, this was a genuine concern. Today, not so much.
When the GPU sends instructions to the processor at a faster rate than the CPU is capable of processing, you will experience bottlenecking. As a result of this, the GPU can never run at its peak capacity.
In the last two years, the processor-world has undergone huge changes. Most CPUs today are more than capable of handling a GPU. Just make sure your CPU and GPU match hierarchically. If you pair a flagship GPU to an entry-level CPU, you will face bottlenecking even today.
However, I suppose that problem exists more in theory than in reality.
What Sort of Cooler Do I Need for an Intel Processor?
It depends on several factors. Mid-range processors are usually shipped with a cooler. Even if they aren’t, a simple air cooler will suffice. However, most high-end processors consume a lot of power and therefore heat up a lot as well. Air coolers aren’t going to cut it here. You will have to get yourself a liquid cooler. They are not very cheap.
The type of cooler you need will also depend on whether you plan to overclock your CPU. The more you overclock, the hotter the processor gets. Hot CPUs need aggressive cooling solutions.
Why Are Intel Processors More Expensive Than Their AMD Counterparts?
There are two primary reasons. One, the manufacturing process that Intel uses is old. The costs are high. AMD, on the other hand, is a step ahead when it comes to the manufacturing process and therefore their cost of creation, so to say, is lesser.
The second is marketing. Intel hasn’t increased their CPU's price. Intel sets the standard. AMD undercuts Intel, because… it has to. AMD is a relatively new brand that not a lot of people know about. Up until the Ryzen series was launched, AMD processors weren’t very mainstream either. AMD has to win a lot of people over from the other side. And nothing is more seductive than lower prices.
As Intel and AMD continue to trade blows, one thing’s clear. As consumers, the next couple of years are going to be amazing. We’ll see more cores, better performance, and higher clock speeds than ever before. AMD’s 7nm architecture isn’t too far away and that should raise the bar higher. Once Intel figures out how to come out of the 14nm and 12nm architecture, things will get very competitive indeed.
Still, getting the best Intel processor is the right choice when it's up to strictly video games or streaming. We'll see how things will change in the near future.
All this, of course, is excellent news for us – users. After a decade of a rut, we’re set to get some amazing CPUs. It’s a great time to be a gamer.
- Overheating Processor Troubleshoot, Intel Support