Last updated on August 8th, 2018
Are you planning on building a new gaming PC but you’re torn between which CPU to use? Should you use an AMD Ryzen processor? Maybe something from Intel’s lineup? Which one is the best for gaming in 2017? What about streaming? These are all questions I’m going to address in this post to help you pick the best CPU (and find a compatible motherboard) for your new gaming PC.
The absolute first thing you have to consider is how much you can spend on your processor. For instance, if you only have a budget of $500 to build your whole PC it wouldn’t make sense to buy a $300+ CPU, that would result in an extremely lopsided build that ultimately wouldn’t perform how it could have. So, with that in mind, I’m going to try and organize this post based on the budget levels I use here on PC Game Haven. Budget level, mid-range, and high-end.
After considering your budget, you should think about what you’ll be using your PC for. If you’re only going to be gaming and browsing the web, there’s no need for an i7 7700K or R7 1700, in that instance something like an R5 1600 would be more suited to your usage and it would also save you $100 or more. On the other hand, if you want to stream graphically intensive games with good quality or you do CAD or other CPU intensive tasks, a $50 Pentium G4400 just won’t cut it. Of course, these examples are rather extreme, but I think you get the picture.
First up we have your budget-level CPUs. These processors range anywhere from $50-$120 and their performance varies just as much. From the very inexpensive Pentium G4400 to the versatile R3 11200, let’s go through the budget-level CPUs you should consider.
Intel Pentium G4400
Intel’s Pentium G4400 is probably the ultimate budget processor coming in at just over $50. It’s a modest dual-core processor with a base-clock of 3.3GHz and enough get-up-and-go to easily play most esports games without an issue. It also comes with an adequate stock CPU cooler to help keep your costs even lower. This should be your go-to processor if you have a restricted budget because you really can’t beat the $50 price tag when you consider you can get a compatible motherboard for basically the same price you’re spending on the CPU.
AMD Ryzen 3 1200
AMD’s R3 1200 is what I would consider the absolute best bang-for-your-buck budget processor. For right around $110 you get performance that blows away the similarly priced Intel i3 7100 and can even compete with an R5 1400 after some overclocking – now that’s a price-performance ratio I can enjoy. The R3 1200 is a true quad core processor (4 cores / 4 threads) that runs at a base clock of 3.1GHz, has an 8MB cache and a TDP of 65W. For roughly double the price of the G4400 you get about double the performance from the R3 1200, more after overclocking, not a bad upgrade if you can afford it along with the slightly more expensive motherboard it’ll need.
Mid-range CPUs are what you should be looking at if you’re planning on using your PC for 60fps gaming in demanding/AAA games. They’ll also work well for streaming and other CPU intensive tasks.
AMD Ryzen 5 1400
AMD’s Ryzen 5 lineup is pretty great, so much that they’re really the only mid-range processors to consider this far into 2017. The R5 1400 is the cheapest of the R5 lineup, it’s a quad core processor with 8 threads, a core clock rate of 3.2GHz and an 8MB cache. You might be thinking “but isn’t that the same as the R3 1200?” and yeah it pretty much is other than the 4 additional threads which give the R5 1400 a bit more potential than the R3 1200. Where you’ll notice the biggest difference is if you’re a streamer or you do CAD, video encoding, or other CPU intensive tasks.
AMD Ryzen 5 1600
Like I was saying about the AMD R5 lineup, it’s awesome and the R5 1600 takes it up a notch by offering a whopping 6 cores, 12 threads, and a 16MB cache! As far as mid-range CPUs go, the 3.2GHz R5 1600 is easily the king as it offers the best price-performance ratio and can be overclocked to match the performance of it’s more expensive big brother the R5 1600X. Like most Ryzen CPUs, the R5 1600 performs the best when paired with at least 2666MHz RAM, but faster RAM will net you better performance (at an increased cost).
High-end CPUs are really only needed if you’re an enthusiast, you’re an avid streamer, or you’re using your PC for work as well as gaming. Outside of those and a few other use cases, high-end CPUs are overkill for gaming and I don’t doubt that an R5 1600 will suit you perfect.
AMD Ryzen 7 1700
AMD’s Ryzen 7 lineup is mostly targeted towards workstation usages, but they also work great for gaming as you can imagine. That being said, buying the R7 1700 for a dedicated gaming PC would be a waste of $100 in my opinion as it only gets a few fps more in most games when compared to the R5 1600. Where the R7 1700 shines is in CPU intensive tasks, multitasking across a large array of monitors, and of course streaming. So, buying the R7 1700 to use in a workstation/heavy streaming build is great, not so much in a PC that’ll only be used for gaming however.
Intel i7 7700K
AMD is great, don’t get me wrong, but Intel’s i7 7700K is still the king of all gaming CPUs if we’re talking about raw performance. AMD’s CPUs can get close, but they haven’t been able to dethrone the i7 7700K just yet, although I have no doubt it’ll happen eventually. But, for the time being, the 4 core 8 thread 4.2GHz monster that is the i7 7700K sits above all over CPUs when it comes to gaming. Sure, you need to buy an aftermarket CPU cooler, and yeah you need a more expensive motherboard to support overclocking it, but you don’t care about that and that’s why you’re buying an i7 7700K. That all said, you can buy an R5 1600 + a motherboard for the same as just the i7 7700K will cost, so there’s that to consider as well.
Notes on motherboards
Picking your CPU is only half of the battle when it comes to actually getting this part of your build sorted out. You also need to pick a compatible motherboard, which is actually way easier than most people think.
There are really only 2 things you have to make sure of, that the socket on the motherboard is the same as your CPU and that the motherboard’s chipset supports what you want to do with your CPU and ultimately your PC.
I’ll break it down into Intel’s (current) socket and chipsets and then AMD’s (current) socket and chipsets.
Ryzen 3, 5 and 7 CPUs run the AM4 socket.
- A320 – The least expensive option, only supports RAM up to 2666MHz, does not support CPU overclocking.
- B350 – The most common option, most B350 boards support up to 3600MHz RAM and allow for CPU overclocking
- X370 – The most expensive and versatile chipset due to its array of features. Most people don’t need X370.
All current and last gen Intel CPUs run the LGA 1151 socket.
- H110 – The least expensive Intel chipset. Does not support CPU overclocking but supports the basic features a budget build would need.
- B150/B250 – The mid-level Intel chipsets, B150 is meant for Skylake (6th gen) CPUs where B250 is meant for Kaby Lake (7th gen) but are often interchangeable.
- Z170/Z270 – The most commonly used “high-end” chipset for 6th and 7th gen Intel processors. Supports CPU overclocking and has more features than lower-tier chipsets.
There are many other chipsets available for both Intel and AMD processors, the ones I’ve covered are only the most commonly used. Either way, as long as you keep these primary differences in mind, you won’t have an issue with motherboard compatibility issues. But, there’s still one more point you have to consider before making your final decision on a motherboard. What size of case are you going to be using?
There are multiple sizes of motherboards available, from very small mini ITX boards meant for HTPCs, to massive eATX boards meant for the craziest builds you can imagine. Somewhere in between those 2 sits the size of board you’re looking for. The most common sizes are micro ATX and ATX; micro ATX, or mATX for short, is the smallest size of motherboard I would recommend for a gaming PC, ATX is the “regular” sized motherboard.
I think by now you should have a good grasp on what processor level you should be looking at based on your budget and your planned usage. The only thing left to do is decide which one is going to fit best into your build without making compromises on your graphics card!
Remember, GPU power is more important than CPU power when it comes to gaming, but you do not want a lopsided build as that’s just no good. Don’t pick the most powerful processor you can only to match it with a weak graphics card, or vice versa.
As always, if you have any questions or comments about anything written here, feel free to leave a comment below!