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Which Low-Cost CPUs Are Best for Gaming?


In recent years, gamers have focused their attention more on saving up funds for the latest graphics cards rather than purchasing powerhouse CPUs. With the ability to transform a meager system into a full-fledged gaming champion with a simple GPU swap, this change in priorities is understandable. Even so, processors remain the brains of any PC, and CPU-intensive titles like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare still demands adequate Intel or AMD chips.

Intel vs. AMD: Which CPUs are better?

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Intel vs. AMD: Which CPUs are better?

Trying to choose between an Intel or AMD CPU? Here's our comparison of how they break down against each other!

For gamers with limited funds, considering the exorbitant cost of graphics cards, finding the best budget CPU for gaming becomes an even more difficult task.

Finding the Right Budget CPU For Gaming

While modern CPUs are significantly faster in terms of clock speeds and core counts, that is not the only thing that drives their performance while gaming. Gaming on a budget CPU requires looking at various facets of what truly makes a CPU great for gaming while making a price-conscious choice:

  • Clock Speeds and Instructions per Cycle: Clock speeds are often highlighted as being the key factor for CPUs while gaming. While this is true, a lot of onus when it comes to performance comes down to Instructions Per Cycle or IPC counts. Newer, faster cores can simply do more clock for clock than their predecessors and a modern CPU at a lower clock might outperform an older one despite it running at a higher clock speed.
  • Manual Overclocking: While nearly all modern Desktop CPUs have boost clocks which are essentially overclocking in a nutshell, some Intel and AMD CPUs do not offer manual overclocking, operating in a fixed range of base and boost clocks. This means that gamers are sometimes range-bound in terms of performance from chips that can not be tweaked to eke out better performance by power users.
  • Compatibility: When users are on a budget, costs are overwhelmingly a factor in every purchase decision they make. Ensuring one gets a CPU that is compatible and does not bottleneck existing hardware or require something like a new motherboard is a great way to stay within budget while allowing users to spend more on performance-oriented hardware.
  • Integrated Graphics: While most gamers do not consider integrated graphics a gaming consideration, often opting to get cheaper SKUs from Intel and AMD such as the 'F' series from the former to save money, some APUs like the AMD Ryzen G lineup do offer a decent integrated graphics experience for gamers on a budget.

The Best Budget CPUs for Gaming

Using some of the above considerations, the team at Game Rant has selected the best budget CPUs to maximize the performance of any gaming rig:

Intel Core i5 14600KF 14-Core, 20-Thread CPU
Intel Core i5 14600KF 14-Core, 20-Thread CPU

The Best Overall Budget CPU For Gaming

Raptor Lake Reflex

$290 $350 Save $60

The Intel Core i5 14600KF 14-Core, 20-Thread CPU is a powerful mid-range CPU that replaces the last generation Intel Core i5 13600KF with higher clocks on both its performance and efficiency cores.

Like all its siblings, it does offer better performance out-of-the-box versus its predecessors but replaces them at the same price points they sold last year. Unlike the Intel Core i5 14600K, this model trades at a small discount thanks to it skipping out on integrated graphics.

Brand
Intel

CPU Model
Core i5 14600KF

CPU Socket
LGA 1700

Cores
14 (6P + 8E Cores)

Threads
20

Base Clock Speed
3.5 GHz

Boost Clock Speed
5.3 GHz

Cache
20MB L2 + 24MB L3 Cache

RAM
Up to 192GB DDR5

Architecture
Raptor Lake Refresh

Process
Intel 7 (10 nm)

PCIe
PCI-E 4.0/5.0

Graphics
N/A

Power Draw
181W (Turbo)

Pros

  • Offers a higher core and thread count than its AMD competition in the same price range
  • Outperforms AMD's competing Ryzen 7 7700X and Ryzen 5 7600X CPUs in multiple gaming benchmarks
  • Offers excellent multicore performance
  • Works with existing Intel 12th and 13th gen motherboards

Cons

  • Requires considerably more power than its AMD counterparts
  • Does not come with a stock cooler; requires a decent aftermarket thermal solution to run at high clocks
  • Does not have any integrated graphics

The Intel Core i5 14600KF is arguably the best value-for-money processor for gaming currently as it skips an iGPU to clock in just under $300 for a 14-core, 20-thread behemoth that also offers a higher clock than the older Intel Core i5 13600K CPU. It conclusively beats AMD's Zen 4-based unlocked Ryzen 5 7600X and Ryzen 7 7700X CPUs that trade in the $200-300 price range in multiple gaming benchmarks even as it flexes its productivity prowess in 2023, building on the value of its predecessor.

While it does offer significantly better performance than its last generation counterpart as well as AMD's alternatives in the same price range, it does have demanding thermal cooling requirements even as it doesn't come with a stock cooler. While that is not an issue for most gamers, many of whom go for high-end AIOs or air coolers for Intel's unlocked CPU lineup, it should be considered as an added expense for system builders when factoring in a large upgrade or a brand-new PC in 2023.

AMD Ryzen 5 7600X
AMD Ryzen 5 7600X

The Best Alternate Overall Budget CPU For Gaming

Zen 4 Hexacore Play

$219 $299 Save $80

Gamers interested in upgrading to a newer CPU from Team Red will find the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X to be of spectacular value thanks to its high single-core performance, efficient hexacore architecture, and compatibility with newer technology such as PCI-E 5.0 and DDR5 memory. It also abandons AMD's AM4 design, going for a pin-less processor offering by moving them to the motherboard instead.

Brand
AMD

CPU Model
Ryzen 5 7600X

CPU Socket
AMD AM5

Cores
6

Threads
12

PCIe 4.0 Support
PCI-E 5.0 and lower

Base Clock Speed
4.7 GHz

Boost Clock Speed
5.3 GHz

Cache
6MB L2 + 32MB L3 Cache

RAM
Up to 128 GB DDR5 5000 MHz

TDP
105W

iGPU
2-Core AMD Radeon Graphics

Pros

  • Excellent single-core performance translates well to gaming
  • Significantly more power-efficient than its competition
  • Uses AM5-based platform with PCI-E 5.0 and DDR5 memory support

Cons

  • Struggles against Intel's heavy core alternatives for productivity
  • Does not come with a stock cooler

The AMD Ryzen 5 7600X is a 6-core 12-thread CPU powered by AMD's Zen 4 cores that offer considerably better power efficiency and higher clocks than their predecessors. This allows AMD's offering to be cost-effective while delivering significantly better gaming performance than earlier chips. In terms of performance, it replaces AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X3D as an upgrade candidate and makes a strong case as the best budget AMD CPU for gaming. This is partially due to it being the gateway for better CPU upgrades down the line, such as the Ryzen 7 7800X3D and its successors. AMD's penchant for staying longer on a socket than its competition means that an upgrade to AM5 or the 7600X should unlock savings on motherboard upgrades for most users.

At the same time, the Ryzen 5 7600X does cap out at 6 cores. While these are significantly better for gaming than most of the competition, they do somewhat limit productivity-related workloads thanks to the limited amount of power under the hood. That being said, if an efficient, fast CPU that doesn't cost an arm and a leg is the target, then the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X delivers wholeheartedly.

With the 7600X trading at a discount over MSRP lately, it makes for an excellent alternative for gamers looking for a cheaper, leaner, and more efficient CPU for their gaming needs while aiming to benefit from the longevity of the AM5 socket in 2023.

best cpu gpu deals
Intel Core i5-12600K CPU

The Best Mid-Range Budget CPU For Gaming

Alder Lake Unlocked

$190 $215 Save $25

The Intel Core i5-12600K is a deca-core processor operating at a base frequency of 3.70 GHz and a boost frequency of up to 4.9 GHz. Unlike its KF variant, this comes with onboard graphics as part of its 6 performance + 4 efficiency core design.

It offers 20MB of L3 cache while leveraging Intel 7 lithography to offer greater performance per watt than its predecessors.

Brand
Intel

CPU Socket
LGA 1700

Cores
6P + 4E (10 Total)

Threads
16 Threads

PCIe 4.0 Support
Yes

Architecture
Intel Alder Lake

Process
Intel 7

Base Clock Speed
3.7 GHz

Boost Clock Speed
4.9 GHz

Cache
20MB L3

iGPU
Yes, Intel UHD Graphics 770

Pros

  • Offers an unlocked deca-core CPU compatible with Intel 12th and 13th gen motherboards
  • Outperforms Intel's 13th generation 13400 for gaming
  • The cheapest unlocked 12th/13th gen CPU with decent overclocking potential

Cons

  • It does not come with a stock cooler as an unlocked CPU

The Intel Core i5 12600K was a favorite for reviewers and enthusiasts alike when it came out, offering spectacular value coupled with some of the best performance for a gaming-centric CPU. Since then, it has doubled down as one of the best value CPUs that money can buy thanks to multiple price cuts since the 13th generation came out and another series of discounts as the 14th gen hits the marketplace.

For its part, the 12600K is a fantastic processor, easily taking on and defeating the more pricey (and locked) Intel Core i5 13400 in a variety of benchmarks. While it doesn't come with a CPU cooler out of the box, there are plenty of cooling options that buyers can consider to get the job done.

The Best Intel CPUs in 2023 Thumb

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The Best Intel CPUs in 2023

Intel has had a strong year, finishing off with the 14th generation of its processor lineup. But how does it stack against itself in 2023?

The Intel Core i5 12600K has the added advantage of working out of the box with both Intel-based 12th and 13th-generation motherboards. This allows a fair degree of flexibility in pairing what is arguably the best Intel chip bargain currently available to gamers.

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AMD Ryzen 5 5600X CPU

The Best Value Low-Tier AMD CPU For Gaming

Last-Gen's Last Hurrah

$156 $309 Save $153

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is a midrange CPU, excellent for gaming setups. This is the fastest six-core AM4-based processor from AMD and features 12 processing threads. According to the company, the processor can deliver 100-plus FPS performance in the world's most popular games. The processor supports DDR4 memory with a sweet spot of 3600MHz.

It offers 4.6 GHz boost clock speeds out of the box with overclocking potential in tow coupled with 35 MB of cache. This model comes bundled with a quiet and capable AMD Wraith Stealth cooler.

Brand
AMD

CPU Model
5600X

CPU Socket
AMD AM4

Cores
6

Threads
12

PCIe 4.0 Support
PCI-E 4.0

Base Clock Speed
3.7GHz

Boost Clock Speed
4.6GHz

Cache
3MB L2 + 32MB L3

Graphics
N/A

TDP
105W

Pros

  • Decent gaming performance
  • One of the best value buys for AMD's AM4 platform
  • Plenty of motherboard options to choose from
  • Comes unlocked with a decent stock cooler

Cons

  • Hexacore CPUs are somewhat limited for productivity purposes
  • Slightly slower than the competition in single-core benchmarks

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is a decent mid-range hexacore CPU, offering 12 threads across its 6 cores in an unlocked package. It comes with an adequate thermal solution out of the box, a rarity for an unlocked CPU that provides adequate cooling unless users plan to overclock the CPU.

As a middle-of-the-road option in AMD's AM4 inventory, the 5600X will remain relevant longer than most processors. That is likely even after the 7600X's launch with significant performance gains simply due to the sheer number of AM4-based PCs out there looking for a cost-effective upgrade. For system builders who decide against a prebuilt budget PC for a DIY experience, there are also a substantial amount of affordable AM4 motherboards to pair with this processor.

At the same time, the AMD's 5600X's age does show when it gets compared to newer Intel CPUs. Somewhat disappointing single-core performance does tend to show in multiple esports titles where Intel's slightly cheaper Core i3-based quad-core solutions have an advantage. Regardless, the 5600X remains a sensible overall alternative for most games, clocking in the right amount of cores, clock speeds, and IPC counts which sees it heavily feature in both, hardware recommendations and prebuilt PCs well into 2023.

Intel Core i3-13100 CPU
Intel Core i3-13100

The Best Value Entry-Level CPU For Gaming

Alder Lake Rebadged

$148 $169 Save $21

The Intel Core i3-13100 is a 4-Core, 8-Thread Raptor Lake-based CPU that is decent for entry-level gaming while offering access to both, newer tech and a solid upgrade path thanks to it being from the latest 13th-generation Intel CPU offerings. It delivers acceptable single-core and somewhat lackluster multicore performance given its limitations of being a quad-core CPU consisting entirely of Rocket Lake P-Cores.

Brand
Intel

CPU Model
Core i3 13100

CPU Socket
LGA 1700

Cores
4 P-Cores

Threads
8 Threads

Architecture
Raptor Lake

Process
Intel 7 (10Nm)

Base Clock Speed
3.4 GHz

Boost Clock Speed
4.5 GHz

Cache
12MB L3, 5MB L2 Cache

RAM
N/A

PCIe
PCI-E 4.0 and 5.0 Supported

Graphics
Intel UHD Graphics 730

TDP
89 W Turbo, 60 W Base Power

Pros

  • Decent single-core performance
  • The best budget-centric offering for an Intel CPU currently
  • Comes with a stock cooler
  • Has an integrated GPU unlike its AMD counterpart
  • Uses the older 12th-generation Alder Lake Cores despite its 13th gen moniker

Cons

  • A quad-core CPU may be somewhat limited in terms of performance in certain titles
  • Does not offer much of a performance gain over the cheaper Intel core i3 12100/12100F

The Intel Core i3 13100 is a capable quad-core, 8-thread CPU that offers an iGPU and decent single-core performance as two of its most redeeming features. As an entry-level Intel CPU, it also offers a solid upgrade path to better Intel 12th and 13th-generation processors down the line. At the same time, as a quad-core CPU, one can argue that it isn't as future-proof for most gamers compared to AMD's offerings in the same price range.

It does check in at somewhat cheaper than comparable AMD processors but comes in a locked version, with users not able to tweak the CPU in most cases. Also, stock coolers sometimes get a bad reputation, but the cooler that ships with the Intel Core i3 13100 is surprisingly capable without overclocking. As it stands, the Core i3 13100 benefits from the ability to work with even DDR5 memory, allowing it to be an excellent alternative for gamers who feel that Intel's 14th generation doesn't meet expectations justifying a larger upgrade for now.

Amd Ryzen 7 7800X3D
AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D

The Best Performance Budget CPU For Gaming

3D V-Cache Master Class

$359 $449 Save $90

The AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D is AMD's latest and greatest CPU when it comes to gaming. With an excellent and highly efficient gaming performance that tops the charts currently, the Ryzen 7 7800X3D is here to stay and has a crown to claim thanks to its 3D V-Cache-enabled prowess when it comes to gaming on a PC.

The octa-core CPU currently happens to be the fastest in the business for gaming even as it leads efficiency charts at the top, making it a very sought-after gaming upgrade.

Brand
AMD

CPU Model
Ryzen 7 7800X3D

CPU Socket
AM5

Cores
8

Threads
16

Architecture
Zen 4

Process
5nm

Base Clock Speed
4.2GHz

Boost Clock Speed
5.0GHz

Cache
8MB L2 + 96MB L3

TDP
120W

PCIe 4.0 Support
Yes, Supports up to PCI-E 5.0

iGPU
Yes, Integrated Radeon 2 Core

Pros

  • Currently one of the fastest gaming CPUs available
  • Considerably more efficient than its Intel competition
  • Requires significantly less cooling than most of its counterparts
  • Has a built-in iGPU unlike some of its competition
  • Trades at a significant discount over MSRP currently

Cons

  • Needs a discrete CPU cooling solution

If a buyer is looking for the fastest gaming CPU on the block, the AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D delivers the goods at a price that is considerably lower than Intel's top processors. It sells at a significant discount across the retailers tracked by Game Rant with offers for free games sometimes thrown into the mix.

The Ryzen 7 7800X3D leverages its stacked 3D V-Cache which is essentially a lot of L3 cache available to the CPU to allow it to handle larger amounts of data without having to address memory outside the chip. While it has limited gains, if any for productivity use cases, it does allow for much more efficient and faster gaming performance versus the competition.

This makes the Ryzen 7 7800X3D an easy pick for gamers on a budget but able to stretch it somewhat to get the fastest CPU for their gaming needs. It does however require a discrete CPU cooler, which adds to its cost and requires a newer AM5-based motherboard in addition to DDR5 memory, unlike Intel which supports both DDR4 and DDR5 across its 12th and 13th generation CPUs.

Intel Core i5 13600KF Processor
Core i5 13600KF

The Best Workstation Budget CPU For Gaming

14-Core Raptor Lake Revisited

$257 $304 Save $47

The Intel Core i5 13600KF Processor is an excellent workhorse. It comes unlocked, does away with the integrated graphics on its non-F variant, and proceeds to eat the last generation i7 for lunch as it dethrones it to take its position as Intel's most complex and yet simple choice for a gaming processor when it comes to value and in-game performance for pc-builders and gamers going the Intel route.

Brand
Intel

CPU Model
Core i5 13600KF

CPU Socket
LGA 1700

Cores
14

Threads
20

PCIe 4.0 Support
PCI-E 5.0 and 4.0 support

Base Clock Speed
3.5GHz

Boost Clock Speed
5.1GHz

Cache
24MB

TDP
181W

iGPU
No

Pros

  • Excellent single-core performance
  • Comes unlocked out of the box
  • Performs close to the higher-end Intel Core i7 and Core i9 CPUs when overclocked
  • Considerably better value for gamers than higher-end Intel and AMD processors

Cons

  • No discrete GPU
  • Needs a discrete thermal solution; does not come with a cooler

The Intel Core i5 13600KF is a 14-core, 20-thread CPU that also is the top Intel CPU for gaming on Game Rant's guide for the best Intel CPUs. That's thanks to its unique value proposition for gamers looking to get an Intel CPU for their newest upgrade or brand-new gaming PC.

It offers high clocks and can be made to boost even higher when paired with a capable overclocking motherboard. At the same time, users on the other end of the spectrum can save money by reusing their DDR4 memory if they want to go that route. At a sub-$250 price tag, the 13600KF has no direct competition from Intel or AMD, offering a unique price-versus-performance blend that is hard to beat, even if it sheds its integrated GPU. Gamers would barely miss it as nearly all modern games require a discrete solution. Users can also opt for the faster 14600KF for about $50 more, but it does offer only slightly higher clocks and minor performance gains for the extra money spent.

Buyers do need to account for the lack of a thermal solution with the 13600KF. This is fairly normal for Intel which does not offer a cooler with its unlocked 'K' series processors, but it does tend to add to the cost of a new CPU cooler. The 13600KF is also more demanding than its last-generation Intel counterpart as well as most competing AMD processors. This means beefier cooling might be the way to go, especially if overclocking is on the menu for gamers looking to max out the very capable Intel mid-range CPU.

Still Having Problems Deciding On A CPU?

The Best Gaming CPUs in 2023 AMD Ryzen Intel 13th Gen

There may only be two main players in the CPU arena, but each produces enough processors to cause some confusion when building a PC. Especially when on a limited budget, it's problematic to decide whether to invest more in a CPU or other vital gaming components like a graphics card. To speed up the process, remember to consider these characteristics which vary dramatically among processors.

Clock Speed and Cores

Clock speed isn't the only spec that determines how capable a CPU is, but it's important regardless. The AMD Ryzen 5 7600X has one of the highest base clock speeds out of the budget contenders at 4.7 GHz. Its six-core configuration is nothing to scoff at, but it especially excels at the single-core performance that many games demand. On the other hand, the Intel Core i5 13600KF CPU is a perfect processor for power users looking to game from time to time. The 13th-generation processor thrives not only in games but also in intensive productivity tasks thanks to its total of 14 cores handling 20 threads in a 12+8 config.

Overclocking

Most of the processors in this guide are overclockable, meaning that their base clock speeds can be pushed beyond their stock values. Intel CPUs with a K in their labels (like the Core i5 13600KF) are easily boosted and are even encouraged to do so by the manufacturer with suggested safeguards. However, buyers of the rebadged Intel Core i3-13100 will find that its core multiplier is locked, severely limiting its overclocking potential. Gamers need to also be aware of the thermal requirements of overclocked CPUs and should consider adequate air coolers or even budget AIO liquid coolers in some instances.

Compatibility

Finding the best budget CPU for gaming won't matter without the right components to support it. The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X calls for slightly older motherboards using the AM4 socket and DDR4 memory. More recent AMD CPUs like the ultra-powerful AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D demand AM5 motherboards and even faster DDR5 RAM. In some cases, motherboards may need a BIOS update to support the newest hardware such as AMD's Ryzen 7000 series' X3D refresh as well as Intel's 13th and 14th generation CPUs.

Integrated Graphics

Relying on a CPU with an integrated graphics chip often causes some debate, especially when assembling a budget gaming PC. In most circumstances, gamers are better off purchasing a budget discrete graphics card they can afford. Still, one reason why the AMD Ryzen 5 7600X earned a recommendation in this guide is that its onboard Radeon graphics controller is surprisingly capable of pumping out decent frame rates in some esports titles without a dedicated GPU in play.

Whichever budget gaming CPU in this guide that a buyer ultimately decides on, it can help an affordable gaming rig punch its weight without bottlenecks in play for its price range irrespective of the choice.

MORE: The Best Budget Gaming Keyboards for 2023

FAQ

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Q: What is the fastest budget gaming CPU?

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PC Builder

The AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D, leveraging its larger L3 cache and newer Zen 4 cores, is currently one of the fastest AMD processors that's also relatively affordable.

Q: Is an integrated GPU needed for gaming in 2023?

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Yes and no. While the iGPU generally is disregarded by gamers, it is a handy alternative for some when trading up GPUs, allowing them to sell their older GPU before upgrading to a newer one. It is equally valuable for diagnosing PC issues at times, allowing users to eliminate the discrete GPU as a cause of any errors by allowing an alternate display option.

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