Best CPUs for Gaming: September 2020by Dr. Ian Cutress on September 29, 2020 11:30 AM EST
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.
September is the calm time before we soon hit into Zen 3 season. AMD has announced that it will hold an event on October 8th regarding the new Ryzen processors, however exactly what form this event will take (announcement? launch?) is unclear at this time. If you are ready to put some hard earned greenbacks down on one of these new processors, then perhaps come back later when we’ve tested the hardware. For everyone else, here’s a processor guide for you.
Compared to August, we haven’t had any processor launches that would affect this market. The most recent launches were the Ryzen 3000XT line, offering some clock bumps against the comparative 3000X designs, and in early August Intel lifted the lid on a new Core i9-10850K processor Comet Lake with 100 MHz less, but seemingly more available to purchase than the i9-10900K that was the lead Intel processor at the launch of the Comet Lake family.
Intel at a Glance
In preparation for this article, I go through all the major processor listings on Amazon and Newegg, comparing the best seller lists and pricing compared to the previous month. This is close to 100 processors / 200 prices, and this time around there are some interesting pointers for Intel.
First comes to Amazon’s top 10 best-seller list. Intel doesn’t even appear until #10, and that processor isn’t in the latest Comet Lake family. It’s the old faithful, the Core i5-9600K, which actually drops from #6 to #10 but stays at $200. Intel’s previous best selling processor, the Core i7-9700K, actually gets an award for the biggest drop down the best-seller list, plunging from #5 to #24. Ouch. This is despite a small price reduction from $300 to $288.
Despite not populating the top 10, what Intel does get is a few new entrants for the Core 10th Gen Comet Lake family. We are now seeing models such as the Core i9-10900KF ($600, #35), the Core i9-10900K (OEM, $660, #33) and the Core i9-10850K ($487, #26) appear on the list. That final processor, the Core i9-10850K, is important for Intel as it promises to be a slightly slower 10900K but with much better availability. On a price comparison, the 10850K also seems better value, but also the Core i9-10850K gets a small award for being the highest-place new entrant on the Amazon best seller list.
The best-selling Intel Comet Lake Core 10th Gen is the Core i5-10400, sitting at #13 on Amazon’s list at $180, closely followed up by the Core i3-10100 at #20 for $120 (down from $128 last month). By and large, prices for Comet Lake haven’t changed much since August, however we are seeing some adjustments in the previous 9th Gen Coffee Lake. The Core i9-9900KF is 10% cheaper, down to $390 (#18 on the best-seller), while the i7-9700F is $20 off but the i7-9700 increases by $40. One of the best buys in the 9th Gen list appears to be the Core i3-9100F, on sale for $78 and #14 in Amazon’s list.
While not necessarily the focus of this piece, I should give a shout out to the 18-core Core i9-10980XE. In the light of what the competition has to offer, Intel’s HEDT parts are on the sidelines, and we’ve been waiting for them to drop down to MSRP or below – it appears a lack of interest or a lack of stock has kept the prices high. Last month we saw this processor at $1134, above and beyond what it needed to be. Today we are seeing it at $803, almost a 30% price drop. For anyone already on that platform looking for an upgrade path, this chip is even cheaper than the 14-core version, and at this price is better value than any other processor on the X299 platform. I wonder how many units they have at that price, however.
[#] is Amazon Best-Seller Position
|||Ryzen 9 3950X||$710||$650+||-||Core i9-10980XE||$803|
|||Ryzen 9 3900XT||$468||-||Core i9-10900||$470|
|||Ryzen 9 3900X||$430||$400-$450||-||Core i7-10700KF||$430|
|||Ryzen 7 3800XT||$384||||Core i7-10700K||$380|
|||Ryzen 7 3800X||$340||$300-$350||||Core i7-10700||$340|
|||Ryzen 7 3700XT||$295||$250-$300||||Core i7-9700K||$288|
|||Ryzen 5 3600XT||$230||$200-$250||-||Core i5-10500||$240|
|||Ryzen 5 3600X||$209||-||Core i5-10400F||$209|
|||Ryzen 5 3600||$205||-||Core i5-9600KF||$204|
|||Ryzen 5 2600X||$170||$150-$200||||Core i5-10400||$180|
|||Ryzen 5 2600||$149||$100-$150||-||-||-|
|||Ryzen 5 3400G||$145||||Core i5-9400F||$140|
|||Ryzen 3 3100||$115||||Core i3-10100||$120|
|||Ryzen 3 3200G||$100||-||-||-|
|-||Athlon 3000G||$80||$40-$100||||Core i3-9100F||$78|
|Prices are the at the time of writing the best from Amazon or Newegg|
AMD at a Glance
Alongside AMD taking the top nine spots in Amazon’s best-seller list, we’re also seeing some of the more popular models jostle for the top spots. The Ryzen 5 3600 was #1 in June and July, but questionably moved to #4 for August. It regains the #1 spot, sitting at $205, which is actually slightly more expensive and showing that a cheap price doesn’t always push you up the list.
The previous top spot holder, the Ryzen 7 3700X, moves to #2 at $295, slightly more expensive than last month. The 3600X moves from #2 to #3 at $209, but stays the same price. The Ryzen 5 2600 moves back up to #4, although is now $10 more expensive at $149. In previous guides the battle between the 2600 and the 1600 AF (a 2600 in disguise) has always been price, however the 1600AF seems off the radar completely now, either unavailable or double the price of what it used to be.
The big jumpers for AMD in the rankings list are the newer XT processors. They didn’t appear in July as they were very new and more expensive than the equivalent X processors – August saw them go into the lower reaches of the top 50, however September pushes them into the tops of the list. The best performer is the Ryzen 5 3600XT, moving from #24 to #7 while also being 10% cheaper, now $230. The Ryzen 7 3800XT moves up 20 places to #29, saving $10 to $384, while the 3900XT is at #16. All that being said, the X versions are all still placed higher than the XT models in the best-seller list, and are cheaper:
|AMD Price Options: 3000XT vs 3000X
[#] is Amazon Best-Seller Position
|||Ryzen 9 3900XT||$468||Ryzen 9||$430||Ryzen 9 3900X|||
|||Ryzen 7 3800XT||$384||Ryzen 7||$340||Ryzen 7 3800X|||
|||Ryzen 5 3600XT||$230||Ryzen 5||$209||Ryzen 3 3600X|||
|Prices are the at the time of writing the best from Amazon|
It is interesting to see how much users will pay for some extra turbo.
It is also worth commenting on the APUs and lower core count models. For yet another month, the Ryzen 3 3300X seems to be missing in action, however the Ryzen 3 3100 is sitting at #12 for $115. For graphics, the Ryzen 3 3200G and Ryzen 5 3400G are both available for $100 and $145 respectively, and the older APUs are now crazy in price.
I will make half-a-mention for the Ryzen 4000 series APUs, which are supposed to be for OEMs and pre-builds only. It would appear that a seller from Hong Kong has made some OEM stock available on Newegg: $430 for the Ryzen 7 4750G and $340 for the Ryzen 5 4650G. These are ‘OEM’ parts, which usually means a limited one-year warranty, but based on the sellers location, this may be a caveat emptor situation. We have all three of these APUs in for testing, so keep an eye out for that review.
Best CPUs for Gaming September 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 5 3600X||$209||Core i5-10400||$180|
|The $1000 Gaming PC||Ryzen 5 3600X||$209||Core i5-10400||$180|
|The $700 Gaming PC||Ryzen 3 3100||$115||Core i3-9100F||$78|
|The $500 Gaming PC||Ryzen 5 3400G||$145||-||-|
|Ryzen 3 3200G||$100|
|The $300 Gaming Potato||-||-||Pentium G4930||$40|
|Ones to Watch||AMD Zen 3
Intel Tiger Lake 8-core?
|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
For anyone looking at a strong 4K gaming build, we often look at the mid-to-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.
In previous versions of our guides, we’ve often looked around the $300 mark for appropriate CPUs here, however given the changes in pricing, we feel that the CPUs around $200 actually give a reasonable offering here. For AMD, we’ve selected the Ryzen 5 3600X ($209, #1 on Amazon best seller), and the Core i5-10400 ($180, #13 on Amazon best seller).
For the Ryzen 5 3600X, we get six Zen 2 cores with SMT, a 95 W TDP, and boost up to 4.4 GHz. The reason we’ve gone with this is because for most games this will provide peak frame rates when paired with the ultimate graphics cards, and the options above this CPU get very expensive – the 3600XT is +100 MHz but costs another $21, and the 3700X gives another 2 cores but costs $90 more, as well as reducing TDP. The Ryzen 5 3600X sits in that nice bracket that should push 4K games to the limit with any new GPUs coming up to the market, without pushing for minute performance increases for large cost increases.
On the Intel side, now that Comet Lake LGA1200 processors are more widely available, prices have had a chance to align themselves with the market worth. In this instance, we’re choosing the Core i5-10400, which is also another six core processor with hyperthreading, offering up to 4.3 GHz turbo and a 65W TDP. At $180, this easily looks more enticing than the 10500 ($240) or 10600K ($288), while still providing a similar performance. Ultimately the i5-10400 fits into a nice slot, so when paired with a RTX graphics card, it should easily push 4K gaming above and beyond.
Comparing the two, the extra base frequency of the AMD processor (3.8 GHz vs 2.9 GHz) along with the better microarchitecture is likely to see some benefits when doing things other than gaming. Beyond performance, the AMD processor comes with full PCIe 4.0 support, and there seems to be a good array of mid-priced motherboards now on offer. If buying completely new, I’d have to argue that the AMD chip is the better offering.
The $1000 Gaming PC
In an interesting twist, our $1000 buyers guide suggestion is the same as our $1500-$2000 suggestion. In previous months, we’ve suggested something like the Ryzen 5 3600 which back then was $175 – at $209 now it’s so close to the 3600X that the 3600X gets the nod (the 3600 and 3600X are #1 and #3 in Amazon’s list for a reason). It also means that the price range we usually go for, the $175 market, no longer exists for AMD – we would be looking at the Ryzen 7 2600X ($170), however at this time I would still rather go for a Zen 2 CPU.
For these recommendations, yes at $209 the AMD chip is perhaps a bit expensive, especially if a GPU is likely to be half the budget. The Intel chip in this context is more palatable with a slight saving over AMD, but AMD’s CPU does come with a good enough cooler as standard.
Our Intel suggestion of the Core i5-10400 at $180 is still pretty sizable for this cost of build. If we were to look at what’s cheaper from Intel, then the Core i5-9400 at $160 would be the next step below, however that CPU does not have hyperthreading.
In both the $1000 PC and $1500 PC suggestions, ultimately what is dictating our choices here is pricing – these two chips are sitting very pretty in their respective brackets. Those looking to spend more are going to be spending too much for too little, and those looking to spend less are going to lose a lot for moving down the price brackets.
The $700 Gaming PC:
In previous guides, the $700 PC has been the main realm for the popular Ryzen 5 1600 AF processor, which is a Ryzen 5 2600 by another name. The reason why this processor was popular was due to the performance for the price: six Zen cores with hyperthreading for $85. The reason why it no longer forms part of our recommendation here is because the 1600 AF is no longer available, and seems to have disappeared from the major retailers (or is only available at $160+). At that price point, the Ryzen 5 1600 AF was a great bargain, but now it isn’t available, we have to look for a replacement. Unfortunately nothing really replaced it.
Usually we consider the $700 PC to still be a discrete GPU build, so our processor is usually under $100. AMD’s offerings under $100 are slim – the Ryzen 3200G APU is now available for $100, and sits #9 on Amazon’s best-seller list, however that is a Zen+ APU compared to the Zen 2 CPU we’re suggesting - if a discrete card is being used, then the better IPC processor gets preference.
Technically, AMD’s MSRP for the Ryzen 3 3100 is $99, however this CPU has been quite rare in previous guides. This time around it is available, however at a bit higher cost - I’ve gone over the usual price limit at $115, but it still gets the user four Zen 2 cores as well as a near-silent AMD 65W cooler. The Ryzen 3 will also allow PCIe 4.0 use, DDR4-3200 support, and where possible, overclocking.
The Intel option is a Core i3-9100F, which we’ve suggested at this price point before. It is slightly more expensive this time around, from $72 to $78, and is actually quite popular, sitting #14 on Amazon’s best-seller list. This Intel CPU doesn’t have hyperthreading like the AMD one, but it’s that cost that makes it attractive. It turbos up to 4.2 GHz, but doesn’t come with a suitable replacement cooler, and so there will be some $$ to spend in that region of the gaming PC.
The $500 Gaming PC
Crossing down into the $500 system market and we really have gone into APU territory. At this price, users have the choice of an anemic CPU+GPU combo, or combining both into having a good solution with integrated graphics. The APU market is popular with pre-builds at this price, and for gaming, the only real option here is AMD. Intel’s integrated graphics options for desktop do not come close.
For this recommendation, we have two AMD processors, depending on how much of the build needs to be CPU.
The Ryzen 5 3400G is AMD’s most powerful consumer retail APU, with four Zen+ cores, hyperthreading, and the previous generation Vega 11 graphics, however what makes this less appealing is that the price for the APU has been highly variable. Anything from $125 up to $175 means that for this APU to be worthwhile, it has to be purchased at the right time. For a $500 machine, a Ryzen 5 3400G will allow the user to get some good memory, a nice SSD and motherboard, and hopefully a nice looking case and power supply.
The alternative is the Ryzen 3 3200G, which does not have hyperthreading and only comes with Vega 8 graphics, however is only two thirds of the price. Depending on the games that a user plays, perhaps going for the 3200G and making sure you have a nice set of 16GB DDR4-3600 memory or an SSD is preferable so at least you can get the best out of the graphics, rather than being potentially bottlenecked elsewhere.
Both the 3400G and 3200G will also take a discrete graphics card should the opportunity presents itself.
In the last guide, we also recommended the Ryzen 3 Pro 4350G, which we recently acquired for $167 before tax. If you can find one, these are on sale ‘OEM’ style, which means processor only with a limited warranty – a seller from Hong Kong on Newegg has the Ryzen 5/7 parts, but honoring that warranty might be tricky. Until AMD decides to release these as consumer parts with bundled coolers, the OEM pricing might not be completely worth it. We still have a review coming for you.
The $300 Minimum Spec Potato
Intel Pentium G4930 ($40) - But Only if you REALLY Need It
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 $50 left at most. In this category we either have a range of Intel dual cores to choose from, or dual-core Athlons for better graphics.
In our last proper recommendation, we suggested users should look at AMD’s unlocked 45 W Athlon 3000G, being bundled with a 65 W cooler, was $49, making it very appealing. However this time around the cheapest we can find it is for $80. Because the Athlon 3000G is still based on last generation Zen cores, we’re not sure what AMD plans to replace it with - perhaps we can get an Athlon 4000G equivalent with Zen 2, however it isn’t clear when that will be, what the exact specifications are, or how it would perform.
The only real option here is from Intel. Intel offers the Celeron G4930 at $40, although this is a dual core CPU without hyperthreading and very low end graphics. It doesn’t have AVX2, and it runs at a lower frequency to the 3000G. But at this time it really is the only processor under $60.
Intel does have the Comet Lake Celeron G5400 at $66, which sits at #42 on Amazon’s top-seller list. For another dollar, at $67, the slightly faster G5420 is available. Next up the chain is the i3-9100F, however that does not have integrated graphics.
On The Horizon: Zen 3
In the last couple of quarters, we’ve had launches like Intel’s Comet Lake desktop processors, secret APUs, and a wide array of motherboards. Next up would appear to be Zen 3.
AMD has market the date in our calendars, and on October 8th there will be a presentation about the plans for the next generation Ryzen processors. AMD has kept very quiet as to what to expect – we are not sure if this is a product announcement, a product launch, or if AMD is just going to talk about the microarchitecture details in the silicon. At this time we certainly have not been briefed on the content, and the number of performance leaks (accurate or otherwise) to date has been very low. Either AMD is keeping a tight lid on the hardware in the hands of vendors, or we’re further away from launch than we think. AMD also has Zen 3 based enterprise processors to launch, which are likely more profitable than the desktop versions. We wait and see.
On the Intel side, we are not expecting anything new for the desktop. The desktop platform is still based on 14 nm processors, and the launch of Comet Lake hardware earlier in the year is now the fifth variant of the Skylake design to be launched. Intel has not made a firm commitment as to when we will see 10 nm on the desktop, and all arrows point to the next processor like, Rocket Lake, will still be 14 nm, but with PCIe 4.0. We are expecting those processors sometime in 2020.
What might be on the cards later this year is an 8-core variant of Tiger Lake. We’ve covered Tiger Lake in detail at AnandTech – this is the latest quad-core mobile processor built on Intel’s 10nm SuperFin process. As part of the details on the hardware during Architecture Day, it was clear that Intel would be set to release an eight core version; Intel double confirmed this in mid-September. I suspect that this 8-core processor will be mobile focused in the 45 W to 65 W TDP range, using BGA packaging, however with Xe-LP integrated graphics it seems ripe to be paired with Intel’s Xe-LP discrete DG1 graphics card, which we might see in some pre-built offerings. If Intel wants to push Tiger Lake in a big way, then a series of really nice pre-built systems in that $700 market could be very tempting.
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.
|AnandTech Recent CPU Coverage|
|April||Ryzen 9 4900HS
|May||Ryzen 3 3100
Ryzen 3 3300X
Ryzen 5 3600
|June||-||Lakefield Deep Dive|
|August||-||Intel Xeon 8280
Intel Xeon 6226R
|Hot Chips 32
TSMC Tech Day
|September||TR3 3990X at 4 GHz||Core i7-1185G7|
|All of our processor benchmarks can be found in Bench, our database.
|Upcoming Testing||Zhaoxin KiaXian KX-U6780A
Something else super rare (shhh)
4000 APU Series