Which i7 processor is good for gaming?

The ideal gaming processor: Buying tips for AMD and Intel CPUs from 100 euros

Michael Schmelzle

Which CPU is ideal for PC games - we tell you what to look out for and have buying tips for every budget.

EnlargeGaming CPUs for every budget from 100 to 550 euros

With the AMD Ryzen 5000 CPU series, Intel's years of supremacy have come to an end. The AMD processors currently offer the highest single and multicore performance in the mainstream desktop. Intel will not bring better CPUs to market until mid-March with the new "Rocket Lake" generation. However, for now only the top model Core i9-11900K - so it can only react to the strong AMD competition with reduced prices. At the same time, the high demand for AM4 CPUs is causing the price of AMD processors to rise. So it's a good time to compare what AMD and Intel have to offer. With our recommendations you will find the ideal gaming processor for every budget. Immediately afterwards, we have summarized the most important tips that you should consider when buying a CPU.

+ high clock rate (3.6 to 3.9 GHz)
+ 8 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier
- only 4 CPU cores

+ high clock rate (3.6 to 4.3 GHz)
+ 8 threads
- only 4 CPU cores

+ high clock rate (3.6 to 4 GHz)
+ with onboard graphics suitable for gaming (AMD Radeon Vega 8)
- only four CPU cores / 4 threads

CPU test: the best desktop processors in a large comparison

Inexpensive gaming CPUs

+ very high clock rate (3.7 to 4.4 GHz)
+ 8 threads
- only four CPU cores

+ high clock rate (3.4 to 3.9 GHz)
+ 6 CPU cores / 12 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier

Price-performance tip

+ high clock rate (2.9 to 4.3 GHz)
+ 6 CPU cores / 12 threads

+ very high clock rate (3.7 to 4.3 GHz)
+ 8 CPU cores / 16 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier
- no longer brand new Zen + architecture

+ very high clock rate (3.6 to 4.2 GHz)
+ state-of-the-art technology (e.g. PCIe 4.0)
+ 6 CPU cores / 12 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier

future-proof gaming CPUs

+ very high clock rate (3.6 to 4.4 GHz)
+ state-of-the-art technology (e.g. PCIe 4.0)
+ 8 CPU cores / 16 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier
- expensive

+ very high clock rate (2.9 to 4.8 GHz)
+ 8 CPU cores / 16 threads
- Multiplier not freely selectable
- expensive

Best gaming CPU

+ very high clock rate (3.7 to 5.3 GHz)
+ 10 CPU cores
+ SMT
+ Freely selectable multiplier
- very expensive

+ very high clock rate (3.7 to 4.8 GHz)
+ highest performance per cycle (IPC)
+ state-of-the-art technology (e.g. PCIe 4.0)
+ 12 CPU cores / 24 threads
+ Freely selectable multiplier
- very expensive

Buying advice: gaming CPUs

Sure: the better the graphics card, the smoother games run and the higher you can adjust the quality settings. But the CPU must match the graphics card, otherwise the processor will slow down the graphics card. As a rough rule of thumb: For a sensible gaming PC, around 60 percent of your total budget should flow into the graphics card-CPU combination at a ratio of 2: 1. For example, with a € 1000 PC, you put € 400 in the graphics card and around € 200 in the CPU.

If you don't want to participate in the outrageous price gouging for graphics cards at the moment, you can get the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G with a gaming-grade onboard graphics chip for around 100 euros and retrofit it with a graphics card later. However, the 3200G is only suitable for gaming in Full HD in the test, and you have to reduce the image quality for graphically demanding games.

A gaming CPU should be able to do that

High cycle: The most important criterion for a gaming processor is still the highest possible clock frequency. It should be at least 3 GHz, frequencies from 4 GHz are ideal. Due to the different microprocessor architecture, a direct comparison of the clock rates, or rather the commands / clock cycle (IPC = Instructions per Cycle) between AMD and Intel is difficult. Roughly, it can be said that AMD has improved the IPC value of the Ryzen CPUs with every generation and has overtaken the current Intel processors for the first time with the new Ryzen 5000 models.

Good overclockability: When buying a gaming CPU, pay attention to the overclocking properties in order to screw the clock speed even higher than the manufacturer intended. The direct factors here include a freely selectable multiplier that makes overclocking very easy. With Intel this is the case with all Extreme Editions and models with a "K", with AMD all Ryzen models have a freely selectable multiplier.

Increased cooling is one of the indirect factors. You will achieve the best results with water cooling. But make sure that the case is well ventilated, otherwise the best water cooling will not do anything. A high-quality motherboard with robust voltage converters and numerous setting options in the UEFI is also helpful for overclocking (OC) so that you can tickle the last bit of performance out of your CPU.

At least 4 CPU cores: Most demanding games these days are optimized for 4 to 6 processor cores. However, only CPUs with at least eight cores are future-proof, as we believe that octa-cores will be standard in game development in one to two years. There are two reasons for this: On the one hand, the gaming industry is increasingly developing games across platforms. And in the current console generation of Xbox Series X and PS 5 - as in the previous consoles - eight cores from AMD are installed.

On the other hand, the comparatively inexpensive Ryzen 7 series lowers the entry-level price and thus ensures an increasing spread of eight-core CPUs. You can get the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X, for example, for around 150 euros - virtual eight-cores (4 cores with SMT, i.e. 8 threads) such as the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 are even available for just under 100 euros. It is therefore increasingly worthwhile for game developers to optimize games for more than four CPU cores.
In addition, more cores offer another important advantage: You can use more programs more efficiently in parallel without slowing down the running game, for example playing with Team Speak, listening to Spotify playlists or reading Whatsapp messages on the second screen and playing YouTube videos.