Best CPUs for Gaming September 2023by Gavin Bonshor on September 11, 2023 7:00 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.
CPU Market Overview, September 2023
As we move into the cooler fall season, the CPU market is constantly changing, much like the weather. The overall CPU market has plateaued slightly, as both Intel and AMD have relatively good stocks of their current 13th Gen Core and Ryzen 7000 CPUs at present. With new launches expected later this year, including Intel's 14th Gen Core series, we expect nothing further from AMD until next year at the earliest. As it stands, both Intel and AMD have a strong hand in the desktop market. AMD has their Zen 4-based Ryzen 7000 and Ryzen 7000X3D with 3D V-Cache, which cater to both enthusiasts and gamers alike. At the same time, Intel's 13th Gen Core series hybrid architecture brings both performance and competition to the market.
Other than the Microcenter-exclusive AMD Ryzen 5 5600X3D (6C/12T) and the entry-level Ryzen 5 7500F launched in July, not much has changed in our last guide regarding available chips to choose from. The Ryzen 5 5600X3D with 3D V-Cache is a more affordable option on AM4 and Zen 3 with 3D V-Cache for gamers on a tighter budget, while the AMD Ryzen 5 7500F offers a more affordable option for the AM5 platform, but without the RDNA2 integrated graphics.
Looking at a broader overview of the current CPU market, the top end is dominated by the Intel Core i9-13900K (8P+16E/32T) and AMD's Ryzen 9 7950X (16C/32T). The other flagship CPU primarily targeted at gamers is the Ryzen 9 7950X3D (16C/32T), which has 3D V-Cache packaging, giving the gamers 96 MB of L3 V-Cache on one CCD and 32 MB on the other. AMD and Intel also have mid-range offerings (Core i7/i5 and Ryzen 7/5) offering decent levels of compute performance and, when paired with a competent discrete graphics card, are more than adequate for gaming.
When considering a new CPU purchase, users can find exceptional value in Intel and AMD's previous generations (12th Gen Core series and Ryzen 5000). These processors now offer unprecedented cost-effectiveness, and some of the previous generation's high-performing CPUs from these previous lineups can be paired with more affordable DDR4 memory, which has come down in price massively since DDR5 was launched. Additionally, both Intel and AMD have been aggressively reducing prices as they shift their focus toward promoting their latest cutting-edge technologies and architectural advancements.
Consequently, prospective buyers can take advantage of continuously fluctuating and decreasing prices. Among the noteworthy options is AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X3D, featuring 8 cores and 16 threads, along with the 3D packaged 96 MB of L3 cache. This CPU is particularly well-suited for games and applications optimized to leverage its unique 3D V-Cache in games that can support more L3 cache. Even Intel's Core i7-12700K is another solid option, with 16 cores (8P+8E) and 24 threads, and is a powerful processor for the price that can be paired up with either DDR4 and DDR5 memory at just $275 at the time of writing.
A short overview of the best sellers updates:
Since our last guide, Amazon's top 10 best sellers (at the time of writing) have changed considerably over the previous few months, with some familiar entrants and some new inclusions to the list, which marks a shift in buying patterns. AMD's Ryzen 5000 series currently holds the #1 and #2 slot on Amazon's top sellers list, with the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6C/12) keeping the top spot at #1 since our last guide, with a current selling price of $157. Pairing this up with more affordable AM4 motherboards and DDR4 memory while offering decent performance makes it an excellent proposition to users on a budget. The #2 pick is AMD's Ryzen 7 5800X (8C/16T), currently available for $209, and represents AMD's Zen 3 CPU stack; again, another option that can leverage cheaper AM4 motherboards and DDR4 memory.
The top 6 best-selling CPUs at Amazon (as of 08/09) are all under $410, which, compared to Q2 2023, means the high-performance flagship chips, such as the Core i9-13900K (8P+16E/32T), have moved down considerably from the previous position. In fact, AMD's Ryzen 7000 series, based on their latest Zen 4 microarchitecture, only features just once in the top 10, the AMD Ryzen 7800X3D, with 96 MB of L3 3D V-Cace coming in at #4. At $399, it is a very potent gaming CPU (8C/16T), especially in games and applications that can utilize the large pool of L3 cache and offers pretty decent compute performance. Although targeted more at gamers than enthusiasts, it's an equally adept processor for the price and punches well above its weight in those specific games that benefit from more L3 cache.
Although not very popular, at least on Amazon, the next highest-ranking AMD Zen 4 chip comes in at #16, the Ryzen 5 7600 with 6C/12T for $218. The general outlay on the more expensive AM5 motherboards, as well as only featuring support for similarly expensive DDR5, may play a factor in this, and we find this as a current trend when it comes to AMD's Ryzen 7000 series chips. DDR5 memory has come down considerably since its launch, but it's still not cheap compared to current prices on DDR4 memory of the same density.
Digesting the Amazon best-selling processors, the top 10 looks like this:
|Top 10 Best Sellers, Amazon.com (09/08/2023)
Links to Reviews
|Ryzen 5 5600X
|Ryzen 7 5800X
|Ryzen 7 7800X3D
|Ryzen 5 5500
|Ryzen 7 5800X3D
|Ryzen 7 5700X
A new entrant onto the list at #3 is the Intel Core i7-13700K, which has 8P+8E/24T and represents Intel's Raptor Lake lineup of processors. At the price of $410 at the time of writing, it's the most expensive in the top 6 of Amazon's best-seller list and offers high levels of compute performance, with equally solid levels of gaming performance, too. The Intel Core i9-13900K (8P+16E/32T) sits at #7, which was previously #2 back in Q2, and it seems that the position drop could be down to the decline of money available in users pockets; the current global economic climate isn't looking great, and many users like myself, are looking to more affordable options that do the job, without having to go for a flagship CPU.
Looking at other new entrants to the top 10 since our last guide, taking the #5 spot is Intel's Alder Lake-based 13th Gen Core i5-12600K, which is currently available for $213. Not only is this an amazing price, but the Core i5-12600K is still a competent 6P+4E/16T processor, which combines Intel's hybrid P and E-cores and is more than adequate for gamers on a budget. It offers solid performance at the lower end of things and more than ample when paired up with an entry-level or mid-range graphics card and DDR4 memory when looking for something offering an excellent price-to-performance ratio.
The Ryzen 5 5500 is also new to the top 10 and is an affordable 6C/12T Zen 3-based offering, which is also the cheapest processor in the top 10 list at just $92. Catering towards the entry-level, there's plenty to like for a basic desktop, which can be paired up with a cheap AM4 motherboard and DDR4 for a competent system with enough grunt to be capable for users looking to build a low-cost PC.
Out of the top 10, six of the processors are from AMD, with five of them being AMD's previous Ryzen 5000 (Zen 3) models, which shows users are looking to make the most of their budget by opting for still capable but older generational processors. Intel has four of the top 10, with two from the current 13th Gen Core series and two from the previous 12th Gen Core series. With so many entrants from the previous generations, there's the trend that people are looking more at getting their money's worth without opting for the latest and greatest flagships.
In a volatile global economic climate, people are typically spending less, and having a wide variety of options available, especially with the price cuts on previous generations, such as Ryzen 5000 and Intel's 12th Gen Core series, allows users to get the most out of their money. Finding that sweet spot between value and performance is seemingly more straightforward, but with most tech, the more performance you want, the more you'll have to pay. Interestingly, none of AMD's Ryzen 5000 series APUs make the cut in Amazon's current top 10 sellers. However, they still offer unparalleled levels of performance with the added benefit of semi-decent integrated graphics for gamers on a strict budget, such as the Ryzen 5 5600G at $126, which is a 6C/12T processor with Radeon graphics.
Best CPUs for Gaming September 2023
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.
|AnandTech Gaming CPU Recommendations
(Prices correct at time of writing)
|The High-Performance Pick
|AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D (16C/32T)
Intel Core i9-13900K (8P+16E/32T)
|The Smart Money Pick (Price versus Performance)
|Intel Core i5-13600K (6P+8E/20T)
|Best Overall Value Pick For Gaming
|AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D (8C/16T)
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D (8C/16T)
The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well.
The High-Performance Pick
AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D (16-core, $649) - Stronger Gaming Performance
Intel Core i9-13900K (8+16-core, $540) - Stronger Compute Performance
Our review of the Ryzen 9 7950X3D at its initial launch revealed its claim to the title of the "fastest gaming processor" for AMD. Despite this, you might find it surprising that we haven't exclusively recommended it in the following suggestions. That is because both the Ryzen 9 7950X3D and the Core i9-13900K are fantastic representatives from both camps for gaming and non-gaming situations. In titles that can use the additional L3 cache of the Ryzen 9 7950X3D, it wins in gaming performance. Still, in non-gaming scenarios, the Core i9-13900K plays to the strengths of its hybrid architecture, giving it a total of 24-cores versus 16-cores on the AMD chip. In compute, the extra cores coupled with the high clock speeds shine, whereas both models are competent for gaming.
We've considered both elements, giving a nod to both Intel and AMD for high-end gaming. While the Ryzen 9 7950X3D is our top choice for gaming, the Intel Core i9-13900K presents itself as a compelling alternative. It boasts equivalent power in compute-intensive tasks and comes at a cheaper price of $540. If your budget and availability allow, the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D, coupled with the AM5 platform and DDR5 memory, offers solid levels of all-around performance.
In the desktop processor market's upper echelons, four noteworthy options exist—two from AMD and two from Intel, each with unique strengths. Our current preference is the Intel Core i9-13900K, but there's also the Intel Core i9-13900KS, running at a remarkable 6 GHz and offering even faster clock speeds; all other specifications remain identical. Keeping the Core i9-13900KS cooled optimally so that it can hit 6 GHz in single-threaded applications can be difficult without equally premium cooling options, and with that in mind, we've decided against selecting it.
Focusing on the AMD side, you have the Ryzen 9 7950X and the Ryzen 9 7950X3D. Like their Intel counterparts, these chips share similar specifications, differing mainly in clock speeds and L3 cache. The Ryzen 9 7950X3D stands out with its 96 MB of 3D V-Cache on the CCD, optimized for gaming. This configuration transforms it into an 8-core, 16-thread powerhouse with a massive 96 MB of L3 cache when gaming, especially with Microsoft Game Mode enabled and the relevant AMD drivers installed. In gaming, the Ryzen 9 7950X3D with 96 MB of L3 3D V-Cache in favorable situations is the winner here, whereas the Ryzen 9 7950X has marginally more grunt in compute performance.
As we can see in our POV-Ray benchmark results, the Intel Core i9-13900K is at the top of the pile, and while the Core i9-13900KS did suffer from thermal throttling, the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D was around 19% behind, which isn't too bad considering. In tasks such as our V-Ray render, the Ryzen 9 7950X3D was marginally ahead of the Core i9-13900K by around 2%, and when rendering in Blender 3.3 in the long Barbershop test, the 7950X3D was ahead by about 23 seconds. Of course, both processors are more than capable of rendering and encoding, and overall, in our suite, the Core i9-13900K beats the Ryzen 7950X3D across the majority of our CPU test suite, while the Ryzen 9 7950X was more competitive with the 13900K in more compute-heavy scenarios.
Regarding gaming performance, the AMD Ryzen 7950X3D has the advantage in titles that can leverage that additional L3 cache due to their implementation and execution of 3D V-Cache packaging. In other games that don't benefit from the large levels of L3 cache, things are much closer throughout most of the games. It's a very specific use case that AMD is capitalizing on. Still, as we've mentioned throughout much of our Ryzen X3D series coverage if the games you play don't utilize the L3 cache, then there's not much of a real-world benefit over the competition.
Outside of the aforementioned benefits of the 3D V-Cache, things are so competitive that it really boils down to the use case, the type of workload, and what programs and applications are being used. Neither AMD nor Intel's flagship offerings do much wrong in compute-heavy tasks and gaming. Still, if power draw is a concern, then AMD's highly efficient Zen 4 cores really take things to another level, or, should I say, a lower level as far as total power draw goes. AMD's Ryzen 7000 series chips at full-load generate much lower wattage levels than Intel's 13th Gen Core series; the Ryzen 9 7950X3D with 16 x Zen 4 cores draws much less power than Intel's Core i5-13600K, which is a 14-core part.
Overall, when it comes primarily to gaming, there's much more benefit to be had from upgrading the graphics card than focusing purely on the processor, especially at higher resolutions such as 1440p and 4K. Although there's a lot of furor surrounding current GPU pricing (still), NVIDIA's GeForce RTX 4090 is nothing short of a beast. Even AMD's Radeon RX 7900 XTX/XT caters to high resolution and those with high refresh rate monitors such as 144 Hz at a slightly lower price point, and it's unlikely that anyone will endure lower than 144 Hz frame rates with any of the mentioned options at sub 4K resolutions.
Another question to really consider is, what are you upgrading from? If the answer is Ryzen 5000 or Intel's 12th Gen Core, then you're more likely to notice a much bigger jump in performance by upgrading your graphics card. Of course, any of the latest and greatest chips will do the job. Even a CPU such as the Core i5-13600K ($318) will provide enough compute grunt in practically every title outside of those insane CPU-heavy games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020. Even here, upgrading to a more powerful graphics card will increase frame rates more than any processor will. There's a reason why many users are opting for CPUs from the previous generation, as price cuts have made them even more attractive, and they are still competent in terms of overall performance.
Despite this, we are opting for the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D ($649) as the best gaming CPU of the current generation (so far), and with 128 MB (96+32 MB) of 3D V-Cache, it really does the job in titles that can benefit from it. Even on the compute side of things, the 7950X3D has enough oomph, whereas the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, when it first launched, didn't do so well in comparison. The Intel Core i9-13900K ($540) is the next best, and it's cheaper and faster in more scenarios than not, but AMD has a clear advantage on the power consumption and performance per watt. That being said, the Core i9-13900K can reduce the overall cost of the system by allowing use with the previous generation's Intel 600 series chipsets, as well as be paired up with cheaper DDR4 memory and still deliver high levels of multithreaded performance.
The question of future-proofing is also answered with both of these options, as PCIe 5.0 SSDs have rapidly become available on the shelves, but in contrast, PCIe 4.0 x4 M.2 drives have been reduced as a result, and there are plenty of storage bargains to be had at present.
The Smart Money Pick (Price versus Performance)
Intel Core i5-13600K (6+8-Core/20T, $318)
Honorable Mention: Intel Core i7-12700K (8+4-Core/20T, $275)
Unlike our previous recommendations for those with an unlimited budget, most PC builders in the current economic climate must consider their financial constraints while striving for decent performance levels. This selection aims to strike that balance. Sitting at the juncture between Intel's entry-level Core i3 series and the more upscale Core i9 and i7 series is the Intel Core i5-13600K, priced at $318. We've opted to retain our previous pick based solely on what's available in the market, and with prices fluctuating regularly on the market, the Core i5-13600K has held its price around the $310-320 price point.
So, what makes Intel's Core i5-13600K such an attractive choice within the sub-$350 price range? It's crucial to acknowledge that even at $318, it still represents a significant investment, especially when compared to CPU prices from a decade ago. However, when you consider the performance-to-cost ratio and the ability to achieve solid value for gamers seeking areas to make savings without sacrificing too much compute performance, the Core i5-13600K certainly shines. Intel's hybrid core architecture, blending performance (P) and efficiency (E) cores, combined with Intel's Thread Director, designed to assign the right tasks on the right cores within Windows 11 21H2 or later, further enhances its appeal. This is all about delivering solid performance while keeping your budget in check and allowing savings to be made that could be allocated to other devices, such as memory, storage, and graphics.
The Core i5-13600K has a total of 14-cores (6P+8E), with 12 threads, and 24 MB of L3 cache, and on the surface, this doesn't sound like much. The reality is, the Core i5-13600K has everything under the hood that it could need to make it a viable option for users looking to game at resolutions of 1080p up to 4K in combination with a good discrete graphics card. Looking at the finer specifications, the Core i5-13600K can boost up to 5.1 GHz on the Performance (P) cores, while the Efficiency (E) cores can hit frequencies of up to 3.9 GHz.
What makes the Intel Core i5-13600K such a solid buy for $318 is that it's highly versatile and can be used as a very well-rounded option for both compute-related tasks and gaming. It benefits from all of the single-threaded IPC performance uplifts over Alder Lake as the Core i9-13900K does, but outside of highly multi-thread applications where the flagship comes out the clear winner, there's not that much difference in gaming. As we can see above in Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1080p Maximum settings, the Core i5-13600K performs similarly to the Core i9-13900K, but the Core i5-13600K is $222 cheaper (at the time of writing).
If you've noticed, we've also highlighted the previous generations Core i7-12700K ($275), which is a 12C (8P+4E) and 20-thread part in the above graphs when outlining the performance of the Core i5-13600K. The reason for this is that the Core i5-13600K ($318) and the Core i7-12700K ($275) are very similar in overall compute performance. While this is good in ways, the Core i5-13600K has two more E-cores, and it does have slightly better performance in gaming, with a 10-fps gain in Red Dead Redemption 2 at 1080p max settings than the older chip.
That being said, the Core i7-12700K can currently be had for a slightly cheaper price of $275 (a $43 saving). We still would rather opt for the Core i5-13600K just based on the additional performance levels offered in gaming.
The Best Overall Value Pick For Gaming
Turning our attention to our final selection, which places gaming at the forefront while maintaining a value-orientated approach to balancing performance and affordability. Within AMD's Ryzen 7000 and 5000 series, numerous options can potentially fulfill this criterion. For instance, the Ryzen 7 5700X boasts 6 cores and 12 threads and is priced at an enticing $190, making it a standout value proposition under the $200 mark. Furthermore, considering all the price drops on AMD's previous Ryzen 5000 series, it's worth noting that the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, now available at $324, is a very solid proposition for gamers on a budget.
Now we did really have a hard time making our value pick, and while the Ryzen 7 5800X3D ($324) did edge as the leading contender, a notable mention should also go to the Ryzen 7 7800X3D ($399). Despite both of these chips having a similar makeup with 5.0 GHz boost clocks, 96 MB of 3D V-Cache, and a TDP of 120 W, the $75 price difference between both, especially in the value segment, did sway us to the Ryzen 7 5800X3D. That being said, the Ryzen 7 7800X3D offers excellent future-proofing and more capability, with AM5 motherboards expected to be supported for a number of years, as well as newer controllers and more features such as USB 3.2 G2x2.
Even though the Ryzen 7 7800X3D benefits from the latest Zen 4 cores, the makeup of the system has a larger cost overall with the combination of more expensive AM5 motherboards and a reliance on the higher-cost DDR5 memory. While $75 doesn't seem a lot, adding the extra premiums of an AM5 motherboard and DDR5 into the equation quickly expands, and that money would be better spent on a faster graphics card, especially in relation to gaming performance.
The benefits of the additional L3 cache are not especially consistent from game to game – among other things, you need to be CPU-limited to begin with to really enjoy them. Still, coupled with a cheap AM4 board and DDR4 memory, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D still warrants a look for buyers who aren't focused on gaming performance. Using Borderlands 3 at 1080p maximum settings as an example where the L3 cache does benefit performance, there's not too much difference between the flagship Ryzen 9 7950X3D ($649), the Ryzen 7 7800X3D ($399), and our pick, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D ($324). This is much the case in most of the titles that can benefit from the large levels of L3 cache, which is made possible through AMD and TSMC's 3D V-Cache packaging technology. In games that don't use the L3 cache, the beefier and gruntier CPUs take the edge, especially when not primarily CPU-limited.
In compute-focused scenarios, that's where other similarly priced CPUs, such as the Intel Core i5-13600K ($318), really do shine. Still, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D ($324) holds its own, and while there are trade-offs in balancing compute and gaming performance, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D in various games certainly makes it a very worthwhile offering. Even the Ryzen 7 7800X3D at $399 isn't too far ahead of the Ryzen 7 5800X3D in compute performance, which is why the cost savings associated with opting for Zen 3, AM4, and DDR4, make it all that much sweeter and easier on the pocket.
Touching more on the associated cost savings with opting for the Ryzen 7 5800X3D, it works with the AM4 platform and can be combined with a good set of DDR4 memory for optimal performance. Paired up with a relatively cheap B550 motherboard, which is much cheaper than current AM5 motherboards, leaves some extra spending money to pick up a better discrete video card, which, although cheaper than they used to be (thankfully), they are still not especially cheap. There's also the benefit of having eight Zen 3 cores to consider, as it means multi-platform games coming from the consoles (which use eight-core Zen 2 CPUs) won't find themselves for want of a CPU core.
Even in games and scenarios that favor faster cores, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D is still competitive, and the onus is more on the graphics card than the processor, essentially meaning that the money saved on the 5800X3D over the AMD/Intel flagships can be spent on a better graphics card that will push framerates even higher. The Ryzen 7 7800X3D ($399) wins out in all situations, but the added cost makes it a case of, if you have the extra money, then go for this. If on a budget, the Ryzen 7 5800X3D ($324) is more affordable overall and is still very capable.
It's worth noting that the Ryzen 7 5800X3D does require a discrete graphics card to be effective. The previous generation of CPUs, such as Ryzen 5000 and Intel's 12th Gen, are cheaper this year due to the launch of the newer counterparts. With the ever-increasing demand for specifications from game developers making titles on the latest game engines and with poorly optimized console ports, it's getting harder to recommend gaming on an integrated GPU. Even though GPU prices are still relatively high, even in the mid-range, they aren't as bad as they were during the mining craze, and there are bargains to be had if users are willing to look around.
Otherwise, it's still hard for PCs to compete with the game consoles for true budget options. Although it's taken over 2 years(!), the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are now reasonably easy to find, with a base price of $500. And, of course, the Xbox Series S continues to lurk at $259, even less when on offer or on sale. True, they're consoles, so they don't come with the flexibility that we tend to appreciate as PC gamers; but it's hard to beat the power of bulk buying that Microsoft and Sony enjoy – especially as the two of them are willing to sell these consoles at cost (if not at a loss).