It used to be that the most important component in your PC was the CPU—the Central Processing Unit if you want to go old school, or just ‘processor’ these days. The CPU was once responsible for nearly everything going on inside the big black box sitting under your desk.
These days, the CPU is still a critical component—nothing can happen if you don’t have some form of processor running the OS—but other components like graphics cards have taken a more prominent role, at least when it comes to gaming PCs. Meanwhile, the performance gap between the fastest and most expensive processors and those that are ‘good enough’ keeps shrinking, all while the pricing gap is increasing.
For PC gaming, this is actually great news. Most of us can get by just fine with a moderate processor. Core counts, cache sizes, and clock speeds continue to improve as the years roll by, but chances are if you have a desktop built any time in the past five years, it can play most games.
Intel’s , and AMD has now released their 8-core Ryzen 7 processors. We’ve updated our picks, not because Kaby Lake and Ryzen are vastly superior to what we had before, but if you’re putting together a new system, these chips replace the previous generation at roughly the same price points.
For Intel, Kaby Lake and Skylake will even work in the same motherboard, so there’s no reason to buy Skylake (short of some clearance sales). AMD’s Ryzen is a different story, with gaming performance that often trails Intel’s Core i7 parts, and even Core i5, but not by a huge margin. If you do other tasks on your PC, like multimedia work or professional applications, the added cores prove to be incredibly potent. In short, AMD’s Ryzen brings many-core solutions into the realm of the possible.
When building a new rig, you don’t have to buy the most expensive processor around to have a great gaming experience. Today’s desktop processors can handle just about any game you throw at them, and many can be overclocked to improve performance (at the cost of increased power, heat, and potentially noise). We’ve researched and tested all the latest CPUs, along with looking at previous generations, and these are the ones worth putting in your next gaming rig.