We're looking at CPU offerings once again but this time we're focusing solely on gaming, so we’ll be picking each CPU based on almost nothing other than it’s gaming performance. For the close fought battles we’ll take the platform into account but for the most part it’s all about those glorious frames per second.

Whereas our Best CPUs feature looks at the overall picture, based on use case and budget, now our different picks essentially take into account the profile of different gaming builds and how much you should be spending. The price range extends from $100 all the way up to $360 with a few good options in between. Without wasting any more time, let’s get into it...

Best Budget Gaming CPU

AMD Ryzen 3 2200G

The best budget CPU not only is relatively inexpensive but offers great lasting value. For about $100, the Ryzen 3 2200G is a true quad-core CPU with an integrated Vega 8 GPU that is many times more powerful than the usual Intel integrated graphics, for those who are holding off on buying a discrete graphics card.

The most direct competition for the 2200G comes from the Core i3-8100 which currently costs around $15 more. For productivity workloads and general usage they are evenly matched, though once overclocked the 2200G generally comes out on top. Without a discrete graphics card, the Intel chip gets smoked, while with a GTX 1060 or RX 580 they both offer a similar gaming experience. With years of life still ahead for the AM4 platform, we feel the 2200G is a considerably better investment.

The Ryzen 3 2200G is an unlocked part that can be overclocked on affordable motherboards, can take advantage of higher clocked memory, packs a powerful integrated GPU, and is slightly cheaper than the Core i3-8100, making it our #1 of budget CPU pick.

For less money, the Pentium Gold G5400 can be had, but we won't favor it over the 2200G. Also, AMD recently released a $60 dual-core of their own. The Athlon 200GE runs at 3.2 GHz and packs basic graphics, but we’ve found that spending the extra $40 to secure the 2200G is a wise investment as you get a significantly more capable part. The dual-core SMT-enabled Athlon has very little headroom and is virtually useless with a modern mid-range GPU, therefore you will get considerably more mileage with the Ryzen 3.

With the release of the Ryzen 3 2200G at just $100, this quad-core processor offers a ton of power for not a whole lot of money. As a bonus you also get entry-level like discrete GPU performance with the integrated Vega 8 GPU. Previously the Pentium G4560 claimed the best budget gaming CPU category for less than $100, but the Ryzen is widely superior.

Other alternatives in this price range include the Ryzen 3 1200 (which is basically inferior to the 2200G in every way) and the Core i3-8100. The Intel i3 processor is very similar when it comes to gaming performance and depending on conditions can hit the lead. That said, it also costs $20 more and with years of life still ahead for the AM4 platform, we feel for budget gamers the 2200G is a considerably better investment.

Best Affordable Gaming CPU

Intel Core i5-8400

Since last year we’ve moved on from quad-cores as they're now considered entry-level products. The Ryzen 3 1200 was our best affordable quad-core gaming CPU for 2017, at the time selling for $110. This time we’re upping the budget to $180 to include the significantly more capable Core i5-8400.

Before AMD fans smash their keyboards across their FreeSync monitors, take a deep breath, it’s going to be okay. I recently named the Ryzen 5 2600 and 2600X as the best value all rounder desktop CPUs, if you’re running core-heavy applications as well as gaming then the Ryzen 5 series is a better choice. You can even overclock these Ryzen processors to deliver superior performance in most games.

However in order to really beat the Core i5-8400 you need expensive Samsung B-die memory, you then need to manually tune that memory, and you also need to invest at least $20 in a better cooler to support the overclock. This is particularly true for the non-X model.

The Core i5-8400, on the other hand, smashes it out of the park with the absolute cheapest Intel 300-series motherboard you can find and standard DDR4-2666 memory. So it’s a seriously cost-effective, hassle-free option that’s well suited to gaming.

Best Value CPU for Gaming

Intel Core i5-8600K

For those of you who find themselves primarily GPU bound when gaming (e.g. not using a high-end GPU), then something like the Core i5-8400 or Ryzen 5 2600 will do the job nicely.

But if you’re raising the GPU firepower or playing titles such as CS:GO, Overwatch or Fortnite on super high refresh rate monitors with competitive settings and want every last frame possible without breaking the bank, the Core i5-8600K is our CPU of choice.

Often found for around $240, at that price it has no direct competition, particularly for those looking at doing nothing other than gaming. Overclocked to 5GHz the 8600K can easily extract every last frame from the GTX 1080 Ti, or even two, for those few titles that still support SLI.

Best No-Compromise Gaming CPU

Intel Core i7-8700K

The most obvious win for Intel comes in the gaming category, but which Intel CPU should we pick? Technically speaking, the Core i9-9900K offers the highest level of performance for gaming, so we could simply name that the winner. However, in order to qualify you first have to be able to buy it, and secondly it has to make sense. Right now it's really hard to find the 9900K for its list price, and it’s debatable how much sense it makes at the $500 MSRP.

The i7-8700K on the other hand will set you back $340, has incredible out of the box performance, remarkable overclockability, and power consumption that is impressive for a CPU running at over 4GHz by default.

Intel fans generally dislike our position here, in short, we don't approve of Intel's asking prices. For gamers, the 9900K doesn’t offer anything new or extra, at best it’s a few percent faster than the 8700K in today’s titles and yet it costs at least 35% more. It also requires a high quality motherboard (read: expensive) and if you want to achieve maximum performance out of the box without technically overclocking it, you’ll require an expensive cooler.

Now, if money is not an issue and $500 is a drop in the bucket, then I guess you can simply buy the 9900K and you will get a blazing fast gaming rig. That's not to say the 8700K will not deliver a similar experience which is a big compliment for this year-old CPU. Because it's a more practical CPU and it’s what we’d buy if we were building a new gaming system, we'll continue to recommend the Intel Core i7-8700K as the best gaming CPU for now.

If you’ve got a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or better and you’re after the very best gaming CPU the market has to offer, then it’s the Core i7-8700K that you seek. At ~$350, the 8700K is not even that expensive, however do note that an update to Intel's top mainstream line is set to arrive soon.

Intel’s low latency Ring Bus architecture has proven to be the best solution for gaming. Couple that with a CPU that can comfortably run all cores at 4.7 GHz and at least 5 GHz once manually overclocked, well you’ve got yourself a winner.

There’s simply nothing that can touch the 8700K right now, the nearest competitor when it comes to pure gaming performance is Intel’s own Core i5-8600K. This pick should come as no surprise as we’ve had this same opinion since the 8700K was released and the 2nd-gen Ryzen series didn’t change anything. Perhaps AMD can take the gaming crown away from Intel next year, many believe they will, but for now Intel holds on to top spot.

Best Second-Hand Deal

AMD Ryzen 5 1600

Last last year we recommended second-hand shoppers be on the lookout for a cheap Core i5-2500K processor. This time I’m recommending something far more recent, AMD's Ryzen 5 1600.

Currently retailing for ~$190, there are good deals to be hand on this chip in new condition, but they don’t apply to all regions. Looking at places like eBay you can find used versions for as little as $120, and at that price the Ryzen 5 1600 is a serious bargain.

Slap that on an affordable B350 motherboard -- I’ve seen decent boards selling second-hand for as little as $40 -- but you can also buy quality versions for about $70 and doing so will mean you’ll have a cracking gaming system that you'll able to upgrade in a few years' time with a Zen 2 CPU if need be.