The best gaming CPU for 2017 and beyond

Yes. I know. There has indeed been an awful lot of CPU coverage lately. What with AMD’s Ryzen and Ryzen Threadripper chips, plus the sudden launch of Intel CPUs with up to 18 cores, not to mention Intel finally upping its mainstream ante from four to six cores, 2017 has surely been the year of the CPU. Which begs an obvious question. What is now the best gaming CPU? Judging that on the hoof as the launches come thick and fast isn’t always easy. But now the dust has settled. Now we know how all these new CPUs stack up. It’s time to pick a winner.

Having said that, I’m going to cop out and pick multiple winners. After all, not everybody has the same budget.

The money-no-object category ought to be a doddle. Intel’s CPU cores remain the most powerful on a per-core and per-clock cycle basis. Meanwhile, few games really benefit from really big double-digit core counts, especially if they come at the cost of clockspeed.

I could therefore make the argument for the new Core i7-8700K as the new chip of choice for gamers who don’t give a damn about value. It has six cores and very high clockspeeds. It’s almost certainly about as quick as it gets for today’s games, and it has a decent core and thread count in hand for any future games that may scale a bit better across multiple software threads.

But then 8700K is somewhat spoiled by Intel’s moderately crappy mainstream LGA1151 platform. That puts various limitations on future upgrade paths, sports a measly 16 PCI Express lanes directly into the CPU itself. And, well, all that stuff. So a CPU that slots into the full-on LGA2011 socket, like the 10-core Core i7-9700X, and offers even more cores, great Turbo clockspeeds and better connectivity could be a better bet if the money aspect doesn’t matter.

You know what’s coming…

But, in all honesty, I’m not that bothered about the money-no-object choice. Instead, it’s low-budget gaming and the meat of the mid-range that interests me. You know, the sort of chips most of us will be buying.

The budget end of the spectrum is problematic as I write these words. That’s because Intel’s new 8000-series Coffee Lake desktop CPUs require the equally new 300 Series chipset. Right now, the only 300 Series chipset is the pricey Z370.

The cheapest Z370 board is in the £110/$120 region. Not completely exorbitant, but a bit much when the target is to avoid blowing much more than £100/$100 on the CPU. It all adds up, especially when you consider that you will very likely need to spend around £75/$80 on 8GB of DDR4 memory. With a Ryzen 3 1200 for £100, you could snag a tolerable motherboard for a little over £50 and have the pair, plus a decent slug of DDR4 memory, and keep the total price under £250.

If you insisted on buying today, that’s what I’d recommend you do. But I wouldn’t be totally happy if you did. Instead, I’d prefer you wait until the new year when the cheap Intel 300 Series chipsets are due to appear and shack a cheap motherboard up with the new Core i3-8100. It’s a quad-core chip for £110/$120. It’s clocked at 3.6GHz and it’s completely locked, so overclocking is off the menu, but I’m convinced it will give a more consistent and reliable long-term gaming experience than the AMD alternative.

Yes, on occasion the Ryzen chip will be quicker, especially if you’re overclocking and your particular chip happens to have lots of headroom. But there will be troughs to go along with those peaks thanks to Ryzen’s architectural quirks.

Good for gaming. But not quite great for gaming…

Put another way, you’ll be unlikely to have access to those performance peaks unless you have a mega-money video board and a high-refresh panel. But you’ll feel the troughs no matter what other hardware you’re running.

As for the choice in the meat of the mid-range, it’s another Intel processor. I just cannot see past the new six-core Core i5-8400. As I type it’s priced at £180 for pre-order on Scan.co.uk. I’m struggling to get a read on US pricing as availability hasn’t quite come on stream, but it should be just under $200.

There are numbers all over the web if you want some performance metrics but the crux of it is that the Intel chip is often as much as 30 per cent quicker or more than AMD’s Ryzen 1600 and 1600X processors in games that scale well with CPU performance. Those are the two closest Ryzen chips in terms of price. But even up against the much more expensive Ryzen 1700, the Intel chip looks like a champ.

Yes, the 8400 is locked and can’t be overclocked. And yes, that does piss me off. But for most of us, most of the time, that’s irrelevant. In reality, the absence of overclocking support is only an issue in the very long term. In extremis, it helps you to eek out a little more time before the next upgrade is required.

Six quick Intel cores should guarantee years of slick gaming performance

What’s more, to get that unlocked multiplier in the Core i5-8600K, it looks like it will cost you at least another £70 / $70, which is just too much for too little in my view.

I have a feeling my Intel-across-the-board recommendation will rankle a few, especially given the current availability issues regarding both affordable Intel boards and the CPUs themselves. Here I am recommending Intel options that you can’t actually buy at this very moment. So be it. I’ll be amazed if the availability niggles don’t resolve fairly quickly. In the meantime, it would be bonkers to go and buy something suboptimal today instead of waiting a few weeks or even a few months for the right kit to become available.

If it turns out that Intel really can’t deliver the chips at the anticipated prices within a reasonable time frame, fair enough. Pop back and punish me. Otherwise, the reality is that Intel’s new Coffee Lake chips are simply better for gaming. I don’t mind admitting that I wish that wasn’t true. I’d love to recommend AMD’s Ryzen in at least one category. It’s a good chip and it’s forced Intel to up its game, but it’s not the best choice for gamers now that Coffee Lake is upon is. And I can’t pretend otherwise.

TL;DR
On a really tight budget? Go Core i3-8100. Otherwise, stretch to the Core i5-8400. It’ll be a fantastic long-term gaming CPU. But note it may take a month or three for full availability of the best value CPU and motherboard combos.

36 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Random PC building question: has the artificial uptick in GPU prices subsided, or is that still a thing? I’m wondering how long someone looking to build a new PC needs to “hold out” for a return to sane prices.

    • hungrycookpot says:

      They seem to be stabilizing a bit right now.

    • SquarePeg says:

      They’ve come down some but are still way over MSRP unless you want low end Nvidia or AMD. Combine that with the price of ram and ssd’s being through the roof and you’ll be paying a lot more than you should. I payed $55 for 16GB of Crucial dual channel DDR4 2400 in June 2016. It’s over $150 now.

      • Flappybat says:

        Depressing. If you bought an Intel upgrade at the moment you’d be overcharged several hundred pounds on RAM, chipset and GPU.

    • dangermouse76 says:

      My Gigabyte Aorus RX 580 8G was £243 UK ( I think ) when I got it a few months back.
      Currently:
      Scan UK / £294.98 Now showing end of life !
      Amazon UK / £299
      Ebuyer UK / £294 – down from £311 apparently !
      I have no idea when the prices will change.

    • gpown says:

      Wait for the GTX 11 series to come out.

      The 10’s could be priced so ridiculously at launch (regardless of the mining craze, the increase in prices was not proportional to the increase in performance even in the midrange) because we had to wait so long for them since 9’s. Now that we’re getting a quick subsequent gen, they will have to be more competitive.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Alternate article title: “In The Year of our Laird 2017: CPU Pronouncements from On High”

  3. protorp says:

    Came very close to a mobo / cpu splurge last week, but it seems I’m sticking with my 8 year old i7 950 (@ 3.8ghz)

    Ryzen 1700 for oc and probable decent upgrade path down the line tempted me lots, instant gratification of an 8700k even more, but in the end I blew my several years of upgrade savings wad on moving from a 970 to a 1080ti instead.

    So far main test has been Witcher 3 with all the shineys except hairworks, consistently running at 80ish fps on a 3440×1440 monitor. So looks like the old Bloomfield will end up living through at least a couple more cpu release cycles.

    • SirDeimos says:

      I’m not ashamed to admit that I searched for some benchmarks at that resolution to see if the Bloomfield was stifling your powerful 1080ti. Your 80fps checks out against much newer i7’s. My compliments for trusting in that pairing and for pushing the demand so far to the graphics card that the Bloomfield can still hang. All the love goes to Sandy Bridge, but I think overclocked ‘first gens’ are still impressive, too (under the right conditions). Cheers.

    • LewdPenguin says:

      Guess I’m not the only one then, also not so very long ago went the 1080ti route to pair with my elderly i7 975 (which didn’t oc great as I also ended up at 3.8GHz with it).
      Since it only infrequently caps out at 100%, and much of the time then I suspect it’s games that could eat any number of cpu cycles on offer anyway due to either raw load, inefficency, or some combination of both, and a meaningful upgrade means once again jumping in at the pricey head of the lineup (along with of course a new motherboard and RAM to go with it) it would be a pretty costly package if I wanted to have a similar amount of headroom in the future, for now whilst these new cpu’s offer the prospect of a real significant upgrade in performance for pretty much the first time over the 975, it’s a price that’s just too high for me right now.

      I’ve already been saying it for a few years now, but I expect I’ll get another couple of years from the 975 before it’s really hurting me outside the sort of games aforementioned, by that time the current lineup should have gone through a couple of price cuts as well as a couple of new iterations that may or may not be a return to stagnation (on the new bechmarks at least) or continue finding further performance. Either way I agree there’s litle point replacing our current chips right now as 3.8 is still enough the bulk of the time, but at least for those still running what were more mid-range options of a similar vintage there’s now the clearest ever window to get a major upgrade.

    • mastercontrol90 says:

      Holy shit do you have an x58 based board? Buy a super cheap xeon x5670 and overclock the shit out of it! You will have an awesome 6c/12t beastie!

      • sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

        Exactly what I did!
        Lots of places who had rack and racks of X58 Xeon servers are selling the xeons for sub £100 each on ebay.
        Chances are they have never been overclocked before and spent their lives not doing a lot.
        I’m running a x5675 at 4.2Ghz. If in a year or two I find I’ve been stressing it too much, I can just get another for cheap.

        And I maxed my DDR3 memory out to 24Gbs for not much that much more than £100.

    • jezcentral says:

      God, the 950 was a great chip. It started life as the 920 (the one I had), and got re-branded in increments of 10, every time Intel got the manufacturing process nailed enough to up the clock multiplier one more notch. I think it may have made it all the way to 960 before they finally moved on.

      Coming straight off another classic, the Q6600, this was Intel producing fantastic CPUs. That is what competition does to a company.

    • Minsc_N_Boo says:

      I’m in the same boat. 7 year old i7 920 is still running Witcher 3 and GTA5 at (fairly) acceptable frame rates

      I’m tempted by the Ryzen 1600, but think i’ll wait till next year.

  4. Baines says:

    This article seems a bit of a weird choice to run. It ultimately just repeats the same judgment of the “Intel’s Core i5-8400: the new go-to gaming CPU” from only two weeks ago. It isn’t like much has changed in the last two weeks. The new article doesn’t even address any of the various points of criticism levied against the judgment of the previous article.

    • duns4t says:

      ditto. i clicked here thinking there might be a broader perspective with a different outcome than the last article, but oddly, no.

  5. Bostec says:

    Does this guy do any other computer related stuff besides cpus and graphics cards? I mean who realistically upgrades their cpus everytime he posts one of these? There are other components to a PC. Motherboards, headphones, the mouse, towers, cooling. It would be nice to get a broader range on stuff like this instead of the same old.

    • GuyNice says:

      I didn’t catch the last article so this was a great read for me. That said, I would also be interested in articles about other PC components.

    • skyturnedred says:

      I, for one, buy a new CPU every time Mr. Laird writes one of these. It can get a bit expensive going from AMD to Intel every few months, but his word is the law.

    • Ghostwise says:

      I suppose you could answer your question by reading Jeremy’s numerous RPS articles about, say, monitors.

  6. Raoul Duke says:

    Another week, another RPS article which can be summarised as “even though Ryzen is just as good or better at certain price points, you should still inexplicably buy Intel products”.

  7. Ejia says:

    Can you even buy any of these? I thought availability was basically non-existent at the moment.

  8. Dachannien says:

    You can take my Phenom II x4 when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

    • AngoraFish says:

      Same, same. There have been a couple of GPU upgrades along the way, but my Phenom II X4 is causing me not one quibble that might imply the need for an upgrade any time soon.

  9. sejm says:

    Thanks for the article. I use these as a way to keep in some way up to date on where things are moving, as I am still sitting on my i5-2500K.

    Not sure if I am just failing to Google correctly but did you mean LGA2011 and i7-9700X or did you mean LGA2066 and i9-7900X? I’m not finding any pages for 9700X.

  10. jezcentral says:

    So what is going on with the PCI-E lanes limitation? Will 1151-mobos-yet-to-come solve this issue, or are we stuck buying a 2011 mobo (and all the extra stuff this will require)?

  11. Lars Westergren says:

    For me no reason to update my gaming computer CPU for quite a while yet it seems.

    But for my work laptop, my Thinkpad X230 is starting to feel a bit long in the tooth though it has served me well. Waiting for the eighth gen intel CPUs (CoffeLake, or more likely KabyLake-R?) to appear in Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition. Windows 10 version of the laptop have appeared but they all have 8 GB memory (!?). I need 16 GB and even that starts to feel limiting when running IDEs, VirtualBox instances and stuff so I wish they could start offering even more.

  12. DanMan says:

    I don’t even care what’s best anymore. I’m buying a Ryzen out of sheer principle. Intel don’t deserve my money at this point.

    • Replikant says:

      Same here. Plus, we’ve all seen which part of itself Intel idly sits on when there is not competition, charging ridiculous prices for marginal differences between generations (and for meagerly equipped boards to boot (a new one for each new generation, of course)). We definitely do not want a monopoly.

  13. Premium User Badge

    syllopsium says:

    I can perhaps see the point in waiting a few weeks, but months? There’s always going to be something new and shiny, price drops, and all the rest.

    The high end will likely be held by the 8700K unless you also need considerable multithreading but everything else is in flux.

    I went a different way and moved to dual E5 2690s for virtualisation. Hoping a 780Ti will help for a while, possibly in SLI if I can hack the drivers to do so..

  14. KenTWOu says:

    Just a couple of weeks later and it seems like i5 is not that future proof after all, on the other hand, Ryzen is:

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