The best CPUs for gaming 2022

It's incredibly easy when searching for the best components for your PC to gloss over the CPU, instead looking at the latest and greatest NVIDIA graphics cards, but the CPU is quite possibly just as important for your setup.


by Ryan Houghton |

Getting the right CPU is absolutely critical for getting that ultra-smooth gameplay you've always dreamed of having, they can be absurdly expensive.

It's important to know what you're looking for so you don't spend an excessive amount on hardware that you don't need, so we're going to break down some technical jargon for your reading enjoyment.

If you don't fancy building the PC yourself, check out these excellent budget PC's that are all ready to go.

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What does the CPU do?

Many people think of the CPU as the brain of the computer. It allows you to interact with programs and applications and produces an output for you to interact with while using the computer.

There are two primary features that you need to focus on when looking for a CPU: number of processor cores, and clock speeds. These two factors determine the amount of information the CPU can receive at once, and how quickly it can process this information.

What are CPU Cores?

Much like the graphics card, the CPU's cores carry out individual tasks, once information is processed by the CPU it is temporarily stored in the RAM.

The greater the amount of cores, the more tasks the computer can process at a time. As games become more demanding, there's greater demand for multiple tasks at once, constant streams of audio and video that need to be processed rapidly for smooth gameplay. So, the greater the cores, the smoother and higher quality the gameplay.

Related: The best graphics cards

What is clock speed?

Clock speed is how fast a CPU can process (receive and interpret) instructions. The faster instructions are processed, the faster programs can run.

It's debatable as to whether it's more important to have more cores or faster clock speeds while gaming. Having both is of course best, and for many e-sports there is a preference on clock-speed, yet it is entirely presupposed on what kind of gaming you're going to do.

More recent games are increasingly demanding, so it remains important to have both a sufficient amount of cores, and decent clock speeds to keep up.

The best CPU's for gaming

Intel Core i5-12600K 12th Generation CPU

Specifications
Number of Cores: 6
Threads: 16
Base Clock Speed: 3.7 GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.90 GHz
Motherboard Compatibility: 600 Series³
TDP: 125 W

Overview:

Intel is always at the forefront of CPU manufacturing, and the i5-12600K is, as of now, the top CPU available. This pricey, yet unbeatable card is packed with six cores and up to 4.9 GHz clock speed with extensive RAM support (up to 128 GB).

If you've got the cash, we'd totally recommend splashing out and going for this CPU, you won't be disappointed.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X

Specifications
Number of Cores: 6
Threads: 12
Base Clock Speed: 3.7 GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.60 GHz
Motherboard Compatibility: AMD 500 Series Motherboards
TDP: 65 W

Overview:

Despite being a couple years old at this point, it's difficult not to recommend the Ryzen 5. Another much more affordable option for some great performance, AMD has made a terrifically fast and yet affordable CPU that is worthy of high-end builds in its own right.

Getting a great CPU for under £200 is practically unheard of amidst a time of severe price-gouging and hardware scarcity. Do yourself a favour, if you're building a new PC, grab yourself a 5600x - you'll thank us later.

AMD Ryzen 9 5900X CPU

Specifications
Number of Cores: 12
Threads: 24
Base Clock Speed: 3.70 GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.80 GHz
Motherboard Compatibility: AMD 500 Series Motherboards
TDP: 105 W

Overview:

AMD has always been a reliable manufacturer of CPUs. Generally a little more affordable, but this cannot be said for the Ryzen 9 5900X. This is one of the most powerful CPU's commercially available right now, with a whopping 12 cores and up to 4.8 GHz max clock boost. This CPU is frankly ridiculous, and largely unnecessary for gaming.

However! With the Ryzen 9, you're guaranteed to avoid CPU bottlenecking for years to come, and if you're doing some heavy-duty editing or simulating, you won't be limited by the Ryzen 9 any time soon.

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AMD Ryzen 9 5900X CPU

Specifications
Number of Cores: 4
Threads: 8
Base Clock Speed: 3.30 GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.30 GHz
Motherboard Compatibility: 600 series²
TDP: 60 W

Overview:

Admittedly, this CPU is significantly weaker than our other picks. With only 4 cores and a base clock of 3.3 GHz, this is a standard mid-range CPU. However, it's honestly enough to keep up with most modern games, and at the fraction of the cost.

While you're not getting the future-proofing of the Intel 12600K, or the Ryzen 9, you're getting an incredibly solid CPU that is going to work perfectly well with a ton of games for the foreseeable future. Great value, great performance, what's not to love?

Related: The best budget gaming monitors

Intel S1700 Core i5 12400 CPU

Specifications
Number of Cores: 6
Threads: 12
Base Clock Speed: 2.50 GHz
Top Boost Frequency: 4.40 GHz
Motherboard Compatibility: 600 series²
TDP: 65 W

Overview:

Another great mid-range CPU from Intel, with a great amount of cores, and a turbo clock speed of 4.4 GHz, this is a very solid choice for performance without breaking the bank. Undoubtedly, the i-5 S1700 values its core count over its speed, so this is a solid choice for multi-tasking, editing and rendering, as well as gaming.

FAQ's

What CPU do I have?

If you're uncertain what CPU you have, simply right click on your task bar and select task manager. Click the performance tab and select the CPU, this should tell you everything you'll need to know about your CPU.

What is CPU bottlenecking?

Bottlenecking occurs when a PC is running a performance-heavy program or application and it begins to stall because it's incapable of keeping up with the rest of your hardware.

This is why it's so important to have a decent CPU, as, regardless of your powerful GPU and high RAM, the CPU must be able to process a lot of information quickly enough to keep up.

What are the minimum CPU requirements for gaming?

Generally speaking, there is no minimum; but if you want to run some of the newer games well, you'll need at least 4 cores and 2.3 GHz to support even the most basic of games.

Ryan is a tech writer and reviewer for What's The Best, specialising in PCs and gaming. He is a keen PC gamer and an avid reader.

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