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The Best CPUs for Gaming
August 30, 2019
As a gamer, you know the graphics quality on your PC is central to your enjoyment of the gameplay. After all, if the visuals of your game aren’t up to par, how can you immerse yourself in the game world? However, even though the graphics processing unit (GPU) gets most of the attention in the gaming world, your central processing unit (CPU) or processor is also an important component that works behind the scenes to keep everything running smoothly.
It’s critical not to skimp on your processor quality because you’ll see a noticeable drop in system performance and gameplay quality. If you’re in the market for the best CPU for gaming and streaming, we’ve rounded up the top contenders available in 2019. The biggest players in the CPU game, Intel and AMD, have some great new offerings this year to help make your gaming experience better than ever.
Why is it important to have a powerful CPU for gaming?
A CPU, otherwise known as the brain of your computer, is an essential part of your PC. Its job is to read the list of instructions sent to it and execute each one in sequential order. The clock rate is an important metric to know when you’re shopping for processors - it’s the speed of a CPU’s internals measured in hertz (Hz). If it’s a modern, high-end processor, a CPU may run so fast it’s measured in gigahertz (GHz).
The processor is going to be a central part of what makes your gaming experience smooth. Sure, most PC games will be GPU-intensive but your CPU is also crucial for the performance of your overall system. On the top-end of gaming computers, you can expect to see high-end processors that may boast up to 8 cores.
If you’re looking for a more economical processor, you can choose a dual-core processor. Be advised, however, if you go this route you’ll notice a drop in gaming performance.
And if you want something that blends the worlds of affordability and performance, a mid-range, processor like an Intel® i5 is a good choice.
What are the different kinds of CPUs available on the market?
Two of the biggest players in the CPU game include Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and Intel. Both CPU manufacturers offer CPUs that can serve a variety of purposes, beyond just gaming. The two companies continually release new and improved versions of CPUs each year. Ultimately, this means the customer wins as they benefit from this technological competition between the two companies.
Below, we’ll explore some of the best examples from each that came out in 2019.
Great CPUs for 2019 from Intel
9th Generation Intel Core™ S-Series: best CPU for gaming and streaming on desktops
The new 9th Generation Intel Core S-series desktop processors are the most powerful CPUs Intel has released to date.
At the top of the Intel CPU hierarchy is the i9-9900K. It’s the first Intel Core i9 processor built for mainstream desktop PC users. It features 16MB of cache and Intel Turbo Boost 2.0 technology so you can expect speeds of up to 5.0 GHz.
16-way multi-tasking support is enhanced by 8 cores with Intel Hyper-Threading Technology to make quick work out of huge data loads. You can even overclock with new features like the Solder Thermal interface Material (STIM), and there are improved overclocking abilities that you can customize to your exact computing preferences to expand your PC’s potential.
A note of caution: in some cases, overclocking may void your product’s warranty, so be sure to do your due diligence before diving into the overclocking process.
Highlights of the 9th Generation of Intel Core S-Series desktop processors:
- Data acceleration capability when paired with Intel Optane memory
- DDR4 RAM memory support which means PC systems can have up to 64GB of memory
Besides just gaming, you can also stream high-quality video without any interruption or lag-time. For example, Intel Quick Sync Video technology means you can easily live-stream, capture, and multi-task the day away without worrying about poor image quality.
In addition, you can expect high-definition visuals thanks to innovative technology features like HEVC 10-bit encode/decode and VP9 10-bit decode. Together, these components mean you can expect smooth, 4K-quality streaming as well as the capability for 360-degree viewing.
As a bonus, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and Rec. 2020 (Wide Color Gamut) invite users into a digital world full of life-like colors and image and video enhancement.
Hardware-based security includes Intel Software Guard Extensions to protect your total system and sensitive information. One of the most vulnerable parts of your PC is your BIOS, which loads before any firewalls or antivirus protection does. Luckily, Intel has a workaround in the form of Intel BIOS Guard and Intel Boot Guard. With these defenses, your PC will be shielded from cyber criminals from startup to power off.
9th Generation Intel Core H-Series: best CPU for gaming laptops
This family of H-Series Intel processors is built specifically for mobile laptops. It’s replete with features that make it perfect for mobile gamers, but is capable of so much more.
For example, if you’re worried about system performance and clock speeds, Intel technology will lay those fears to rest. Intel Thermal Velocity Boost (Intel TVB) optimizes and increases clock frequency by up to 200 MHz if the processor is at a safe temperature of 50 degrees Celsius or below so you can be sure system performance is always locked in.
With Intel Dynamic Tuning, system performance is easily managed so system temperature, fan speed, power source, usage mode, current processor state, and processor power can be adjusted.
Highlights of the 9th Generation of Intel Core H-Series mobile processors:
- Intel Smart Cache dynamically portions shared cache to each processor core based on the factors that would most increase performance
- Integrated Memory Controller delivers efficient algorithms, lower latency, and higher memory
- Intel Ultra High Definition (UHD) Graphics allow you to play 4K videos with breathtaking quality, dive deep into the details of images, and keep up with graphics-intensive PC games
The Intel Core H-Series also allows gamers to play their game settings on the highest levels, even while multi-tasking.
Great CPUs for 2019 from AMD
In 2019, AMD released its 3rd Generation Ryzen™ processors that are changing the game for mainstream CPUs. It’s been lauded by reviewers because AMD has manufactured a series of CPUs that are more economical and use less power than competitors and their own past iterations.
These new Ryzen CPUs are the first wide release of x86 CPUs constructed around a 7nm process. ‘x86’ is the type of architecture behind almost every laptop and desktop device and ‘7nm’ refers to the type of process node on the CPU.
Usually, this number correlates to the distance between the transistor gates on the CPU. The shorter the distance between them, the faster the information gets sent since it has a shorter distance to travel. For users, all this technical jargon means a faster, more efficient system.
AMD has found a way to stuff more cores in the processor while charging customers less. These high-powered processors do well with equally high-powered applications like 3D-video rendering.
Mobile Ryzen 3000: best CPU for gaming laptops
The Ryzen 3000 CPU officially launched on July 7, 2019. Consumers can buy it separately or as part of a system. The mobile CPU is available in dual-core or quad-core varieties. Some of these processors offer simultaneous multithreading for up to 8 threads at a time. As for clock speeds, boost clocks can reach speeds of up to 4 GHz on the fastest 3700U and 3750H CPUs. Entry-level options will only reach speeds well under 3 GHz.
These new mobile CPUs are based on 12nm Zen Plus architecture, so users can expect a bump in performance and speed in laptops that are compatible with it.
Desktop Ryzen 3000: best CPU for gaming and streaming
If you’re looking for a capable CPU that can handle practically anything that you throw at it, look no further than the third generation of Ryzen processors from AMD. It’s built as the successor to the Zen and Zen Plus cores used in the first and second iterations, the Zen 2. A new chip design results in lower latency which was a concern for some in past models of the chip.
Although they don’t reach the rumored speed of 5 GHz, the AMD Ryzen 3000 chips do see a 15% increase in instructions per clock.
All of these upgrades together mean that both multithreaded and single-threaded performance get a serious lift for all Ryzen 3000 CPUs.
Which is better, AMD or Intel?
These two CPU manufacturers have created incredibly high-end products. In various benchmark tests, AMD Ryzen 3000 CPUs match up well with Intel’s 9th Generation of processors. The AMD 3600X is comparable to the Intel 9600k, the 3700X to the 9700K, and the 3900X as the 9900K. The bottom line? They’re both great processors - it comes down to a matter of preference.
When does my CPU matter during gameplay?
Any time your game is simulating a system heavily based on mathematics or patterns, it’s going to be very CPU-intensive. For example, in strategy games and simulators or any game that utilizes AI, your CPU will be worked to the bone.
Here are five of the most CPU-taxing games you can use to put your own CPU to the test:
- Civilization 5 or 6: In Civilization, you spend time guiding your civilization through history. During the beginning phases, your CPU won’t work up a sweat but as you advance through time, the AI working behind the scenes needs to make more and more decisions in the background. In turn, the CPU has to churn out more power.
- Grand Theft Auto 5: This huge open-world game features three main characters you can shift between during your missions. Depending on what actions you take in the game, your CPU could be put under some serious pressure.
- Stellaris: Instead of conquering the world, Stellaris has set its sights on something bigger - the universe. As you lead your population and build more fleets, planets, etc., your CPU will be more heavily stressed.
- Total War: WARHAMMER 2: As you take your army into battle, you’ll encounter various factions that require a different style of fighting to vanquish each one. As you take on bigger, longer battles, the game can start to drain your CPU if it’s not powerful enough to handle the action.
- Assassin’s Creed: Origins: Again, the open world is at the crux of the CPU usage for this game. As you embark on different missions, you’ll face fight sequences in different areas of the game where you could see a slowdown if your processor isn’t up to snuff.
The best CPUs for gaming and beyond
Even if you’re not a high-powered gamer, high-end gaming processors can still come in handy. If you regularly tax your CPU using multiple applications, render 3D videos, or use power-draining photo-editing software, you could benefit from the extra power, efficiency, and speed a gaming CPU provides.
And of course, beyond the CPU, your total gaming experience will also depend on other factors of your gaming PC setup like your motherboard, memory, storage drive, power supply, and cooling systems.
However, when you pair a powerful CPU, high-velocity graphics, and a perfectly tuned PC together, you can reach new levels of gaming and enjoyment. Looking for somewhere to start? Check out the HP OMEN gaming family for a great technological complement to your gaming prowess.
About the Author: Michelle Wilson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Michelle is a content creation specialist writing for a variety of industries, including tech trends and media news.