How to Choose a Gaming CPU

The game processor (also called CPU) is an essential part of your game PC, which processes game commands to produce visuals and gameplay.

A gaming processor has three primary functions: game rendering, game physics calculations, game AI processing. You can even overclock some game processors for increased performance in gaming.

The game rendering function is responsible for game visuals and performance. The game physics calculations are responsible for game motion, like explosions and other environmental traps. Finally, game AI processing determines what decisions computer-controlled game characters make during gameplay (like enemy behavior).

Hand and CPU
Hand and CPU (Image credit: intel)

To get the most out of your game PC, you want to match your game processor with high-performance hardware components, such as a dedicated video card or multiple graphics cards in SLI/CrossFireX configuration.

Some CPUs have powerful integrated graphics processing units (GPUs) that can even play modern games without needing a separate video card. When choosing which CPU is right for you, consider how much-advanced gaming on its own you’ll be doing versus how much you’ll need a game processor to manage gaming with a dedicated video card.

To get the most out of any game CPU, ensure you have ample cooling and ventilation in your game PC chassis. Without proper airflow, game CPUs can overheat and even burn up from the heat they produce when running games.

Step 1: Figuring Out What You Need in a CPU

Before looking at specific CPUs, it helps to ask yourself what advanced features you’ll need from your CPU to get the most out of gaming. The following questions will help guide you toward choosing a game processor that works well with your preferred hardware components.

  • Will I be overclocking my CPU for better performance? Overclocking is a process that increases your CPU speed, along with its power consumption and heat production. If you want to overclock your CPU, make sure you have a motherboard with an adequate VRM (voltage regulator module) and proper cooling in place before purchasing a CPU.

  • What's the right amount of cores for me? Multicore CPUs can do more than one thing simultaneously, while dual-core CPUs can only perform two tasks at once. Quad-core CPUs are the most common these days, but some Hexa/octa-core processors are also available on the market for specialized applications like streaming or media editing.

  • Can I use a dual-core CPU in combination with a separate video card? It depends on the game and how it was developed. Most modern games will need a dedicated video card to run correctly, but older or more miniature demanding games may use a dual-core CPU in tandem with typical PC hardware.

Step 2: Learn How the CPU Works

Woman Holding CPU
Woman Holding CPU (Image credit: intel)

The most important part of your game PC is the CPU, which processes game commands to produce game visuals and gameplay. Some CPUs have powerful integrated GPUs that can even play modern games without needing a separate video card. Here are the functions of a CPU:

Game rendering is responsible for game visuals and performance. Game physics calculations are responsible for game motion, like explosions and other environmental traps in the game. Finally, game AI processing determines what decisions computer-controlled characters make during gameplay (like enemy behavior). The following will help you choose the best CPU for gaming:

CPU Core Count

The more cores a CPU has, the more tasks it can perform simultaneously. Knowing how many cores you need will help you choose the best gaming CPU for your needs.

Many games are optimized for quad-core processors, but some can also run on dual-core CPUs. Make sure the number of cores is often listed next to the CPU you’re considering for purchase.

If you decide you need more than four cores, multicore CPUs with six, eight, or 12 cores are available for high-end game PCs.

CPU Clock Speed

The clock speed of your game processor refers to how fast it can complete a given task, like rendering environmental effects in a video game. The higher the clock speed, the faster tasks will be completed by your CPU. The following table lists typical clock speeds and what they mean:

If you want to buy a new pre-built or custom desktop PC or laptop, make sure that its hardware components are compatible with each other before purchasing them all together at once. If you’re buying individual parts one at a time instead, look up how fast they are and compare them with a list of compatible components.

Step 3: Consider Additional CPU Features

CPU Cuntions
CPU Cuntions (Image credit: intel)

A few unique features you can look for in a gaming CPU may help make your experience better. The following are additional features to consider when shopping for a video game processor:

Low Core Temperature

If you’re overclocking your PC, it’s essential to have a low core temperature on the CPU, which helps maintain performance and avoid overheating damage if the GPU produces too much heat. Look for an advanced cooling system from the manufacturer or at least heatsinks on each of the processor’s heat-producing components before choosing a CPU with high clock speeds.

Integrated Graphics

Modern CPUs often feature graphics cores built into the hardware, so they don’t require a separate video card if you want to play games without one. Some CPUs can also switch between integrated and dedicated GPUs (either built into the CPU or in a separate video card) at will, letting you maximize performance when playing games and save energy when you’re not.

Cache Memory

CPUs use small amounts of memory to help them access commands faster. The cache memory is where this temporary storage takes place, so it helps your game PC process commands more quickly than if it retrieved them from further away on the computer’s hard drive. You can find evidence of high cache memory in how high the GHz speed is for a given CPU: the higher it is, the better that particular chip’s cache functions.

Overclocking

For some gamers, overclocking is an essential feature that helps improve your game PC’s frame rates. Overclocking means manipulating your CPU to work faster than its original specifications by making tiny adjustments on the hardware itself or through software.

Step 4: Find the Right Processor for You

CPU Cuntions
Intel or AMD (Image credit: PCPowerUP)

We have now learned that Clock speed measures how fast an electronic device can complete tasks and that Cache Memory is a smaller amount of memory CPUs use to process information more quickly. Now we know what those terms mean, it’s time actually to find the right CPU for your gaming rig.

To create a list of the best CPUs for gaming according to your personal preferences, you will need to examine all four steps in this guide:

If you understand all the different components involved, you should be able to find one that fits your budget (the most important thing) and your needs (Clock Speed, Cooling System / Heatsink / Fan).

Here is a list of top-rated gaming CPUs: