Looking for the best AMD CPU for gaming? Look no further.
In this article, we’re going to go over all the information you need to know in order to pick the best AMD Gaming CPU for your needs. That includes a selection of our five top picks for different price ranges, an evaluation of each of those picks, and a detailed buying guide at the bottom of the article. Even if you aren’t super tech-savvy, all of the information you need for an informed buying decision will be here, and even if you don’t buy anything, we hope that you learn everything you need to.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dive right into it!
Best AMD CPUs For 2020
#1. AMD Athlon 3000
Cores: 2 | Threads: 4 |Base Clock: 3.5 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The AMD Athlon 3000 is a serious powerhouse of a budget CPU. It offers 2 physical cores, 4 threads, integrated Vega graphics suited for lightweight games at 720p, and is completely overclockable. It’s also really, really cheap, so honestly, we can’t really complain about anything in this package.
Would it be nice if it were capable of pushing modern games with a discrete GPU, or if it could play modern games outright with its integrated GPU? Yeah, but this is a ~$50 processor, and fulfilling dreams like those at this price range is pure fantasy.
If you’re a casual gamer who only plays older games- or especially lightweight eSports titles, like MOBAs and FPSes released 10 years ago- this CPU offers all the raw power you need. For common desktop use and media consumption, the four threads are also more than enough for a good experience.
We can’t really complain about this one. If it suits your needs, go for it.
If you can afford a little more, though, we definitely recommend saving up for at least the next pick on our list.
Verdict: Best Cheap AMD CPU
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Boost Clock: 3.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B450, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The AMD Ryzen 5 1600 AF is a peculiar chip. First off, don’t let the 1600 designation fool you- this is actually a Ryzen 2600 series CPU in disguise! It performs pretty much the same as that chip, and usually retails for under $100, though external factors are messing with that a little bit.
In terms of sheer performance-per-dollar, this CPU simply cannot be beat with any options currently available on the market. It’s specced perfectly well for modern games and streaming, and while it doesn’t offer the same raw single-core performance as a Ryzen 3000 series CPU, it’s still a superb option for gamers who want the best bang for their buck.
If all you want to do is hit 60+ FPS in your favorite games, then this CPU is perfect for you.
Like all the upcoming CPUs and unlike the previous CPU, though, there are no integrated graphics- a discrete GPU is required!
Verdict: Best Value AMD CPU
#3. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Boost Clock: 4.2 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is the current king of gaming CPUs, and for good reason.
Thanks to the advancements made by the Zen 2 architecture in the Ryzen 3000 series, AMD has finally become truly competitive with Intel in terms of single-core performance, which has a big impact on gaming performance. Additionally, AMD has actually maintained their lead in multi-core performance, which makes this CPU particularly potent in modern games optimized to use more cores and live-streaming while you game. Those 12 threads aren’t for nothing!
The only gaming-related scenario where we may worry about this CPU is for next-gen games, since the next-gen consoles are using CPUs similar to the next step up, with two more physical cores and four more threads. If you want to guarantee the best next-gen experience, we’d recommend the 3700X.
Verdict: Best Gaming AMD CPU
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.4 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
The Ryzen 7 3700X is the premiere AMD CPU, and for good reason. Boasting 8 Zen 2 cores and 16 threads- the same rough specs that we’ll be seeing in the next-gen consoles, albeit with a higher clock speed here- the 3700X is nothing to scoff at.
For today’s gaming workloads, this CPU offers more than enough raw power for playing modern games and even streaming them on the side. And since it perfectly matches the CPU spec of the next-gen consoles, chances are it will provide gaming performance on par with them, at least for some time. As of yet, we don’t even know how those cores will be allocated- chances are fair that a portion of them may be dedicated entirely to live-streaming and recording purposes.
We’re confident this CPU is suited for high-end gaming today and next-gen gaming tomorrow, as well as streaming. But if you want even more, you may also want to consider our next pick.
Verdict: Best High-End AMD CPU
Cores: 12 | Threads: 24 | Boost Clock: Up to 4.6 GHz | Overclockable?: Yes | Out-of-Box Supported Chipsets: B550, X570, and newer AM4 chipsets (older chipsets may require BIOS update)
This is the Ryzen 9 3900X. It’s a lot like the Ryzen 7 above, but with 50% more cores and threads. Combined with the higher clocks, this massively exceeds anything that the next-generation consoles are going to be capable of, no matter how hard they try. If you want a truly futureproofed gaming CPU, this is the closest that you’re going to get for some time.
For modern gaming purposes this is definitely overkill, but all of those free CPU threads can definitely be put to work. What else do you want to do while you’re gaming? Fold @ Home? Stream to Twitch? Run Google Chrome with an excessive amount of tabs and extensions?
Multi-tasking wise- so long as you have the RAM to match- this CPU should be able to do pretty much anything you want it to. That will come at a price premium, but for many of you, we’re sure that’s a price worth paying.
Verdict: Best Enthusiast AMD CPU
Want a slight bump up in total cores and threads? Get the Ryzen 9 3950X instead, but don’t expect a massive boost in performance.
FAQ and All You Need To Know About Picking an AMD CPU
In this section, we’re going to walk you through all of the information that you need to know in order to make an informed buying decision. While we’d be tempted to just say “buy the 3900X!”, it’s important that you know which of the CPUs above is actually the best choice for you, and that’s why we’re here to help.
Compatibility- will B450 and X470 boards work with these CPUs?
While CPU sockets used to be pretty trustworthy indicators of whether or not a CPU would be compatible- after all, it would either physically fit in the socket or it wouldn’t- times have changed in recent years.
From the Ryzen 1000 to Ryzen 3000 series, all of AMD’s standard Ryzen processors have supported the AM4 socket. This is great for consumers, but a little confusing, too, since it means that some motherboards originally made for Ryzen 1000 series CPUs may not have out have out-of-box compatibility with the latest and greatest without a BIOS update applied.
There are only two ways to verify that your Ryzen 3000 CPU will be compatible with your motherboard before you buy it:
- Getting a motherboard with a B550 or X570 chipset, which offers compatibility without need for a BIOS update
- Checking that your motherboard of choice is actually shipping with a BIOS update- Amazon reviews and manufacturer product pages are still useful for this, but this may be a step too far for some users
More than your socket, your chipset and your BIOs will determine CPU compatibility.
If you don’t want to worry about compatibility concerns while looking for a motherboard, we have you covered. Click here to read our detailed article on AM4 Motherboards, each of which are confirmed compatible with Ryzen 3000 CPUs!
What difference does X570 make? What’s the difference between chipsets, besides compatibility?
If you aren’t super tech-savvy, chances are you probably don’t know why chipsets matter or how they can impact your CPU. Below, we’re going to list the common current-gen AMD chipsets, and the tiers of CPU that we recommend with them.
- No overclocking
- Few, if any extra features
- Budget builds
- Ryzen 3
- Overclocking support
- Some extra features
- Budget/mid-range builds
- Ryzen 3
- Ryzen 5
- Overclocking support with better VRMs for higher clocks
- Extra features, but not as up-to-date as X570
- High-end builds
- Ryzen 5
- Ryzen 7
- Overclocking support with better VRMs for higher clocks
- The latest and greatest extra features
- High-end builds
- PCIe 4.0 support
- Ryzen 5
- Ryzen 7
- Ryzen 9
The difference between cores and threads
While we list both cores and threads in each of our spec sheets above, you may not actually know the important distinction between these technologies. In this section, we’ll explain that to the best of our ability.
To define a core and thread, we first need to define a CPU.
A CPU, or Central Processing Unit, lies at the heart of every PC, laptop, gaming system, or smart device you use in your life today. When CPUs were first created, they were single processing units that did almost all of the work in the system, with things like sound cards and graphics cards later being used to process other data. Many modern CPUs can process graphics as well today, and all of them can process sound, no external sound card necessary.
Where things get curious is when the first dual-cores came into existence in the early 2000s, first from IBM’s PowerPC architecture and then to the wider consumer marketplace through AMD. Each “core” served as a central processing unit in its own right, to the point that old operating systems and applications used to consider them each individual CPUs!
What we call cores today used to be considered CPUs in their own right, and today’s CPUs have several.
Where things get a little more complicated is when we start talking about threads. First, we must distinguish between threads as seen by your CPU and threads as seen on CPU product pages.
To your CPU, a thread is a single task. No matter how fast your CPU is, each core can only handle a single thread in a single instant, but this is at such an insane speed that your CPU will often be juggling thousands in regular use.
On CPU product pages, the “threads” spec refers to how many threads your CPU can handle in a single instant. For many CPUs, this is 1:1 with your “cores” spec. Threads in this context are essentially virtual cores, as seen by your operating system.
But you’ll notice that this 1:1 cores:threads rule doesn’t apply to any of the Ryzen processors we have listed above. There’s a reason for that.
That’s because of a technology called SMT. SMT, or Simultaneous Multi-Threading, allows for each physical core to get seen as two threads by your operating system, rather than just one. In many workloads, this translates to a nearly twofold improvement in performance, but at least right now, not to gaming performance.
(SMT on or off with gaming performance will generally make minimal, if any, difference to gaming performance but may improve thermals. We’d recommend keeping it enabled, though, especially if you plan to do non-gaming tasks, like streaming, on the side. We also suspect a more pronounced difference with next-gen games, but only time will tell.)
How many cores do I need? How many threads do I need?
When you’re looking at different CPUs, chances are you’ll be tempted to compare them based on their core and thread counts. While we wouldn’t recommend doing this for cross-brand competitors (as their underlying CPU architectures may differ too much for the comparison to give you an accurate idea of how their performance compares), this is a great practice when comparing CPUs of the same underlying architecture.
All of the Ryzen 3000 CPUs listed above share the same architecture, so comparing them by core/thread count will give you a pretty accurate idea of how they perform in comparison to each other, especially in applications that can be scaled to multiple cores, like newer games, rendering, and streaming.
For Basic Use: 2-4 Threads
For basic use: that is, web browsing, media consumption, and the like, 2-4 threads should do you just fine, even if you’re multitasking. Compared to the powerful beasts of today’s desktop CPUs, these tasks aren’t really that demanding anymore, so a few cores and threads should do you just fine for them. You may begin hitting some limits with particularly heavy multitasking, but for the most part, your standard dual or quad-core processor should do the job perfectly fine.
Many older games, which aren’t optimized to use more than 4 threads, may also work well with low-specced CPUs like these!
For Gaming Use: 4-8 Threads (4+ Physical Cores Ideal)
If you’re serious about playing modern games, however, consider a quad-core processor with 4-8 threads a minimum. Most modern game engines are made to utilize at least four physical cores, sometimes more. This is the range occupied by Ryzen 5 and Core i5 processors, which are most commonly advertised toward gamers, and that is why. This is also more than enough for heavy multitasking (provided you aren’t gaming) or light multitasking while you are gaming.
Where this may begin hitting limits is if you want to live-stream your games while you’re playing them, or you want to play next-gen games, which will likely be standardized around the powerful 8-core, 16-thread CPUs seen in the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
For Streaming/Productivity or Next-Gen Gaming: 8+ Threads (8+ Physical Cores Ideal)
While the quad-core Ryzen 5 is perfectly capable of live-streaming most games, if you’re really serious about streaming or playing next-gen titles, you’re going to want to aim for a CPU with 8 or more physical cores. This is where you start creeping into the Ryzen 7 line, which offers fairly similar CPU specs to the next-gen consoles. (8 Zen 2 cores with 16 threads at SMT.)
With modern games, you can use CPUs with these specs to both play at high framerates and live-stream your gameplay on Twitch.
For High-End Streaming/Productivity or High-End Next-Gen Gaming: 16+ Threads (16+ Physical Cores Ideal)
This is where you want to go for a truly next-gen experience.
With this level of CPU power, you can either play games beyond the CPU power supported by the next-gen consoles with considerable room to spare, or you can play those games while also having plenty of threads free for live-streaming purposes. This is the ideal pick for the enthusiast gamer who wants to future-proof their system or the gamer who also wants to be a content creator for the foreseeable future.
What are base and boost clock speeds?
Clock speed refers to the speed that each core in your CPU runs at, measured in Gigahertz. While this used to be the standard for comparing CPU performance, evolving CPU architectures have made it not particularly useful. ie, a 3 GHz CPU from 2010 will get utterly crushed by a 3 GHz CPU from 2020, due to massive advancements made in areas besides clock speed. Like with core/thread count, though, clock speed is good for comparing relative performance between either the same CPU running at different clocks, or CPUs using the same architecture. Higher is always better.
Base clock speed refers to the guaranteed speed that the CPU can reach in any condition where it isn’t outright overheating. Boost clock speed refers to the guaranteed speed the CPU can reach, without overclocking, in ideal conditions. Your CPU being able to consistently reach boost frequencies will require a decent cooler and VRMs on your motherboard, especially once you start using Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 processors.
And then, there’s overclocking…
Why does overclockability matter?
With current-gen Athlon and Ryzen processors, you also get an additional benefit: all of the modern AMD CPUs are overclockable. As long as the rest of your system can keep up, this means that you can squeeze quite a lot more performance out of your CPU without paying any extra. Boosts to clock speed improve single-core performance, which is great for gaming, but won’t make as big a difference in workloads that require more threads, like streaming or rendering.
How does my CPU impact gaming performance?
Quite a bit, actually.
The reason for this is simple:
Your CPU determines your maximum possible gaming performance because it’s the one doing all of the actual work.
Your graphics card displays that work and makes it look pretty, but all the game logic calculations and etc are actually being done by the CPU. That’s why lowering resolution or graphical settings will increase your framerate in most scenarios: because your CPU is no longer being limited by your GPU.
Especially with the next-gen consoles and their 8 Ryzen 3000 cores and 16 threads on the horizon, we recommend getting a better CPU today. It’s much more difficult and risky to replace a CPU than it is to lower some graphical settings, or even to replace a GPU. Preventing CPU and other bottlenecks today is more important than getting the biggest, beefiest GPU!
Does my CPU include a cooler?
Unlike with Intel, all AMD CPUs include coolers right out of the box. Additionally, these coolers are more potent than their Intel counterparts, making them appropriate for at least light overclocking on Ryzen 3 and Ryzen 5 CPUs. While Ryzen 7 and Ryzen 9 CPUs also include their own coolers, we would recommend checking out our selection of high-performance CPU coolers here for those chips to reach their full potential, overclocked or not.
If you have no interest in overclocking and aren’t using a Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 9 chip, though, the AMD stock coolers should more than suffice for your needs.
Does my CPU include integrated graphics?
Aside from the Athlon, none of the CPUs on this list include integrated graphics.
In order to tell if your AMD Ryzen CPU has integrated graphics, look for a “G” in its name. All Ryzen-based APUs (AMD’s term for CPUs with integrated GPUs) use a “G” in their product name and combine an integrated Vega graphics chip with CPU cores from the previous gen. For instance, the Ryzen 3200G is actually using the Zen+ architecture from the Ryzen 2000 CPU series.
While AMD’s integrated graphics are a lot better than what Intel has to offer, we still don’t really recommend most APUs due to their last-gen CPU architectures being weaker than current-gen AMD offerings. For the best experience, we recommend a proper AMD CPU with a discrete graphics card of your choice.
Where can I find compatible AMD motherboards for these CPUs?
All of the motherboards our AM4 Motherboard article are confirmed to be shipping with BIOS updates for Ryzen 3000 CPUs out-of-the-box, or being made with that compatibility from the beginning. We did all the extra work there so you don’t have to.
And that’s all!
We hope that this article helped you learn everything you needed to know about buying an AMD CPU for gaming, and that you’re able to utilize the knowledge you’ve picked up today for an informed buying decision now or in the near future. Even if you don’t buy anything, we hope that we made you just a little more tech-savvy today!
If you need any assistance, leave a comment below and let us know: we’ll be happy to help.
Until then, happy gaming!