Last Updated: Oct 2, 2017
Choosing the best CPU (also known as the processor) for your new gaming computer can be a confusing decision if you don't keep up with the latest happenings in the PC market.
There are many different models to choose from that range in price from less than 100 bucks all the way up to 1K and over, all with different features, speeds, and other specs which may sound like mumbo-jumbo if you're not the tech-savvy type.
To add to this new CPU chips are being released on the market all of the time from both Intel and AMD. In this buying guide we will cover how to choose the best CPU for your new PC by covering the main things you should think about when making your decision.
So just quickly, what exactly is the CPU anyway? The Central Processing Unit is one of the most important components in any computer, and even more so in a gaming computer.
It's responsible for making all the quick calculations in your games and other applications, and the power of your CPU does have a direct correlation with overall gaming performance (although keep in mind that performance is dictated even more so by your graphics card choice).
So with that said, you obviously want to get your hands on the best CPU that you can, however there is a point of diminishing returns where you're better off spending your money on another component rather than putting too much of your overall budget into a heavyweight CPU.
It's not just about buying one of the latest, fastest and most expensive processors on the market - it's more about deciding what exact games and applications do you want to play, and what kind of performance level are you aiming for with those particular games/apps, and then picking a suitable processor that will get the job done and putting more focus on getting the best darn graphics card you can.
Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) have long dominated the CPU market, and at this point in time both companies have excellent CPU lineups in all budget tiers.
Choosing between an Intel or an AMD processor really comes down to a case by base basis - in other words by comparing two specific models 1 on 1 in terms of gaming performance (and performance in other specific applications if you're going to be running them a lot).
In 2017 Intel released their 7th generation range of i3, i5 and i7 processors, which is your list of options you're building a new modern PC this year.
The i3 range is targeted at budget-conscious users, but you'll be glad to know that some i3's are actually quite powerful and good enough to handle the latest PC games well (assuming you have a good enough graphics card as well).
The next step up from the i3 is the i5 range, which practically offers high-end type of performance. As you can expect, if an i3 is enough for gaming in some cases, and i5 will do just perfectly.
You don't really need to go up to the next level of Intel chips (i7) unless you either have the money to spend - the extra cost of the i7 over the i5 would probably be better off spent elsewhere such as your graphics card or other important features to you.
As for Intel's direct (and only) competitor, AMD also released a new line of much-anticipated processors this year named "Ryzen" which offer solid choices in all budget categories.
The best CPUs produce quite a bit of heat when put under load and require high-performance cooling in the form of a heatsink and fan. Most processors come with their own stock CPU cooler (which consists of a heatsink and fan) so you don't need to get one. Although some processors do not, especially "unlocked" processors which are meant for overclocking.
See Also: Computer Overclocking 101
Speaking of overclocking, if you're gonna be delving into that (for those who don't know it's basically when you manually increase the speed of your CPU past its stock speed to squeeze out more performance) then you'll require an aftermarket CPU cooler (ie a better one than the "stock" one) as your chip will likely produce a lot more heat when pushed beyond its normal speeds.
Even if you don't plan on overclocking, getting an aftermarket cooler (ie replacing the stock fan) may still be a good idea - however for most general gamers and PC users who buy a non-overclocking CPU, the stock fan than comes with it should be more than adequate. There's no one size fits all answer though, and in the end whether or not you should replace your stock CPU fan is up to your specific build situation.
As I mentioned, choosing the best CPU for gaming can be a confusing task with the many varying models and specs out there, but hopefully this guide has shed a light what you need to know whilst navigating the market. Whilst not the only crucial part of a gaming system, your CPU plays a key role in overall system performance and longevity so pick a good one.
Check out our recommended budget and high-end gaming computer builds for specific suggestions on which CPUs to get right now for various price ranges. In 2017, either an Intel or an AMD Ryzen is going to hold you in good stead; as mentioned they both have great CPU choices in both the low, mid and high price points.