Choosing the best CPU for your new gaming computer can be a confusing decision if you don't understand much about hardware and what's happening 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 techno-mumbo-jumbo so it's easy to get stuck deciding what's the best choice for your budget and gaming (and non-gaming) needs.
This simplified buying guide on how to choose the best CPU will help you understand a little bit about the current state of the processor market, so that you can make a smarter choice in choosing the best CPU for your gaming needs. We also provide specific recommendations on the current best bang for your buck processors on the market right now.
So what exactly is the CPU anyway? The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is one of the most important components in any computer system, and could be described as the brains of a computer. It contains the logic circuitry that performs the instructions of the software you run. The performance of your games and other applications will be directly related to this tiny little microprocessor.
Picking the latest, fastest or most expensive processor on the market won’t always result in the right CPU for your particular system. The first thing to know is that you will need to make sure the CPU you choose will match your motherboard. Not all CPUs work with all motherboards, so you should check to see that your CPU has the same 'processor interface' as your motherboard.
The Only 2 Players in the Game
If you weren't already aware there are two companies that dominate the CPU market, Intel and AMD (Advanced Micro Devices). Both make a range of different processor models at different price ranges. For example, Intel have the Core i7 and Core i5 processor models, while AMD have the Phenom and FX series.
The Intel versus AMD debate is always a popular one, and at the time of writing I would recommend either brand in the budget to mid-range price tier, but I'd stick with Intel for the mid to high-end (and extreme) price ranges as they dominate that sector at the moment (not just in sales, but in performance - AMD can't keep up).
CPU Coolers 101
The best CPUs produce quite a bit of heat when put under load and require their own dedicated heatsink and fan. Most processors will come with their own stock fan so you don't need to get one, although some do not, especially "unlocked" processors such as the i5-6600K which are meant for overclocking.
And 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 anyway.
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 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.
The Best Gaming CPUS in 2016
Overall, since the processor is such a critical component in any gaming system, it's a good general rule of thumb to simply get the best CPU you can afford. However, you should also keep in mind that your graphics card plays an even more pivotal role in gaming performance and so you should allocate most of your funds to that.
Also, keep in mind that at a certain point extra CPU grunt won't do much to improve gaming performance - an i5 processor is the perfect sweet spot for gaming right now and is more than enough power. The next tier up in the Intel Core i7 series isn't at all necessary, but more a luxury if you want to splash the cash on a more future-proof system and/or you plan on running other non-gaming highly-remanding applications that could use some extra processing power.
So right now, if building a mid to high-end system I highly suggest either the Intel Core i5. They are the most popular, and provide the best performance for your money at the time of writing. They come in two main types, locked and unlocked. The unlocked versions are donated by a "k" in the model number, and are aimed for overclocking. So if you're new and don't plan on getting involved in that (no real need if we're being honest) then I'd stick with the cheaper locked versions such as the i5 6400 or i5 6500 to save some coin. Either are excellent performing, bang for your buck processors perfectly suited for modern high-performance gaming.
If you're on a tight budget and looking for the best CPU for your limited budget, you want to be looking at one of AMD's great value FX range of CPUs such as the FX-6300 or 6100. Alternatively, Intel have great budget CPUs too in their i3 range of processors which are great for gaming also.
Top 4 Value For Money Gaming CPUs
Wrapping Up How to Choose the Best CPU
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 buying guide has shed a little light on 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 goodie.
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