The rise of AMD in the past few years has had an incredible impact on budget and mid-range gaming when we talk about CPUs. Competition is great for everyone since it pushes both companies to produce better products at lower prices and in the end, the consumer is the one that benefits the most. This is what happened in 2017 when AMD launched their first generation of Ryzen CPUs. Not only did these CPUs increase the core count over their Intel counterparts, but they also came at cheaper prices when compared to Team Blue’s offerings at that time.
Fast forward to 2021 and that competition has blossomed even more and as a result, we have been spoiled with some amazing CPU choices from both sides. In this competition, both the companies have found their place as we now understand that Ryzen from AMD is an incredible value CPU line with big core counts and great gaming performance, while Intel has been the superior gaming CPU brand by a slight margin. This all changed with the introduction of the Ryzen 5000 series based on the Zen 3 architecture, but those CPUs are a bit out of our range as of the time of writing. AMD is yet to release the non-X variants of their Ryzen 5000 series CPUs which tend to be the better value processors among their lineup. Intel has also announced their Rocket Lake CPUs but those processors have not been released at the time of writing.
In this roundup, we will focus on the best budget gaming CPUs for mid-range PCs in 2021.
1. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
The Default Mid-Range Gaming Choice
- Great Bang-for-the-Buck
- 6 Cores with 12 Threads
- Included Stock Cooler
- Decent Productivity Performance
- Limited Overclocking Headroom
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Boost Clock: 4.2GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 65W | Architecture: Zen 2
The Ryzen 5 3600 has an almost legendary reputation among PC gaming enthusiasts. Ever since its launch in 2019, gamers have always adored the mid-range 6 Core chip from AMD, and for good reason. Not only is the Ryzen 5 3600 an incredible value for money, but it is also a decent productivity CPU that can perform moderately demanding tasks with relative ease in addition to gaming. Speaking of gaming, the gaming performance of the Ryzen 5 3600 is great as well, due to the incredible IPC leap of Zen 2 when compared to Zen+.
Under the hood, the Ryzen 5 3600 is packing 6 Cores and 12 Threads with a base clock of 3.6 GHz and a boost clock of 4.2 GHz. While these clock speed numbers might not sound that impressive, you should keep in mind that the Zen 2 architecture holds a big IPC (Instructions Per Clock) advantage over comparative Intel and older Ryzen processors. The Ryzen 5 3600 is also packing 32MB of L3 Cache which aids in single-threaded workloads such as games.
The main attraction of the Ryzen 5 3600 lies in its value proposition. In roughly $200 you are getting an incredible 6 Core chip based on the brilliant Zen 2 architecture that is not only great in gaming but also in moderate productivity tasks. Not only that, but the Ryzen 5 3600 is also unlocked just like the rest of the Ryzen lineup. This means that this CPU can be overclocked to squeeze more performance out of it if the user wants it. Overclocking should be done with a good aftermarket CPU cooler though, as the included Wraith Stealth cooler might not be adequate for overclocking.
One of the strongest features of the Ryzen platform is its backward and forwards compatibility. If you previously own a Ryzen 5 1600 or Ryzen 5 2600 with a decent B450 or X470 motherboard, you can just drop in the Ryzen 5 3600 (or even the 5600X!) in the same motherboard for a massive upgrade without changing the motherboard. This makes the Ryzen 5 3600 an attractive upgrade option for users of older Ryzen CPUs.
All in all, the Ryzen 5 3600 is an incredible value gaming CPU that will be right at home in a mid-range build that hopes to maximize the price-to-performance ratio.
2. Intel Core i5 10600K
Expensive but Powerful
- Faster than the Ryzen 5 3600 in Gaming
- Decent Overclocker
- Good for Casual Productivity
- Has a Good Upgrade Path
- More Expensive than the Ryzen 5 3600
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.7GHz | Boost Clock: 4.8GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 125W | Architecture: Comet Lake
The Core i5 10600K is Intel’s premium mid-range CPU from the Comet Lake series and it is also a pretty decent little gaming CPU. Not only does the CPU contain 6 Cores and 12 Threads just like the Ryzen 5 3600, but it is also a little faster in gaming than the venerable Ryzen 5 due to Intel’s faster clock speeds and lower latency. The Core i5 10600K is also unlocked for overclocking and it is one of the best overclocking CPUs on the market right now.
If we talk about pure gaming performance, the Core i5 10600K is quite a bit faster than the Ryzen 5 3600 or even the 3600X which is the faster-clocked variant of the Ryzen 5 3600. This is due to Intel’s blazing fast clock speeds of up to 4.8GHz on the 10600K, as well as lower latency between the cores. Intel’s 10600K is often seen on the top-end of gaming benchmark charts right alongside the i7s and i9s of the Comet Lake lineup.
But that extra performance does come at a price premium. The 10600K is usually around $50-70 more expensive than the Ryzen 5 3600 which can be a lot of money when you are shopping for a CPU on a fairly tight budget. Moreover, the 10600K requires a more expensive Z-series motherboard in order to take advantage of the unlocked multiplier and RAM overclocking. This makes it really difficult to recommend the 10600K over the Ryzen 5 3600 even though the 10600K is technically faster in gaming.
It all comes down to the preference of the end-user. Most people will not notice the extra 4-5% FPS over the Ryzen 5 3600 but will notice the extra cost of the CPU and the motherboard when making their purchase decision. In addition to that, the 10600K does not come with a stock cooler unlike the Ryzen 5 3600 so you do have to splash more money on a decent aftermarket cooler, especially if you want to overclock.
Speaking of overclocking, that is one of the strongest points of the 10600K since it can reach up to 5.0GHz on all cores quite easily under a good cooler and when paired with a good motherboard. This puts its gaming performance right alongside the flagship Core i9 10900K. So if you are looking for the most possible FPS on a budget, the 10600K should be your CPU of choice.
One of the most interesting CPU launches of the past few years is the Ryzen 3 3300X. This is AMD’s performance-focused Ryzen 3 CPU which is supposed to bring the goodness of the Zen 2 architecture to the entry-level CPU tier. The Ryzen 3 3300X launched alongside the Ryzen 3 3100 and together these two CPUs are supposed to take on Intel’s i3 line head-to-head in the entry-level CPU market.
Under the hood, the Ryzen 3 3300X is packing 4 Cores and 8 Threads which is a configuration that is good enough for most games. What is interesting about the 3300X though was its unusually high gaming performance. The Ryzen 3 3300X is often seeing challenging the 6 Core 12 Thread Ryzen 5 3600 in gaming benchmarks, while flat out beating the previous generation Ryzen 5 2600. This improved gaming performance is due to the fact that the 4 Cores on the 3300X reside on a single Core Complex, which drastically reduces latency as compared to the 6 Core and the 8 Core models. This improves gaming performance significantly.
The 3300X is not targeted at productivity focused users due to its 4 Core design, rather it focuses solely on gaming performance on a tight budget. As the 3300X can get pretty close to the Ryzen 5 3600 in terms of FPS even while lacking 2 Cores, the 3300X makes a compelling option for anyone looking to build an entry-level gaming machine in 2021.
Just like the rest of AMD’s Ryzen lineup, the 3300X offers more features than just good gaming performance. It gets your foot in the door to PCIe 4.0 as the CPU is based on the Zen 2 architecture. There is a decent Wraith cooler included in the box and like all other Zen CPUs, the 3300X is also unlocked for a bit of overclocking. The 3300X can also take advantage of fairly cheap B450 boards due to the fact that it is just a 65W chip which can run easily on most budget A320 and B450 motherboards.
Although the 3300X seems like the perfect entry-level CPU for gaming, there is an issue that is quite prevalent with this processor. Soon after its release, the 3300X was out of stock everywhere and has not returned in a big quantity ever since. So if you want to get your hands on this CPU, you better keep an eye on its stock levels.
4. Intel Core i5 10400F
A Good Value Option from Team Blue
- Great Value Option
- Good Gaming Performance
- Can be Paired with Cheaper Motherboards
- Locked Multiplier
- No Memory Overclocking
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 2.9GHz | Boost Clock: 4.3GHz | Overclocking: No | TDP: 65W | Architecture: Comet Lake
One of the best CPUs in Intel’s Comet Lake lineup in terms of value is the Core i5 10400f which is also a 6 Core 12 Thread midrange CPU. The 10400F is slightly faster than the previous generation 9400F which was a very popular CPU among mid-range builders. Overall it’s also an excellent budget-friendly option that costs about the same as a Ryzen 5 3600.
In terms of gaming performance, the 10400F competes head-to-head with the Ryzen 5 3600 for about the same price. This is good news for people looking for good value options in the CPU market as now they have the option to select a CPU from either Intel or AMD. The 10400F does have some drawbacks though. As compared to the Ryzen 5 3600, the productivity performance of the 10400F is not as good as the Ryzen 5 3600, but that can be excused to some extent since these are value-focused options.
The 10400F is a locked CPU which means that there is no overclocking option with this chip, which is kind of a bummer if we look at the Ryzen lineup in which every CPU is unlocked. You do get a cooler in the box though, which is a nice touch. The 10400F also has no integrated graphics (hence the “F” in the name) which is one of the cost-cutting measures applied here. All the “F” chips in Intel’s lineup have their integrated graphics fused off, which is a good cost-saving measure as most people want to pair a dedicated GPU with these CPUs anyway. The 10400F is also limited to 2666MHz in terms of RAM speed which is a limitation of this CPU and Intel’s cheaper B and H series chipsets.
With that said, the 10400F is another option in the market that makes sense if the Ryzen 5 3600 is out of stock or really overpriced. It may not provide the highest FPS number out there, but it maximizes the value of your money when buying a CPU at this price point.
Another great value option from AMD’s now-legendary Ryzen lineup is the venerable Ryzen 5 2600. This CPU was also a really popular CPU a couple of years ago and it is still a viable option for a budget-oriented gaming machine. The Ryzen 5 2600 is based on the older Zen+ architecture which has slightly slower cores than any of the CPUs listed here, but it is still a good performer in most games that are out there today.
The R5 2600 is also a 6 Core 12 Thread processor with a base clock of 3.4GHz and a boost clock of 3.9GHz. What is great about the R5 2600 is that it can handle most productivity tasks really well thanks to its 6 Cores and 12 Threads. Its gaming performance is a bit behind the Ryzen 5 3600 and even the 3300X, but in comparison, the R5 2600 can be found quite a bit cheaper.
You do get a decent Wraith stock cooler in the box which is a nice touch at this price point. Furthermore, the Ryzen 5 2600 is also unlocked which means that you can take advantage of its unlocked multiplier to squeeze some more performance out of it, provided that you have got the cooling for it. You will also need to pair it with a B450 or X470 motherboard to take advantage of the overclocking capabilities of the R5 2600.
The Ryzen 5 2600 makes a lot of sense for entry-level builds looking to take advantage of its cheaper price as the processor still holds up in modern gaming pretty well. Sure, we wouldn’t recommend it if you are looking for the highest framerate possible in your favorite eSports title, but for casual gaming with a mid-range graphics card, the Ryzen 5 2600 is more than enough. It also gets your foot in the door to AMD’s amazing AM4 platform which offers direct upgradability even to CPUs like the new Ryzen 5000 series.
All in all, the Ryzen 5 2600 is still a solid option for a budget gaming machine since it offers great value for the money even three years after its release. It might not provide the highest FPS number, but it is a versatile and robust CPU that maximizes your bang-for-the-buck.