There are several budget CPUs on the market, but the title of the best budget gaming CPU can’t be pinned to a single model. 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.
The Best Budget Gaming CPU – Our Picks
|1||AMD Ryzen 5 3600||Best Value Option|| |
|2||Intel Core i5 10600K||Best Performance Option|| |
|3||AMD Ryzen 3 3300X||Best Quad Core Option|| |
|4||Intel Core i5 10400F||Best All-Round Option|| |
|5||AMD Ryzen 5 2600||Best Last Gen Option|| |
|Product Name||AMD Ryzen 5 3600|
|Award||Best Value Option|
|Product Name||Intel Core i5 10600K|
|Award||Best Performance Option|
|Product Name||AMD Ryzen 3 3300X|
|Award||Best Quad Core Option|
|Product Name||Intel Core i5 10400F|
|Award||Best All-Round Option|
|Product Name||AMD Ryzen 5 2600|
|Award||Best Last Gen Option|
Last Update on 2021-10-23 at 07:02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
The budget CPU market has been affected quite significantly due to the ongoing shortages in 2021. Not only are these silicon shortages affecting the GPU market, but they are also putting pressure on Intel and AMD in terms of CPU silicon supply, leading to a less-than-ideal situation when it comes to CPU stock levels. Still, the best budget gaming CPU options can be found with a bit of research and flexibility. In this roundup, we will focus on the bang for buck or value gaming CPUs for mid-range PCs in 2021.
1. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Best Value Option
- Great Bang-for-the-Buck
- 6 Cores With 12 Threads
- Included Stock Cooler
- Decent Productivity Performance
- Frequent Sales
- Limited Overclocking Headroom
- Tendency For High Temperatures
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. It is also one of the best CPUs for gaming on a budget. 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. You can also try your hand at CTR Overclocking for Zen 2 if you’re interested.
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. You might be interested in our selection for the best CPU coolers for Ryzen 3000 series if you plan to overclock.
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. It is surely the best overall budget gaming CPU, even in 2021.
2. Intel Core i5 10600K
Best Performance Option
- Faster Than The Ryzen 5 3600 In Gaming
- Decent Overclocker
- Good for Casual Productivity
- Has a Good Upgrade Path
- Decent Future-proofing Potential
- Relatively Expensive
- No Cooler Included
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 CPU 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. The productivity performance is decent, but it is not one of the best CPUs for productivity even at this budget.
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. You should pair it with one of the best CPU coolers for 10th generation processors if you want the best results.
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.
3. AMD Ryzen 3 3300X
Best Quad Core Option
- Great Gaming Performance
- Affordable Price
- Cooler Included
- Only 4 Cores
- Availability Issues
- Unremarkable Productivity Performance
Cores: 4 | Threads: 8 | Base Clock: 3.8GHz | Boost Clock: 4.3GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 65W | Architecture: Zen 2
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.
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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. The Ryzen 3 3300X would make a decent pairing with one of our picks for the best budget AM4 motherboards under $100.
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 that can run easily on most budget A320 motherboards or 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. The 3300X might not be the best performance budget gaming CPU overall, but it is still an exciting option to look out for.
4. Intel Core i5 10400F
Best All-Round Option
- Great Value Option
- Good Gaming Performance
- Can be Paired with Cheaper Motherboards
- Cooler Included
- Locked Multiplier
- No Memory Overclocking
- Unremarkable Stock Heatsink
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.
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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.
Although it does come with a stock cooler, you can consider an affordable upgrade by taking a look at our list of the best budget CPU coolers. 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.
5. AMD Ryzen 5 2600
Best Last Gen Option
- Very Affordable
- Decent Productivity Performance
- Older Zen+ Architecture
- Slightly Slower in Gaming
- Selective Memory Compatibility
- Slightly Lower Bang-For-The-Buck
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock: 3.4GHz | Boost Clock: 3.9GHz | Overclocking: Yes | TDP: 65W | Architecture: Zen+
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.
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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 does not, however, support the B550 motherboards that have released later on.
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 may not be the best budget gaming CPU in 2021, but it is a versatile and robust CPU that maximizes your bang-for-the-buck.
How To Choose A Budget Gaming CPU
When buying a CPU, there are several factors that one should consider, especially in 2021. Intel and AMD have been the undisputed competitors in the CPU space for the last few years, particularly after the advent of AMD’s Ryzen lineup. For budget-oriented consumers and gamers, there are a host of options on the market that make a lot of sense, but you must be cautious about the following factors before making your final purchase decision.
The first factor is pretty obvious but still, it has a major impact on your CPU choice. The platform that you choose will basically dictate what CPUs you can and cannot pair with your motherboard. For Intel, the latest motherboard chipsets include the Z590 motherboards, the B560 motherboards, and so on. For AMD, the latest chipset is still the X570 chipset, followed by the B550 motherboards and the B450 motherboards. Be sure to check the compatibility of your targeted CPU beforehand so you don’t run into any problems down the line.
The graphics card is also a pretty significant factor in the purchasing decision for a CPU. Assuming you already have a graphics card or have decided on a particular model, the CPU that you get should be fast enough to handle the full potential of the graphics card without significant bottlenecks. While bottlenecking is less and less common with modern hardware due to the speed of modern processors, but it still exists.
Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule of bottlenecking, therefore you must judge the relative performance of your graphics card and CPU combo yourself. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t pair a premium graphics card such as the RTX 3090 with a budget Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 3 CPU. Regardless, considering this factor is extremely important if you don’t want to waste your hard-earned money on a graphics card that you can’t take full advantage of.
While these are some of the more common factors that you should consider while purchasing a CPU, the list certainly does not end there. In order to get a more detailed idea of all the different angles and points that should be on your list, check out our comprehensive CPU buying guide that will help you make the perfect CPU purchase for your build.
Modern games are beginning to scale across multiple cores very well, and with the rise of the PS5 and Xbox Series X (both of which have 8-core CPUs), we can only expect this trend to become mainstream in the PC gaming scene as well. As of the time of writing, 6-core CPUs such as the Core i5 and Ryzen 5 parts are still more than enough for any modern game, while 8-core CPUs are considered ideal. Quad-Core CPUs are beginning to show signs of struggle, particularly in titles with huge open worlds and complex physics elements.
Declaring AMD as an outright better option than Intel is not a fair judgment. Although AMD still has the fastest desktop processors in the form of the Ryzen 5000 series, that is not the only factor when it comes to one company being better than the other. It is safe to say that both companies have their strengths and weaknesses, and you should always judge a particular product by itself, rather than the brand name.
Choosing a processor is fairly straightforward when it comes to gaming PCs, but it can seem complicated if you are a novice builder. The first step would be to decide which platform you want for your build. The motherboard is what decides the platform for PCs and what CPUs you can put into it. Selecting a CPU while considering your graphics card is also a good idea since that would save you from potential bottlenecking issues down the line.
Gaming is becoming more and more RAM-intensive over the past few years, but it is not quite as crucial yet. 16GB of RAM is still considered ideal for gaming and would remain comfortable for quite a few years to come yet. You can get away with 8GB as well if you only plan to play games on your PC, and don’t want to perform any multitasking whatsoever. 32GB of RAM is considered overkill, and rightly so.