Best CPUs for Gaming: May 2021by Dr. Ian Cutress on May 24, 2021 2:20 PM EST
In our series of Best CPU guides, here’s the latest update to our recommended Gaming CPUs list. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing. Numbers in graphs reflect MSRP.
CPU Market Overview, May 2021
As we approach the second half of the year, we continue to be in a period between processor launches.
Intel’s latest generation of Rocket Lake Core 11th Generation came out a couple of months ago and is slowly starting to populate the shelves, or at least specific models are. Pricing in general also seems to be coming down as the competition between the processors is aligning price with performance. The best seller in this segment from Intel is the Core i7-11700K, sitting at #12, and also slightly cheaper this month at $390. None of the Core 11th Gen are in the top 10 right now – the only Intel product in the top 10 is the Core i7-10700K, sitting at $320. This remains popular due to the cheaper Z490 motherboards available, and the processor seems to have sufficient supply when others are less available.
AMD by contrast launched Ryzen 5000 series CPUs late last year, and stock levels are still varying day to day. That being said, all four of the Ryzen 5000 models currently sit in Amazon’s top 10 best-selling list, even those selling above MSRP. For example, the Ryzen 9 5900X is now in sufficient supply to jump from #42 on the best-seller list last month to #6 this month, with a $670 price tag. The Ryzen 7 5800X takes the top spot as Amazon’s best-seller, at $420. All four of these CPUs are cheaper this month than last month. Older CPUs like the Ryzen 5 3600 (#2, $210) and the Ryzen 7 3700X (#5, $309) also remain popular – surprisingly the Ryzen 5 1600 is also a top seller at #7, despite the $168 price tag, which is well above the $85 we saw this time last year.
In terms of overall trends, the one that stands out more obvious than others is that the cheapest processors are starting to come back into stock at ‘reasonable prices’. For those looking to build something entry-level, the AMD Athlon 3000G (#14 best seller) has been hovering around $80-$90, while the Intel Celeron G5905 (#35 best seller), part of the Comet Lake Refresh family, is at $61. Both parts are dual-core processors and are around the right cost for our basic entry-level suggestions.
Anyone looking for a specific bargain right now, it actually seems that the highest performance processors are offering the most discounted prices compared to last month. We saw the R9 5950X drop down from $1250 to $1015 for example, or the Ryzen 9 5900X from $887 to $670. From Intel, the Core i9-11900KF went down from $700 to $580.
Best CPUs for Gaming May 2021
Sometimes choosing a CPU is hard. So we've got you covered. In our CPU Guides, we give you our pick of some of the best processors available, supplying data from our reviews.
|AnandTech Gaming CPU Recommendations
(Prices correct at time of writing)
|The $400+ CPUs||Ryzen 7 5800X (8C)||$420||Core i7-11700K (8C)||$390|
|The $350 CPUs||Ryzen 5 5600X (6C)||$300||Core i7-11700 (8C)
Core i7-10900F (10C)
|The $300 CPUs||Ryzen 5 5600X (6C)||$300||Core i7-10700KF (8C)||$298|
|Ryzen 7 3700X (8C)||$309||Core i5-11600K (6C)||$265|
|The $200 CPUs||Ryzen 5 3600 (6C)||$210||Core i5-10600KF (6C)||$200|
|The $100 CPUs||-||Celeron G5905||$61|
|On The Horizon||Alder Lake?|
|To see our Best CPUs for Workstations Guide, follow this link:
The majority of our recommendations aim to hit the performance/price curve just right, with a side nod to power consumption as well.
You can find benchmark results of all of our CPUs tested in our benchmark database:
The $400+ CPUs
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X (8C, $420, down $30)
Intel Core i7-11700K (8C, $390, down $10)
These two are set to be very popular processors this first half of the year for anyone building a beefy consumer-focused system for productivity or gaming. Initially I put the 5800X and 11700K in here, especially given our recent review of the i7-11700K and how the price was always going to determine its positioning. It squares off against AMD’s equivalent 8 core, the Ryzen 7 5800X, and more often than not the AMD processor is the obvious choice in that battle, but when the AMD part is hard to get, the Intel is a reasonable fallback, as long as you don’t fall foul of those high temperatures and power draw. If both chips were available at MSRP or better, the i7-11700K in that regard would have to be around the $350 mark for a more serious consideration. But for this guide, it has at least dropped to $390, down $10.
For users looking beyond this parts for more cores, by comparing the 5800X to the 5900X, an extra $100 a user could get the Ryzen 9 5900X, which offers 50% more cores. The 5900X would also blast through any multi-tasking or streaming workload a user needs, and be more futureproof than the 5800X. The variety of AMD’s stock levels always puts that analysis into doubt, and this month while the Ryzen 9 5900X can be found, it’s at the $670 price point. When prices start to simmer down, and that $100 comes back into reality, then it does become a hard choice. For users looking to upgrade their systems and balking at the price of graphics cards, then another $100 for the Ryzen 9 when you can find it should be an easy decision to make.
For those looking at the Core i9-11900K, we currently find it at $550 at Amazon, it’s not worth the hassle. The 10-core Core i9-10850K at $395, or the 10-core Core i9-10900F at $350, would be better Intel options, even without PCIe 4.0.
The $350 CPUs
Intel Core i9-10900F (10C, $349)
Intel Core i7-11700 (8C, $340)
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6C, $300, down $76)
In this segment this month, there’s a big surprise. The Ryzen 5 5600X, a six-core Zen 3 processor, is now available at MSRP, undercutting both of the regular Intel options. Rather than cut the 5600X out of this segment, I kept it here, as it’s still the one I recommend.
The options here boil down to:
- 10 cores of Intel Comet Lake, the Core i9-10900F
- 8 core of Intel Rocket Lake, the Core i7-11700
- 6 cores of AMD’s Zen 3, the Ryzen 5 5600X
The offerings here are trading cores for IPC, which makes this a very interesting proposition. The 8-core and 6-core also have PCIe 4.0 to put that into the mix. All three processors are rated at 65 W, although the AMD processor has a big efficiency advantage, with the Intel parts having some large turbo power draw.
Personally, the processor I would choose would come down to what I do other than high-resolution gaming. All three processors are going to be good for high-resolution gaming, although if you want to get the frame rate higher at medium resolutions, then the higher IPC processors are going to help a lot more.
That being said, if a user does some real work on their system, such as video editing, then it’s going to come down to ST vs MT performance. Simple graphs here, let’s take a rendering workload.
*Closest substitutes were used out of what we've tested in house. Non-K and non-X samples are rare
The 10 core Comet does have the advantage in pure MT workloads, but it doesn’t have PCIe 4.0: with more SSDs and GPUs moving to PCIe 4.0, that might be something to consider. Speaking to a few peers, all things being equal, they don’t see themselves buying a system in 2021 that doesn’t support PCIe 4.0. They were also split between the higher IPC of AMD Zen 3 in the Ryzen 5 5600X vs two more cores of Intel Rocket Lake in the Core i7-11700. The $36 difference between the two also means that extra money could be spent on additional cooling, which the Intel chip will need.
Personally, the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X is a great product at that price. It does give fewer cores, but there is better IPC, more PCIe 4.0, and the system is mature. It is more power-efficient, and requires less cooling, never going above 88 W. There’s also an upgrade path for the 12-core or 16-core. Going for the Rocket Lake system by contrast, the 8c will be an ultimate limit.
The $300 CPUs
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6C, $300, down $76)
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X (8C, $309 down $11)
Intel Core i7-10700KF (8C, $298)
Intel Core i5-11600K (6C, $259, down $6)
Around the $300 price point, we’re at that crest the price offers either an expensive six core, or a cheaper eight core offering. The two main parts here currently on sale are the Zen 3 based 6-core Ryzen 5 5600X at $300, Zen 2 based 8-core Ryzen 7 3700X at $309, or the Comet Lake-based 8-core Core i7-10700KF at $298.
Another option is the Core i5-11600K, with Rocket Lake, which is actually cheaper this month at $265.
From our eight core options, they are both very popular options in this category. The Ryzen 7 3700X has a base frequency of 3.6 GHz and a turbo of 4.4 GHz for 65W, and the price of $330 is exactly on the suggested pricing for this processor at launch. The Core i7-10700KF by contrast has a base frequency of 3.8 GHz, a turbo of 5.1 GHz, a TDP of 125W, but is around $90 cheaper than its usual pricing. However, the Ryzen 5 5600X, with its IPC increase, should win hands down on any single threaded test and be competitive in multithreaded tests.
Comparing the three in our benchmark suite puts the win to AMD Zen 3 in almost all results. The Zen 2 beats the Intel in FP heavy results, and some of the single thread data, but the Intel processor overall gets better results against Zen 2 - this comes down to the higher power budget of the Core i7-10700KF, and the peak power of the Intel has to be managed as it is more than double that of the AMD.
The other processor listed here is a cheaper six core part that could also be considered.
The Intel Core i5-11600K is an upcoming six core processor from Intel’s Rocket Lake family, so it has PCIe 4.0 as well as AVX-512 for accelerating some specific workloads if you use those tools. At $260, the main selling point over the Core i7-10700KF at $298 is going to be that PCIe 4.0, given that the Core i5 has two fewer cores.
The $200 CPUs
AMD Ryzen 5 3600 (6C, $200)
Intel Core i5-10600KF (6C, $200)
Moving down to a more comfortable pricing range at $200, here we are in the realm of a good mid-range six core processor. Last month we had four processors here with two of Intel’s 11th Gen processors, but neither of those are in stock this month, so it’s a shootout between two older processors instead.
The AMD option here is the Ryzen 5 3600, Amazon’s best-selling desktop processor for the last few months. It gives good all-around performance without breaking the bank, and AMD’s Zen 2 architecture works well for all modern titles for those who can’t step up to Zen 3. Of course there are always going to be niche applications where more performance would be nice, but the Ryzen 5 3600 does such a good job on most levels that it’s a good element to a mid-range graphics card build. With the right AM4 board, it lends itself to a Zen 3 upgrade up to 16 cores in the future.
Intel’s option here is the Core i5-10600KF, available for the same $200. This processor isn’t as popular as AMD’s one (it’s #44), but it can stand toe-to-toe in most situations. I’m actually surprised that the 10600KF isn’t more popular – the Core i5-10600K actually sits higher on Intel’s best sellers list (#10), despite being more expensive ($215).
The $100 CPUs
Intel Celeron G5905 (2c, $61)
At the cheaper end of the grid, we’re starting to see some action in the bargain dual-core options. Both AMD and Intel now have something on offer, and even though it’s strictly low core count and low-frequency hardware, there’s at least something here for entry-level systems.
Our main choice for this section is the Intel Celeron G5905. This dual-core processor (without hyperthreading) is part of Intel’s Core 10th Generation refresh, running at 3.5 GHz. Despite the 58 W TDP on the box, it actually runs well below this, and has a basic video output in case of emergencies. There isn’t anything special here about the G5905, just the fact that it’s available though is worth noting. We tested the G5900, the non-refresh version, which only differs by 100 MHz.
By comparison, AMD’s Athlon 3000G is a Zen+ based processor with two cores and four threads running at 3.5 GHz. It supports Vega 3 integrated graphics, dual-channel memory, and has a TDP of only 35 watts. This is a basic processor in every sense, especially given that it has an MSRP of $49, and currently retails for $90. The truth is that as AMD processors are selling well, there’s no incentive to manufacture these lower-end parts. Nonetheless, the AM4 motherboard that the Athlon 3000G fits in has an upgrade path to at least the Ryzen 9 3950X.
While neither of these processors are really what you want, they will do in a pinch. AMD isn’t really paying attention to this market while it can sell its high-performance processors the minute they come off the production line. In the past, something like the Ryzen 3 3100 would be a good fit here, but those are currently $150. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever see desktop processors on this end of the market again being taken seriously.
On The Horizon: Alder Lake?
With Intel recently launching Rocket Lake, and AMD stock of Ryzen 5000 slowing coming back, there isn’t much to look forward to here in the market on the desktop. Next week is Computex, and that might show some surprises, but nothing really that substantial is expected.
On Intel’s side, at the beginning of the year, Intel teased its next-generation Alder Lake platform, which uses 8 high-performance cores and 8 efficiency cores. Intel said it would launch later in 2021, but didn’t say what date. Intel has said that it is gunning for laptops and desktops, and given a recent presentation to OEM partners, we suspect that actually the desktop is coming first. Intel showed off a desktop-like Alder Lake system in a demonstration at CES, however Intel often uses desktop demonstration units to show off laptop processors as well. There’s also the question around DDR4 vs DDR5, and whether Intel should wait and make Alder Lake a DDR5-only platform on the desktop, or if we will have a mish-mash of DDR4 and DDR5 supported motherboards.
For AMD, the company is currently just selling everything it can make on Ryzen 5000. The base Ryzen 5000 processor is $300, and the company has not given any indication that it wants to fill out its offerings below that price right now, especially when the Zen 3 chiplets are yielding so well and when they can be sold for so much more inside EPYC Milan enterprise processors instead. The new Ryzen 5000G APUs have been announced for the OEM market, and will be coming to retail, perhaps soaking up some of that sub-$300 category, however these parts have lower margins than what AMD has now, so the volume launch is still a question around how much volume AMD will be able to supply.
As for what AMD has beyond Ryzen 5000, they have not mentioned. Some people are pointing to an AMD Zen 3+ before a Zen 4, however I’m reluctant to put any weight in those rumors – it all depends on what capacity AMD will get for Zen 4. Also, AMD’s roadmaps have had Zen 4 on for a while, and AMD has said it is on target. Zen 3+ hasn’t been on those roadmaps, so Zen 4 is probably almost completely designed that this point, if not complete, and ready for test silicon production. That would suggest we’re probably 9-15 months away. Take a look at the time frame:
AMD Ryzen 1000: March 2017
AMD Ryzen 2000: May 2018 (+13mo)
AMD Ryzen 3000: July 2019 (+15mo)
AMD Ryzen 5000: November 2020 (+16 mo)
Based on that cadence, Ryzen 6000 should be in the market around February 2022. But that’s just a guess. Either way, I’m not expecting new consumer-level desktop processors for the rest of the year. I still expect Zen 3 Threadripper to come though, and next week at Computex would be a nice time to announce it.
The AnandTech CPU Coverage
Our big CPU reviews for the last 12 months have covered all the launches so far, and are well worth a read.
|AnandTech Recent CPU Coverage|
|September||TR3 3990X at 4 GHz||Core i7-1185G7|
|October||AMD CTO Interview
|Rocket Lake Detailed|
|November||Ryzen 9 5950X
Ryzen 9 5900X
Ryzen 7 5800X
Ryzen 5 5600X
|December||Xbox One APU
Ryzen 7 Pro 4750G
Ryzen 5 Pro 4650G
Ryzen 3 Pro 4350G
Zen 3 MultiThreading
|Special||CEO Lisa Su Interview||CEO Bob Swan Interview|
|January||Ryzen 9 5980HS||Core i9-10850K
|February||TR Pro 3995WX||-|
|March||AMD EPYC Milan||Core i9-11900K
|April||-||Ice Lake Xeon|
|May||-||Rocket Lake IGP
|Upcoming||Other TR Pro||Jasper Lake|
|All of our processor benchmarks can be found in Bench, our database.