Best CPUs for Gaming: April 2021by Dr. Ian Cutress on April 19, 2021 1:40 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, April 2021
We are now a few weeks on from the launch of Intel’s Rocket Lake, and the silicon situation is still a bit upside down. The reviews of Intel’s new Core i9 and Core i7 processors are not that positive, however most of the processors sold out on launch day anyway. The Core i5 Rocket Lake seem to be more price competitive, especially as AMD seems to be focusing more on the high-cost, high-margin product lines right now with silicon supply being limited. This gives Intel the opportunity to cover the sub-$300 market with as much product as needed, if they can produce it.
With that being said, there aren’t that many trends this month in the prices and popularity in most processors. Four of Intel’s fourteen Rocket Lake processors are in Amazon’s top sellers list, reaching a high #14 with the Core i7-11700K at $400 and the Core i9-11900K at #15. Amazon seems to only be selling a few models, while all fourteen are listed at Newegg, starting at $180 for the Core i5-11400F. The Core i5-11400F seems to have got the attention of a lot of review websites, being the cheapest model but offering six of Intel’s latest Cypress Cove cores. None of the Core i3 processors seem to be on sale.
The input of these Rocket Lake processors into the market means that some of Intel’s older Comet Lake offerings are either being offered at lower prices or dropped in popularity. The Core i9-10850K last month was #11 on Amazon’s best seller, but is now #39, despite being slightly cheaper at $395 (the Core i9-10900F looks more enticing at $349 to be honest). Similarly the Core i7-10700KF was #17 and now is #41, at just under $300.
On AMD’s side, three of the Ryzen 5000 CPUs are now in Amazon’s top 10 list, even if the 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X is currently listed at $1250. There’s enough pent-up demand that people seem to be willing to pay almost anything, especially given that compared to last month, almost all of AMD’s processors are more expensive. The Ryzen 5 3500X, formerly an OEM product with six cores/six threads, was recently released for $200 and is already in Amazon’s top 50, offering a mid-range alternative as processors go in and out of stock. Older processors are dropping down the list, but the Ryzen 5 3600 at $200 and Ryzen 7 3700X at $320 are still at Amazon #1 and #2.
Users looking for draw-dropping bargains of the month are not going to find much between Intel and AMD right now. Newegg is sometimes running daily sales for the odd $10 off here or there, or bundling deals, but for the most part the only price drops we’re seeing in our trackers are from processors that are now in stock that weren’t previously. Across our 100+ tracked processors, the average price is up 1% compared to our last guide.
Best CPUs for Gaming April 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)||$450||Core i7-11700K (8C)||$400|
|The $350 CPUs||Ryzen 5 5600X (6C)||$376||Core i7-11700 (8C)
Core i7-10900F (10C)
|The $300 CPUs||Ryzen 7 3700X (8C)||$320||Core i7-10700KF (8C)||$298|
|-||-||Core i5-11600K (6C)||$265|
|The $200 CPUs||Ryzen 5 3600 (6C)||$200||Core i5-10600KF (6C)
Core i5-11500 (6C)
Core i5-11400F (6C)
|The $100 CPUs||Don't|
|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, $450)
Intel Core i7-11700K (8C, $400, down $20)
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 $400, down $20.
Previously in this section we said that for the extra $100 a user could get the Ryzen 9 5900X, which offers 50% more cores, which will blast through any multi-tasking or streaming workload a user needs, and be more futureproof. The variety of AMD’s stock levels always puts that analysis into doubt, and this month the Ryzen 9 5900X is no-where to be found. 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 baulking 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, at the $539 tray price and $619 listing at Newegg, 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, down $10)
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X (6C, $376, up $26)
Last month we found these three processors all at the same price, and we had a good fight on our hands. This time around the Ryzen 5 goes up in price, despite it retailing its #4 spot on Amazon’s best seller list, and the Core i7 is lower in price, making it more attractive.
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, I would probably side on the AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 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 7 3700X (8C, $320 down $10)
Intel Core i7-10700KF (8C, $298)
Intel Core i5-11600K (6C, $265, down $5)
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 current on sale are the Zen 2 based Ryzen 7 3700X, an eight core at $320, or the Comet Lake-based Core i7-10700KF, also an 8 core processor, 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.
Comparing the two in our benchmark suite puts the win to AMD in FP heavy results, and some of the single thread data, but the Intel processor overall gets better results. 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. Cooling no object, the Intel wins here, but the AMD offers an efficient choice with a good upgrade path to and 16 cores.
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)
Intel Core i5-11500 (6C, $218)
Intel Core i5-11400F (6C, $180)
Moving down to a more comfortable pricing range at $200, here we are in the realm of a good mid-range six core processor. I’ve highlighted four that are available today that are right on the exact price, as well as two Rocket Lake processors to be aware of.
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 #30), but it can stand toe-to-toe. I’ve also put two interesting Rocket Lake options alongside the 10600KF: the Core i5-11500 is a 65 W processor but enables PCIe 4.0 and the latest Cypress Cove architecture for only $18 more. The alternative is the Core i5-11400F, which for $28 cheaper than the i5-11500 eschews the integrated graphics and a bit of frequency to be a competitive offering in the sub-$200 market. The Rocket Lake models will have the additional IPC gain here, likely pushing it ahead of AMD’s Zen 2 in the sorts of workloads a $200 processor is built for. Assuming that Intel can keep enough supply going forward, this price point is very competitive.
The $100 CPUs: Nothing worth looking at
At the cheaper end of the grid, unfortunately the CPU market is starting to come undone. There are no good $60 options any more, and beyond that, the dream of having a good quad core processor for $100 has disappeared.
Intel’s Core i3-10100F is usually earmarked as a good processor in this spot, and it has come down this month to something a little more suitable. The new refresh Core i3-10105F was expected to come in and take over here, albeit with no real performance differential, but it currently isn’t widely available.
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. The cheaper dual-core APUs built on older Zen/Zen+ are also super expensive, usually around $60, but now $90.
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 fluctuating, there isn’t much to look forward to here in the market on the desktop.
On Intel’s side, at the beginning of the year, Intel teased its next generation Alder Lake platform, which uses eight high performance cores and 8 efficiency cores. Intel said it would launch later in 2021, but didn’t say what date. More importantly perhaps, Intel didn’t say which market the Alder Lake demonstration would be targeted for. Despite showing off a desktop-like system in the demonstration, Intel often uses desktop demonstration units to show off laptop processors as well, and despite Intel's recent announcements I ultimately think that Intel will be targeting the laptop market first with Alder Lake. Firstly due to the fact that Tiger Lake of notebooks is six months older than the new Desktop processors, but also it would seem daft for Intel to launch Alder Lake without a DDR5 ecosystem and we'll see board vendors choose between DDR4 or DDR5 on their motherboards. That would be a recipe for madness. In my view, if Intel has the cards lined up, we are likely to see desktop Alder Lake in due course, but I’d be surprised if we see it in 2021.
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 are be 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: April 2018 (+13mo)
AMD Ryzen 3000: July 2019 (+15mo)
AMD Ryzen 5000: November 2020 (+16 mo)
Based on that cadence, Ryzen 6000 should be in 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.
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|
|Upcoming||Other TR Pro||Jasper Lake|
|All of our processor benchmarks can be found in Bench, our database.