For years now, Intel has been the dominant chipmaker when it comes to all things PC gaming. Whether you’re looking for a starter CPU or a top-of-the-line powerhouse, Intel has offered faster processors than its chief rival, AMD.
But 2019 has seen a major shakeup in the CPU market, with AMD coming up from behind in a major way. While choosing a CPU is not the most important decision when it comes to building a gaming rig, it is the single most important component of any computer. If the graphics card is your system’s beating heart, then the CPU is its brain. The most important thing your CPU does for gaming is give the graphics card room to flex its muscle.
So while you can get away with a relatively inexpensive CPU and be just fine, including a fast, multicore processor in your gaming PC will reduce bottlenecks, increase load times and even improve your frames-per-second response time.
The $300 to $400 range represents a happy medium between midrange CPUs like the Intel Core i5-8800 or the AMD Ryzen 3600, and more expensive premium chips like the i9-9900k or the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X. (So you’ll save some money without holding back your system.)
It’s a good price-point if you want to spend a little more on your GPU, RAM or motherboard, or want to include a bigger SSD (or multiple SSDs).
Here’s how the Intel Core i7-9700k stacks up against the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X:
Intel Core i7-9700k
For quite some time now, the i7-9900k has been a dominant force in the under-$400 price range. The 14nm Coffee Lake chip boasts eight cores with a base 3.6Ghz clock-speed and a speedy 4.9Ghz turbo clock-speed.
In terms of gaming performance, this places the i7-9700k just under the performance of the more expensive i9-9900k. In that sense, this CPU is a steal. When it comes to titles like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the i7 only trails by one frame per second in most tests. You’ll see slightly wider gaps in other performance categories (like SSD load times), but overall when it comes to most users, this $365 CPU holds its own against Intel’s higher-end chip. In fact, in some benchmarks the i7-9700k actually outperforms its more expensive cousin, though only when overclocking is factored in.
If you have an LGA-1151 motherboard already, this is a great upgrade from earlier Intel models. If you’re building from scratch or wanting a more complete overhaul of your system, consider the AMD chip below.
Stats: Cores: 8 | Threads: 8 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.9GHz | Overclocking: Yes | L3 Cache: 12MB | TDP: 95W | Socket: LGA-1151
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X
It’s 2019 and AMD has emerged as the new leader when it comes to CPU performance. The AMD Ryzen 7 3700X is a great example of just how thoroughly AMD is giving Intel a run for its money.
At $330, the 3700X is around $30 cheaper than the i7-9700k, but don’t let that fool you: It also outperforms Intel’s chip in pretty significant ways. While gaming performance is still a win for Intel, AMD’s chip has a few serious benefits.
For one thing, it consumes less power. Depending on how frequently you plan on gaming, or using your PC for other tasks, this could save you $6 or $7 a month. (Over time, that adds up.) The Zen 2 7nm chip also has cheaper motherboard options than Intel’s LGA-1151 socket. So you’re saving on the CPU, on the power draw and on the motherboard—all while netting pretty similar performance. That doesn’t even take into account the fact that you’ll need to purchase a heating solution for Intel’s chip, while that’s included with the 3700X.
In fact, the Ryzen 7 3900X has pretty similar performance benchmarks to the $500 Ryzen 9 3900X, with just a marginal frame-rate drop (1 to 2 fps) across numerous games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or Civilization VI. This makes it a no-brainer if you’re deciding between the two.
Full stats: Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base Clock: 3.6GHz | Turbo Clock: 4.4GHz | Overclocking: Yes | L3 Cache: 36MB | TDP: 65W | Socket: AM4
This is a tricky call in some ways. The Intel Core i7-9700k consistently outperforms AMD’s Ryzen 7 3700X in gaming benchmarks. This can be as little as just a few frames-per-second to more than 20 for some games (running at 1080p). Intel’s option is better for most games, and if you’re focusing entirely on gaming and budget isn’t an issue, Intel is the way to go.
On the other hand, you’ll save a lot of money going with the Ryzen 3700X—enough to pour those funds into a better GPU or other components. Saving money on power is not only good for your monthly budget, it’s more environmentally friendly as well.
AMD’s new Zen 2 architecture is also more advanced than Intel’s aging chip set, especially when it comes to security (you may have heard about some of Intel’s security breaches in recent years). Overall, I’d take the slight performance dip and go with the less expensive 3700X, but if power and speed matter more than efficiency and price, the i7-9700K is certainly no slouch.