5 of the Best CPUs for Gaming on a Budget

AMD Ryzen CPU placed on a PC cabinet with blue lighting in the background

Thanks to a mostly solid lineup of recent CPUs from both Intel and AMD, gamers on a budget have multiple options to choose from. AMD’s Zen 3 architecture in their Ryzen 5000 CPUs and Intel’s 12th Gen Core CPUs have made it possible to have powerful gaming chips that don’t cost too much. Do note that the best CPUs for gaming on a budget are limited to previous-gen parts only, as the cheapest current-generation offerings from both companies can’t really be called “budget.”

FYI: confused with countless CPU options? Learn what to look for when buying a CPU.

1. Best Overall: Intel Core i5-12400F

Price: $150

When you’re buying a CPU on a strict budget, the overall platform cost – CPU + motherboard + RAM – matters more than just the cost of the processor. The Intel Core i5-12400F, belonging to the previous-gen Alder Lake family (considering the 14th Gen a refresh at best) allows you to minimize this platform cost, while providing you virtually the same performance as the Core i5-13600K, making it one of the best CPUs for gaming.

Intel Core i5-12400F CPU box

Intel’s 12th and 13th Gen CPUs are compatible with both DDR4 and DDR5 RAM, allowing you to build with cheaper DDR4 RAM and motherboards. Whether you’re targeting high-refresh 1080p gaming or even 60+ FPS Ultra 1440p gaming, this 6-core processor is one of the best value-for-money CPUs to come out of Intel. Platform longevity should be a careful consideration when building a PC, and the 12400F offers you a decent upgrade path, as you can drop in a more powerful 13th Gen CPU down the line without changing your motherboard.

Close up of Intel Core CPU

Despite its solid gaming performance, the 12400F only draws a maximum of 65W of power, so even the stock CPU cooler will work fine for most users. If you want reduced noise, you could choose an aftermarket CPU cooler in your budget.


  • Rivals mid-range CPUs in performance
  • Low TDP offers better thermals
  • 4.4GHz boost clock
  • Drop-in upgrade to 13th Gen
  • Lowers overall motherboard and RAM cost


  • Stock cooler looks terrible
  • No overclocking

2. Best AMD: Ryzen 5 5600X

Price: $150

The AMD Ryzen 5 5600X easily grabs this spot, as it famously offers more CPU performance than you’ll ever need for gaming. Widely regarded as one of the best CPUs for gaming among the Ryzen 5000 CPUs (if not the best outright), you can comfortably pair this 6-core, 12-thread budget processor with the best graphics cards on the market without worrying about a bottleneck.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600X CPU box

The Ryzen 5000 series is the last one on AMD’s erstwhile AM4 socket, so you can’t seamlessly upgrade to the AM5-based Ryzen 7000 processors – you’ll need to buy one of the newer AMD gaming motherboards, as well as pricier DDR5 RAM for your gaming PC. Despite this shortcoming, you’re not going to lack any gaming performance and can easily make this AM4 system last for another two to three years. Plus, the option of upgrading to the high-end Ryzen 7 5800X3D is always there.

Close up of a person holding an AMD Ryzen 5600X CPU near a PC case
Image source: Unsplash

Its TDP of 65W makes the 5600x an attractive option from thermal considerations as well, and the stock cooler is decent if you’re not overclocking your CPU. Despite being three years old, the Ryzen 5 5600X makes AMD’s Ryzen platform great for gaming, due to its tremendous performance at an affordable price. It often drops down to around $135 during sale events like Black Friday.


  • One of the standout Ryzen 5000 processors
  • Low TDP ensures cooler operation
  • 4.6GHz boost clock
  • Surprisingly efficient stock cooler


  • AM4 has no upgrade path
  • Stock cooler can get noisy

Tip: building a new gaming PC? Check out these gaming PC building mistakes to avoid.

3. Best APU: Ryzen 5 5600G

Price: $130

While you would definitely need a discrete GPU to pair with every other CPU on this list, the Ryzen 5 5600G yields great gaming performance on its own. This APU features onboard Vega graphics from AMD and allows you to skip a GPU purchase if you’re having trouble finding one at a good price or waiting for the next generation to arrive.

AMD Ryzen 5 5600G CPU box

The integrated graphics of the 5600G are capable enough for 1080p gaming at medium to high settings. Sure, you won’t get the performance offered by a graphics card, but it works as a great temporary solution while you wait to build a value gaming PC in the future.

Close up of AMD Ryzen 5600G CPU on a motherboard
Image source: Unsplash

APUs work best for gamers who mostly play less demanding online multiplayer games or casual games and don’t need the horsepower of a discrete graphics card. You can also spot the Ryzen 5 5600G at around $120 during sales and frequent discounts. At that price, it’s certainly one of the best CPUs for gaming as far as integrated graphics go.


  • Extreme value for money due to onboard graphics
  • Good overclocking capability
  • 4.4GHz boost clock
  • Highly power efficient
  • Decent stock cooler


  • Gaming performance inferior to CPU+GPU builds

Good to know: want to know more about APUs? Compare APU vs. CPU vs. GPU for gaming.

4. Best Cheap AMD: Ryzen 5 5500

Price: $100

AMD released the entry-level Ryzen 5 5500 CPU well into the last year of AM4’s lifecycle. This processor was meant to offer almost the same performance as the excellent Ryzen 5 5600 (basically the 5600X with slightly lower clocks) at a considerable discount. And, fortunately, the 6-core Ryzen 5 5500 offers you almost 90 percent of the performance as its more expensive sibling.

AMD Ryzen 5 5500 CPU box

The 5500 is a great option for extreme budget builders still looking to build on a relatively new platform. With decent base and boost clocks, it offers good value and gaming performance for the price. A notable difference when compared to the 5600 is that the 5500 is based on a different CPU design. It’s a 5600G with the iGPU removed. This limits it to PCIe 3.0, so you won’t get the full speed of your Gen4 gaming SSDs. Keep this in mind when buying an SSD for your gaming PC.

AMD Ryzen 5 5500 stock cooler

If you’re already on the AM4 platform and own an older 4-core chip, like the Ryzen 3 1200 or Ryzen 3 3100, this CPU could be a decent upgrade. For anyone else, the other CPUs on this list would be better options.


  • Ideal for extreme budget builds
  • Similar to the Ryzen 5 5600
  • Low 65W TDP
  • Decent stock cooler


  • Gaming performance is not the best
  • Limited to PCIe 3.0 bandwidth
  • Outclassed by the competition

5. Best Cheap Intel: Intel Core i3-12100F

Price: $90

While AMD might look lackluster in the extreme budget segment, Intel is hitting it out of the park with the Core i3-12100F. Despite the 13100F being up for consideration, I picked the 12100F, as it offers the same performance for around 20 percent less money. This Alder Lake CPU is a magnificent budget performer and is only around 10% to 12% slower than our overall pick, the Core i5-12400F.

Intel Core i3-12100F CPU box

This 4-core, 8-thread CPU may seem outdated by today’s standards, but despite being a quad-core chip, it offers surprisingly strong gaming performance that’s on par with some of AMD’s older 8-core processors (Ryzen 7 3700X, for example). With extremely low power consumption and temperatures, the 12100F easily outshines AMD’s competing parts, like the Ryzen 5 5500 — due in part to PCIe 5.0 support.

Close up of Intel Core i3-12100F CPU on motherboard
Image source: Unsplash

If you’re building an entry-level build in 2023, the Core i3-12100F is perhaps the best budget CPU for gaming, considering the value and features you’re getting. Plus, you’re getting a clear upgrade path to any of the more powerful Intel 12th and 13th Gen chips.


  • Outstanding performance for the price
  • Power efficient
  • Stock cooler is quite capable
  • Supports modern standards like PCIe 5.0 and DDR5


  • No overclocking
  • Stock cooler looks terrible

Tip: facing CPU overheating? Learn how to cool down a high CPU temperature.

We may get swept up in all the hype around the latest and greatest AMD CPUs with 3D V-Cache or Intel’s 14th Gen processors, but budget gaming CPUs are what make the majority of gaming PC builds possible. In recent years, AMD has largely ignored the sub-$200 CPU segment, while Intel still has some fantastic current and older-gen products to offer. It’ll be interesting to see what 2024 brings for budget CPUs, as Intel and AMD get ready for Arrow Lake and Zen 5 CPUs, respectively.

Good to know: hunting for a budget GPU? Find out whether an Intel Arc GPU is good for gaming.

Image credit: Unsplash

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Tanveer Singh
Tanveer Singh - Staff Writer

After a 7-year corporate stint, Tanveer found his love for writing and tech too much to resist. An MBA in Marketing and the owner of a PC building business, he writes on PC hardware, technology, video games, and Windows. When not scouring the web for ideas, he can be found building PCs, watching anime, or playing Smash Karts on his RTX 3080 (sigh).