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Best CPUs for game development – our top picks

Get the most out of your digitally created worlds with a powerful processor built for game development
Last Updated on May 2, 2024
Four of the best CPUs for game development, amd ryzen computer processors and a guide pamphlet displayed on a purple-lit surface.
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Game development is a complex process that requires a powerful system to handle various software packages and disciplines. With so many different tools involved, like Unreal Engine, Unity, and more, it can be challenging to know which processor will give you the best performance for your specific needs.

In this article, we’ll help you find the best CPU for game development, based on the majority of demands that the task requires; whether that be development, coding, or creating assets. With these CPUs, your rig will be capable of handling the activities like a pro. Keep in mind though, that the higher your need the higher the price and specs – but this time around we’ve steered clear of the Threadripper and Xeon processors, curating a lineup of mainstream CPUs from AMD and Intel that strike the fine balance of excellent performance for their price points.

Products at a glance

How we picked the best CPU for game development

We consider ourselves to be somewhat topic experts when it comes to PC hardware for specific use cases, and game development is no exception. Using all the resources at our disposal, from in-house reviews and benchmarks conducted in the PC Guide testing lab to our in-depth knowledge, we conducted extensive research to determine the best processors for game development scenarios. We considered factors such as the number of cores, clock speed, and compatibility with various software packages. By analyzing different CPUs’ performance in real-world game development scenarios, we’ve been able to create a list of recommended hardware tailored for game dev workstations. This way, you can ensure that your system is optimized for your specific needs, whether you’re working with Unreal Engine, Unity, or any other game design software.

Our top picks

Best CPU for game development
01
  • A retail box for an AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D desktop processor, featuring prominent orange and black design elements and AMD branding.
Best in ClassExcellent
Specifications
  • Cores: 16
  • Thread: 32
  • Base Clock Speed: 100 MHz
  • Boost Clock Speed: 5.7 GHz
  • L3 Cache: 128 MB (shared)
  • TDP: 120 W
  • Platform: AMD Socket AM5
Reasons to Buy
  • Great single-core and multi-core performance, highlights what the heights of AM5
  • PCIe 5.0 support
  • Great for 4K video editing, and lower TDP than non-3D variant too
Reasons to Avoid
  • Ryzen 9 7950X is better for non-gamers
  • No support for DDR4 RAM, which can be limiting
  • Need both the AM5 and DDR5 ecosystems

Showcasing the full potential of AM5, our top pick of the best CPU for game development has got to be the AMD Ryzen 9 7950X3D. This beast of a processor comes with 16 cores and 32 threads, providing ample power for handling complex game development tasks. With a P-Core base clock speed of 4.5GHz and a boost clock speed of 5.7GHz, this CPU is built for speed and efficiency.

The Ryzen 9 7950X3D boasts an impressive 128MB of L3 cache boosted by 3D-V cache technology, which is a significant advantage over Intel’s L3 cache. Cache plays a crucial role in enhancing the performance of a CPU by offering quick access to frequently used data, reducing the time it takes to access data stored in main memory, and allowing the CPU to work more efficiently in game development scenarios. This processor was a testament to this in our 7950X3D review too, where our synthetic benchmarks saw the CPU reach leading figures in the likes of Geekbench, Cinebench R23, and CPU Z showcasing high multi-core core performance with single-core testing being nearly as strong.

As a flagship, this top-end model excels across the board in terms of gaming performance and productivity workloads.

Support for DDR5-5200 memory adds to the overall performance of the Ryzen 9 7950X3D, making it an excellent choice for game developers who need a powerful and efficient processor. With a TDP of 120W, this CPU ensures that it can maintain its performance without overheating: what’s more, that also makes it a lot more power efficient than its 7950X alternative, which has a TDP of 170W. For pairing alongside any of the best GPUs for game development, you won’t find anything like it.

Best Intel CPU for game development
02
  • An Intel Core i9-13900K processor installed in a motherboard socket, surrounded by circuits and components.
Highly Recommended
Specifications
  • Cores: 24 (8P-16E)
  • Threads: 32
  • Boost speed : P-Core 5.7GHz / E-Core 4.3GHz
  • Base speed: P-Core 3.0GHz / E-Core 2.2GHz
  • L3 Cache: 36 MB
  • TDP: 253W
  • Platform: Intel (LGA 1700)
Reasons to Buy
  • High amount of cores
  • Hybrid architecture
  • Large 36MB L3 cache
Reasons to Avoid
  • High price point
  • High TDP of 125W
  • May be overkill for users who don’t require such high processing power

The Intel Core i9-13900K is our pick for the best Intel CPU for game development. This processor stands out for its hybrid architecture, featuring 8 P-Cores and 16 E-Cores, providing a fantastic balance between single-threaded and multi-threaded performance. This versatility makes it a powerful choice for handling complex game development tasks.

As a part of Intel’s 13th-generation technology built on 10nm lithography, the i9-13900K comes with an impressive 24 cores and 32 threads, making it capable of handling even the most demanding workflows. With a base frequency of 3 GHz and a boost frequency of 5.8 GHz, this CPU ensures fast processing and a smooth experience.

While the Intel Core i9-13900K is no longer the flagship it was at release, generous discounts and high performance still make it an ideal processor to consider in 2024.

PC Guide

Furthermore, its 36 MB L3 cache enables quick access to frequently used data, improving overall performance. Our in-house benchmarking in our i9-13900K review showcased impressive synthetic benchmarks too, with CPU Z, Cinebench R23, and Geekbench getting strong figures for single-core but especially powerful multi-core performance. In summary, the Intel Core i9-13900K is a reliable and powerful option for game developers seeking the best Intel has to offer in terms of performance and versatility.

Best mid-range CPU for game development
04
  • Close-up of a computer's motherboard featuring a mounted Intel Core i5-13600K processor with visible socket and screws on a detailed circuit background.
  • Close-up of an Intel Core i5-13600K processor in focus, with a blurred blue computer case in the background.
  • An Intel Core i5-13600K processor displayed in front of a blurred computer case.
  • Intel Core i5-13600K CPU against a plain white background.
Excellent
Reasons to Buy
  • Good value for its price range
  • Excellent multi-threaded performance
  • Supports overclocking
Reasons to Avoid
  • Lower base clock speed
  • Higher TDP compared to some other budget CPUs
  • Performance simply isn’t as good when using DDR4

The Intel Core i5-13600K is a fantastic budget-friendly option for game development, offering impressive performance without breaking the bank. This processor features 6 cores and 12 threads, providing excellent multi-threaded performance for handling various game development tasks. Its base frequency of 3.4 GHz and a boost frequency of 5.1 GHz ensure that it can handle both single-threaded and multi-threaded tasks with ease.

An excellent CPU through and through with fierce single and multi-core performance for the money. The LGA 1700 and DDR4 + DDR5 compatibility makes it a fantastic choice no matter what rig you have.

PC Guide

One of the key selling points of the Core i5-13600K is its excellent value for the price. It offers performance that rivals more expensive CPUs, making it an outstanding option for those on a tighter budget who still need a capable processor for their game development projects. Additionally, the Core i5-13600K supports overclocking, allowing users to push its performance even further, optimizing it for their specific workloads.

Our i5-13600K review saw us benchmark the Intel CPU in a multitude of popular synthetic scenarios, and in CPU-z, the Core i5 scored 830 points in single-core benchmarks, and 9,846 in multi-core benchmarks. In Cinebench, everyone’s favorite table and chair renderer, the i5 manages to get a single-core score of 1,992, and a multi-core score of 24,024. Basically, you’re getting a more than competant processor, especially considering how much you’re paying for it.

Best budget CPU for game development
03
  • A close-up photo of an AMD Ryzen 5 5600X processor box on a blurred background.
  • AMD Ryzen 5 5600X gaming CPU on a plain white background.
Excellent
Specifications
  • Cores: 6
  • Threads : 12
  • Boost speed : up to 4.6 GHz
  • Base speed: 3.7 GHz
  • L3 Cache: 32 MB
  • TDP: 65W
  • Platform: AMD (AM4)
Reasons to Buy
  • Excellent price-to-performance ratio
  • Strong multi-threaded capabilities
  • Energy-efficient
Reasons to Avoid
  • Lower base and boost clock speeds than other options on this list
  • Potentially limiting amount of cores

The Ryzen 5 5600X is our top choice for the best budget CPU for game development. This processor, part of AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series, offers excellent performance without breaking the bank, making it ideal for game developers who need a capable CPU but don’t want to overspend.

Sporting 6 cores and 12 threads, the Ryzen 5 5600X provides more than enough power for most game development tasks. It boasts a base clock speed of 3.7 GHz and a turbo boost frequency of 4.6 GHz, ensuring that it can handle demanding workloads and provide smooth performance. Furthermore, its 35 MB combined cache (32 MB L3 and 3 MB L2) allows for quick access to frequently used data, enhancing overall efficiency.

In conclusion, the Ryzen 5 5600X is an excellent option for game developers on a budget. It offers a great balance of performance and affordability, making it a top choice for those who want to get the most bang for their buck without sacrificing performance in their game development projects.

Furthermore, its 35 MB combined cache (32 MB L3 and 3 MB L2) allows for quick access to frequently used data, enhancing overall efficiency.

PC Guide

Features and considerations

When it comes to game development, the CPU plays a crucial role in handling tasks such as compiling shaders and code, 3D sculpting, and light baking. While some tasks are being offloaded to the GPU, the CPU is still a major factor in overall performance, especially for the heavier computational processes. Of course, the elements you need to prioritize depend on your specific focus within the game design workflow. For example, designers compiling source code will have different requirements to those just focused on asset creation.

Just keep in mind that you’ll need a good set of core counts to handle multiple tasks simultaneously, as well as good clock speed and multithreading capability to ensure your CPU can read and process every single task game development requires to be performed at the same time. Naturally, we reflected these aspects across our top picks: while the option of going for really hard-hitting CPUs such as a Threadripper or Xeon is always there, the fact of the matter is mainstream processors nowadays are almost as powerful.

With game development, it’s also worth considering that sometimes a lower-end processor is actually better, as it allows you to develop the game for budget or older systems too. You don’t necessarily always want the most overkill option, because while anyone can add all the artifacts and objects using a 4090 and 14900K, when your game has to perform on the lower end of the spectrum, it runs into issues.

How important is the CPU for game development?

The CPU is crucial for game development as it handles various demanding tasks such as compiling shaders and code, 3D sculpting, and light baking. While some tasks are offloaded to the GPU, the CPU remains a significant factor in determining the performance and efficiency of your game development workstation. Choosing the right CPU is essential to ensuring a smooth and seamless workflow while working on different aspects of game design.

How many CPU cores do I need for game development?

The number of CPU cores required for game development depends on the specific tasks and software you work with. Most game development engines, such as Unreal Engine and Unity, benefit from multi-core CPUs as they can handle multiple tasks simultaneously, speeding up the development process. For smaller projects or tasks that focus more on single-threaded performance, such as 3D modeling, a CPU with fewer cores but higher clock speed may be sufficient. In general, a CPU with at least 6-8 cores is recommended for game development, but opting for a higher core count, like 12-16 cores, can provide even better performance, especially in multi-threaded tasks.

Camilo is a contributor for PC Guide. He's been into tech since he was a teen, surfing through the web and local stores trying to find the cheapest way to play the latest Half-Life on his old Windows