Gaming on a budget can be tough. All the good hardware might run you hundreds of dollars, even for a single component. Despite that, you still have solid options. You aren’t restricted to having to spend hundreds just for a PC. Perhaps you don’t even need to play games on this particular build. Perhaps you do, but you don’t need to run Crysis 3 on maximum settings in 4K resolution (though if you do, definitely check out our new 4K gaming PC buying guide!). Maybe you just want to play the occasional game while focusing on building a PC with cheaper parts. At Mysteryblock Reviews, we are dedicated to informing you of the best value hardware for your money. We have numerous posts on budget builds, cheap pre-built desktops, cheap individual parts, etc. You name it. We even did a recent post comparing the value per dollar of the GTX 970 and GTX 1060. The point is, Mysteryblock is here to help you with your PC building/upgrading hobby.
In this guide, we will discuss some of the best budget options when it comes to processors. You won’t be getting i7-7700K’s at these price points, but you will have decent options for everyday computing and yes, some moderate gaming. We’ve organized the guide according to need, so if you require a CPU under $100, jump to that section and check our top picks. There are CPUs for every budget up until $200, as that is where the sweet spot tends to be in terms of mid-range to high-tier gaming processors.
Best CPU for the money
Right off the bat, we want to start with our pick on the best processor for the money. This is separate from all the other CPUs on this list that fall under a specific budget (under $100, under $150, etc). These picks provide the most performance and utility for what you pay for it. Basically, think of these picks as best “performance per dollar” processors rather than just the best budget processors.
When you buy a really cheap CPU, you aren’t necessarily getting the best bang for your buck. Rather, you are buying a cheap processor at that price point which more or less fits your need. Again, it won’t necessarily have the most performance per dollar. If you have questions on this criteria, don’t hesitate to comment below or contact me. I would be glad to clarify, though I am sure this all makes sense.
1. Intel i3-6100
By far, the Intel i3-6100 processor is the most popular and almost obvious choice when we root it down to best value per dollar. It is considerably cheap, retailing for only around $100-$115. It has an easy upgrade path (LGA 1151 motherboards) in case you wanted to change out your processor without having to start all over. Most importantly, it performs well in numerous areas.
The i3-6100 is a solid budget gaming CPU as well. I have one that our team plugs into for some budget builds. Again, compatibility is a big relief here. Because the i3 is part of the popular i3, i5, and i7 family, it uses the LGA1151 slot. This means regardless of our build, as long as the motherboard has that slot, we can plug in any processor from the budget-friendly i3-6100 to the expensive i7-6700K.
Pair the i3-6100 with a cheap graphics card, along with the standard components (motherboard, CPU cooler, RAM, storage, and power supply) and you’ve got yourself a high-performing budget gaming PC. A rough price breakdown for a simple gaming PC that utilizes the i3 looks something like this. Keep in mind these are price approximations, based on what is currently available online.
- Intel i3-6100 3.7Ghz dual-core [~$115]
- MSI H110I Pro LGA1151-based motherboard [~$79]
- Crucial 8GB DDR4-2133 RAM [~$59]
- WD 1TB hard drive [~$49]
- GTX 1050Ti [~$149] or GTX 1060 3GB [~$199]
- EVGA 500W power supply [~$49]
This is a very quick gaming build that we’ve constructed. You will probably need a case fan (only costs around $20) as well as a PC case of your choice (consider the very minimal and cheap Fractal Design Core 1000). Those additions, along with any extras, will end up costing less than $100. This PC, built with a budget gaming processor in the i3-6100, comes out to less than $650, even if you get the more expensive GTX 1060. Keep in mind that prices in the market change all the time, but overall this is a solid build using the Intel i3 that can definitely work for light gaming. For this reason, I will gladly mark the Intel i3-6100 as the best budget gaming CPU, as its price point is low enough to make a cheap PC out of.
Even if you are not interested in gaming, the i3-6100 makes for a perfect work/everyday-use desktop processor. Its base clock rate is the fastest among the cheap processor tier at 3.7Ghz. Combined with a decent amount of RAM — at least 8GB — and a solid state drive, the i3-6100 can result in a very speedy and productive computer.
For those that won’t be adding a dedicated graphics card to their i3-6100 build, thankfully there are integrated graphics embedded as well. In this i3, you get the Intel HD Graphics 530 integrated graphics, which is good enough in its own right. It is fully capable of displaying media files at 4K resolution. Even for light gaming (think low-medium settings on 720p), the i3-6100 holds its own even without a separate graphics card.
Overall, we feel that Intel’s i3-6100 is comfortably in the lead as the best processor for the money. Its price point is low enough to make a budget build and is good enough either as a standalone processor or with a mid-tier graphics card.
Best cheap processors
This is where the meat is for those that have a specific budget rather than simply looking for the processor with the most value. Here we will continue with budget ranges for processors. Everyone’s needs are different so just choose how much you are willing to spend. Do note that if you are building a computer, our advice is to not skimp on the CPU. It is the major contributing factor to your PC’s performance, regardless of what you intend that PC to do. At these various price points, we’ve chosen the best of the best. However, do understand that even the best $50 processor won’t be good enough for modern 1080p+ gaming.
Best CPU under $50
Yes, believe it or not there are processors that retail at under $50. These are fairly low-tier CPUs, but do not be mistaken. They are very capable of powering an everyday desktop and, as you will read below, are able to do some light gaming either as standalone processors with integrated graphics or together with a cheap video card.
1. Intel Celeron G3930 7th Gen
Intel’s G3930 was a 2016 release, so in the grand scheme of things, it is a recent CPU. They’ve made it very accessible both in price and in function. The G3930 is a dual-core chip that fits right into the LGA1151 slot, so if you already have that motherboard, you can save money because you won’t have to buy a new one. It is part of the newer and more efficient Kaby Lake family. The G3930 also has integrated graphics with the HD Graphics 610.
We actually tested the HD Graphics 610 on our G3930 and it managed very well without a video card. In GTA V, at 720p and normal settings, the G3930 was actually able to push an average of 24 fps. That’s not ideal by any means, but for a $50 processor, that’s pretty impressive. If it can do 24 fps on a huge game like GTA V, it should be able to comfortably play less demanding but still very popular games like Minecraft or Garry’s Mod. Now if you add a cheap dedicated video card to your Celeron G3930 build, you have a simple yet solid gaming desktop.
For a $50 processor, you can’t go wrong with the Celeron G3930. It is very recent, being a Kaby Lake (2016) processor. It works well as both a work processor as well as a budget CPU for gaming, even if it’s for visually less demanding games.
2. AMD A6-6400K
The A6-6400K isn’t old by any means, either. Having first released in 2014, the A6-6400K is an overclockable APU (accelerated processing unit) that has decent integrated graphics as well. It’s a dual-core processor running at a base clock rate of 3.9Ghz. It does use the FM2 socket, so be sure you have a compatible motherboard to plug it into. Fortunately, FM2 motherboards are priced cheaply as well.
We won’t recommend this budget CPU for gaming specifically, especially at its price. However, it does work well for light gaming. We overclocked both the CPU and the Radeon HD 9470D integrated graphics it came with. Battlefield 4 at 720p and medium settings had an average of 26 fps. That’s certainly not bad and is playable for some. If you go with lighter games like Terraria, Minecraft, and Garry’s Mod, this budget APU will do just fine even without external graphics.
Best CPU under $100
The $100 limit is the most popular as far as budget CPUs go. It becomes especially hard to distinguish which under-$100 processor to get considering Intel and AMD’s work to cater to the budget audience. We’ve done plenty of research and testing to determine which ones at this price are the best processors for your money. These picks, along with the more expensive budget processors, are most suitable for gaming because they are typically at least quad-core, unlike the ones from the $50 budget. Many modern games these days don’t even start without a quad-core chip simply because of their processor-intensive nature.
1. AMD FX-8300 Black Edition
The first choice we immediately went with for this category was the FX-8300. We’ve had ours in-house for about 2 years, having paid a little more for it than its current retail price. The FX-8300 is right there next to the i3-6100 we mentioned previously in terms of the best value CPU.
It has a base clock speed of 3.3Ghz, overclockable to 4.2Ghz using AMD’s excellent Turbo technology. Get this, though: for under $100, you are able to get a processor with 8 total cores. Yep, the FX-8300 is an octa-core processor that retails for less than 100 dollars. That is pretty much unprecedented in this industry and creates a ton of value as a budget CPU. For gaming, it pairs the best with a GTX 1050Ti, though it also works perfectly with other low-mid cards like the R9 380 or GTX 970. With those CPU/graphics card combinations, expect 60+ fps on high settings and 1080p for most games.
The FX-8300 simply is the best processor under $100. Be cautious of other sub-$100 CPUs that look decent. Processors like the A8-7600 or Athlon X4-860K have similar retail prices. However, those AMD processors just do not compare to the FX-8300’s power, core count, and value.
2. Intel Pentium G4560
We were leaning on putting AMD’s FX-6300 in the second slot because it’s like a cheaper version of the FX-8300 while still maintaining high single-core performance in each of its six cores. However, the Pentium G4560 at the moment is the better budget gaming CPU. Despite being a dual-core chip, Intel’s groundbreaking hyperthreading technology give it 2 additional logical cores, effectively functioning as a quad-core processor. For modern games, this is a necessity because they require quad-core processing to even start on Windows.
This Pentium’s power is perfect for the likes of a GTX 1060 6GB or RX 480. Those are ideal fits and there won’t be any bottlenecking with a G4560 + GTX 1060/RX 480 build. Plugging this processor with your desktop will yield 80+ frames per second on graphically dense games like Battlefield 1.
The G4560 beats out most under-$100 processors out there. If you’re looking for a chip that will power your everyday desktop, allowing you to put Netflix on at up to 4K while simultaneously having 15+ tabs on Google Chrome without a hiccup, either the Intel G4560 or the FX-8300 are the best cheap CPUs out of the hundreds out there. If you’re looking mainly to game by pairing your CPU with a decent graphics card, the G4560 has the most power per core and is energy efficient to boot. To add, it’s a Kaby Lake processor that is frequently on sale.
Best CPU under $150
1. AMD FX-8370
Before you buy the FX-8370, do read both sub-$150 processor choices. While both are powerful, they have discrepancies in their utility. They have tremendous value, but which one you end up buying highly depends on your current motherboard.
The FX-8370 is an octo-core processor with a base speed of 4.0Ghz and a Max Turbo speed of 4.3Ghz. Initially, we were tempted to put the overclocked FX-8320 from our best AMD CPU list. However, for a few dollars more (while staying under $150), you can get the FX-8370. It is a less popular model, but it does have a much higher base clock and Turbo rate, while being packaged with the quieter Wraith cooler.
The reason you’d want the AMD FX-8370 over the Intel i3-7350K below is if you already have an AM3+ socket motherboard. This is important because you do not want to be switching out your motherboard every time you wish to upgrade your CPU. If you have any of these processors, then you have a Vishera processor, which means you already have a compatible motherboard. That saves you money when you upgrade to the FX-8370.
2. Intel i3-7350K
The i3-6100 may have the crown as the best cheap CPU with the most value, but the i3-7350K has much more power for a little more money. Denoted by the “K” in its name, the i3-7350K is an unlocked CPU, meaning you can overclock it to reasonable extent. The base speed is 4.2Ghz but because it is unlocked, it can be easily overclocked to 4.8Ghz with decent cooling. The 7350K is a dual-core CPU but again, due to hyperthreading it can function with 2 additional logical cores as a quad-core processor. This makes the i3-7350K one of the best budget quad-core CPUs right now.
Why would you pick this one over the FX-8370? Its single-core power is far better than the octa-core FX-8370. Also, it fits right into the LGA 1151 socket, which if your current Intel chip is any of the relatively modern ones, your motherboard already has the compatible socket. This makes it easy to upgrade to the i3-7350K and subsequently to more expensive Intel CPUs (i5 or i7) later down the line.
Best CPU under $200
At this budget, we’re closing in on the cheap CPUs and moving closer to more mid-range ones. $200 processors have plenty of power, are typically more energy efficient, and will last you longer than cheaper processors will. You can comfortably pair them up with most graphics cards without bottlenecking or abusing your processor to 100% usage while gaming.
1. Intel i5-7500
This is the best i5 chip that isn’t the i5-7600K, which costs about $40 or so more. The i5-7500 is yet another reason to invest in an LGA 1151 motherboard, as upgrading to this CPU from virtually any other is worth it. With 4 physical cores, this Kaby Lake-based chip also runs with a base frequency of 3.4Ghz and a Max Turbo frequency of 3.8Ghz. We found that overclocking to 3.8Ghz is very easy for the chip to do, requiring only the stock cooler it comes with. All in all, the i5-7500 is a superb yet cheap CPU for gaming.
2. AMD Ryzen 5 1500X
We featured the Ryzen 5 1500X in our AMD processors post. It is a very impressive processor that compares favorably with the i5-7500 as a gaming processor under $200. With 4 physical cores (unlocked to 8 threads), the Ryzen 5 does multitasking splendidly well. For particle-intensive games or those with many characters to render (like RTS games) especially, the Ryzen 5 1500X performs notably due to the Zen architecture of hyperthreading.
Single-core power is also strong enough for other PC gaming, while temperatures stay remarkably lower compared to other processors at $200 or less. Feel free to pair it with anything from moderately priced graphics cards to more expensive ones.