4K gaming has slowly started to become mainstream in recent years with a significant increase in hardware performance over the past four years. Modern hardware has become more capable than ever, allowing consumers to play all of their new favourite games at 4K with few hindrances. But with any PC build it can be difficult to distinguish what hardware you need, and which components won’t be particularly useful.
When it comes to 4K capable gaming, the market tends to steer consumers towards choosing the right graphics card. While this is important, and will be one of the big deciding factors for how your system performs at 4K, its entirely pointless to have a top-end powerful GPU, without a CPU that can ‘bring the good fight’ when it comes to 4K.
This raises the question, what CPU do you need to play games at 4K? In this article, we’ll be rounding up the best CPUs to play all of your favourite games. We’ll be taking a look at a number of options from both AMD and Intel, whilst covering a range of budgets too.
Suggested Article: Best Graphics Cards to Buy for 4K Gaming in 2023
1. AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D
👑 The best 4K gaming CPU.
The Ryzen 7 7800X3D is one of the most recent entrants on the market from AMD, utilising their proprietary 3D V-Cache technology. The 7800X3D is the most exciting prospect out of AMD’s Ryzen 7000 line-up, as this CPU can offer insane framerates in even the most taxing games. This is all down to the 3D V-Cache that sits on top of the CPU cores, which allows the CPU to read instructions much faster comparative to RAM.
So what is performance like? Well, in terms of 4K gaming, you can expect some of the highest frames possible, when paired up with the right graphics card. The cache hardware makes this one of the best performing CPUs that you can pick up right now, and this is when compared to the likes of Intel’s Core i9 13900K, or the Ryzen 9 7950X. Although workstation performance definitely isn’t as strong, consumers can expect, unrivalled gaming metrics with this CPU.
|Key Specs||AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D|
|Max Boost Clock Speed||5GHz|
Things We Like
Unrivalled gaming performance: The Ryzen 7 7800X3D is one of the best CPUs on the market right now for gaming. If you’re planning on getting the most amount of frames possible, this will be the CPU to do it with!
Reasonable temperatures: The 3D SKUs of the Ryzen 7000 range are significantly cooler than their non-3D siblings due to the temperature limitations of the 3D cache. This means consumers can get away with picking up a cheaper cooler and still enjoy decent thermals.
Things We Don’t Like
Not ideal as a workstation CPU: Although the 3D cache is great for gaming, it doesn’t necessarily apply to productivity applications. And due to the lower core count and clock speed of this CPU, you’ll be better off looking at an alternative option with better hardware.
Volatile stocking: Due to the popularity of this CPU, stocking is quite volatile as of the time of writing. It can be difficult to pick up this CPU, and it can also be a challenge to find this processor at a reasonable price too.
AMD’s Ryzen 7 7800X3D is the best 4K gaming CPU on the market right now. This CPU is more than capable of handling games at top-end settings due to the 3D V-Cache hardware, and the added bonus of being able to upgrade to future generations is a nice touch too. Whilst this is a pricier option and can be harder to pick up, if you can find this processor at a reasonable price point, we definitely recommend consumers to pick it up for a dedicated 4K gaming PC.
Value for Money: 4.5/5
- Incredible 4K gaming performance.
- Ideal for a top-end build.
- Thermals aren’t ridiculous.
- Isn’t ideal as a productivity CPU.
- Can be quite hard to pick up.
Where to Buy
Buy the AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D on:
2. Intel Core i7 13700K
👑 The best all-rounder 4K gaming CPU.
Next up in our roundup is Intel’s Core i7 13700K. The 13700K is a bit of an underdog CPU, as the majority of consumers tend to gravitate towards the 13600K or the 13900K based on either price or performance. I’d argue that the 13700K offers the best of both worlds, providing well-rounded performance metrics in both 4K games, and in workstation applications. And this CPU is pretty reasonably priced on it’s own, coming in at $350-$400 at the top-end.
Whilst this CPU is pricier contrasting to some other options, the performance is well worth the price. There are some minor caveats to consider when picking up a 13th-Gen CPU, such as platform longevity. With Intel’s 13th-Gen range becoming deprecated within the next year or so, this might be a bit of a turn-off for consumers, but the high performance metrics will be a big deciding factor too.
|Key Specs||Intel Core i7 13700K|
|Max Boost Clock Speed||5.4GHz|
|Max Turbo Power||253W|
Things We Like
Solid all-round performance: The 13700K is perfect for 4K gaming offering very strong metrics, but this CPU is also great for consumers looking to build a productivity workstation due to the high core and thread count, coupled with the excellent clock speed.
Reasonable price point: Whilst the 13700K is pricier than some options on the market, the multifaceted nature of this CPU makes the price tag much easier to swallow. I’d argue that $350 for an excellent workstation CPU is a small price to pay for processor that will last a very long time.
Things We Don’t Like
13th-Gen Platform will be deprecated: Unfortunately, the biggest caveat to picking up Intel’s Core i7 13700K is that the LGA1700 platform will be deprecated within the next year. This means that upgrading will become much harder if you’re looking to grab any potential 14th-Gen hardware.
High wattage when boosting: As we start to rise up the ranks of Intel SKUs, the power supply wattage demand increases significantly. Consumers purchasing the 13700K will need to ensure they secure a solid power supply to meet the demand of this CPU.
Intel’s Core i7 13700K is an excellent multifaceted processor, providing strong metrics in both 4K games and productivity applications. This is a pricier option, but compared to the rest of the market, the 13700K serves as a great entry point for those building a workstation system.
Value for Money: 4.2/5
- Solid price point.
- Excellent gaming and workstation performance.
- Perfect for enthusiasts.
- 13th-Gen platform will be deprecated within the next year.
- Requires a strong PSU.
Where to Buy
Buy the Intel Core i7 13700K on:
3. AMD Ryzen 9 7900X
👑 The best top-end AMD CPU.
For our third recommendation, we’ve picked out AMD’s Ryzen 9 7900X, one of the top-end SKUs from the Ryzen 7000 line-up. When it comes to Ryzen 7000 CPUs, the high-end options tend to be the best value options, with the majority of the other variants falling flat when compared to current Intel processors. The more powerful Ryzen 7000 options do shine a more positive light with what’s to come with future generations of Ryzen processors, but only time will tell when it comes to performance improvements.
The 7900X specifically is the second most powerful ‘non-3D’ CPU within the Ryzen 7000 range, offering up 12 cores and 24 threads, with a whopping boost clock speed of 5.6GHz. This processor is definitely equipped to handle 4K games, with very solid metrics in high intensity workstation applications. Needless to say, this CPU can handle pretty much anything you throw at it, and is one of the best options for a top-end multifaceted system.
|Key Specs||AMD Ryzen 9 7900X|
|Max Boost Clock Speed||5.6GHz|
Things We Like
Perfect for workstations: The Ryzen 9 7900X is one of the most powerful top-end CPUs on the market, offering a high set of cores and threads. This coupled with the insane clock speed makes this processor perfect to tackle high intensity applications, alongside 4K gaming.
CPU is reasonably priced: Although the 7900X is definitely one of the most expensive options on the market, I’d argue that considering the performance metrics, the price is pretty fair and it will only drop further over time.
Things We Don’t Like
Insane thermals: One of the major downsides of the Ryzen 7000 CPUs, is that they run very hot. If you’re pushing a consistent all-core workload, ensure you pick up a good cooler to offset the high thermals, because this processor can reach 100 degrees and stay there.
Overall build cost is high: Although the CPU itself is pretty well priced considering the performance, a Ryzen 7000 build is not cheap. The forced DDR5 requirement and fancy new features incur a rather high cost.
AMD’s Ryzen 9 7900X is an exceptionally powerful CPU, offering strong metrics perfect for gaming, and excellent performance designed to handle high intensity multi-threaded applications. Yes this CPU is pricey, and yes the build cost also follows suit in this regard, but if you’re willing to swallow the cost, you get access to an array of powerful hardware that can be overclocked and offers promising metrics in the future.
Value for Money: 4.1/5
- Excellent 4K gaming and workstation performance.
- Perfect for a top-end system.
- CPU itself isn’t that expensive.
- Runs very hot under an all-core workload.
- Build cost is very expensive.
Where to Buy
Buy the AMD Ryzen 9 7900X on:
4. Intel Core i9 13900K
👑 The best workstation CPU.
For our fourth and final selection, our last recommendation is Intel’s Core i9 13900K, one of the most powerful CPUs of this generation. We were absolutely blown away by the performance of the 13900K, and this CPU still stands to be one of the best options for enthusiasts or consumers building an insanely powerful top-end system. Needless to say, this CPU can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. The 24 cores and 32 threads are designed for the most intense workloads, and the 5.8GHz clock speed will do this at blazing speeds.
This processor is the best option for consumers wanting the best of the best for productivity during the day, and 4K gaming in the evening. This CPU directly competes with the 7800X3D, but without any of the 3D V-Cache, proving how powerful this option is. It is also one of the most expensive options too, topping the $500 mark with an MSRP of nearly $600. This CPU is likely to drop in price over time, but don’t expect it to be much cheaper than the aforementioned $500 price tag.
|Key Specs||Intel Core i9 13900K|
|Max Boost Clock Speed||5.8GHz|
|Max Turbo Power||253W|
Things We Like
Unrivalled performance: The 13900K is the best multifaceted CPU on the market right now. Consumers can expect unhindered performance in pretty much everything your throw it at!
Excellent overclocking capability: The Core i9 13900K is one of the best CPUs when it comes to overclocking. If you’ve picked up a motherboard with a solid set of VRM power phases, you’ll be able to push this processor well above the 6GHz mark.
Things We Don’t Like
Can surpass 300W: Although this CPU is extremely powerful, it is also one of the most inefficient options with it having the ability to surpass 300W under an all-core workload. You’ll need to make sure you pick up a solid PSU to handle the power draw of this system.
Overkill for most consumers: Despite the strong performance of this CPU, it is likely to be overkill for most consumers. Unless you need the cores for higher intensity workloads, there are solid alternatives at a much cheaper price point that will be perfectly fine for 4K games.
Intel’s Core i9 13900K is one of the highest performing options on the market right now, specifically geared towards consumers that need all of the cores and threads at an insane clock speed. This processor is very expensive, and worth it only if you need an insane set of cores for productivity applications. We wouldn’t urge all consumers to pick up this CPU, but if you’re looking for the best of the best, the 13900K will definitely provide.
Value for Money: 4/5
- Solid overclocking performance.
- Designed to handle 4K gaming and high intensity workloads.
- The most powerful multifaceted CPU on the market.
- Can reach 300W under an all-core workload.
- Quite expensive.
Where to Buy
Buy the Intel Core i9 13900K on:
How Important is My CPU for 4K Gaming?
Your CPU choice is important for gaming, as your processor needs to be able to handle all of the visual data that your GPU provides as quickly as possible. But as we rise up the resolutions, your CPU becomes much less important, contrasting to your GPU. At lower resolutions there are less pixels to render, so there is less of a workload that the GPU needs to deal with.
At a 4K resolution, the opposite is in effect. 4K games place a higher intensity workloads on the graphics card, and therefore the CPU has less to deal with overall. Now this doesn’t mean that you should cheap out on an old CPU, because modern games will demand that a consumer has better hardware. However, if you’re not in need of a processor that has more cores and threads to deal with all-core workloads, you’ll be able to get away with picking up a cheaper option geared towards gaming as opposed to workstation usage.
At the end of the day, picking components for your PC build is a balancing act, and you should always buy parts according to your use-case, budget, and performance expectations whilst ensuring there are no bottlenecks. But higher resolutions do not require an insanely powerful CPU, and will inflict more demand on your GPU as opposed to your processor.
What Kind of GPU Should I Pickup for 4K Gaming?
In recent years, GPUs have become extremely powerful, allowing consumers to enjoy 4K gaming at high framerates and refresh rates with other variables thrown in, like Ray-Tracing. This means that there are a multitude of modern options available on the market for consumers to choose from that are 4K capable and have legs in other circumstances too, but which do we recommend?
For 4K gaming, all of the current RTX 4000 series cards are all 4K capable, with varying framerates between them. The top-end choice is an RTX 4090, but if you’re on a budget, then an RTX 4070 is a solid option too. On the AMD side, there are fewer 4K capable cards, but still some solid options to choose from. The most recent 7900 XTX and XT cards are excellent for 4K gaming, or if you want to spend a little bit less, then the 6950 XT or 6900 XT are excellent options too. Some of NVIDIA‘s older RTX 3000 cards, such as the RTX 3080 SKUs and upwards are perfect for 4K.
Ultimately, all of these cards will offer varying framerates based on the hardware, but these are the options that we recommend sticking to when it comes to 4K games. It is worth noting that the majority of these cards are rather pricey, and consumers can expect to spend a significant amount for the vast majority of 4K capable graphics cards.
Why You Can Trust Us
If you’ve taken a look at all of our recommendations in this roundup, you’re probably wondering what makes us qualified to suggest the best CPU for 4K games. Well, our team of PC hardware enthusiasts and gaming geeks work hard to test all of the latest components as soon as they come through our doors. These products are put through a number of rigorous tests, including gaming and productivity benchmarks, giving us a general overview of the product, along with any pros and cons. Be sure to check out the About Us section for more information about our editorial team.
How We Tested The Best CPUs for 4K Gaming
In order to test and evaluate the best CPUs for 4K gaming there are a number of factors that we take into account, these are:
- Workstation Capability
- Power Consumption
- Value Proposition
Best CPU for 4K Gaming: AMD Ryzen 7 7800X3D
To conclude, the best CPU for 4K gaming is AMD’s Ryzen 7 7800X3D, the most recent CPU in the Ryzen 7000 line-up. This impressive SKU singlehandedly outperforms some of the best options on the market, despite having a lower core count, and clock speed. AMD‘s 3D V-Cache is one of the most impressive hardware innovations we’ve seen in quite some time, and consumers can expect insane framerates when paired up with the right graphics card.
Read our full Ryzen 7 7800X3D coverage, or Buy the Ryzen 7 7800X3D on Amazon
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need a High Core Count for 4K Gaming?
In short, no. Most games only tend to use one or two threads at most, so higher core count CPUs aren’t needed for gaming. Generally high core counts are only needed for high intensity workstation applications.
Do I Need a Strong CPU Cooler?
When choosing a CPU cooler, you’ll want to make a decision based on use-case and budget. The majority of the coolers in this roundup today will need a stronger cooler such as a 240mm AIO, but other CPUs can get away with cheaper air coolers.
Do I Need DDR4 or DDR5 RAM?
The RAM that you pickup is entirely dependent on the CPU and motherboard you’ve chosen. Ryzen 7000 users can only pickup DDR5 RAM, but Intel 13th-Gen users can choose between DDR4 and DDR5 dependent on budget, and use-case.
Is My Motherboard Choice Important?
Yes and no. You should only every worry about your choice of motherboard based on compatibility. However, if you’d like to overclock your CPU, or you’re looking for a specific set of ports or features, it is worth looking at the manufacturer’s website to get an overview of what’s available.