The CPU is one of the most important and influential components in a PC setup and making sure you have the right one for your setup should be a priority. New processors are released so frequently nowadays, so it can be tough to know what the best CPUs are for sim racing.
The 9 best CPUs for sim racing are:
- Intel Core i9-12900k
- Intel Core i9-9900K
- AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
- Intel Core i5-11400
- AMD Ryzen 5 3600
- AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
- Intel Core i7-12700k
- Intel Core i3-12100
- AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
These options have a little something for everyone and all offer incredible performance for sim racing. If you have a good GPU to use with any of these CPUs, you can power through any sim racing games at maximum graphical fidelity. Read on below for more information on each of these options.
How Important Is A CPU For Sim Racing?
Your CPU is extremely important for sim racing as it will handle things such as physics simulation, a vital part of any good simulator. It also affects things like crowd density, draw distances, and the complexity of particle effects and debris. The CPU and GPU are both vital parts of your setup.
Some aspects of a sim’s audio design also rely heavily on CPU performance, so making sure you have a great processor is key to good performance from both your PC and you on the track. Realism and immersion are often some of the most longed for things from a simulator, and a lot of the processes that make that realism and immersion come to life are handled by the CPU.
It’s important to remember that a good CPU can only get you so far and making sure that your CPU and GPU are not bottlenecked by each other is incredibly important. A bottleneck, in relation to components that make up a PC, is when one component limits the full potential of another component that could be doing more.
For instance, if you have an RTX 3090 graphics card but you only have an Intel Core i5 9400F as your CPU, your framerate and general performance will be severely hindered due to the worse performing CPU, even if it’s a top-of-the-line GPU. Basically, you want all of your components to be able to keep up with each other.
Multi-Core And Single Core Performance
I wouldn’t recommend wasting money on an expensive GPU if you have a poor CPU and vice versa, unless you are planning on upgrading the CPU in the future. Not all CPUs are made the same by any means and there is a great debate on multi-core vs single core performance for sim racing.
An CPU with excellent single core performance will power through most things with ease, similar to their multi-core brethren. However, when there is a large number of separate tasks that need completing, multi-core performance becomes more important.
While the fastest single core CPU may be able to complete a particular operation incredibly fast, if there is a lot going on, for example a crowd of NPCs needs to be fully simulated and rendered, it may be faster for even a slow multi-core CPU to complete the task as the workload can be spread across all its cores.
Sim racing games, and iRacing in particular, are long discussed as being ‘single-core’ or ‘single-thread’ heavy games. Basically, these games depend more on single-core performance than some other games and operations. This means you should try and opt for CPUs with decent single-core performance, not just good multi-core performance.
What To Look For In A CPU For A Sim Racing PC
Generally, the base performance you want from a CPU for sim racing is a base clock speed of 3.5 GHz or more. Most Intel processors feature turbo boost technology, so while the base clock speed may be low, it might be able turbo boost from, say, 3.5 GHz to 4.5 GHz. But there is more to it than just clock speed.
Intel vs AMD
Normally, for sheer gaming performance, Intel processors are superior to AMD CPUs. However, Intel CPUs are usually far more expensive for comparable performance from AMD’s offerings and Intel CPUs almost always have far hotter thermals. If you do decide to use an Intel CPU, excellent cooling is a must.
AMD CPUs often have more cores than similarly priced Intel options and so are better at CPU intensive tasks in games that utilize its multi-core functionality, but in single core tasks, Intel often takes the cake. Compatibility is definitely something to double check before making a purchase. Your motherboard’s manufacturer will likely state its CPU compatibility.
A CPU that isn’t compatible with your motherboard simply won’t work, so to avoid wasting hundreds of dollars, just double check your motherboard’s compatibility. If you are buying a pre-built PC instead of upgrading or building your own, take into account its other specs like the GPU, RAM, and storage.
Pre-Built And Benchmarking
While a pre-built PC may seem like a good idea, more often than not, in order to cut costs, the CPU may be fantastic in the PC, but the other components will be older or cheap in quality. Always double check the other components when buying a pre-built PC, and I highly recommend watching benchmark videos online showcasing your expected CPU and GPU performance.
Simply type in the name of your CPU and GPU with the simulator’s name followed by ‘benchmark.’ You will often find dozens of videos testing the framerate and thermals of the components. This will give you a great idea of how your PC will perform when running that particular simulator.
There are often variations of a CPU that allow for overclocking, the process of manually improving performance by increasing clock speeds past their base speed. Overclocking a CPU can be an easy way to squeeze a little bit of extra performance from your CPU, but overclocking can dramatically increase the operating temperatures and can make it more unstable which can lead to crashes.
The 9 Best CPUs For Sim Racing
1. Intel Core i9-12900k
Cores: 16 | Threads: 24 | Base Clock Speed: 3.20 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 5.20 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
The i9-12900k is one of the world’s most performant processors for gaming. Its single threaded performance is some of the best we’ve ever seen, and this is huge for games like iRacing that don’t utilize multithreading like modern games do. But that doesn’t mean its multi-threaded performance is bad either – its multi-threaded performance is actually just as astounding.
16 cores and 24 threads ensure multi-tasking and heavy workloads are a breeze as the workload is spread across all 24 threads. Cooling is a necessity here, and water cooling would be ideal but if you want to use a fan-based cooler, a high-end fan cooler will do the job just fine.
An Overclockable Powerhouse
While the price is high, for such sheer power and performance, if its within your budget I would highly recommend snagging one of these. If you feel the need to really push it to its limits, which will be nearly impossible to do with normal day to day use, it is overclockable, allowing you to squeeze a bit more performance out of the CPU – just with higher thermals as a result.
This CPU will run any sim racing title you throw at it with little to no effort whatsoever. Just make sure that you are running this CPU with the most powerful GPU you can afford so as to avoid any bottlenecking of the CPU.
- Fastest single thread performance on market
- Integrated graphics
- Very hot under load
- Does not come with cooler
- Very expensive
2. Intel Core i9-9900K
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base Clock Speed: 3.60 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 5.00 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
Intel’s Core i9-9900k is one of the brand’s best performing CPUs, crushing almost any task it faces with immense amounts of headroom available. The i9-9900k is one of the fastest CPUs on the market with a processor base frequency of 3.60 GHz, but it has the ability to turbo boost to 5.00 GHz.
It has a total of 8 cores and a total thread count of 16. What this means for sim racers out there is that the frequent stuttering you might be familiar with when intense physics simulation is required, such as when your vehicle collides with another, is completely eliminated.
Pair It With A Good GPU
For anyone out there who might want to make video content on their favorite racing sim, recording, streaming, and playing a racing game can all be done from the same PC with little to no performance hit. Make sure to pair this beast up with a good GPU like Nvidia’s top of the line RTX 3090 or AMD’s RX 6950 XT for an incredibly smooth gaming experience and to avoid any bottlenecking of the CPU.
Cooling should be prioritized when using one of these and I highly recommend getting high end water cooling or a really good fan cooler with a good heatsink. As this is one of the best CPUs around, it’s very expensive, but if you have the budget, it’s definitely worth it.
- Very high turbo boost frequency
- Excellent gaming performance
- Capable of simultaneous workloads like streaming your gameplay
- Very expensive
- You need powerful cooling
- Uses a lot of power when under load
3. AMD Ryzen 9 5950X
Cores: 16 | Threads: 32 | Base Clock Speed: 3.40 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.90 GHz | Integrated Graphics: No
AMD’s Ryzen 9 5950X is a CPU that is renowned for its multithreaded performance. Multi-tasking is a complete non-issue, whether you’re streaming, recording, or both at the same time, you will have zero slowdowns, as long as your GPU can keep up.
For those who might not want an i9-9900k, whether it’s because it isn’t compatible with their system, their power supply isn’t big enough, or they don’t feel like dropping hundreds of dollars for a decent cooler to deal with Intel’s thermals, the Ryzen 9 5950X is a great option. Its impressive 32 threads allow for unhindered productivity and amazing performance on modern sim racing titles.
Intel has held the crown for best single core performance for years, but what AMD is offering us here is a CPU that can crush single core intensive titles like many older sim racing games, as well as modern sim racing titles that better utilize multi-threading.
If you were looking to use this CPU alone to run your sim racing games with its integrated graphics, I’m sad to say there is no integrated graphics to be found on this CPU. While it certainly doesn’t run as hot as many Intel CPUs, a good cooler is still highly recommended to keep the thermals in check.
As long as you have a good GPU to go along with it so you can bottleneck the CPU as little as possible, this CPU will power through any sim racing title on the market with ease.
- Impressive multi-threaded performance
- Overclockable for more performance
- Very power efficient
- No integrated graphics
- Doesn’t come with any cooling
4. Intel Core i5-11400
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock Speed: 2.60 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.40 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
The i5-11400 offers excellent gaming performance in any sim racing title that you throw at it. While 2.60 GHz may not seem like much, its impressive 4.40 GHz boost frequency more than makes up for it. While it may not be as efficient as other options here, the i5-11400 is extremely cheap in comparison. Sadly, a compromise that’s been made to give us that low price is the inability to overclock.
While you can’t overclock the CPU, its general performance out of the box is excellent and, for most sim racing titles, performance will be rock steady. The i5-11400’s single core performance is excellent, but its multithreaded performance pales in comparison to the performance of the AMD Ryzen 9 5950X.
Lacking Multi-Tasking Capabilities
With that said, the i5-11400 will handle most sim racing titles well, but it lacks the additional headroom of more expensive chips that can be used for multitasking like streaming and recording your races. There is a variation of the Intel i5-11400 in the form of the i5-11400F, which is cheaper but lacks any form of integrated graphics.
The integrated graphics on the 11400F won’t get you much playable performance on any modern racing titles, but if you wanted to revisit some classics with just the integrated graphics it should be fine. Thermals are quite hot when run with a standard Intel cooler, so a good high-quality cooler is highly recommended to avoid frying it under high loads.
- Great single core performance
- Fairly cheap
- Variation with integrated graphics
- Not overclockable
- Standard Intel cooler not good enough to control thermals
- Poorer performance than others on this list
5. AMD Ryzen 5 3600
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock Speed: 3.60 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.20 GHz | Integrated Graphics: No
The Ryzen 5 3600 is a cheaper CPU option from AMD that tries to offer similar performance to their more powerful CPUs, and it certainly succeeds in doing so.
The Ryzen 5 3600 offers the same impressive multithread performance Ryzen are known for delivering. Any sim racing title you throw at it, even titles with very CPU intensive physics interactions like the physics simulation found in iRacing and similar titles, are nothing to the Ryzen 5 3600.
Power Efficient And Cheaper
AMD’s CPUs are often more power efficient and have better thermals than anything Intel offers and not only that, but AMD CPUs are also usually cheaper. If you want a setup that can compete with similarly priced Intel CPUs, the AMD Ryzen 5 3600 is an excellent choice.
There is no integrated graphics to be found here, but seeing as a dedicated graphics card is a must if you plan on playing any modern sim racing titles, it doesn’t matter too much. However, troubleshooting your components when your PC refuses to boot is made more difficult due to the lack of onboard graphics.
The ability to overclock is a huge plus for any new sim racing titles that come out in the future that might need a bit more power to run. This means the CPU will be competitive for longer since it can adapt better to the advancement of other tech.
A cooler comes bundled with the CPU, which is fantastic for those looking to save a bit more money. However, the included cooler feels a bit cheap, and you may simply wish to upgrade to one of your choice in future.
- Fairly cheap
- Comes with a cooler
- No integrated graphics
- Included cooler isn’t the best
6. AMD Ryzen 7 5700G
Cores: 8 | Threads: 16 | Base Clock Speed: 3.80 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.60 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
With 8 cores and 16 threads, the Ryzen 7 5700G will power through any sim racing title, modern or old, and leave you well equipped for the future with headroom for overclocking. The Ryzen 7 5700G from AMD boasts some of the best integrated graphics ever made, although this may not be a big plus depending on your needs.
The combination of a high boost frequency of 4.6 GHz, ability to overclock, more than enough cores and threads, and impressive multi-core/thread performance, make it an extremely enticing option for those looking for a CPU that can power through multiple processes and be fairly futureproofed.
iRacing is one of the world’s most popular professional sim racing games on the market, and due to its age, it relies heavily on only a couple of cores and threads, meaning a lot of that multithread performance is wasted potential. However, if you were to use an Intel CPU such as the i9-9900k, its single core performance is outstanding and would thrash the Ryzen 7 5700G in iRacing.
More modern titles such as F1 2022 or Forza Horizon 5 benefit far more from multithread performance and more cores. Older titles simply weren’t developed with multithread capability in mind and so they are often just wasted potential from the CPU point of view. However, you’re likely going to use your CPU for other tasks too, so the multi-core performance doesn’t have to be wasted.
The CPU comes with a Wraith Stealth cooler, which is enough to keep the thermals in check, but you might wish to upgrade this yourself.
- Incredible integrated graphics
- Bundled with a cooler
- Impressive performance at lower cost than competitors
- Included cooler might need upgrading
7. Intel Core i7-12700k
Cores: 12 | Threads: 20 | Base Clock Speed: 3.60 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 5.00 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
The Intel i7-12700k impressively gives the same astounding gaming performance as the i9-12900k at a lower price point. Similar to the i9-12900k, single threaded performance is up there with the best of the best and multi-threaded performance is astounding when utilizing all 20 threads across all 12 cores.
Again, this is great news for games such as iRacing or other older titles like BeamNG. It is overclockable, meaning as the years go by and you upgrade your other components such as your GPU, you can also just overclock your CPU to keep it on par with the rest of your setup.
The base performance of this CPU without overclocking far exceeds any requirements needed for most sim racing titles, or any other game for that matter. A good pairing with this CPU would be an RTX 3090 Ti or an RX 6900 XT from AMD. Getting a good GPU to go along side this CPU ensures it won’t be bottlenecked, limiting its potential.
- Good single and multi-core performance
- Cheaper than the i9-12900k with similar performance
- No cooler included
- Less power efficient than Ryzen alternatives
8. Intel Core i3-12100
Cores: 4 | Threads: 8 | Base Clock Speed: 3.30 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.30 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
The Intel Core i3-12100 offers the best price to performance ratio of any Intel CPU on the market in terms of single thread performance. This is the best budget option for those who perhaps need to spend more on their wheel and pedals, or other parts of their rig. Due to the fewer cores and threads, power consumption is low and, as a result, thermals are very manageable too.
This means that the improved stock cooler that they give bundled with it works perfectly in tandem with the i3-12100. The CPU is overclockable, but only its memory – the actual core frequency sadly cannot be increased. This is unfortunate, but it’s a small price to pay for the unrivaled price to performance ratio.
Very Good Single Thread Performance
Multi-threaded performance is great but could be better.The low number of cores and threads means that most other options on this list will have far better performance in sim racing titles that utilize hyperthreading than the i3-12100, but its single thread performance is excellent and will compete with even the high-end offerings from Intel and AMD.
iRacing is once again an excellent example of a popular sim racing game that benefits more from single thread performance rather than multithreaded performance. For the price, you’d be hard pressed to find a better performing CPU at such a low price point. For those on a budget, the i3-12100 is a great pick.
- Excellent single thread performance
- Comes with a decent cooler for its thermals
- One of the cheapest on our list
- Only 4 cores and 8 threads
- Core frequency cannot be overclocked
9. AMD Ryzen 5 5600G
Cores: 6 | Threads: 12 | Base Clock Speed: 3.90 GHz | Boost Clock Speed: 4.40 GHz | Integrated Graphics: Yes
The Ryzen 5 5600G is a cheaper CPU with impressive integrated graphics performance, and it certainly punches above its price tag. While the 5700G is the king of integrated graphics, the 5600G offers most of its performance for a far cheaper price tag. If you plan on buying a CPU without a dedicated graphics card or you’re on a budget, this is an excellent CPU to go with.
The integrated graphics might be enough to get you by in iRacing, as long as you lower some graphics settings, and the overall performance is great. However, don’t expect to run the newest AAA titles using its integrated graphics. Overall, this is a fantastic AMD option for those on a budget.
- Impressive integrated graphics
- Cheaper than the 5700G with similar performance
- Comes with a cooler
- You’ll likely need to play on low settings using the integrated graphics
The Best CPU For VR Sim Racing
The i9-9900k is by far the best CPU for VR sim racing. Its impressive single core performance lends well to VR gaming. A lot of VR titles make use of less multithreading and high clock speeds, and good single core performance is arguably more important, although multi-thread performance still counts.
The i9-9900k takes the cake for high clock speeds and single core performance, and while it is expensive, I would say that for the sake of longevity and performance, it is an outstanding option that you should seriously consider for VR sim racing if you can afford it.
The Intel Core i9-12900k is by far the best CPU for general sim racing. It has industry leading specs that shine when playing sim racing titles. The Intel Core i3-12100 is a fantastic budget option with the best price to performance I have ever seen from an Intel CPU, and it comes with a fan and heatsink.