5 Best CPU For Emulation and Retro Gaming – Expert Reviews

Do you feel like going back in time when it comes to playing games? Or you would like to play console games on PC.

However, the hardware and software used to run console games are very different.

And you might also run into some compatibility issues when trying to play on PC. That’s where emulators or emulation come in.

Emulators make it possible to play console and hand-held games on PC.

If you plan on building a PC for emulation CPU is very important and the first thing to consider.

In this article, we list the best CPU for emulation and retro gaming. CPUs that will handle console and retro games on 1080p or higher resolutions.

What Are The Best CPU For Emulation?


Position
First Place
Runner Up
Best Budget
Snapshot
Intel Core i7-11700K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.0 GHz Unlocked LGA1200 (Intel 500 Series & Select 400 Series Chipset) 125W
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X 4-Core, 8-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor with Wraith Stealth Cooler
What You Need To Know About The GPU

Intel's most popular CPU amongst gamers.

Insane multi-core performance from team red.

Very affordable CPU that can handle emulation.

Prime
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-
-
Rating
-
Position
First Place
Snapshot
Intel Core i7-11700K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.0 GHz Unlocked LGA1200 (Intel 500 Series & Select 400 Series Chipset) 125W
What You Need To Know About The GPU

Intel's most popular CPU amongst gamers.

Prime
-
Rating
Position
Runner Up
Snapshot
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor
What You Need To Know About The GPU

Insane multi-core performance from team red.

Prime
-
Rating
-
Position
Best Budget
Snapshot
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X 4-Core, 8-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor with Wraith Stealth Cooler
What You Need To Know About The GPU

Very affordable CPU that can handle emulation.

Prime
-
Rating

Last update on 2021-09-22 at 03:21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


Preview
Name
CPU Speed
 
Intel Core i7-11700K Desktop Processor 8 Cores up to 5.0 GHz Unlocked LGA1200 (Intel 500 Series & Select 400 Series Chipset) 125W
Intel Core i7
3.6 GHz
AMD Ryzen 7 5800X 8-core, 16-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor
AMD Ryzen 7
3.8 GHz
AMD Ryzen 5 5600X 6-core, 12-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor with Wraith Stealth Cooler
AMD Ryzen 5
3.7 GHz
Intel Core i5-10600K Desktop Processor 6 Cores up to 4.8 GHz Unlocked  LGA1200 (Intel 400 Series Chipset) 125W
Intel Core i5
4.1 GHz
AMD Ryzen 3 3300X 4-Core, 8-Thread Unlocked Desktop Processor with Wraith Stealth Cooler
AMD Ryzen 3
3.8 GHz

Best CPU For Emulation [N64, PS1, PS2, PS3, PSP, Switch, Wii, Xbox 360]


Pros

  • Very high single-core performance
  • Overclockable  
  • Excellent for gaming

Cons

  • No stock cooler included

Operating Frequency: 3.6 GHz | Max Frequency: 5.0 GHz | Number of Cores and Threads: 8 Cores and 16 Threads | L3 Cache: 16MB | TDP (Thermal Design Power): 125W

A powerful multi-core processor from Intel. The Intel Core i7 is one of the most popular CPUs for gaming set-ups.

A high clock speed and several cores will tear through any game. This makes it one of the best CPUs for emulators because emulation uses a lot of CPU power. And the Intel Core i7 will be up to the task.

Furthermore, you can overlock the Intel Core i7 if you want to squeeze extra performance out of it. But, we doubt it will get to that unless you want to run some very demanding programs.

Keep in mind that, the Intel Core i7 doesn’t come with a stock cooler. You have to purchase one separately if you don’t want it blowing up in your face.

Overall, we highly recommend the Intel Core i7 as the best CPU for emulators. It has a high clock speed and multiple cores giving it the performance to easily run emulators.

This will also handle demanding games on high resolutions.


Pros

  • Excellent multi-core performance
  • Great value
  • Runs cool

Cons

  • Doesn’t come with a cooler
  • Can’t be overclocked much

Operating Frequency: 3.8 GHz | Max Frequency: Up To 4.7 GHz | Number of Cores and Threads: 8 Cores and 16 Threads | L3 Cache: 36MB | TDP (Thermal Design Power): 105W

A beast in its own right. The AMD Ryzen 7 will tear through demanding applications like paper. A 36MB L3 cache, 4.7 GHz boost clock, 8 cores, and 16 threads.

You can easily see why the AMD Ryzen 7 is highly favoured amongst gamers. You won’t have any performance problems when it comes to running emulators or gaming.

Powerful CPUs are known to be power-hungry and run hot. But AMD made the Ryzen 7 power-efficient and runs cool compared to other powerful processors.

Unfortunately, a CPU cooler is not included. So, you have to purchase it separately. We highly recommend you get a powerful cooler.

Because the AMD Ryzen 7 is a powerful CPU, you can pair it with a powerful GPU creating a powerful PC for high-resolution gaming (high-resolution emulation included) without bottlenecks.

In terms of value, AMD Ryzen 7 has the best price-to-performance ratio. You won’t find many CPUs with high clock speeds and several cores whilst being affordable.

Overall, this is the best CPU for emulation you can get from AMD and has no downsides.


Pros

  • Best budget CPU
  • Plenty of performance
  • Affordable and great value  
  • Bundled cooler
  • Power-efficient

Cons

  • No integrated graphics 

Operating Frequency: 3.7 GHz | Max Frequency: 4.6 GHz | Number of Cores and Threads: 6 Cores and 12 Threads | L3 Cache: 35MB | TDP (Thermal Design Power): 65W

The AMD Ryzen 5 is literally the best value CPU for emulation and gaming. At its budget price, it is a powerful CPU. And it doesn’t stop there.

The multi-core and single-core performance make it great for a lot of demanding applications. You can easily run emulators on 1080p and 1440p resolutions without any problems.

Furthermore, it comes with a bundled cooler which makes it a great value buy. The AMD Ryzen 5 is more power-efficient compared to the Intel processors and runs cool under demanding loads.

Overall, the AMD Ryzen 5 checks all the boxes except for one thing – no integrated graphics.

To be honest, it’s not much of an issue because it has plenty of performance and you will definitely pair the CPU with a decent GPU when setting up your PC emulation build. 

The AMD Ryzen 5 has insane value when compared to other similarly priced processors.

Runs cool, is cheaper, and has more cores than other CPUs in its price range. It stands to reason that in terms of value.

This is the best CPU for emulators, gaming, and other tasks that require a solid CPU.


Pros

  • Good gaming performance
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Locked ratio multiplier

Operating Frequency: Up to 4.9 GHz | Max Frequency: 4.9 GHz | Number of Cores and Threads: 6 Cores and 12 Threads | L3 Cache: 12MB | TDP (Thermal Design Power): 125W

The Intel Core i5 is a solid budget CPU that can be used to run PS2, PS3, and PS4 emulators. It’s not the most powerful CPU but its great single-core performance makes it a great option.

One of the most popular choices for budget 1080p gaming and popularly paired with the NVIDIA RTX 3060.

It has quite a high base frequency, plenty of cores, and bundled cooler and will dish out serious

CPU performance to handle emulation smoothly.

However, the Intel Core i5 has a locked ratio multiplier that prevents you from overclocking unless it’s disabled.

To sum it all up, the Intel Core i5 is a fantastic budget CPU that will handle almost everything you throw at. You will get some insane performance when you use the Intel Core i5 for emulation.


Pros

  • Excellent performance for the price
  • Can be overclocked
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Sub-par cooler

Operating Frequency: 3.8 GHz | Max Frequency: 4.3 GHz | Number of Cores and Threads: 4 Cores and 8 Threads | L3 Cache: 16MB | TDP (Thermal Design Power): 65W

For a cheap processor, the AMD Ryzen 3 provides some insane performance. Denoted by “X” which stands for extreme.

This processor has high clock speeds and 4 cores that can’t be found in processors in its price range. In addition to that, you can overclock it for better or insane CPU performance.

Just make sure to get a fantastic cooler because the stock cooler won’t be able to handle the heat. You can rest assured that, aside from 1080p gaming.

The AMD Ryzen 3 will have no problems handling emulators. This makes it a fantastic budget option if you don’t want to spend much on a PC build for emulation.


Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ryzen Good For Emulation?

Back in the day, Intel dominated when it came to choosing a CPU for emulation. However, things have changed. Currently, AMD Ryzen CPUs are on par with and even in some cases better CPU clock speeds, core count, etc. than

Intel CPUs whilst being cheaper. This has had made AMD Ryzen incredibly popular for emulation because you get value for money.

As far as you pair the AMD Ryzen with a suitable GPU for emulation. You will get fantastic results.

What CPU Do I Need For RPCS3?

RPCS3 recommends you need a 4-core Intel CPU or higher (4th Gen Intel Core series or higher). For AMD, the 6-core count or higher is from Ryzen.

It’s highly recommended that CPUs are 64-bit because 32-bit processors are not supported.

Do Emulators Use CPU Or GPU?

Both. Older emulators are more CPU-intensive than newer emulators. The CPU is more important when it comes to emulation.

However, it’s only true for older emulators. Newer emulators for PS3, PS4 and Xbox require a capable dedicated GPU too. They are graphic intensive and a strong CPU alone won’t cut it.

You need a capable and dedicate GPU to run the game smoothly especially on higher resolutions.

Do You Need A Powerful PC For Emulation?

Not always, once you have a decent PC set-up. You can run games smoothly on emulators. You only need a powerful PC for emulation when you plan to run games on newer emulators at high resolutions (1440p or higher).

At this level, a budget PC build might not cut it because the CPU and GPU load increase in proportion to the resolution. Higher resolution means more data to process.

Is Intel Or AMD Better For Emulation?

A few years back, Intel CPUs were the top choice for emulators because of their high single-core performance. And emulators back in the way greatly depended on that.

However, AMD has greatly closed the gap and is even highly recommended. AMD Ryzen is cheaper and provides equal or better performance than

Intel CPUs. So, it boils down to value for money and personal preference. In other words, if we had to choose we will go with AMD Ryzen for emulation and retro gaming.

Why Do Emulators Use So Much CPU?

Emulators use so much CPU because you aren’t directly playing the game.

Normally, you will get the right console for the game which can run it smoothly even though it’s less powerful than a PC.

Emulation requires that the PC acts or behaves as a console to run the game. This causes the PC to translate a lot of instructions for it to understand and run the game.

CPUs are responsible for this and create a high CPU usage when running an emulator. That’s why emulators use so much CPU.

Do You Need A Good CPU For Emulation?

Yes, a good CPU is highly recommended for emulation. You will shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t get a decent CPU.

Emulation on PC causes a high number of instructions to be translated by the CPU. The faster your CPU translates the instruction the smoother the game will run on the emulator and vice versa.

Final Thoughts

As of now, it doesn’t matter which CPU – AMD or Intel – you can for emulation. Both companies provide fantastic options that will handle not only emulation but gaming in general as well.

The AMD Ryzen 7 and Intel Core i7 should be your top choices when building a powerful PC for emulation.

AMD Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 come in as great value options if you don’t want to spend a lot but still prefer great processing power.

The AMD Ryzen 3 is the best option if you are on a very tight budget but still don’t want to sacrifice a lot of performance.

That’s it for the best CPU for emulation.

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