Is my temp reading wrong or is my heatsink seated wrong?

My GFX card recently died so I got a new and improved one which is great, but now it seems that my CPU has become a bit of a bottle neck that is holding me back from the FPS/graphics settings that the new card should ultimately provide in some games. I thought maybe I would OC the CPU to improve the situation but before I mess with that I need to fix a heat problem.

For as long as I have had this computer, one of the 4 CPU cores has consistently reported higher temperatures than the others. Be it idling or at full load, core 3 says it is always about 7-10C above the other cores (which are usually within 4C of each other or less when they are loaded evenly).

I have read conflicting information on what this temperature discrepancy means. People either say that the heatsink is seated improperly and therefore transferring heat unevenly, or that the temperature sensors in the CPU die are sometimes not quite in the right place in the core to detect max temp so even if the heat sink is seated properly it may APPEAR to be drawing off heat unevenly when in fact it is the temperature sensors that are uneven. (In the latter case I am told that you should trust the highest temperature reading.)

Therefore my question boils down to this: how do I tell if the heatsink is seated wrong or if the temperature readings are off?

The CPU runs hotter than I would like in general, but that third core is always hotter. If its a matter of the heatsink not being seated properly than I probably just need to re-seat it and things will be OK. HOWEVER, if the third core is actually the correct temp and the other cores are reporting false low numbers, then I really should get a better cooling solution whether I over clock or not.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

(In case it matters, the CPU is an Intel Core2 Quad Q9450 @2.66GHz. Unfortunately I have forgotten the name of the heatsink, but it is a fist-sized brick of metal planes attached to the CPU by heat pipes and has its own fan.)
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  1. Only you can tell us if the heatsink is attached properly.

    Core temperature discrepency up to 10c is normal because some cores are working harder than others, some may not be doing any work at all.

    You didn't mention what gpu, so really can't tell you if your cpu is holding it back or not.

    You also failed to mention what resolution your gaming at.

    Get yourself a good aftermarket heatsink like a coolermaster hyper 212+ and then you should be able to overclock that baby to gaming speeds, that should really help your card out if it's bottlenecked. I'd shoot for at least 3ghz right off the bat. Use CPUID HW Monitor to keep tabs on temps.
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