Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Processors

Part 2: Building A Balanced Gaming PC
By

While a powerful GPU is certainly an important component in a balanced gaming PC, graphics performance alone does not guarantee an enjoyable experience. The processor (or CPU, as we've been calling it), amongst other factors, must cope with other tasks like physics and AI (artificial intelligence) calculations, on top of any background tasks running as you game.

Part 1: Intel Processors

Intel Core i7-920

Serving up solid performance and plenty of overclocking potential, the quad-core Intel Core i7-920 is the fastest CPU we will emphasize on for this series. After all, it has the headroom to exceed even Intel's flagship Core i7-975, and we're planning to address overclocked performance later on in the series.

This 45nm, Bloomfield-based, LGA 1366 processor is clocked at 2.66 GHz, has 4 x 256KB L2 caches, an 8MB shared L3 cache, and it features Intel’s Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies.

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550

The Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 provides a good look at what you can still get from the LGA 775 interface, ideal for the folks with slightly older P45/X38/X48 systems and not afraid to upgrade. This 45nm quad-core Yorkfield-based chip is clocked at 2.83 GHz, has 12MB L2 cache between its two physical die, and runs on a 1,333 MT/s FSB.

Intel Core 2 Duo E8400

The Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 is a 45nm, dual-core Wolfdale-based processor with 6MB of L2 cache, also running on a 1,333 MT/s FSB. This once-legendary LGA 775 processor is clocked at 3.0 GHz, but is probably best known for its 4.0+ GHz overclocking potential. 

Intel Pentium E6300

Because there is so much variance in Intel's dual-core processor lineup, no single processor best represented what Intel had to offer. Thus, we were torn between adding a Pentium E5200, E5300, or E6300 to the mix.

All of these 45nm Wolfdale-based chips have 2MB cache and offer big performance once overclocked. But the 2.8GHz Pentium E6300 offers higher stock performance for an extra $15 or so. Unfortunately, its 1,066 MT/s FSB does mean a lower available multiplier when it comes time to overclock.

Part Two: AMD Processors:

AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

The AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is a quad-core Socket AM3 processor with 4 x 512KB L2 cache, and a 6MB shared L3 cache. We could have used this Black Edition (BE) processor to simulate a flagship Phenom II X4 965 BE. But we’ll be overclocking later anyway. Besides, its slightly lower 3.2 GHz stock clock rate and significantly lower price tag combine to enable a more attractive price/performance ratio in favor of AMD's Phenom II X4 955 BE.

AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

We pay close attention to our comments section for each story that goes live, and we know that the AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition is considered by some readers to be one of the best values in gaming processors.

This triple-core Socket AM3 CPU has 3 x 512KB L2 cache and a 6MB shared L3 cache.  At 2.8 GHz, it’s the lowest-clocked Phenom II we’ll be testing in this series.

AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition

The Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is a 3.1 GHz, dual-core, Socket AM3 processor with 2 x 512KB L2 cache and a shared 6MB L3 cache. Of course, like all Phenom II Black Edition chips, the X2 550 has an unlocked multiplier and voltage ID.

As a reminder: there were also numerous processors released since our hardware was originally gathered, including AMD Athlon II and Intel LGA 1156 based Core i5 and i7 CPUs. You can check back here and here to see how these stack up to the models tested today.

Special thanks to Intel and AMD for arranging the CPUs needed to make this entire series possible.

Display all 117 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    1898 , December 1, 2009 6:24 AM
    BlackDays:
    Please, if you want to criticise something make sure you've understood it (read in this case) thoroughly. Otherwise you'll look like an idiot.

    Anyway, this series is made out of win!
    Thank you.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 1, 2009 5:43 AM
    What effect does having a motherboard that unlocks the 4th core on the X2 and X3 have? In power consumption and overall performance? I'm not asking a redo of all the data, just asking for speculation by someone more knowledgeable, if I can get it.
  • 1 Hide
    winner4455 , December 1, 2009 5:57 AM
    YAAAAAAAAAAAY part 2!
  • 10 Hide
    1898 , December 1, 2009 6:24 AM
    BlackDays:
    Please, if you want to criticise something make sure you've understood it (read in this case) thoroughly. Otherwise you'll look like an idiot.

    Anyway, this series is made out of win!
    Thank you.
  • 3 Hide
    knightmike , December 1, 2009 7:08 AM
    This article truly is revolutionary. I have been waiting for an article like this since I began building my own PCs ten years ago. This article coupled with your CPU and GPU hierarchy chart will go a long way towards eliminating CPU/GPU bottlenecks. This article truly is the first of its kind and I hope to see it at least twice a year if not four times a year. Thank you.
  • 8 Hide
    ibnsina , December 1, 2009 7:18 AM
    Great article, it's educational, looking forward to ATI’s 5000’ series comparisons.
  • -4 Hide
    knightmike , December 1, 2009 7:21 AM
    In your conclusion, you state that a $100 CPU does a far better job than a $100 GPU when it comes to maxing out a low resolution like 1280x1024. Can you elaborate?
  • 3 Hide
    amnotanoobie , December 1, 2009 7:47 AM
    Hooray! Now this is a good reference on the forums when people ask for bottlenecks
  • -6 Hide
    scrumworks , December 1, 2009 8:24 AM
    How can this take weeks to plan? Perhaps if one works 15mins a day.

    Good to see vanilla HD4890 puts up a serious fight for GTX 285. Not that it gets any credit for that.

    You should stop using Vista. It's dead already.
  • 0 Hide
    astrodudepsu , December 1, 2009 9:07 AM
    Good article. Will read parts 3&4.
  • 6 Hide
    sheol , December 1, 2009 9:24 AM
    So now comes the next point - why are nvidia's GPU-s consistently requiring a faster CPU to show what they can do, while Radeons perform very well even with a dual core?
    Best example of course is the GTX295 - are nvidia-s drivers really that lousy, or is there something else at play?
  • -3 Hide
    cypeq , December 1, 2009 11:54 AM
    howray at last :D 
  • 2 Hide
    KT_WASP , December 1, 2009 12:01 PM
    Good article. I was awaiting the part 2 showcasing AMD's line-up. I was starting to think you guys at Tom's forgot about it ;) 

    Overall a good article. But,I think these charts can be deceiving though to someone who is not well versed in PC gaming and the hardware involved.

    For example,I have a HD4850 paired with an aging system that incorporates an Athlon64x2 5200+ 2.6GHz Windsor(2x1MB L2 model), 2GB of DDR2 800 (5-5-5-15 timings) and using XP Home with the latest service pack.

    I have yet come across a game I cant play at acceptable frame rates. Granted, I'm not using an ultra-high resolution, but I do up the graphic settings to high/max. I play modern games, some of which are on these charts, and they all play just fine.

    By setting an arbitrary number of frame rates.. some at 40, and some at 45, as "acceptable" can be somewhat misleading. I think that if your gaming using the two of the lower resolutions represented in this article, then I think you'll be happy with one of the lower tiered CPUs and GPUs paired together. Those combination's will get you very played frame rates at the lower resolutions.

    If your going for the higher resolutions, then of course you would have to up the power of the system.. but, I contend that at the lower resolutions, the cheaper hardware will do just fine, and any more money spent is for benchmark numbers alone.

  • 4 Hide
    AZRAELCRUZ , December 1, 2009 12:54 PM

    Clearly the Phenom IIX3 720 is the Core 2 Duo annihilator because the advantage of its extra core...
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , December 1, 2009 12:58 PM
    I'm returning my cards just bought on black friday pny gtx 260 core 216 and pny gtx 275 and exchange them for radeons 4890 and 5850. I'm definitely not going to pay for a new ring around i7-920 to get real benefits.
  • 5 Hide
    superpowter77 , December 1, 2009 1:07 PM
    Interesting article, I'm still shock about nvidia video card limitations, I can't understand why green cards are so CPU dependable. Are those expensive GPU not suppose to offload graphic tasks from CPU's? Why we have to spend more on GPU than a CPU?. I'm building a new ring only to play crysis and farcry2 and will not be spending more than $300 for CPU/motherboard/memory. Now 4890 It's on my list as first choice($179 on sale now), will avoid gtx285 even if they sell it for $200.
  • -6 Hide
    verrul , December 1, 2009 1:48 PM
    look at the 5700 series really close really impressive cards starting to get some in stock paired with the 720 you really cant beat the price/performance combo. and the 5750 will nearly match a 4890 overclocked. under 300 with either card.
  • 1 Hide
    Kelavarus , December 1, 2009 2:05 PM
    I'm in agreement with KT_Wasp here. I've got a friend running a Core 2 Quad, one of the lower versions, not sure which but I think it's around 2.3 Ghz, and they've got a 4850, and they run all their games with the exception of Crysis at all high with no problems. I'm not sure what resolution they play at, but they've got a 1920x1080 screen, so it's definitely not 1024x768. But anyway, completely playable on games like Shattered Horizon and Dragon Age. I don't know what the actual framerates are, but it doesn't stutter at all with no dips and plays very smoothly.
  • 1 Hide
    dark_lord69 , December 1, 2009 2:07 PM
    I wish you did the 4870, cause the 4890 is expensive (Well, more than I want to pay). And I already knew the 4850 wasn't good enough for what I want to run/do.
Display more comments