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Best Gaming CPU: $200 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: November '09
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Best gaming CPU for $200:

Core i5-750 (Check Prices)

Core i5 750
Codename: Lynnfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L2 Cache: 4 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   8MB
QuickPath Interconnect (QPI): -
Thermal Envelope:
  95W

The new Core i5 brings top of the line Nehalem-class performance down to the $200 price point. We recently awarded it our Recommended Buy honor after seeing it stand up to more expensive CPUs in games and other demanding apps.

For those desiring the best possible performance, the Core i5-750 can be overclocked to great effect, performing similarly to the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme at its stock settings when pushed a bit.

Read our review of the Core i5-750, right here.

Past the Point of Reason:

With rapidly-increasing prices over $200 offering smaller and smaller performance boosts in games, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Core i5-750. This is especially the case since the Core i5-750 can be overclocked to great effect if more performance is desired, easily surpassing the stock clock rate of the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme.

Perhaps the only performance-based justification we can think of for moving up from a Core i5-750 is that LGA 1156 processors have an inherent limit of 16 PCIe lanes for graphics use. This is an architectural detail that the LGA 1156-based Core i5 and Core i7 processors share, so if a gamer plans to use more than two graphics cards in CrossFire or SLI, the LGA 1366 Core i7-900-series processors are the way to go.

To summarize, while we recommend against purchasing any CPU that retails for more than $200 from a value point of view, there are those of you for whom money might not be much of an object and who require the best possible performance money can buy. If you're buying several hundred dollars worth of graphics and are worried about a potential platform bottleneck, we recommend the following CPUs:

Best gaming CPU for $280:

Core i7-920 (Check Prices)

Core i7 920
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache: 4 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   8MB
QuickPath Interconnect (QPI): 4.8 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
  130W

Intel's Core i7 has proven itself to be the most powerful gaming CPU option available, based on the data we have gathered. The Core i7-920 is a great choice for systems coupled with multiple graphics cards in an SLI or CrossFire configuration.

The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires will bring the total platform cost higher than other systems, but the resulting performance should be worth the purchase price.

While the Core i5 performs similarly, there are a few applications and games that can take advantage of the Core i7 900-series' HyperThreading and triple-channel memory features, so spending the extra money on the Core i7-920 can pay off, particularly if you plan to overclock.

In addition, LGA 1156-based Core i5 and Core i7 processors are limited to 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes, but the LGA 1366-based Core i7-900s do not share this limitation, since they get their PCI Express connectivity from the X58 chipset. This makes the LGA 1366 Core i7 processors a good choice for CrossFire or SLI configurations with more than two graphics cards.

Best gaming CPU for $1,000:

Core i7-975 Extreme (Check Prices)

Core i7 975 Extreme
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache: 4 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   8MB
QPI: 6.4 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
  130W

This is the big kahuna, the fastest gaming CPU currently available for purchase, as our game tests show. Is it worth $1,000? If you have money growing on trees, are afraid to try to overclock the Core i7-920, want the ease of overclocking that the Extreme Edition's unlocked multiplier provides, and are willing to pay for the bragging rights, then it just might be.

Otherwise, the Core i7-975 Extreme is a hard sell from a value standpoint; you'd be better off investing more in graphics or solid state storage.

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  • -4 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , November 23, 2009 5:26 AM
    E7500 still going strong and on the list....
  • 4 Hide
    Otus , November 23, 2009 5:54 AM
    AFAIKT, Athlon II 425 runs at 2700 MHz, not 2800 MHz.
  • 8 Hide
    laweinhander , November 23, 2009 6:25 AM
    The athlon x3's DO NOT have 3 mb of l2 cache !
    This needs changed asap...
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3,2452-2.html
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , November 23, 2009 6:58 AM
    laweinhanderThe athlon x3's DO NOT have 3 mb of l2 cache !This needs changed asap...http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] 452-2.html


    Fixed!
  • 3 Hide
    IzzyCraft , November 23, 2009 7:04 AM
    oh hilarity ensues

    edit: osse you can edit your posts but finding the forum and post is not that easy, you can even delete a post if you go into full edit instead of a quick edit

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum2.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=56&post=2466&page=1&p=1&sondage=0&owntopic=1&trash=0&trash_post=0&print=0&numreponse=0"e_only=0&new=0&nojs=0

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum-56.html

    And the reason why cpus are tested at low resolutions is more academic then practical yes but it does show in theory that what a cpu can do when other parts of the computer isn't holding it back mainly the gpu as "practical" test can't show everyone's personal set up and quarks of a system
  • 0 Hide
    4ILY45 , November 23, 2009 7:07 AM
    pentium dual-core E2160 still there..
  • 0 Hide
    2shea , November 23, 2009 8:24 AM
    @ osse, 1 to 4 frames difference is not something I would call worthless performance... That can easily be a difference because of slightly other parts besides the cpu as it would be the cpu.
    And if it were so that it was 1-4 frames slower that still doesn't mean it is slower on all facets of cpu usage. ofcourse gaming is important but other tasks it will outperform amd easily.
  • -9 Hide
    2shea , November 23, 2009 8:24 AM
    @ osse, 1 to 4 frames difference is not something I would call worthless performance... That can easily be a difference because of slightly other parts besides the cpu as it would be the cpu.
    And if it were so that it was 1-4 frames slower that still doesn't mean it is slower on all facets of cpu usage. ofcourse gaming is important but other tasks it will outperform amd easily.
  • 2 Hide
    batuchka , November 23, 2009 8:35 AM
    Actually with latest prices in the $100-150 cataogory we have
    Phenom 2 x4 925 @ $141 :p 
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103656
    Locked multi but still good to go for clocking hehe
  • 0 Hide
    copfrance , November 23, 2009 8:36 AM
    I have asked this question op a number of forums but nobody seems to know the answer. What is the CPU design software that AMD and Intel use for designing their processors. Maybe Cadence products?
  • 0 Hide
    Onyx2291 , November 23, 2009 8:40 AM
    Good to consider then build around. Will help with the few builds I am considering.
  • -4 Hide
    osse , November 23, 2009 9:45 AM
    @2shea

    I for the most agree that 1-4 frames isnt much, and it wasnt in that context i refered to the 2 tests where high end grapic card is used 5850/5870.

    While there is no diffrense in 100 vs 130 frames, there can be a diffrense between 40 and 44 frames in gamer experience. However small.

    It was in the context to the claim that i5-750 is superior in gaming. When it actually loose when you have settings that gamers want.

    Edit:
    And i was actually more supprised when guru matched i7-940 vs phenom 965, espeially in Far cry, wich should be a very good game for Nehalm, I7-940 wins big times on 1024x768, but looses with a few frames when we go to 1920x1200.
    with gamer settings : high-quality DX10 mode with 4x AA (anti-aliasing) and 16x AF (anisotropic filtering).

    Same happens in Brother In Arms, i7-940 wins big time 1024x768, and looses with a few frames in 1920x1200. In crysis they tie at 1920x1200, and resident evil I7-940 wins good.

    But the conclusion so far of tests out on the web with gamer setting , is that overall phenomII 965 is abel to pull a few more frames out of the radeon 58xx, both against the i5-750 and i7-940. On stock speed.

    And that is the oposit result of what you would expect from testing in low resolutions and no grapic effects tells us, there both i5-750 and i7-940 wins big time.
  • 1 Hide
    gtvr , November 23, 2009 10:10 AM
    I just bought an i750 at Microcenter for $149. Great steal, not sure if they have pics of Andy Grove or something, but that changed the price/performance enough for me to go Intel this time around - I'd been looking at Phenom II x3s until that find.
  • 0 Hide
    evongugg , November 23, 2009 10:27 AM
    It would be nice to do an overclocked section, so we could compare overclcocked to non overclocked processors. It is being done here:

    http://www.cpubenchmark.net/overclocked_cpus.html


  • 2 Hide
    ifko_pifko , November 23, 2009 12:53 PM
    Uhm... what is E7500 doing there, when there is also E6500, which supports virtualization... unlike the E7500?
  • -4 Hide
    ifko_pifko , November 23, 2009 12:53 PM
    Uhm... what is E7500 doing there, when there is also E6500, which supports virtualization... unlike the E7500?
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