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Best Gaming CPU: $195 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: January '10
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Best gaming CPU for $195:

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 just under 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 $289:

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' Hyper-Threading 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 $970:

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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  • 7 Hide
    08nwsula , January 19, 2010 5:35 AM
    I've wanted an i7-920 system for a while now but I don't really know if it's worth the extra dough now that the 15-750 system is starting to cost so much less.
  • 0 Hide
    masterjaw , January 19, 2010 5:38 AM
    Very neat article as usual.

    Lots of new stuff in the list with the inclusion of new Intel CPUs.

    Hopefully, there would be something new that will come from AMD.
  • 2 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , January 19, 2010 5:47 AM
    08nwsulaI've wanted an i7-920 system for a while now but I don't really know if it's worth the extra dough now that the 15-750 system is starting to cost so much less.



    Yes the LGA1336 system is worth it... the prices are probably going to drop just a tad bit in the next few months as there are also a bunch of sub$200 core 1336mbs out there. If you read this article, the author even states that it will be well worth it especially this year when usb3.0, sata and ssds become cheaper and the norm. Expect to see a new LGA1336 processor coming out as well but for now the i7 920 is a jewel. It is like the older q6600 when it first came out. Great in overclocking and really preforms well overall fora decent price. There are few problems with heat, games, video, processes, ect that the i7 920 will give you....
  • 4 Hide
    anamaniac , January 19, 2010 5:49 AM
    08nwsulaI've wanted an i7-920 system for a while now but I don't really know if it's worth the extra dough now that the 15-750 system is starting to cost so much less.

    If you're going multi-GPU, go for a i7 920, otherwise, grab its cheaper brother.
    masterjawVery neat article as usual.Lots of new stuff in the list with the inclusion of new Intel CPUs.Hopefully, there would be something new that will come from AMD.

    We can only hope. Sad to say, but I think I'd rather a Intel 32nm dual core with HT over a quad core AMD.

    AMD, wake up pretty pleae. My old 1.6GHz athlon (which I still have, though it's burried under a foot of snow outside) was a beast, and my Pentium D and i7 since just haven't felt to par for me.
  • 0 Hide
    dlpatague , January 19, 2010 6:19 AM
    I just built my first i7 comp and I'm going to purchase a 920 for now until the 930 comes out (I'm going to sell the 920 to a friend who is going to be building a comp soon). Are there any performance/spec numbers as of yet and what to expect comparing the 930 to the 920? I know it's 32nm and 2.8GHz, so I'm assuming that the performance will probably compare more to something like the 940 or 950 and it should overclock just as well if not better.
  • 0 Hide
    Ehsan w , January 19, 2010 7:18 AM
    what reason is there to pick the core i5 660 over the core i5 670??
    core i5 660 is $208,- while the 670 is $200,-
    The 670 also has faster clocks, anybody know??
  • 3 Hide
    daeros , January 19, 2010 7:24 AM
    I just noticed the PII X4 910 is rated below the PII X4 810. Can someone please explain to me if this is just an error, or, if not, how is it that increasing cache size by 50% hurts performance.
  • 0 Hide
    barmaley , January 19, 2010 7:58 AM
    dlpatagueI just built my first i7 comp and I'm going to purchase a 920 for now until the 930 comes out (I'm going to sell the 920 to a friend who is going to be building a comp soon). Are there any performance/spec numbers as of yet and what to expect comparing the 930 to the 920? I know it's 32nm and 2.8GHz, so I'm assuming that the performance will probably compare more to something like the 940 or 950 and it should overclock just as well if not better.


    According to this wiki page i7 930 is still 45nm:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_future_Intel_Core_i7_microprocessors#.22Gulftown.22_.2832_nm.29
  • 0 Hide
    jfem , January 19, 2010 8:39 AM
    I think the tier below phenom II x4 BE 965,955 should be phenom II x4, 945, 940... not phenom x4 945, 940...
  • 0 Hide
    huron , January 19, 2010 11:04 AM
    Always look forward to these articles. Thanks again.

    I do appreciate the value perspective and not recommending the 920, since most value-minded people would not go for multi-GPU setups that need a far more expensive board like the X58.
  • 0 Hide
    thedreadfather , January 19, 2010 11:24 AM
    Isn't the Phenom II 720 only 109.99 at newegg?
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103652
    True enough there's no heatsink, but you can still get a half-decent one for ~$20.
  • 2 Hide
    marraco , January 19, 2010 11:27 AM
    08nwsulaI've wanted an i7-920 system for a while now but I don't really know if it's worth the extra dough now that the 15-750 system is starting to cost so much less.


    I own a Core i7-920, and no. It's not worth the extra cost. It cost more, RAM cost more, mother cost more, at it eats so much more power, that you will need to buy a better power source.

    also it produces too many heat, and gets too high temperature, so is not really a good overclocker, unless you also spend on a really really expensive cooler.

    the 920 only makes sense if you plan to go for SLI/Crossfire, but then again, dual video cards only make sense if you use only top cards.
    otherwise, go for cards with dual video on a single package (as the ati 5950, or Geforce 295) because they eat less power, are more silent, produces less heat (which is a real problem with the 920), and don't ask for so expensive power sources.
  • 0 Hide
    El_Capitan , January 19, 2010 11:54 AM
    thedreadfatherIsn't the Phenom II 720 only 109.99 at newegg?http://www.newegg.com/Product/Prod [...] 6819103652True enough there's no heatsink, but you can still get a half-decent one for ~$20.

    You don't need an after-market heatsink with the Phenom II x3 720, you can overclock it to 3.4 GHz stable with the stock heatsink, just apply good thermal compound (at the least, Arctic Silver 5). I compared two of my builds, one with a $35 heatsink and one with stock, and the differences in heat is minimal unless the CPU is stressed, then the difference is around 5C. However, with the stock cooler, you won't be able to overclock to 3.7 GHz. :) 
  • 2 Hide
    envolva , January 19, 2010 12:02 PM
    The i5-750 have the best value for gaming at this time. Even using SLI/Crossfire the platform loses very little performance. And with the money you save you can spend more on your graphic card. Besides with monsters like the ATI 5850 or anything better, you won't have to worry with SLI or Crossfire anyway.

    If you are not afraid of overclocking you will be good for long while.
  • -4 Hide
    El_Capitan , January 19, 2010 12:06 PM
    marracoI own a Core i7-920, and no. It's not worth the extra cost. It cost more, RAM cost more, mother cost more, at it eats so much more power, that you will need to buy a better power source.also it produces too many heat, and gets too high temperature, so is not really a good overclocker, unless you also spend on a really really expensive cooler.the 920 only makes sense if you plan to go for SLI/Crossfire, but then again, dual video cards only make sense if you use only top cards.otherwise, go for cards with dual video on a single package (as the ati 5950, or Geforce 295) because they eat less power, are more silent, produces less heat (which is a real problem with the 920), and don't ask for so expensive power sources.


    RAM does not cost more, wtf are you talking about? Motherboard and Heatsink costs are what set you back. For a $170 Motherboard and a $35 Heatsink, you can overclock stable at 3.6 GHz. For a $300 Motherboard and a $55+ cooling solution, you can hit the 4.0 GHz stable. It's all up to whether you, as a builder, sees a need for a 400 MHz additional overclock for $150 (or $37.50 per 100 MHz).

    The Core i7-920 is the BLACK of CPU's. Once you go BLACK, you don't go back...
  • 2 Hide
    El_Capitan , January 19, 2010 12:16 PM
    The biggest factor I see for getting a CPU is what it's intended for, and if the prices for higher-line CPU's ever go down. Owning an LGA 1366 x58 and an AM3 motherboard, I know there's an upgrade in the future lined up for both the Intel and AMD world regarding CPU and Video Card upgrades. The LGA 1156? It's a dead end to me.
  • 0 Hide
    callousdigits , January 19, 2010 12:17 PM
    Microcenter (if you're near one) has the I5-650 for $149.99. I really wish it was time for me to upgrade!
  • 3 Hide
    San Pedro , January 19, 2010 12:23 PM
    I still don't think 4.0 ghz is really needed for games. Once you start cranking up settings/resolution you're much more likely to hit a GPU bottleneck that will mean your overclock has no tangible effects in gaming, at least if you're using a quad core. I know a few articles on this site have showed that is the case.

    Now if I only can get my wife to let me buy the Q9400 replacement that is coming out soon, I think I'll be good for another 2 years on my system.
  • 0 Hide
    warmon6 , January 19, 2010 12:24 PM
    callousdigitsMicrocenter (if you're near one) has the I5-650 for $149.99. I really wish it was time for me to upgrade!


    Not any more

    http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0317379
  • 0 Hide
    warmon6 , January 19, 2010 12:37 PM
    warmon6Not any morehttp://www.microcenter.com/single_ [...] id=0317379


    Never mind. Though it said 750.....

    Tom, when are going to get an edit feature in this!
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