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Best Gaming CPU: $195 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2010
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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 at a $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 $295:

Core i7-930 (Check Prices)

Core i7-920
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.8 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 i7-930 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 i7-930 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 $990:

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 i7-930, 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.

Bear in mind also that Intel recently announced its Core i7-980X. When that becomes available, it'll invariably become the fastest option you can buy.

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