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Best Gaming CPU: $200 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: November 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for $205:

Core i5-760 (Check Prices)

Core i5-760
Codename: Lynnfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 2.8 GHz  (3.3 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1156
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 8 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The new Core i5-760 ups the ante with a single multiplier ratio bin increase over the Core i5-750, and the 133 MHz stock speed bump makes the new model just a little bit better. With the -750 model rising in price a little, the slightly faster Core i5-760 becomes the obvious choice.

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 i5-760. This is especially the case since the Core i5-760 can be overclocked to great effect if more performance is desired, easily surpassing the stock clock rate of the $1,000 Core i7-980X Extreme Edition.

Perhaps the only performance-based justification we can think of for moving up from a Core i5-760 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 (sink that money into graphics or an SSD instead), there are those of you who have no trouble throwing down serious money on the best of the best, and who require the fastest possible performance available. 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 i7-950 (Check Prices)

Core i7-950
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4/8
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.06 GHz (3.33 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 8 MB
QuickPath Interconnect (QPI): 4.8 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
130 W

Intel's Core i7 has proven itself to be the most powerful gaming CPU option available, and the Core i7-950 is the obvious choice for systems coupled with multiple graphics cards in an SLI or CrossFire configuration, thanks to a recent 50% price reduction.

The X58-based motherboards and triple-channel DDR3 RAM kits that the i7 architecture utilizes 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 i7-950 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. 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 $999:

Core i7-980X Extreme (Check Prices)

Core i7-980X Extreme
Codename: Gulftown
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 6/12
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.33 GHz (3.6 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache: 6 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 12 MB
QPI: 6.4 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
130 W

This six-core monster recently stole the bragging rights for the world's fastest CPU from the Core i7-975 Extreme. Despite the fact that most games don't utilize more than three CPU cores, this is the fastest desktop gaming CPU currently available for purchase, as our tests have shown. Is it worth $999? If you have money growing on trees, are afraid to try to overclock the Core i7-950, want the ease of overclocking that the Extreme Edition's unlocked multiplier provides, and are willing to pay for the bragging rights of having six CPU cores capable of running 12 threads, then it just might be.

Otherwise, the Core i7-980X Extreme is a hard sell from a value standpoint; you'd be better off investing more in graphics or solid state storage.

For more information on Intel's Gulftown architecture and the Core i7-980X processor, read our review right here.

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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    tony singh , November 22, 2010 4:36 AM
    Phenom 2 965 & 970 both @ 3.4 Ghz ?? Come on Tom..
  • 10 Hide
    darkchazz , November 22, 2010 8:55 AM
    Glad to see my Phenom II 955 is on this list , I never regretted buying that cpu.
Other Comments
  • 3 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 22, 2010 4:10 AM
    It's nice to see the Phenom II x6 is still kicking. Can't wait until SB and Bulldozer.

    C'mon guys, I want to see the next "CPU for the Money" with the new chips at hand!
  • 16 Hide
    tony singh , November 22, 2010 4:36 AM
    Phenom 2 965 & 970 both @ 3.4 Ghz ?? Come on Tom..
  • 7 Hide
    buckcm , November 22, 2010 4:50 AM
    Why isn't the Phenom II X4 940 not a recommendation at less than $100? Isn't another $50 in a video card better than getter DDR3 and AM3 vs DDR2 and AM2+?
  • 0 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , November 22, 2010 4:57 AM
    My Core 2 Duo e6750 (purchased 2 years ago) OCd to 3.4 GHZ (2,66 stock) performs preety well in games. The only thing i changed was my nvidia 8800 GT to GeForce gtx 460 and its enaugh for now. Ill wait for the next gen CPUs next year
  • -3 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 22, 2010 4:57 AM
    buckcmWhy isn't the Phenom II X4 940 not a recommendation at less than $100? Isn't another $50 in a video card better than getter DDR3 and AM3 vs DDR2 and AM2+?


    Depends.
  • -7 Hide
    dogman_1234 , November 22, 2010 4:58 AM
    crisan_tiberiuMy Core 2 Duo e6750 (purchased 2 years ago) OCd to 3.4 GHZ (2,66 stock) performs preety well in games. The only thing i changed was my nvidia 8800 GT to GeForce gtx 460 and its enaugh for now. Ill wait for the next gen CPUs next year


    Good idea. Seems we have a happy camper...
  • 4 Hide
    duk3 , November 22, 2010 5:18 AM
    The clock speed of the Phenom x4 970 is 3.5 not 3.4 ghz.
  • 0 Hide
    fstrthnu , November 22, 2010 5:32 AM
    Seems like this late in the year, it'd be better to wait for Sandy Bridge than to get anything right now. February and March aren't THAT far away by now
  • 0 Hide
    sudeshc , November 22, 2010 5:35 AM
    Agreed W8ing for Sandy Bridge would be worth and it not that long.
  • 0 Hide
    Stardude82 , November 22, 2010 6:24 AM
    AMD is no longer so future proof and because of this it's too bad we aren't seeing AM3+ boards out yet. With RAM prices dropping, it would be great to make a jump to DDR3 now.

    I'm thinking it's not a great time now to make a system switch at all with ALL the sockets changing in the near future.
  • 4 Hide
    blibba , November 22, 2010 7:43 AM
    Q9650 on the same hierarchy level as the 980X while the rest of the chart features hierarchy levels often separated by no more than 200mhz? Is this an exponential scale?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 22, 2010 7:55 AM
    can anyone guide me where to buy the Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition (OEM)
    as it not available anywhere in my local store with the rest of phenom II x3. they only have phenom II x2 and x4 and x6 no x3 at all >_
  • 10 Hide
    darkchazz , November 22, 2010 8:55 AM
    Glad to see my Phenom II 955 is on this list , I never regretted buying that cpu.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , November 22, 2010 9:47 AM
    I know they'll never earn a recommendation as they are overpriced and likely relatively slow, but please add the X4 605e and other low-power chips to the chart. For older or less-demanding games, it might be "good enough," depending on where it falls.

  • 5 Hide
    enzo matrix , November 22, 2010 10:10 AM
    DarkMeatcan anyone guide me where to buy the Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition (OEM)as it not available anywhere in my local store with the rest of phenom II x3. they only have phenom II x2 and x4 and x6 no x3 at all >_

    1. Hang on let me use my psychic powers to find out where you live.
    2. This is what the forums are for, not the comments. Make a thread on the forums and link me to it in a PM and I will be more than happy to help.
  • 2 Hide
    enzo matrix , November 22, 2010 10:13 AM
    Ok, why is the i5 760 only an honourable mention? You guys never explained why it was an honourable mention and not a recommended?
  • 4 Hide
    englandr753 , November 22, 2010 10:51 AM
    As buckcm mentioned, this is a very good deal and I swept up two of these:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103644&cm_re=amd_940-_-19-103-644-_-Product

    I know its an OEM but should at least deserve an honorable mention. For those of us that have heatsinks for paperweights lying around, this is a no brainer purchase if you have a pre-existing system to upgrade.

    When is the last time anyone has had to RMA a cpu? I'd like to hear that story...
  • 3 Hide
    jj463rd , November 22, 2010 11:46 AM
    buckcmWhy isn't the Phenom II X4 940 not a recommendation at less than $100? Isn't another $50 in a video card better than getter DDR3 and AM3 vs DDR2 and AM2+?

    Yeah that's the OEM version (and no heatsink and fan comes with it).
    Although it's an AM2+ CPU at about $96 over at newegg it's a fantastic buy
    especially for AM2+ board upgraders.I was looking at the passmark website where they they had a list of the performance vs cost of CPU's.It indeed is near the top of that list.
  • 3 Hide
    schwizer , November 22, 2010 11:48 AM
    I'm guessing the specs for the 970 were copy/pasted from the 965 but the title and clock speed were not updated.
  • -4 Hide
    pinkfloydminnesota , November 22, 2010 12:07 PM
    Microcenter has had the i7 950 for $280 for over a month, and lately on sale for $200, no rebates no nothing.

    Since they don't advertize here you don't put that price up?
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