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Best Gaming CPU: $200 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for $200: None

Honorable Mention:
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. And while it's certainly worth the $15 updrade over the Core i5-750 for overclockers, folks running the CPU at stock speeds won't notice a difference.

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 $285:

Core i7-930 (Check Prices)

Core i7-930
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4/8
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 2.8 GHz (3.06 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 i7-930 is a great choice for systems coupled with multiple graphics cards in an SLI or CrossFire configuration.

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 i7-930 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. 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 i7-930, 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
  • 13 Hide
    yesitsmario , September 27, 2010 6:22 AM
    The Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.
  • 13 Hide
    Lessqqmorepewpew , September 27, 2010 6:13 AM
    The Phenom II X4 series is a true blessing to the budget minded consumer/gamer. ty AMD, can't wait for what's in store next :) 
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Lessqqmorepewpew , September 27, 2010 6:13 AM
    The Phenom II X4 series is a true blessing to the budget minded consumer/gamer. ty AMD, can't wait for what's in store next :) 
  • 7 Hide
    Poisoner , September 27, 2010 6:20 AM
    I have an i5 760 and it does overclock very well. I got mine to 4.4ghz without even trying.

    But you guys missed the i7 950 being only 15 bucks more than the 930.
  • 13 Hide
    yesitsmario , September 27, 2010 6:22 AM
    The Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.
  • -6 Hide
    Tamz_msc , September 27, 2010 6:23 AM
    How could you miss the i7 950?
  • 6 Hide
    amk09 , September 27, 2010 6:36 AM
    Tamz_mscHow could you miss the i7 950?


    Because this is an article about the best gaming CPU's and anything above an i5 760 is unnecessary and doesn't provide noticeable performance increases
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 27, 2010 6:52 AM
    The i7 950 price drop should have been the headline of this month
    one of the fastest in the world for only 300$
    all of the new ones comming are just some more in the landscape nothing more than that
  • 9 Hide
    wintermint , September 27, 2010 7:14 AM
    I applause AMD for providing us with cheap, efficient CPUs :D 
  • 4 Hide
    Shivetya , September 27, 2010 7:23 AM
    Guess not much is gonna change aside from 100-200 MHz bumps in speed until Sandy Bridge and Bulldozer hit the market...
  • -5 Hide
    KingArcher , September 27, 2010 7:29 AM
    @ Don Woligroski
    At $280 I'd say the core i7 870 is better than core i7 930.
    And i7 870 is almost the same performance as i7 950 others have suggested.

    Thanks for that sweet CPU Chart on the last page.

    edit: my bad, I typed i5 instead of i7. Corrected it
  • 9 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 27, 2010 7:34 AM
    Too bad the PhenomIIx3 740BE 3.0GHz at $90 is OEM (no HSF), it would make a fine choice at it's price point.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103699
  • 1 Hide
    rutoojinn , September 27, 2010 7:54 AM
    KingArcher@ Don WoligroskiAt $280 I'd say the core i5 870 is better than core i7 930.And i5 870 is almost the same performance as i7 950 others have suggested.Thanks for that sweet CPU Chart on the last page.


    Is that a typo? i5 870? The chipsets are different also. So that will also factor in what you plan on buying. That is either the i5 760 or the i7 870. My final thought they are pretty much in the same tier so saying which one is better than the other doesn't make much sense to me.
  • -1 Hide
    rutoojinn , September 27, 2010 8:00 AM
    Damn I can't edit what I post.... I mean when you compare the i7 870 and the i7 930. Finally the i7 950 is ridiculously priced right now. I don't know if this is permanent or on sale but for 300 for the i7 950 that is my choice if I were to start a new system.
  • -2 Hide
    jsowoc , September 27, 2010 8:02 AM
    How is the upgradeable processor any different from what AMD does now, with selling you a quad-core for the price of a dual-core?

    Except Intel wants to charge money for it...
  • -2 Hide
    7amood , September 27, 2010 8:28 AM
    please next time add the cpu BCLK/MULTIPLIER, it's just one more table entry.
    it's nice to know how far can you bump teh processor without changing the BCLK.
  • -1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , September 27, 2010 8:52 AM
    amk09Because this is an article about the best gaming CPU's and anything above an i5 760 is unnecessary and doesn't provide noticeable performance increases

    Yes, but it should be in place of the 930.
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , September 27, 2010 9:54 AM
    yesitsmarioThe Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.


    /agree
    Cant wait to get one soon!
  • 0 Hide
    tmk221 , September 27, 2010 10:02 AM
    doesn't make any sens to me to put athlon x3 450 for $90 on the list while there is x3 445 for $78 only...
  • 9 Hide
    doron , September 27, 2010 10:08 AM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i3-gaming,2588-9.html

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3-440-gaming-performance,2619-5.html

    look at the far cry 2 and crysis performance, at the first review and then at the second. Both benches conducted with a hd5850 and the phII 720 ~ athlon II x3, same goes for the i7 870 and the 920 The first review clearly shows that a phII x3 @ 2.8ghz (and an athlon x3 3.0ghz, for that matter) produces the same performance as the i7, and sometimes even surpasses it by 1 fps.

    Wait, what happens in the 2nd review?

    The first review came out by my personal favorite, Thomas Soderstorm, who likes to show things the way they are, even if it means writing a whole article with monotonic graphs all the way.

    The second review came right after the first one, clearly manipulating graphics setting - Why would anyone who buys these kind of rigs play far cry 2 at high and not ulrta.. and don't even get me started about the almost complete lack of AA / AF in tomshardware reviews. Why you ask? The less graphical settings, the more cpu difference is shown. This is a joke of course since even a ~300$ gpu, which is a sum most people won't be willing to pay, will bottleneck even the "lowly" athlon II x3 cpu @ maximum settings - again, show me 1 person in this planet who wouldn't want to crank max settings on these kind of rigs.

    Further reading on the 2nd article shows the minimum fps, which doesn't really say anything unless you're really into paying ~180$ just for a 10 fps increase on world in conflict (and a slight decrease in stalker) which is a single-player RTS.. Doh..

    But why stop there? Now lets see how these cpus fare against each other with hd5870 crossfire configuration. These cards will have no problem playing every single game available at 2560x1600, and even in an eyefinity setup which, by connecting 3 full-hd monitors, can produce more pixels than the 2560x1600 at a lower price, and even get 6 of these monit... Well you know that already! but price is probably not an issue for you if you get 2 5870.. No? Guess not! They only show resolutions up to 2560x1600, again at high settings only which is of course misleading because when they write "high settings" you naturally assume that these are the highest settings possible. Guess not.

    (Well this is getting long but I never had the energy to write all this and I started already so... Ok moving on :D )

    Last but not least (finally my boss is getting angry at me :p ), the article shows the athlon II with dual 5870 and the i7 with a single 5850. The athlon already wins at 2560x1600, but that's where they stop. High settings of course, why cranking it all up?

    Finally, my point is - Toms, you could say that the i7-930 is justified if a guy wants to buy a hefty gpu config, but not based on this article like you're just doing. I'm not calling bias or anything, it's just too bad that you didn't show us this data that you showed in the aforementioned artiel and the same data only with the highest graphical settings possible (including AA / AF maxed).
  • 2 Hide
    doron , September 27, 2010 10:29 AM
    L0tusBlatantly false. There are countless charts on this site alone that show a i5-vs-i7 +10fps increase in some games. And when you look at non-mainstream cpu-heavy games such as Football Manager, the effect is even more pronounced.I swear, this AMD fanboyism must die.


    Yeah football manager is such an intensive game you can't play it on anything less than a 980x!!! /sarcasm
    And regarding your "charts".. Just read my long reply above.
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