Part 1: Building A Balanced Gaming PC

Processors

While a powerful GPU is certainly an important component in a balanced gaming PC, graphics performance alone does not guarantee an enjoyable experience. The processor (or CPU, as we've been calling it), amongst other factors, must cope with other tasks like physics and AI (artificial intelligence) calculations, on top of any background tasks running as you game.

Part 1: Intel Processors

Intel Core i7-920

Serving up solid performance and plenty of overclocking potential, the quad-core Intel Core i7-920 is the fastest CPU we will emphasize on for this series. After all, it has the headroom to exceed even Intel's flagship Core i7-975, and we're planning to address overclocked performance later on in the series.

This 45nm, Bloomfield-based, LGA 1366 processor is clocked at 2.66 GHz, has 4 x 256KB L2 caches, an 8MB shared L3 cache, and it features Intel’s Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies.

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550

The Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 provides a good look at what you can still get from the LGA 775 interface, ideal for the folks with slightly older P45/X38/X48 systems and not afraid to upgrade. This 45nm quad-core Yorkfield-based chip is clocked at 2.83 GHz, has 12MB L2 cache between its two physical die, and runs on a 1,333 MT/s FSB.

Intel Core 2 Duo E8400

The Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 is a 45nm, dual-core Wolfdale-based processor with 6MB of L2 cache, also running on a 1,333 MT/s FSB. This once-legendary LGA 775 processor is clocked at 3.0 GHz, but is probably best known for its 4.0+ GHz overclocking potential. 

Intel Pentium E6300

Because there is so much variance in Intel's dual-core processor lineup, no single processor best represented what Intel had to offer. Thus, we were torn between adding a Pentium E5200, E5300, or E6300 to the mix.

All of these 45nm Wolfdale-based chips have 2MB cache and offer big performance once overclocked. But the 2.8GHz Pentium E6300 offers higher stock performance for an extra $15 or so. Unfortunately, its 1,066 MT/s FSB does mean a lower available multiplier when it comes time to overclock.

Part Two: AMD Processors:

AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

The AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition is a quad-core Socket AM3 processor with 4 x 512KB L2 cache, and a 6MB shared L3 cache. We could have used this Black Edition (BE) processor to simulate a flagship Phenom II X4 965 BE. But we’ll be overclocking later anyway. Besides, its slightly lower 3.2 GHz stock clock rate and significantly lower price tag combine to enable a more attractive price/performance ratio in favor of AMD's Phenom II X4 955 BE.

AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

We pay close attention to our comments section for each story that goes live, and we know that the AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition is considered by some readers to be one of the best values in gaming processors.

This triple-core Socket AM3 CPU has 3 x 512KB L2 cache and a 6MB shared L3 cache.  At 2.8 GHz, it’s the lowest-clocked Phenom II we’ll be testing in this series.

AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition

The Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition is a 3.1 GHz, dual-core, Socket AM3 processor with 2 x 512KB L2 cache and a shared 6MB L3 cache. Of course, like all Phenom II Black Edition chips, the X2 550 has an unlocked multiplier and voltage ID.

As a reminder: there were also numerous processors released since our hardware was originally gathered, including AMD Athlon II and Intel LGA 1156 based Core i5 and i7 CPUs. You can check back here and here to see how these stack up to the models tested today.

Special thanks to Intel and AMD for arranging the CPUs needed to make this entire series possible.

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    Top Comments
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
    18
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • yoy0yo
    Wow, this is an amazingly in depth review! I kinda feel that its sponsered by Asus or Corsair, but I guess you kept with the same brand for the sake of controls etc.

    Thankyou!
    4
  • winner4455
    I see a great series coming
    18
  • inmytaxi
    Very helpful stuff.

    I'd like to see some discussion on the availability of sub $400 (at times as low as $280) 28" monitors. At this price range, does it make more sense to spend more on the LCD even if less is spent initially on graphics? I would think the benefit of 28" vs. 22" is so great that the extra money could be taken from, say, a 9550 + 4890 combo and getting a 8400/6300 + 4850 instead, with the right motherboard a second 4850 later will pass a 4890 anyway.
    2
  • frozenlead
    I like the balance charts. It's a good way to characterize the data. This article is well constructed and well thought-out.

    That being said - is there a way we can compile this data and compute an "optimized" system for the given hardware available? Finding the true, calculated sweet spot for performance/$ would be so nice to have on hand every quarter or twice a year. I'll have to think about this one for a while. There may be some concessions to make, and it might not even work out. But it would be so cool.
    6
  • ghost111
    Nice one.Now i want to see part two.
    1
  • Neggers
    I feel like the person that did this review got it finished alittle bit late. I can only assume he did all the testing some months back and has only just finished writing up his results. But its sad to not see the new P55/i5 Systems, AMD Athlon II Quad Cores, or the Radeon 5000 series.

    Good review, but hopefully it can be updated soon with some of the newer equipment thats out, to turn it into a fantastic guide for people.
    -11
  • brockh
    Great job, this is the information people need to be seeing; the way people provide benchmarks these days hardly tells the story to most of the readers. It's definitely important to point out the disparities in ones CPU choice, rather than just assuming everyone uses the i7 all the sites choose. ;)

    Looking forward to part 2.
    2
  • sinny1
    wow! Awesome works! Can't wait til you guys get to the ATI 5000 series. Keep it up! :)
    4
  • Onyx2291
    This will take up some of my time. Even though I know how, it's nice to get a refresher every now and then.
    0
  • mohsh86
    you are really kidding me by not considering the ATI 5000 series, although am a fan of nvidia , but this is not fair !
    -15
  • scook9
    amazing article....one of the best I have seen in a long time (from any site)

    you all deserve a raise :)
    1
  • anamaniac
    Very nice.

    The picture on the first page is better than any porno I've ever seen!
    1
  • evolve60
    Quote:
    Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (Yorkfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 775, FSB-1333, 12MB L2 cache
    I'm pretty sure that its the Q9450/9400 is the one that runs at 2.66 GHz The Q9550 runs at 2.83 GHz.
    2
  • liquidsnake718
    It took me roughly an hour and a half to read this article at work. Wow these are the types of tests and in depth articles that I’ve been waiting for. Its been about a month to two months since we’ve had such a deep study. The System Builder Marathon reviews and tests were great. The best GPU’s per price/performance are lacking and basic comparisons while this article shows us the true value and capabilities of certain GPU’s and CPU’s.

    Im however perplexed that the once good 4850 which is compared to my 9800GTX+ is deemed a weaker GPU now. I thought the Far Cry 2 tests shown in previous TOMs comparisons garnerd higher frame rates? I know that the systems were comparable.... Anyway keep up the good work and this is a Quality comparison/chart/review.
    1
  • Saiyanz
    This is a great review that people who are building pc's actual need to see.

    I was quite surprised by the power of the HD4890. It thumped the GTX285 and more powerful cards when using a dual core CPU. Even in Crysis which always seemed like it favoured Nvidia cards in past reviews. It is probably that the previous reviews all used overclocked quad cores and/or the ATI drivers have really improved.

    It also seems as though the Nvidia cards need a more powerful CPU in order to get equivalent performance to the ATI cards.
    1
  • Bloodblender
    It's just these kind of articles that make TH shine over the other sites. Well done!
    9
  • astrodudepsu
    Looking forward to the rest of the series. Well done.
    1
  • skora
    Thank you Paul and team for sacrificing many weeks on this project. Its great to have something to point at and say this is why you shouldn't do that. It will be great to be able do direct price/performance comparison for the same results of a less expensive OC'd system and stock system.

    Can't wait for the rest!!!!!

    Also, whats the chance of getting a how to run you're own benchmarks article so we can test our systems against yours using the same method?
    2
  • osse
    This is good, this must be the first time in computer history things are beeing done right. And this is sure the best way i ever seen a review done, in my 18 yrs as an entusiastic computer builder. Looking forward to all the updates to come.
    10
  • masterjaw
    My PC says 'bring in the part 2'. Is this would be a series also like the best GPU/CPU?
    1