|Best Gaming CPUs: $200 And Up|
|Best Gaming CPU for $220||Best Gaming CPU for $330
|Best Gaming CPU for $570|
|Product||Intel Core i5-3570K||Intel Core i7-3770K||Intel Core i7-3930K|
|Analysis||The Core i5-3570K's base clock rate is only 300 MHz faster than the Core i5-3350P's. However, the K-series' unlocked ratio multiplier is a must-have for overclockers looking to unleash significant performance improvements. It is for this reason alone that you'll want to consider shelling out an additional $40 beyond Intel's more entry-level Core i5. After all, the pricier chip's HD Graphics 4000 engine is inconsequential to us.
If you don't plan to overclock, then there's little reason to spend any more than $180 on the Core i5-3350P.
Read our review of the Ivy Bridge-based CPUs.
|The Core i7-3770K only enjoys a 100 MHz-higher clock rate than the Core i5-3570K. Its real advantage is an extra 2 MB of L3 cache and Intel's Hyper-Threading feature.
Neither of those extras have a big impact on gaming, but there is a small number of titles (like Crysis 3) that take advantage of extra resources, translating to a performance increase. Having said that, this is still rare, and the Core i7-3770K will be more useful to power users who want better performance in well-threaded apps, in addition to the best frame rates in games.
Read our review of the Ivy Bridge-based CPUs
|Take the $1,000 Core i7-3970X, remove 3 MB of L3 cache, and drop the base clock rate by 300 MHz. What do end up with? Four hundred dollars and change left over, and an Intel Core i7-3930K.
The 300 MHz difference in clock rate is hardly relevant, given unlocked multiplier ratios benefiting both CPUs. And you'd be hard-pressed to quantify the advantage of 15 MB of shared L3 cache over 12 MB. Moreover, a greater-than-$400 savings lets you buy a nice motherboard and cooler, while still getting the same four-channel memory subsystem and 40-lane PCI Express 3.0-capable controller.
Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-E based CPUs.
|Performance (indexed to 100%)
|Architecture||Ivy Bridge||Ivy Bridge||Sandy Bridge-E|
|Frequency (Turbo)||3.4 (3.8) GHz||3.5 (3.9) GHz||3.2 (3.8) GHz|
|Cores (Threads)||4 (4)||4 (8)||6 (12)|
|Cache (L1, L2, L3)||4 x 64 KB, 4 x 256 KB, 6 MB||4 x 64 KB, 4 x 256 KB, 8 MB||6 x 64 KB, 6 x 256 KB, 12 MB|
|Integrated GPU||HD Graphics 4000 (650 MHz, 1.15 GHz Turbo)||HD Graphics 4000 (650 MHz, 1.15 GHz Turbo)||N/A|
|Memory Support||DDR3-1333/1600, dual-channel, up to 32 GB||DDR3-1333/1600, dual-channel, up to 32 GB||DDR3-1066/1333/1600, quad-channel, up to 64 GB|
|TDP||77 W||77 W||130 W|
|Process||22 nm||22 nm||32 nm|
|Socket||LGA 1155||LGA 1155||LGA 2011|
Diminishing Returns Kick In:
CPUs priced over $220 offer rapidly diminishing returns when it comes to performance in games. As such, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Core i5-3570K, especially since this multiplier-unlocked processor is easy to tune up to 4.5 GHz or so with the right cooler. Even at stock clocks, though, it matches or beats the old $1,000 Gulftown-based Core i7-990X Extreme Edition in game tests.
We have seen a small handful of games benefit from Hyper-Threaded Core i7 processors, though. Because we believe this is a trend that will continue as developers optimize their titles, we're including the Core i7-3770K as an honorable mention for $330. In a vast majority of games, the Core i7 won't demonstrate any advantage over the Core i5. But if you're a serious enthusiast who wants some future-proofing and values highly-threaded application performance, this processor may be worth the extra money.
In addition, now that LGA 2011 is here, there's certainly an argument to be made for it as the ultimate gaming platform. LGA 2011-based CPUs have more available cache and as many as two more execution cores than the flagship LGA 1155 models. Additionally, more bandwidth is delivered through a quad-channel memory controller. And with 40 lanes of third-gen PCIe connectivity available from Sandy Bridge-E-based processors, the platform natively supports two x16 and one x8 slot, or one x16 and three x8 slots, alleviating potential bottlenecks in three- and four-way CrossFire or SLI configurations.
Although they sound impressive, those advantages don't necessarily translate into significant performance gains in modern titles. Our tests demonstrate fairly little difference between a $225 LGA 1155 Core i5-2500K and a $1,000 LGA 2011 Core i7-3970X, even when three-way graphics card configurations are involved. It turns out that memory bandwidth and PCIe throughput don't hold back the performance of existing Sandy Bridge-based machines.
Where we do see the potential for Sandy Bridge-E to drive additional performance is in processor-bound games like World of Warcraft or the multiplayer component of Battlefield 3. If you're running a three- or four-way array of graphics cards already, there's a good chance that you already own more than enough rendering muscle. An overclocked Core i7-3970X or -3930K could help the rest of your platform catch up to an insanely powerful arrangement of GPUs.
To summarize, while we generally recommend against purchasing any gaming CPU that retails for more than $220 from a value point of view (sink that money into graphics and the motherboard 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 this describes your goals, the Intel Core i7-3770K or the Intel Core i7-3930K may be for you.