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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2014

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2014

This month reveals a wealth of new processors including Intel's eight-core beast, the Core i7-5960X. We also look at other Haswell-E options and consider AMD's new 95 W, eight-core FX processors, the 125 W FX-8370, and other new models and price changes.

If you don’t have the time to research benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.

September Updates: 

We didn't have a lot to talk about in last month's CPU update, but we more than make up for it this time around.

Let's start with the big news: Intel's first eight-core desktop processor, capable of scheduling up to 16 threads concurrently with Hyper-Threading enabled. Based on the Haswell-E architecture, Core i7-5960X features 20 MB of shared L3 cache and a relatively low 3 GHz base clock rate able to hit 3.5 GHz by virtue of Turbo Boost. As our coverage shows, this is the new high-water mark for applications optimized for parallelization. It sells for a hefty $1050 price tag, though.

The Core i7-5930K and -5820K are both six-core derivatives that employ the same die with two cores and 5 MB of last-level cache disabled. But they operate at higher frequencies able to partly offset the loss in compute resources. Intel's -5930K has a 3.5 GHz base clock rate that accelerates as high as 3.7 GHz, and the -5820K starts at 3.3 GHz, ramping up as high as 3.6 GHz. All three CPUs are rated for 140 W and drop into the LGA 2100-v3 interface, which isn't compatible with LGA 2011. Because they come armed with a DDR4 memory controller, you'll also need new RAM. Intel further sets the Core i7-5820K apart by giving it 28 lanes of third-gen PCI Express, while the pricier models include 40 lanes.

At $390, the Core i7-5820K offers the best price/performance ratio in the Haswell-E-based line-up. If your application calls for as much PCIe bandwidth as possible, however, the $590 Core i7-5930K could be a better choice. I'm picking this mid-range processor as our replacement for the Core i7-3930K, making it the fastest recommended gaming processor for any price. To read more about the Haswell-E's capabilities, check our Chris Angelini's analysis: Intel Core i7-5960X, -5930K And -5820K CPU Review: Haswell-E Rises. For those of you interested in the server implementation of Haswell-E, check out Patrick Kennedy's Intel Xeon E5-2600 V3 Review: Haswell-EP Redefines Fast.

Of course, AMD didn't want to be left out of the fun. It introduced the FX-8320e, -8370e, and -8370. All three processors are based on the same Piledriver architecture first seen two years ago. The two models with the 'e' suffix are energy-efficient options; they're the first 95 W eight-core FX models available outside of Asia. Now, owners of low-cost motherboards with limited thermal ceilings can upgrade to host processors with eight cores. That wasn't possible previously. For reference, the $155 FX-8320e has 3.2 base clock rate able to stretch up to 4 GHz through Turbo Core, while the $210 FX-8370e starts at 3.3 GHz and jumps as high as 4.3 GHz. Given that both models are unlocked, the lower-priced chip is the easier choice.

As for the $209 FX-8370, it is simply an FX-8350 with the same 125 W TDP and 4 GHz base clock. However, it offers a 100 MHz-higher Turbo Core frequency that hits 4.3 GHz. Its thermal envelope is identical, so we don't think it's worth a $30 premium over the FX-8350. If you're interested in learning more, check out AMD Updates Desktop FX Processor Line With Three New CPUs, Price Cuts

Those are the new CPUs, but some previously-announced APUs also made it to retail, such as AMD's $84 A6-7400K, the only dual-core offering with 256 shaders. The quad-core/384-shader A8-7600 is available at $120, and the quad-core/512-shader A10-7800 can now be found for $165.

Intel also released a few new Haswell-based models in the Celeron and Core i3 families, such as the $105 Pentium G3460 at 3.5 GHz, the $130 Core i3-4160 at 3.6 GHz, and the $160 Core i3-4370 at 3.8 GHz. All of these new processors represent the highest clock rates in their respective families.

Speaking of Intel, we saw a significant number of price adjustments, which is unusual. The Celeron G1840, Core i3-4130, Core i5-4590, and Core i7-4790 shed $5 to land at $47, $120, $195, and $310, respectively. The Core i5-4430 dropped $10, bringing it down to $180 and making it our new recommended processor under $200. The Core i7-4770 lost $15, and is now available for $295.

As for AMD's price changes, we saw the FX-4300 and FX-6350 get $5 cheaper, ending up at $105 and $135. Quite a few of the company's processors dropped by $10, including the $50 A4-6320, the $90 A8-5600K, the $110 FX-6300, the $120 A10-5800K, the $140 A10-6800K, the $150 FX-8320, the $180 FX-8350, and the $220 FX-9370.

On a final note, we learned a lot more about Intel's Broadwell-Y-based Core M processors over the last month, and even got to play with some pre-release hardware at IDF 2014. For general information, check out Intel's Broadwell Core M Processor: New Details, SKUs and Specifics.  And, if you'd like some hard numbers, look for our recent news piece: Intel's Broadwell Core M-5Y70: The First Benchmarks

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs.

The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that there are other factors that come into play, such as platform price or CPU overclockability, but we're not going to complicate things by factoring in motherboard costs. We may add honorable mentions for outstanding products in the future, though. For now, our recommendations are based on stock clock speeds and performance at that price. Remember to check out our new performance per dollar comparison page, where you can overlay the benchmark data we’ve generated with pricing, giving you a better idea where your ideal choice falls on the value curve.

Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but we can list some good chips that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest (and our PriceGrabber-based engine will help track down some of the best prices for you).

The list is based on some of the best US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices. We do not list used or OEM CPUs available at retail.               

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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Treynolds416 , September 16, 2014 9:43 PM
    No recommendation/honorable mention of i7-5820k in article whaaaaat
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    adamovera , September 16, 2014 9:22 PM
    Archived comments are found here:
  • 12 Hide
    Treynolds416 , September 16, 2014 9:43 PM
    No recommendation/honorable mention of i7-5820k in article whaaaaat
  • 0 Hide
    blackmagnum , September 16, 2014 9:47 PM
    If I was paying for the electricity, I would be picking Intel for my builds. What benefit do AMD's current CPUs have over Intel other than price and 'competition'?
  • 2 Hide
    Amdlova , September 16, 2014 9:53 PM
    i love the pentium g3258.
  • 1 Hide
    UltimateDeep , September 16, 2014 9:58 PM
    Agreed with Treynolds416.

    All things considered, I would pick the Core i7 5820K over the 5930K. The processor itself is priced just very slightly over the 4790K and will still perform quite a bit better in Heavily threaded apps and gaming. I wouldn't care much about the lack of 12 PCI-E lanes because I wouldn't cramp in anything more than 2 GPUs anyways. Apart from the -12 PCI-E Lanes, the 5820K is still pretty much a 5930K; even if that was clocked lower, you can Overclock it so no difference at all.
  • 3 Hide
    hmp_goose , September 16, 2014 11:32 PM
    Sooo we still don't know if the new FX's will overclock to the same Hz using less W?
  • 0 Hide
    Subhe Kudsi , September 17, 2014 12:03 AM
    How about i3-4330 110$ @ Amazon ?

    Cpu benchmarks at 5000 ( 2000 single thread)
  • 3 Hide
    de5_Roy , September 17, 2014 12:31 AM
    amd should launch steamroller-b based athlon x4 860K a.s.a.p. i wanna see how it fares against the pentium g3258.
  • 1 Hide
    Memnarchon , September 17, 2014 12:41 AM
    Since Intel has the same price for i5 4440 and i5 4430, why placing best gaming CPU for $180 the i5 4430? i5 4440 is clocked 100Mhz higher.
  • 0 Hide
    RCPG , September 17, 2014 2:50 AM
    There's a typo on the recommendation of Intel Core i7-5930K. In the text it say's Core i7-3530K and should say Core i7-5930K.
  • 0 Hide
    Drejeck , September 17, 2014 3:30 AM
    Based on this article I would like to know about the 35W TDP options.
    I'm building a gaming HTPC with a PicoPSU 160XT (which has 96w of continuous output) and a GTX 750Ti from KFA2. I know that the i3 4130T fits the power requirements but I wish to know if stepping up to a 4C/4T with lower frequencies is better. In my opinion it should. Meanwhile I think I'll wait Broadwell K and the Impact VII ITX.
  • 0 Hide
    Drejeck , September 17, 2014 3:50 AM
    Yes I'm interested in 860K both for power consumption and performance in the entry level. I don't like 2M/4T architecture. I want AMD to go back to SMT architecture and if possible triple core processors.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , September 17, 2014 4:04 AM
    Until I see the stuttering issue thoroughly addressed, I won't even consider the G3258 for a gamer. Maybe it's fine, but if it isn't, a lot of buyers will be severely irritated if they buy one. Tests please! And, this is one where balance matters. I know you typically isolate CPU performance by using a top-end graphics card, but in this case that may be little more than giving this chip the rope by which to hang itself. G3258+R7 260X may be more enjoyable than G3258+R9 290 (even if settings must be lowered), and AMD+nVidia differences may matter too, like R7 260X vs. GTX750Ti.
  • 0 Hide
    SU11YBEAR , September 17, 2014 4:44 AM
    Small typo in the 5930K article
    "Four hundred dollars and change left over, and an Intel Core i7-3530K. "

    As many have argued I would have liked to see the 5820K as an honorable mention but with the caveat that any build will cost more due to the high price of DDR4 right now.
    Also would be nice to see more segregation at the top of the hierarchy right now there are 39 (by my quick count) processors listed in the top bracket
  • -3 Hide
    Onus , September 17, 2014 5:50 AM
    The top tiers definitely need to be spread out. There is no way that AMD is going to be that near the top.
  • 0 Hide
    Agera One , September 17, 2014 6:58 AM
    Why don't you list the famous i5-4440 processor in hierarchy chart?
  • -1 Hide
    Agera One , September 17, 2014 7:02 AM
    I have the same question !
  • 0 Hide
    beavermml , September 17, 2014 7:16 AM
    so when my i5-2500K will be considered as obsolete??
  • -1 Hide
    Amdlova , September 17, 2014 7:35 AM
    tomshardware need test the 5820k x 5860k with 32gb DDR4 dual crossfire 290x. see what diference we will find with 28 lanes or 40 lanes of pci-e.
  • 0 Hide
    Amdlova , September 17, 2014 7:36 AM
    *****ops "5830k"
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