We've seen what Intel's new $75 multiplier-unlocked Pentium G3258 can do, and you shouldn't be surprised that it affects our recommendations. In addition, we talk about AMD's upcoming water-cooled CPU and rumors of Intel's Haswell-E architecture.
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.
Last month, Intel introduced its Devil's Canyon CPUs, which are refreshed Haswell-based processors with improved thermal interface material and beefier power delivery. This month, those chips showed up for sale. The multiplier-unlocked Core i7-4790K is available for $340 and features a 4 GHz base clock rate that jumps as high as 4.4 GHz in lightly-threaded workloads. It displaces the Core i7-4770K, which started at 3.5 GHz and accelerated up to 3.9 GHz through Turbo Boost. Similarly, the Core i5-4690K at $240 displaces the -4670K.
But the real enthusiast treat is a dual-core Pentium G3258, now available for $75 on Newegg. Intel doesn't add the -K suffix to its model name, but this is a multiplier-unlocked processor. Chris Angelini managed to push his sample up to a stable 4.5 GHz across two cores (and 4.6 GHz on one) at 1.3 V. In his story, Intel Pentium G3258 CPU Review: Haswell, Unlocked, For $75, it had little trouble sliding past AMD's Athlon X4 750K in most of our benchmarks, despite the competition's four integer units.
Although the Pentium is a dual-core architecture lacking Hyper-Threading, Haswell's excellent efficiency earns the Pentium a low-budget gaming CPU recommendation as a result of Chris' findings. My only hesitation comes from the fact that Intel's most affordable platform controller hubs aren't designed to enable overclocking, forcing you into a more expensive Z87 or Z97 Express-based board. With that said, several manufacturers have started slipping out BIOS updates for their B85/H81/H87/H97 offerings with multiplier tuning tweaks. Some of those products sell for under $60. They're not supposed to be doing that, but we'll see how the saga plays out.
What does this mean for AMD's Athlon X4 750K, one of the CPUs that undoubtedly compelling Intel to capitulate and introduce an unlocked budget processor of its own? We'll give it the respect it deserves with an honorable mention, attributable to the supporting platforms selling around $55 that are designed for overclocking. Should Intel's board partners introduce low-cost LGA 1150-based solutions that don't require leaked firmware, the unlocked Athlon's days will be numbered, though.
Speaking of AMD, we saw a number of surprising price changes (both up and down) across the company's CPU line-up. The A4-5400K dropped $5 to $60, while the A8-6600K and FX-8350 shed $10 to $100 and $180, respectively. The FX-4350 dropped $30 to $100, and now includes Saint's Row in what looks like a short-term promotion. But we saw just as many models become more expensive since last month. The $65 Athlon 5350 and $140 A10-6800K cost $10 more now, the $160 FX-8320 and $190 A10-7850K increased $20, and the $130 A8-5800K went up $30.
Some Intel processors also went the wrong direction. The Celeron G1830, Core i5-4690, Core i7-4770, and Core i7-3820 are $10 more expensive than last month. The Core i5-4790S shed $10, though, and the Celeron G1820, G1850, Pentium G3240, Core i3-4350, and Core i7-4771 dropped $5.
In other news, AMD teased pictures that suggest a new liquid-cooled FX processor is on the way, though it's rumored to be a re-packaged FX-9590. In addition, we've also heard plenty of whispering from the motherboard companies we work with about Haswell-E and an introduction in the third quarter of 2014.
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.