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Best Gaming CPU: $200 And Up

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2010
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Best gaming CPU for $200:

Core i5-750 (Check Prices)

Core i5-750
Codename: Lynnfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L2 Cache: 4 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   8MB
QuickPath Interconnect (QPI): -
Thermal Envelope:
  95W

The new Core i5 brings top-of-the-line Nehalem-class performance at a $200 price point. It's so good that we awarded it our Recommended Buy honor after seeing it stand up to more expensive CPUs in games and other demanding apps.

For those desiring the best possible performance, the Core i5-750 can be overclocked to great effect, and when pushed, can perform similarly to the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme Edition at the more expensive CPU's stock settings.

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 i5-750. This is especially the case since the Core i5-750 can be overclocked to great effect if more performance is desired, easily surpassing the stock clock rate of the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme Edition.

Perhaps the only performance-based justification we can think of for moving up from a Core i5-750 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, there are those of you for whom money might not be much of an object and who require the best possible performance money can buy. 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 $295:

Core i7-930 (Check Prices)

Core i7-930
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4/8
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache: 4 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   8MB
QuickPath Interconnect (QPI): 4.8 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
  130W

Intel's Core i7 has proven itself to be the most powerful gaming CPU option available, based on the data we have gathered. The Core i7-930 is a great choice for systems coupled with multiple graphics cards in an SLI or CrossFire configuration.

The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires 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, but 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:   3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 1366
L2 Cache:   6 x 256KB
L3 Cache:   12MB
QPI: 6.4 GT/s
Thermal Envelope:
  130W

This six-core monster has stolen 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 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.

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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    killerclick , June 8, 2010 8:42 AM
    AMD again rules this list (up to the $200 price point).
  • 15 Hide
    black06 , June 8, 2010 6:23 AM
    "Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."

    Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.
  • 11 Hide
    dirtmountain , June 8, 2010 7:40 AM
    Another excellent article in this continuing series. I know you're probably buried in work, but any chance a "Best Gaming Motherboards for the Money" may become a regular feature as well? I know i'd sure like to see a brief overview of available affordable gaming mobos.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    wintermint , June 8, 2010 6:12 AM
    Good job. I always look forward to these kind of articles!
  • 15 Hide
    black06 , June 8, 2010 6:23 AM
    "Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."

    Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.
  • -9 Hide
    basket687 , June 8, 2010 6:38 AM
    black06"Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.


    We all know that we can't compare different processor families using clock speed as a measure, but even though you can argue that the i5 680 can turbo to 3.86 and that is higher than the 3.8 of the Prescott.
  • 10 Hide
    HansVonOhain , June 8, 2010 6:41 AM
    Agreed with Black. But those pentiums were able to cook a dinner for you, whereas this chip is very cool. I am expecting to see some world records for highest overclocks set.

    As usual Toms, I enjoy reading these kind of articles. This is what I visit the site for, not some BS like 'a cat touched an iPad, and made it turn on." ZOMG
  • 7 Hide
    thedreadfather , June 8, 2010 7:12 AM
    basket687We all know that we can't compare different processor families using clock speed as a measure, but even though you can argue that the i5 680 can turbo to 3.86 and that is higher than the 3.8 of the Prescott.

    I believe the criteria is for highest base clock frequency, not Turbo and not actual speed.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , June 8, 2010 7:22 AM
    Could you please create a non-gaming CPU hierarchy?
    For those of us more interested in scientific, encoding, graphics applications and the like.
  • 1 Hide
    johnbilicki , June 8, 2010 7:31 AM
    No, 3.8GHz if the fastest stock speed CPU Intel has ever shipped; it's a single core and working with one for a week it was clear a balance of cores and frequency is important.
  • 11 Hide
    dirtmountain , June 8, 2010 7:40 AM
    Another excellent article in this continuing series. I know you're probably buried in work, but any chance a "Best Gaming Motherboards for the Money" may become a regular feature as well? I know i'd sure like to see a brief overview of available affordable gaming mobos.
  • -3 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , June 8, 2010 7:47 AM
    Ahh its still refreshing to see my old trusty cpu here still for about 6months and running on this list! Are they still selling the e7500? I love this cpu so much that im still using it over my i7920.... (also bec I still dont have a good x58 mb yet)
  • -4 Hide
    letsgetsteve , June 8, 2010 8:11 AM
    Please add the Intel K series to your charts. I think they are ground breaking enough to include them. I just find it amazing that Intel is finally starting to see what enthusiast's want and are giving to us at much less rediculas prices. I can find an i7 875K for under $300, that one hell of an improvement from the i7 870 going for just under $700 last week.
  • 15 Hide
    killerclick , June 8, 2010 8:42 AM
    AMD again rules this list (up to the $200 price point).
  • -3 Hide
    crazybaldhead , June 8, 2010 10:40 AM
    It's hierarchy and not heirarchy. Please, fix this at last.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , June 8, 2010 12:42 PM
    Where is Thuban? Not even a reference?
  • 2 Hide
    haplo602 , June 8, 2010 12:59 PM
    soslCould you please create a non-gaming CPU hierarchy?For those of us more interested in scientific, encoding, graphics applications and the like.


    can you also do an article about the Xeon/Opteron part of the CPU landscape ? I am trying to decide on a 2nd hand workstation, however finding any reasonable comparisons on Xeon and Opteron (especialy Opteron to Athlon/Phenom equivalency) is a mission impossible.
  • 6 Hide
    haplo602 , June 8, 2010 1:05 PM
    JofaTESTWhere is Thuban? Not even a reference?


    Thuban does not add anything to quadcore Phenoms for gaming.
  • -1 Hide
    nforce4max , June 8, 2010 1:24 PM
    I am going to stick with my 8250e that I got running at 2.6ghz even though I got the upgrade bug again. I am wanting to get a 16gb (4x4gb) DDR2 ECC (unbuff) kit and ditch the page file.
  • 3 Hide
    JofaMang , June 8, 2010 1:33 PM
    Quote:
    Thuban does not add anything to quadcore Phenoms for gaming.


    But they are overclocking better than their quadcore contemporaries, and OC potential is a factor to be considered (as it has been thus far)
  • -4 Hide
    joejamesatou , June 8, 2010 1:47 PM
    I know this line has been in the last few gaming CPU round ups about the Core i7, but can we finally put this one out to pasture?

    "The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires will bring the total platform cost higher than other systems, but the resulting performance should be worth the purchase price. "

    Budget X58 boards are pretty easy to find, and DDR3 is cheaper than DDR2.
  • -2 Hide
    triplebug , June 8, 2010 2:32 PM
    i5-750, your best bet.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , June 8, 2010 2:41 PM
    JofaMangBut they are overclocking better than their quadcore contemporaries, and OC potential is a factor to be considered (as it has been thus far)


    They're not worth it compared to an X4 in the Gaming arena, and extra overclocking headroom--if any--is not offset by the large price increase.
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