Testing LGA 1155-, Socket AM3-, Socket FM1-, and Socket FM2-based CPUs requires four different platforms. We're using the same memory, hard drive, and graphics card on all four to eliminate as many variables as possible.
We're using Gigabyte's Z77X-UP7 for our LGA 1155-based platform. This is the company's flagship offering for that processor interface. The similar (but lower-priced) Z77X-UP5 earned our Recommended Buy award in Six $220-280 Z77 Express-Based Motherboards, Reviewed, so the -UP7 appears to be a great choice for our testing.
For the Socket AM3+-based system, we're using Gigabyte's 990FXA-UD5 motherboard. This product achieved the highest CPU overclock in our Five $160 To $240 990FX-Based Socket AM3+ Motherboards comparison, and distinguishes itself with true four-way SLI support.
Our Socket FM1-based platform is Asus' F1A75-V Pro, a board that demonstrated excellent overclocking potential in Professional Help: Getting The Best Overclock From AMD's A8-3870K.
Finally, the Socket FM2-based platform is represented by Asrock's FM2A85X Extreme6. This motherboard garnered our Tom's Hardware 2012 Approved award in Six Socket FM2 Motherboards For AMD's Trinity APUs thanks to a combination of high performance and low price.
As for the graphics card, we chose one of the fastest single-GPU boards available, MSI's GeForce GTX 680 Lightning. Our goal is to isolate CPU performance, so we made this choice with the intention of de-emphasizing GPU bottlenecks.
We're testing the 18 most notable CPUs under $200, including some previous-gen products (the Core i5-2500K costs more than $200, but it's included for comparison purposes) to gauge the improvements that have been made. The Athlon II X4s didn't make it because they employ the same micro-architecture and cache configuration as the Llano-based APUs, so they'd be redundant. AMD's A8-3870K processor accurately represents the performance of a 3.0 GHz Athlon II X4.
The Corsair Vengeance memory kit we used is rated at 1000 MHz with 10-10-10-27 2T timings using a built-in XMP profile, and we set it to that speed whenever possible. Due to limitations on certain platforms, we dropped the modules to 933 MHz on the Pentium G860, and 800 MHz at 9-9-9-24 2T timings on the Athlon II X3 450.
|Interface||Socket FM1||Socket FM2||Socket AM3+||LGA 1155|
|CPU/APU||AMD A4-3400 (Llano) 2.7 GHz|
AMD A8-3870K (Llano) 3.0 GHz
|AMD A4-5300 (Trinity) 3.4 GHz Base, 3.6 GHz Turbo Core|
AMD A10-5800K (Trinity) 3.8 GHz Base, 4.2 GHz Turbo Core
|AMD Athlon II X3 450 (Rana) 3.2 GHz|
AMD Phenom II X4 980 (Deneb) 3.7 GHz
AMD Phenom II X6 1100T (Thuban) 3.3 GHz Base, 3.7 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-4170 (Zambezi) 4.2 GHz Base, 4.3 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-6200 (Zambezi) 3.8 GHz Base, 4.1 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-8120 (Zambezi) 3.1 GHz Base, 4.0 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-4300 (Vishera) 3.8 GHz Base, 4.0 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-6300 (Vishera) 3.5 GHz Base, 4.1 GHz Turbo Core
AMD FX-8350 (Vishera) 4.0 GHz Base, 4.2 GHz Turbo Core
|Intel Pentium G860 (Sandy Bridge) 3.0 GHz|
Intel Core i3-2120 (Sandy Bridge) 3.3 GHz
Intel Core i3-3220 (Ivy Bridge) 3.3 GHz
Intel Core i5-2500K (Sandy Bridge) 3.3 GHz Base, 3.7 GHz Turbo Boost
Intel Core i5-3550 (Ivy Bridge) 3.3 GHz Base, 3.7 GHz Turbo Boost
|Motherboard||Asus F1A75-V Pro|
Socket FM1, Chipset: AMD A75
Socket FM2, Chipset: AMD A85
Socket AM3+, Chipset: AMD 990
LGA 1155, Chipset: Intel Z77 Express
|Networking||On-board Gigabit LAN controller|
2 x 2 GB, 2000 MT/s, CL 10-10-10-24-2T, except Pentium G860 at 1866 MT/s, CL 13-13-13-34-2T and AMD Athlon II X3 at 1600 MT/s, CL 9-9-9-24-2T
|Graphics||MSI GTX 680 Lightning|
1110 MHz GPU (1176 MHz Max Boost), 2 GB GDDR5 at 1502 MHz (6008 MHz effective)
(Set to -105 MHz core to approximate 1006 MHz reference clock)
|Hard Drive||Western Digital Caviar Black 1 TB |
7,200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
|Power||ePower EP-1200E10-T2 1200 W|
|Software and Drivers|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 8 x64|
|Graphics Drivers||Nvidia 310.70 WHQL|
|Metro 2033||Version 18.104.22.168, Built-In Benchmark|
|Far Cry 3||Version 0.1.0.1, Tom's Hardware Guide Custom Benchmark, Fraps runs|
|The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim||Version 22.214.171.124, Tom's Hardware Guide Custom Benchmark, Fraps runs|
|DiRT Showdown||Version 126.96.36.199, Built-In Benchmark|
|StarCraft II||Version: 1.5.4, Tom's Hardware Guide Custom Benchmark, Fraps runs|