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Best Gaming CPU: $200 And Up

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

Core i5-750 (Check Prices)

Core i5-750
Codename: Lynnfield
Process: 45nm
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. We recently 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, performing similarly to the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme at its stock settings when pushed a bit.

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.

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

Core i7-920
Codename: Bloomfield
Process: 45nm
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 $1090:

Core i7-980X Extreme (Check Prices)

Core i7-980X Extreme
Codename: Gulftown
Process: 32nm
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 $1,090? 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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  • 0 Hide
    jamac666 , 8 April 2010 23:23
    Once again AMD rule!
  • -1 Hide
    kobbra , 9 April 2010 00:00
    jamac666Once again AMD rule!

    Have you at least bothered to watch the graph chart? Helloooooo the top 14 processors are all INTEL!!!!!!!!
  • 1 Hide
    nytmode , 9 April 2010 00:28
    He meant to be sarcastic. Did anyone notice the i7-930 in the heading, then i7-920 in the table and i7-930 again in the description?
  • 0 Hide
    col musstard , 9 April 2010 03:17
    hm, the 630@2.8ghz gets honorable mention at $100, and the 635@2.9ghz ties for best gaming cpu at $120. how does a 20% increase in price and a 3.5% increase in clock speed warrant the move from honorable mention to tie for best? I dont understand
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 9 April 2010 06:55
    col musstard: It easy to explain. F.E. imagine that you see tomatos in supermarket from the same farm and vegetable patch for 2$/kg and 5$/kg. Those for 5$ cost so because farmer should pay money for sorting. The same for processors manufacturer. He should pay money for equipment wich will be testing all processor to find which among them can work on frequency above average.
  • 0 Hide
    col musstard , 9 April 2010 09:17
    yes, i understand why it costs more but i dont understand why toms recommends the $120 635 when it performs virtually identical to the $100 630
  • 1 Hide
    kakkoii , 9 April 2010 10:39
    @col musstard

    Because the Core i7 920 is being replaced by the Core i7 930, which is basically the same chip, but sold with a 2.8ghz clock instead of 2.66.
  • 0 Hide
    chechak , 10 April 2010 04:11
    same same same IS IT?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , 10 April 2010 05:37
    it's nice that the cost of PC parts is going down but it's still much easier to just pick up a console which only requires simple hook up & setup & then your good to go.Flame on me & label me as you like but gaming should be affordable,simple & fun not a hassle.
  • 0 Hide
    cj_online , 11 April 2010 16:33
    What exact processor(s) does a Phenom II X3 720BE compare to ?
  • 0 Hide
    Mitche01 , 12 April 2010 16:47
    Kobbra,

    Also alot of the lower prices are AMD so depending on your price point AMD do quite well. Of course a tthe higher prices Intels i7 do very well perfomancewise.
  • 0 Hide
    xupaguy , 15 April 2010 03:04
    I really wish i could afford to get an Intel system that would give me the same perfomance as my Amd Dragon spec system, but my budget wouldnt even come close.
    If i was just starting a new build, had the cash, then it would be better to go i5 or i7, but if you look at the cost of getting an Ph-II x4 965, 4 gig 800ghz ram, HD 4890, and a half decent Am2/3 mobo on an upgrade path on a very tight budget, then Intel dont have a look in.

    The point of this though, Intel do amazing things in the IT world, but by God do you have to pay for them!