If you don’t have the time to research the 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.
In July, Intel stole the spotlight with a number of incremental CPU introductions, including the Core i3-550, the Core i5-760, and the Core i7-970.
Let's start with the Core i3-550 CPU. This processor is really nothing more than a Core i3-540 with a single multiplier ratio increase, resulting in a clock speed of 3.2 GHz (a 133 MHz bump over the Core i3-540's 3.06 GHz frequency). The interesting part about this is that the Core i3-550 runs at the same speed as the Core i5-650, with the only functional difference between the two being the Core i5's Turbo Boost feature. The Core i3-550's $150 launch pricing has brought these two CPUs within $30 of each other. The introduction of the new model has also caused the Core i3-540 price to drop, which is down around $125 as a result, making it a much better value than it was before and earning it an honorable mention in our price list.
Just as the Core i3-550 is a Core i3-540 with a incremental multiplier ratio increase, the new Core i5-760 is a Core i5-750 that received the same treatment. The Core i5-760 is 133 MHz faster than its predecessor. And for $210, the new CPU takes the recommendation from the Core i5-750. The Core i5-750 has always impressed us with its price, performance, overclockability, and value. So, we expect the same great traits from the new model.
The real story, though, is the Core i7-970. This is no Core i7-960 with a higher multiplier. Rather, the new CPU is a six-core Gulftown processor running just 133 MHz slower than the Core i7-980X Extreme flagship, fully featured with all 12 MB of L3 cache and the ability to process 12 threads at the same time. Of course, the Extreme Edition's unlocked multiplier is not present here. But at $900, the new CPU is $100 cheaper, too. It looks like Intel wants to put a little bit of pressure on AMD's six-core Thuban models, although there's a lot of price ground left to cover.
Aside from the new CPU introductions, we've noted that the Core i7-870 has dropped in price from $579 to $289, which sounds like a steal until you remember that the multiplier-unlocked Core i7-875K has been available for $329 since its introduction last month. The new price brings the old CPU in line with its value compared to the rest of the Core i7-800 lineup.
All of this, combined with the usual price fluctuations, have had an impact on our recommendations this month. Read on for the details!
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.
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.