This month's update gives us a handful of price adjustments but technology enthusiasts will arguably be more interested in some information about the upcoming AMD Trinity- and Intel Ivy Bridge-based processors.
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.
March was fairly quiet with regard to processor introductions; we saw little more than a handful of price adjustments. Let's begin with AMD.
We found the Phenom II X4 975 Black Edition for around £150. AMD fans with Socket AM2+ or AM3 boards and less powerful processors might want to consider this unlocked chip, since we don't expect the Phenom II to be around for much longer. Its 3.6 GHz core clock is respectable, but the Phenom II doesn't win a recommendation against Intel's lower-priced Core i3-2120 when it comes to gaming. If you have a Socket AM3+-based board, the FX-8120 dropped £5 to £145 (£140 if you look in the right places). Not surprisingly, AMD's FX line-up is a tough sell for gamers. However, this lowered price does make this octa-core model more attractive for users who employ a lot of other heavily-threaded applications.
There's not much to report from Intel's side of the fence, either. The LGA 2011-based Core i7-3820 experienced a small price drop in the U.S. but remains around the £225 mark here in the UK. Still even if you were to lop £5 or £10 off the price, it wouldn't make it any more desirable than it is now. However, the Core i5-2550K dropped £5 to £170, putting it within ~£10 of the Core i5-2500K. The 100 MHz delta is pretty insignificant, but so is the cost difference. And overclockers may want to spend the extra ten quid on the chance that the higher model rating gets binned more aggressively.
That's all there is to discuss for last month. But there are certainly exciting products just over the horizon: Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture and AMD's Trinity design. If you're not familiar with those upcoming introductions, here's a bit of what we can say about them right now.
Intel's Ivy Bridge is a 22 nm die shrink of the company's 32 nm Sandy Bridge, the architecture currently driving processors that drop into the LGA 1155, 1356, and 2011 interfaces. The design will put more of an emphasis on graphics performance, though it should yield quantifiable per-clock performance improvements as well. Desktop processors based on Ivy Bridge should drop into most 6-series motherboards after a firmware update. That's good news for the folks who're tired of seeing Intel introduce one interface after another, breaking compatibility with previous platforms. As we reported, Ivy Bridge was originally slated to launch already, but was delayed a few weeks, reportedly to allow the channel to push through remaining Sandy Bridge parts. According to Intel representatives, we can still expect the new design to land soon, and indeed we've had Ivy Bridge-based chips in our SoCal lab for several months already.
AMD's upcoming Trinity APU is also an amalgamation of processor and graphics capabilities. However, we're expecting AMD's experience on the graphics side to lend it a superior balance for gamers. The real question will be: can AMD deliver enough performance to warrant using just a Trinity-based chip for entry-level gaming. Today's desktop-class APUs, we'd argue, just don't outweigh the flexibility of a CPU and discrete graphics card.
Trinity is set to employ the company's next-gen Piledriver processor cores, which are expected to fix a lot of what was wrong with Bulldozer. The graphics engine is being revamped as well using a more efficient architecture. Hopefully, the combination improves both computing and gaming potential. Unfortunately, APUs based on Trinity are expected to require a new Socket FM2 interface, breaking compatibility with existing FM1-based motherboards. Originally this Llano replacement was expected to arrive in March, but we recently reported that Trinity's launch date slipped, too.
Despite the extra wait for both products, we have reason to believe that they're not too far off: HP accidentally posted information regarding upcoming notebooks that will use these AMD and Intel processors.
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.
The list is based on some of the best US/UK 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.