AMD's new A8-7650K has hit the market since our last update, and it might offer the most attractive price/performance of the company's APU line. As always, we check the newest price changes and report on the latest news and rumors!
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.
This column has always been about answering the question, “What CPU should I buy for my gaming PC? I have $xxx to spend.” Given our regular coverage of processor performance with many different graphics cards across a broad range of games, we are uniquely qualified to make recommendations based on real data from our own lab. So, rather than focus on the ups and downs of pricing this month, let’s spend a little time talking about our choices and what they mean to you, starting with the high-end.
Previously, we had Intel’s Core i7-5930K as our top choice. As the most affordable CPU in Intel’s portfolio with 40 lanes of third-gen PCI Express, it made sense for anyone planning a gaming monster based on three-way CrossFire or SLI. Really though, the Core i7-5820K is a smarter buy at £315. Like the -5930K, it’s a six-core chip. It’s similarly multiplier-unlocked. And although its PCI Express controller is limited to 28 lanes, that’s plenty of throughput for single- and dual-card configurations. Take the almost £110 you’d save compared to a -5930K and step up from a GeForce GTX 970 to a 980. Now that’s an upgrade you’ll notice.
Even though it surfaces just £50 cheaper than the -5820K, we’re standing by our Core i7-4790K recommendation for gamers with LGA 1150-based platforms. Intel’s Haswell-based flagship boasts four cores, Hyper-Threading technology, 8MB of shared L3 cache and that unlocked multiplier so critical to procuring additional performance. Sixteen lanes of PCIe sounds like a big hit compared to Haswell-E, but again, dividing that in two yields more than enough throughput for two graphics cards. Some high-end Z97-based motherboards include switches to enable three-way configurations—if you’re going that route, consider starting with a -5820K or -5930K instead.
Intel’s Core i5-4690K is a far more practical recommendation at £175. It still gives you four cores, an unlocked multiplier and 16 lanes of third-gen PCIe, but sacrifices 2MB of shared L3 cache and Hyper-Threading. Just as important, the -4690K features the enhancements to overclocking we covered in Core i7-4790K Review: Devil's Canyon Tantalizes Enthusiasts. If the pricier processors already mentioned fall outside of your budget, this Core i5 is represents a gaming sweet spot.
At £93, there may be reason to supplement our Core i5-4460 recommendation with AMD’s older FX-8320. It’s true that the Haswell architecture gets far more work done per clock cycle than Piledriver. And the Core i5 does run a lot cooler. However, the FX’s quad-module configuration is competent in and out of games. Why not step up to the -8350 for £30 more? This processor is unlocked, whereas the Core i5 is not. You should be able to tune it right up to the -8350's level and beyond. We’re not huge fans of AMD’s chipset portfolio, but at least the 990FX is mature. Just be sure you’re pairing this processor with an appropriately mainstream GPU to avoid bottlenecks.
Down from there, the Core i3-4160 remains a strong mainstream CPU that combines two Hyper-Threaded cores, 3MB of shared L3 cache and two channels of DDR3 memory support in a 54W package. At this price point, Intel locks out overclocking. But you get enough performance at the processor’s stock 3.6GHz to mitigate the loss somewhat.
Under 780, AMD’s Athlon X4 860K is generating quite a bit of buzz. We’ll be honest—we still haven’t tested this one in the lab. But you’re basically looking at an A10-7850K with its on-die graphics disabled (read more about that one in AMD A10-7850K And A8-7600: Kaveri Gives Us A Taste Of HSA). Armed with an unlocked multiplier, it’s easy to imagine the Athlon doing serious damage to entry-level Core i3s priced in excess of £80.
And then there’s the Pentium G3258 for less than £60. While it’s not super popular in the comments section (yes, two cores can be easily overwhelmed by a modern game optimized for threading), the Pentium is both super inexpensive and ridiculously fun to overclock. We'll see how DirectX 12 further distinguishes dual-core and dual-module CPUs...some day. A PC based on any £60-something processor isn't going to age gracefully.
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. Remember to check out our new performance per dollar comparison page, where you can overlay the benchmark data we’ve generated with pricing, giving you a better idea where your ideal choice falls on the value curve.
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.