Intel just announced a handful of Broadwell-based Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs, along with several fourth-gen Xeon E3 processors. Unless you're building an HTPC with gaming chops, though, skip right on by and wait to see what Skylake can do.
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 month, our Best Gaming CPUs for the Money update is almost two weeks later than it’d normally be. We knew there’d be announcements at Computex, and weren’t sure how they’d affect the host processor market. Now that the dust has cleared, though, and our evaluations of the Core i7-5775C and Core i5-5675C are available, it’s pretty clear that Intel’s Broadwell-based processors won’t have much impact on gamers.
The Broadwell Aftermath
Let me rephrase. Socketed Broadwell won’t attract gaming enthusiasts, most of whom buy capable CPUs and complement them with discrete graphics processors. It’s not that these new chips aren’t fast. Four IA cores manufactured using an advanced 14nm process and infused with the latest microarchitecture updates are incredibly powerful. But Intel has them operating at lower clock rates than its refreshed Haswell processors. Yes, they feature unlocked ratio multipliers as well. However, we don’t have mature-enough platforms to definitively say how the -5775C and -5675C will overclock in comparison. They sport less shared L3 cache, are rated for lower TDPs and should be used with DDR3L memory. You get the picture—these weren’t designed to displace the higher-end Haswell models.
Then again, if you’re piecing together a home theater PC, prioritize form factors without room for add-in cards, have a penchant for efficiency and really yearn for smooth 3D at 1080p, then an Iris Pro Graphics 6200-equipped CPU might suffice if you’re willing to dial the details back. Intel’s benchmarks claim (and ours concur) that several popular titles are perfectly playable at FHD resolutions with average frame rates in excess of 60. A Core i5-4430 and GeForce GT 740 might cost about the same and be about as fast. Together, though, they’d consume a lot more power and physical space.
Aside from that fairly niche target market, the two LGA 1150-based models don’t make much sense. You’re better off with a more mainstream quad-core CPU and a bigger investment into discrete graphics.
Intel also introduced a handful of Broadwell-based Xeon E3-1200 v4 processors, one of which is blessed with a 95W TDP and more aggressive 3.5GHz core clock floor. Unfortunately, an almost-$560 price tag overshoots what most enthusiasts are willing to pay. For that, you could almost have a six-core Core i7-5820K and an entry-level X99 motherboard.
It almost sounds like we’re encouraging you to hold off on an upgrade, right? Well, if you’re planning to build a gaming PC and it’s not going to include one of Intel’s Core i7-5000-series CPUs, then yeah, you might want to hang tight for a couple of months. Skylake-S is on the way with new IA and graphics architectures. It’ll support DDR4 and DDR3L, and the accompanying 100-series chipsets will introduce PCIe 3.0 to the Platform Controller Hub, augmenting I/O throughput in a major way.
From what we know of Intel’s preliminary SKU plan, the company will launch with 95, 65 and 35W TDPs. Across those envelopes, we’ll see a dual-core die with 2MB of L3 cache and GT1 graphics called Celeron. Pentiums will look similar, only with 3MB of L3 cache. Entry-level Core i3s add Hyper-Threading with something Intel calls “GT1.5” graphics, and the top models incorporate GT2 with 4MB of shared L3. The Core i5s naturally step up to four physical cores with GT2 graphics and 6MB of L3 cache, while Core i7s boast Hyper-Treading and 8MB of cache. It looks like there will again be two unlocked SKUs—one i5 and one i7—both with 95W TDPs.
Expect those unlocked models to offer some knobs and dials previously unavailable. For example, Intel is planning granular base clock control in 1MHz increments on the Z170 chipset (instead of the existing ratio-based implementation). Memory should be tunable in 100/133MHz steps, rather than 200/266MHz. And the fully-integrated voltage regulator is gone, reversing one of the previous generation’s design decisions that many enthusiasts lamented.
Given the expected top-to-bottom refresh of Intel’s line-up, which will be much more comprehensive than the recent Broadwell launch, budgets from sub-$100 to $300+ should be affected. August should be an interesting month, indeed.
New CPU Charts
Many of you are asking for stronger correlation between our recommendations and more up-to-date benchmarking data. We’re discussing the best way to pack this column with information you can use to quantify your next purchase. Until then, though, we want to point you in the direction of our 2015 CPU Charts, recently updated to include new benchmarks, workloads and a list nearly 50 processors long of test subjects. We’ll continue adding to the list, just as we have in the past.
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 pound 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.