Putting your gaming rig through intense hours of playing requires a top notch CPU. The combination of your CPU and GPU is perhaps, the most important hardware decision you’ll make when building a new gaming PC. For most builds I try to dedicate around 50% of my overall budget to my CPU and GPU and to both evenly to avoid any bottleneck in performance. In the first quarter of 2011 Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors broke through all performance barriers and the i5-2500k and i7-2600k became the processors of choice for most gamers. With these unlocked processors overclocking above 4.0 GHz became something mainstream rather than something reserved just for those with experience. Since then AMD’s Zambezi processors along with the Intel i7-2700k, i7-3930k, and the i7-3960x were released. Unfortunately, AMD’s bulldozer was underwhelming for most leaving many AMD users purchasing high-end Phenom II processors which continued to have equal or better single threaded performance when compared to even AMD’s most expensive new CPU. Others switched to Intel. In this post I want to review 5 of Intel’s CPU and give you my thoughts about which one I think is worth buying.
i3-2100, i5-2500k, i7-2600k, i7-2700k, or the i7-3930k?
While I’m not mentioning AMD’s CPU in this particular debate, remember that I’m not factoring in performance outside of gaming and you can certainly build a great rig with a CPU like the FX-8150 that doubles as a workstation or machine that needs a lot of multiple core processing.
That being said it’s hard to argue with the benchmark performance of Intel’s Sandy Bridge and Sandy Bridge-e CPU. Many have debated over the last few years whether AMD had a hold of the budget gaming market. I really feel like you’re much better off with a CPU like the i3-2100 rather than a similarly priced AMD CPU like the Phenom II x4 960T.
As far as in-game performance goes, the increase pretty much stops with the i5-2500k. So for $200 you’re getting as much FPS, at that price range, as you can get. That doesn’t mean that in the near-future games won’t take more advantage of technology like Intel’s hyperthreading or additional cores, but for now, there is no real in-game advantage to purchasing anything higher. Many gamers are still choosing a CPU like the i7-2600k for hyperthreading and the larger cache. These can be a big difference when multitasking. The jump for me isn’t worth it with the i7-2700k. At a 25% increase in price you certainly aren’t getting a 25% boost in performance. For me I’d rather go ahead and skip to the i7-3930k which for the money, comes pretty close to the i7-3960x. The trick with the 3930x is finding it for a decent price as many of these CPU have been bought up in order to sell. If you decide to go with a Sandy Bridge enthusiast processors, then you’ll need a X79 chipset motherboard that works with the 3930’s socket 2011.
If you’re looking for overall performance benchmarks, then I highly recommend you take a look at cpubenchmark.net which keeps track of the latest CPU and their overall performance. With the i7-3930k you’re getting as much as a 30-40% increase in performance when compared to other CPU.
Overall I still like the i5-2500k as the best CPU for the money when it comes to gaming. If you need hyperthreading, then go up to the i7-2600k.
What do you think? Is it worth it to upgrade to the i7-2600k vs. the i5-2500k? Also, is now a good time to buy a CPU or should you wait for Intel’s new Ivy Bridge release?