Hard Choices: How To Choose The Right CPU

Apparently, some of you don’t dedicate every waking hour to keeping up with PCI Express lane counts, silicon production nodes and CPU socket redundancy. I know, some people, eh? But with that in mind, plus the tendency for product-driven reportage to get a bit jargon heavy, not to mention some significant recent CPU-related developments from Intel of late, now feels like a good moment to stick a peg in the sand, pull all the current CPU options together, outline the key technologies and issues and then point you in the direct of a few best buys. It’s time for another semi-newbie’s guide to CPUs.

We’ve done this before, of course. But that was my very first post on RPS way back in January 2012. That’s so long ago, I’m not entirely convinced mankind had grasped the concept of a circular device revolving on an axial bearing, much less used advanced lithography to create staggeringly dense integrated circuits with hundreds of millions, even billions of transistors. But apparently there were CPUs back then and I wrote a post to prove it. Whatever, the time is ripe to deliver an update. For those of you who simply want a TL;DR list of the best CPUs to buy, jump straight to the bottom.

CPU sockets and chipsets

We’ll start with platforms and sockets. For Intel CPUs, that means the mainstream LGA1150 and the newly minted high-end LGA2011-v3. Well, I say mainstream of the LGA1150 socket. Until recently, I viewed it (and its LGA1155 progenitor) as really the only game in town given the punitive pricing of all things LGA2011. But with the new Haswell-E family of CPUs from Intel, LGA2011 in revised -v3 form has become relevant once more.

For clarity I’ll insert a couple of points of housekeeping here. In this article LGA2011 and LGA2011-v3 are interchangeable unless I specify otherwise. I’m talking about the latest kit you can buy today and for some reason typing out the ‘-v3’ every single time both does my head in and simply looks unsightly. Bloody Intel.

An LGA2011-v3 motherboard, yesterday

Similarly, regards Intel’s mainstream tech, we’re talking here about current kit which means LGA1150 CPUs for LGA1150 motherboards. If you’re looking for a CPU upgrade for, say, an old LGA1156 motherboard, that’s a different question and one we can address in the comments below.

Chipset-wise, I’ll keep the advice simple for LGA1150 CPUs. Don’t argue, just go with the Z97 chipset. For LGA2011-v3 chips, there is only one chipset, the X99, so that’s a done deal.

DDR3 vs DDR4

So what are the differences between these two platforms? Four key things, really. Firstly, system memory or RAM. LGA1150 is a dual-channel DDR3 setup which means you only need two sticks of of bog standard DDR3 memory to get things working optimally. LGA2011-v3 is a quad-channel affair and thus you’ll need four sticks for full memory bandwidth.

And not just four sticks of any old stuff, but four sticks of relatively exotic DDR4. The result is way more bandwidth, but also considerably more cost, a common theme for LGA2011, you might say.

Generally, DDR4 has plenty to offer. Higher speeds (in the long run, anyway). Lower power consumption. Greater data density. But, in truth, the last thing the quad-channel LGA2011 platform for desktop PCs needs is more CPU memory bandwidth. Especially, given LGA2011 chips don’t have integrated graphics competing with the CPU cores for bandwidth.

Instead, DDR4 is more of a benefit for multi-socket servers, which is really what LGA2011 platforms are about. That said, DDR4 will be a boon for mainstream CPUs with integrated graphics when it arrives with Skylake, probably at the end of next year. For now, it’s just something you have to contend with if you go with LGA2011.

PCI Express

Next up is PCI Express connectivity. PCI Express is essentially a high bandwidth, multi-purpose interface for connecting things to your system, be that a graphics card or, increasingly in future, a hard drive. The key point you want to grasp here is that PCI Expree lanes situated on the CPU itself (otherwise know as ‘on die’) are far preferable to those on the chipset, since the latter share bandwidth with all manner of devices and peripherals.

Currently, the LGA1150 platform has 16 PCI Express lanes on-die. In theory, you want every one of those to feed just one graphics card. In practice, we’re talking the latest 3.0 revision of PCI Express and thus eight lanes are plenty.

Forget integrated CPU graphics, you need a proper 3D card

Where things get complicated is when you want to run multiple graphics cards and then perhaps throw one of the latest PCI Express solid state drives into the the mix. Suddenly, you might want two graphics cards with eight lanes each and another four for that SSD. And LGA1150 doesn’t deliver.

LGA2011, however, does. The latest revision offers at least 28 lanes, allowing for that theoretical dual-GPU-plus-SSD arrangement. It’s also possible in future that single GPUs might begin to bump up against the constraints of an eight-lane PCI Express connection. If that happens, LGA1150 will be problematical for single-GPU systems with fast SSDs.

Integrated graphics

Next up, integrated graphics. Put simply, LGA1150 has it, LGA2011 doesn’t. Broadly speaking, re desktop rigs for gamers, having the integrated graphics isn’t much of an advantage. At best it’s a handy fall back if you have a problem with your PC and you want to rule out a faulty graphics card.

The point is that if you like games, you definitely want a proper graphics card. So while I don’t actually view the presence of integrated graphics in LGA1150 systems as a negative, nor do I bestow much by way of bonus points.

The CPUs themselves

The final differentiator between LGA1150 and LGA2011 is what we’re really here for, the CPUs themselves. LGA1150 offers a huge spectrum of chip choices, from bargain basement dual-core chips to pretty pricey quad-core affairs with multi-threading support and unlocked multipliers for easy overclocking.

Consequently, the branding gets pretty complicated with Pentiums, Core i3s, i5s and i7s in the mix. For the most part, my recommendation is for quad-core as a minimum, so that means some kind of Core i5 processor. I’ll come to the specifics in a moment.

LGA2011 currently only offers a trio of high end CPUs, with six and eight-core models on offer. Again, I’ll come to the specifics in a moment, but LGA2011 chips are much easier to choose from

That overclocking thing

This is something I covered in a previous Hard Choices post. Have a scan through that for the basics on what to do, which kinds of chips can be overclocked and what you’ll need to do it.

Something like Corsair’s H60 water cooler is a good long-term investment

However, what I do want to emphasise here is that moderate overclocking of ‘unlocked’ CPUs is very easy, very safe and very effective. I’d also like to slightly revise my rather dismissive attitude to water cooling in that piece. I’m now more of the view that a water cooler is a worthwhile long term investment and needn’t be expensive – basic but effective prebuilt water coolers for CPUs kick off around £50 or $65.

You can usually hang on to your water cooler over multiple platform and CPU upgrades and it makes for a quieter, cooler more reliable PC, I reckon.

Which chips should you actually buy?

Until recently, it was all about how much you wanted to spend on an LGA1150 rig. And for a lot of people, that’s still the case. If you’re absolutely poverty stricken, the new Pentium Anniversary G3258 (sometimes known as the ‘Pentium K’) is a good shout at about £50 or $70, but only if you are willing to overclock.

It’s dual-core and lacks Intel’s HyperThreading technology, but it will do over 4GHz with ease and that gives you excellent performance in a couple of software threads, which is good enough for most games.

That said, I’d still prefer four cores for those handful of games that do scale nicely across multiple cores and for a modicum of future proofing. In that context, I reckon you have two choices. Either get the cheapest quad you can find for the LGA1150 socket – so probably the £130 / $190 Intel Core i5-4430 – or step up to the unlocked Core i5-4690K for £170 / $239 (the lower-clocked 4670K doesn’t seem to be much cheaper).

And that’s where I’d now draw the line on LGA1150. In the past, chips for the old LGA2011 platform were so expensive, it made sense to consider HyperThreaded Core i7 chips for the mainstream platform. But now you can get the six-core Core i7-5820K for under £300 ($400) I really think if you’re going to step beyond a quad-core, quad-thread Core i5, it’s worth making the full leap to six cores and 12 threads on LGA2011.

Yes, there are additional costs with LGA2011. The motherboards are more expensive, so too the RAM. But there are real benefits and the price jump isn’t nearly as bad as before.

Hang on, what about AMD?

I’ve been a bit naughty and not mentioned AMD at all so far. I have two problems with AMD right now. One is weak single-threaded performance, and that’s a killer in games. The other is the speed with which AMD platforms and chipsets are being left behind.

Platforms for AMD’s FX chips look horribly off the pace, these days. I tend to lament the rate at which Intel integrates features like USB 3.0 or PCI Express storage. But AMD really has left its FX platform to rot. Admittedly, platforms for AMD’s APUs have had more love. But then I’m back to that weak single-thread problem.

Even the latest AMD FX chips aren’t great gaming CPUs

There are specific situations and price points where AMD CPUs still make sense. A very cheap AMD Kaveri rig as a media PC with light gaming capabilities? Maybe. But if you want generic / no brainer advice for building a proper gaming PC, apologies to AMD but mine is to stick to something close to the Intel CPUs I’ve mentioned above.

Should you wait for Broadwell or even Skylake?

We’ve touched on Intel’s upcoming Broadwell CPUs, due early next year, before https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2014/08/14/14nm-cpus/. Personally, I very much doubt Broadwell will do anything dramatic on Intel’s mainstream platform. It’ll be the same old incremental quad-core affair that we’ve become used to. Factor in the recent overhaul of LGA2011 and I’d say right now is therefore a great time to buy.

As for Skylake, Intel’s CPU family that follows Broadwell, it’s likely at least a year away. Yes, it will improve the PCI Express lane limitations of Intel’s existing mainstream platforms I mentioned earlier. But I don’t think that’s worth a year’s wait.

TL;DR

Intel
LGA1150
– Pentium Anniversary G3258 £50 / $70
– Core i5-4430 £130 / $190
– Core i5-4690K £170 / $239

LGA2011-v3
– Core i7-5820K £290 / $380

AMD
– Don’t bother for now

Good luck and science speed!

91 Comments

  1. Sakkura says:

    “Chipset-wise, I’ll keep the advice simple for LGA1150 CPUs. Don’t argue, just go with the Z97 chipset. ”

    Poor advice. The Z97 chipset literally only enables CPU overclocking compared to H97. And it’s actually possible to overclock with the chipsets that aren’t meant for overclocking. So it’s just a waste of money. Unless you want good overclocking on a quad core, then you’ll want a more expensive board with good power delivery, and those boards come with the Z97 chipset anyway.

    “I’m now more of the view that a water cooler is a worthwhile long term investment and needn’t be expensive – basic but effective prebuilt water coolers for CPUs kick off around £50 or $65.”

    More poor advice. Most water cooling kits are more noisy than air coolers that cost the same (or less), without cooling any better. I’d much rather have a Noctua NH-U14S than a noisy Corsair H60.

    • mrbeman says:

      Why do people struggle so with civility? It would have been just as easy to say “I don’t think I agree with this, because [reasons here]. Can you explain why you made that choice?”

      But no, the thought that maybe the columnist had a reason for those choices never crosses your mind. Just an instant “poor advice.” Even if you’re right (however correctness is determined here), you’ve made the whole thing worst than it had to be for no reason. None.

      The funny thing about being rude here is also that it’s such a fringe area. Regular humans such as myself are doing just fine with elderly AMD chips because a computer that would be woefully slow by these standards suits us just fine and costs a few hundred dollars less.

      • Sakkura says:

        I was civil. I said it is poor advice because it is. I didn’t say it was dumb or whatever else is par for the course on the internet.

        • Universal Quitter says:

          I don’t know about you, but I usually try and strive for better than “friendly compared to the internet.”

      • nrvsNRG says:

        Nothing un-civil about what he said. Also I agree about the water cooling. If you intend on doing some extreme overclocking or you live in a hot climate then you’ll want something better then the Corsair kit mentioned.

      • P.Funk says:

        I didn’t realize that it was considered rude to disagree critically with someone’s written advice published in a daily circulation by stating clearly what you thought.

        I didn’t realize that in order to be polite you need to glad hand and reach around to massage the balls and tickle the perineum whilst simultaneously savaging the argued false wisdom of the referenced article.

        I found the disagreement he made to be perfectly serviceable in its civility. I honestly find false humour and disingenuous friendliness to be far more offensive than honest straight forward expression of how much you think someone is wrong. Note the total absence of fallacious attack.

        Honestly, this is how academics should talk to each other, and only on the internet or at someone’s church brunch picnic would you find the above commentary called uncivil.

        • MartinWisse says:

          It’s not the disagreement, it’s the way it’s stated, with faux authority. Even just saying “I think that’s poor advice” rather than just a curt “poor advice” would’ve been more civil.

        • dog says:

          It’s the difference between saying “in my opinion” and “what you say sucks”… One is courteous and respectful, the other rude and arrogant…

          • Sakkura says:

            It’s not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of fact. Saying “in my opinion” would be disingenuous.

          • frenchy2k1 says:

            @Sakkura: There are some “facts” and then you can also actually pay attention to both the length of the piece, the context and the target.
            First, the target is obviously beginners in PC components and assembly, as seasoned veterans will *not* need the piece.
            Second, although air coolers are actually better than water at taking heat away from the CPU, they mostly dump it into the case, adding a requirement for a well ventilated case. Again, this may seem trivial to veterans, but as the question of casing was not even raised, he went with a sure bet. Water cooling allows to easily remove heat from the whole system directly. You can find better or quieter air coolers, but if you want a single easy to remember advice, you could do a lot worse than an All In One water cooler.
            Third, both for cooling and chipset, he obviously wanted a single rule of thumb rather than a long essay on the merit of different models. Such comparisons can easily be found online, but again, for beginners, recommending a Z97 chipset will do more good than harm. Features *will* be there, irrespective of specific motherboard maker work around and optimization.
            I am not Jeremy, frequently disagree with his opinions and cannot be sure of his intent, but this is how I read it.

          • Sakkura says:

            Water coolers need a compatible case too. And water coolers would tend to need MORE case airflow than air coolers, because water coolers do not create any airflow over the motherboard VRMs.

        • PopeRatzo says:

          I didn’t realize that it was considered rude to disagree critically with someone’s written advice published in a daily circulation by stating clearly what you thought.

          First time, eh?

      • Novack says:

        Agree, usually people gets egomaniac when posting, and thus the King Ego, known Carrier of Absolute Truth, does not need any kindness when expressing himself, beacuse you know, everyone will love what he has to say, and immediately embrace it as the new faith. Even when, as said, what he says is a matter of opinion.

        As they say, is always wise to keep your words soft and sweet just in case you have to eat them.

    • Person of Interest says:

      I also disagree with the article on water vs. air CPU cooling. (Without having used water cooling myself.) See Silent PC Review’s most up-to-date table of heatsink performance at low noise: link to silentpcreview.com (Testing is done on a 130W i7-965 running Prime95.)

      Unless you are over-volting a Haswell-E chip, an air-cooled heatsink can keep your processor from rising more than 40°C over case temperature at 16dBA which, for a smooth-sounding fan, is effectively silent. It’s also hard to believe a fan + pump would be “more reliable” than just a fan.

      I can imagine water cooling would help for the CPU if the system also had two power-hungry GPU’s, because it could reduce the amount of heat trapped in the case.

      • frightlever says:

        Complaints about failing/noisy pumps are endemic on the Corsair forums. There’s also a theoretical problem with a closed loop system not being 100% closed loop and actually losing cooling fluid over time. I’ve heard about that rather than actually experienced it myself. Definitely had noisy Corsairs though.

    • pepperfez says:

      I’ve read about the off-label overclocking with non-Z chipsets, but I haven’t stumbled on any comprehensive guide. Do you know of one?

    • Subject 706 says:

      “More poor advice. Most water cooling kits are more noisy than air coolers that cost the same (or less), without cooling any better. I’d much rather have a Noctua NH-U14S than a noisy Corsair H60.”

      It is true that one has to be very selective with AIO-watercooling kits, but then again the same could be said for air coolers. Often you’ll get better results by switching out the fans that come with your AIO-kit, both when it comes to noise and temperature.

      So yes, to get an AIO cooler that performs as well as the best air coolers, you will probably have to pay slightly more, and get new fans for it. I did. But you neglected to mention the (in my opinion) greatest benefit from AIO-watercooling: Free space on the motherboard. Instead of a gigantic heatsink with a couple of fans strapped to it, you have a small waterblock/pump there. No need to consider memory clearance. Much easier when you have to get inside your chassis to change/fix something. Invaluable when you like to build relatively small mATX builds like I do.

    • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

      Re. The Z97, that isn’t “literally” the only difference; it also allows you to split up on-CPU PCI-E lanes, so much better for SLI/CF.

      I’ll also agree the H60 is pretty rubbish, but a well designed and set up WC loop is far quieter than an air cooler.

  2. Scandalon says:

    I’ve mentioned this in other posts, but I happened to catch this one fresh, so I’ll post this question for Jeremy or anyone else – does anyone have advice for CPU-GPU pairings? I know it varies by game, but when evaluating upgrades/building a new system, having empirical tests or even theoretical paper numbers for how much data can a low-budget CPU provide to a GPU? How low on the list can you go before any additional money on GPU is wasted?

    In my case, my (probably mis-matched) pair is a G860 w/ a Radeon 7850. (The plan was to upgrade to an i5K later, but, well, turns out I have a family. :)

    • Tatty says:

      I changed my GPU a couple of years ago to an ATI 7950, running it with an old-ish Phenom II CPU. I got an appreciable upgrade to my gaming performance but not as much as I was expecting. My scientific ‘At the top of the Dragonsreach steps in Skyrim’ hit 40fps on Ultra.

      Fast forward to this year and I upgraded my CPU to a 4670K, with the same GPU and RAM. My benchmark now hit a solid 60 with a better CPU.

      • Skategodindy says:

        Some games, such as Skyrim, are very CPU-bound and often times you’ll gain more performance by overclocking/upgrading your CPU than you would by doubling your GPU power. Skyrim is a famous example of this actually, because it’s a modified version of the Gamebryo engine, which is terribly optimized and CPU bound (see Rift running on $3000 machines and not getting 60 FPS in raid settings).

    • Person of Interest says:

      If you read a CPU round-up that runs games at low resolution in order to make the graphics card a non-factor, you can see the theoretical maximum speed of each CPU. Anandtech’s Bench page has several such benchmarks, for example this one for Far Cry 2 ( link to anandtech.com ) has a G840 and G850 so you can easily extrapolate your CPU’s performance and compare it to some slightly newer chips.

      Or you can look at a G3258 review ( link to anandtech.com ) which will give you a rough idea of how your chip compares to today’s CPU’s. The G3258 is a 3.2GHz dual-core Haswell, so accounting for the 5-15% clock-for-clock improvement Haswell has over Sandy Bridge, your G860 should perform about 80% as fast as the default-speed G3258 in those benchmarks.

  3. ScottTFrazer says:

    Man that old Fark photoshop creation still marches on. Love it.

  4. Capt. Raven says:

    So, my trusty 2500k isn’t up to snuff anymore? I am really unsure about what to upgrade next on my rig, that cpu or my GTX660 which isn’t even a year old.

    • iyokus says:

      2500k is still fine (you overclock it, right?) and GTX 660 is still fine. Now seems to be a bad time for a new build because the shiny new stuff is significantly more expensive *and* needs to be upgraded all at once (X99 mobo, DDR4 and CPU). There’s also the problem that DDR4 isn’t doing anything better for gaming vs DDR3, and CPU upgrades are still giving minimal performance boosts, as they have been for years. All the benchmarks I’ve seen have these new CPUs performing /slightly/ better than the last gen, but nothing you would notice in-game. It’s all about GPU bottlenecking, as usual.

      The sensible new chip for gamers (5820k) is significantly more expensive than the previous gen (4690k) which is annoying because that ‘best value mid-range’ category has been about £180 for years, at least since the 2500k. – and now they want £300. I don’t know if the price is going to drop quickly or if this is the new normal for that niche.

      • Sakkura says:

        The Core i7-5820K isn’t really the sensible new chip for most gamers. That title goes to the Core i5-4690K, which belongs to the same generation. Both use the Haswell microarchitecture, the 5820K is just “Haswell-E” which just means more cores are available, the memory controller is beefier and relies on DDR4 rather than DDR3, and it has no integrated graphics (doesn’t matter for a proper gaming build anyway).

        The Core i7-5820K is the most sensible enthusiast option, just like the Core i7-4930K was before. But it’s a big investment for relatively little gain (in ~99% of games) compared to the mainstream platform. It’s really more relevant for workstation usage.

        • iyokus says:

          This is clearly a policy change then, since for this generation Intel aren’t offering the unlocked ‘cheap enthusiast’ chip at the same price level we saw for the 2500k, 3570k, and 4670k(?).

          Or is it just that this isn’t really a new generation, so they haven’t bothered with chips at every tier? Just a refresh for the top-end and the low-end.

          • Sakkura says:

            The Core i5-4690K is this generation’s mainstream overclockable great-for-gaming CPU at a competitive price point (without being cheap – this is Intel we’re talking about).

            The 5820K uses the same “old” Haswell architecture as the Core i5-4690K. And 4670K etc. so it’s not really a new generation compared to those CPUs.

            And yes it’s annoying that they use 5000 numbers for the enthusiast Haswell-E CPUs while the mainstream Haswell CPUs have 4000 numbers. 5000 implies that it’s newer tech under the hood, which it isn’t (not the CPU cores themselves at least).

    • Asami says:

      My 2500k @ 4.5GHz seems to still do just fine with my GTX 760 doing the pixel crunching. In fact it’s performed so admirably that I really don’t see needing to upgrade it for another couple of years at the least. I’m waiting for Intel to really make something that’s as big a jump over Sandy Bridge as Sandy Bridge was over its predecessors. They really were a great development when they came out. Everything else has been iterative at best.

      I think when they do I’ll make one of those nifty Mini-ITX builds so I can really start prioritizing desk space. I reckon DDR4 will be the mainstream by then as well.

      Point being, you’re fine, I wouldn’t worry about it for a while yet. Maybe look into overclocking if you haven’t yet.

    • Sakkura says:

      An overclocked Core i5-2500K is within 15% of an overclocked Core i5-4690K. So you’re still good.

      For most games, the GTX 660 will be much more limiting than the Core i5-2500K. But it’s certainly not a bad card yet.

    • Capt. Raven says:

      Thanks for all the good advice! I haven’t overclocked my 2500k yet, I have no idea how to do that. Can I do that easily via the BIOS?

      • Asami says:

        It really depends on your motherboard, but as long as you didn’t go ultra-cheap on it, the answer is “Most likely.”
        Google up overclocking Sandy Bridge and it should direct you to dozens of guides on how to do it. I’d recommend trying to get an offset-voltage based overclock going if you can, simply for the reduced strain on your CPU. It takes more time and testing however.

      • Person of Interest says:

        Yes, as Asami said, depending on your motherboard. (Disclaimer: I’m not liable for any damage you may cause, etc.)

        The easiest thing to do is increase the multiplier. Your default multiplier is 33x. My suggestion is to increase it to 38x right away and run a program called Prime95 in “Torture Test” mode for five minutes. The Prime95 app will tell you if your CPU makes any calculation errors, which means it’s running too fast. The reviews I’ve seen say you may be able to increase the i5-2500k multiplier to 42x, 43x, or even 44x without changing anything anything else in their system and with no ill effects.

        Leave Prime95 running overnight once you think you’ve found your ideal multiplier. My recent overclock for an older i7-860 processor went like this: (I have a locked multiplier so had to modify bus speed instead)

        160 MHz: Windows bluescreen on startup
        158 MHz: Prime95 fail in 1 minute
        157 MHz: Prime95 fail in 30 minutes
        156 MHz: Prime95 fail in 4 hours
        155 MHz: Windows bluescreen after several days of use

        I settled on 153 MHz and have had no problems since then.

        • Capt. Raven says:

          Thank you both! I’ll have a look into that. The motherboard should be good enough, though I’ll have to look up what I bought there. Luckily I also invested in a very beefy cooler so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

          • plsgodontvisitheforums_ says:

            Be prepared to reinstall your OS though as the BSODs when trying the best settings will probably ruin it. And leave the memory at the specs on the sticker.

  5. Nice Save says:

    So LGA2011 has more than 16 on-die lanes? Or is it only LGA2011-v3 that has that?

    Specifically, if I just happen to be in the process of obtaining a system with 2 GPUs and a PCI SSD, is it a mistake to build it around an i7-4930K at this point?

    • Sakkura says:

      LGA 2011 CPUs have 40 PCIe 2.0 or 3.0 lanes. 2.0 in the older Sandy Bridge-E (Core i7-3XXX), 3.0 in the newer Ivy Bridge-E (Core i7-4XXX).

      LGA 2011v3 CPUs have up to 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes – but 12 are disabled in the 5820K.

      This might make you complain that the 5820K sucks compared to its 4820K predecessor with its 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes. But the 4820K only has 4 cores, the new 5820K is packing 6 cores. And without costing way more (as you might expect with Intel). It lands much closer to the 4-core 4820K than the 6-core 4930K.

      • Nice Save says:

        Cool. I ordered a new rig this morning, and at the time I had no idea that was even a thing. Sounds like I should be OK though in that regard.

        Here’s what I got coming to me, if anyone feels like passing judgement:

        Case – CORSAIR CARBIDE SERIES™ AIR 540 GAMING CASE
        Overclocked CPU – Overclocked Intel® Six Core i7-4930K (3.4GHz @ upto 4.4GHz)
        Motherboard – ASUS® RAMPAGE IV BLACK EDITION: INTEL X79, SOCKET 2011, R.O.G
        Memory (RAM) – 16GB KINGSTON HYPER-X BEAST DUAL-DDR3 2133MHz X.M.P (2 x 8GB)
        Graphics Card – 2x 2GB NVIDIA GEFORCE GTX 760 – 2 DVI, HDMI, DP – 3D Vision Ready
        1st Hard Disk – 240GB ASUS® RAIDR Express PCIe SSD (upto 830MB/sR | 810MB/sW)
        Power Supply – CORSAIR 1000W RM SERIES™ MODULAR 80 PLUS® GOLD, ULTRA QUIET
        Processor Cooling – Corsair H100i Hydro Series High Performance CPU Cooler

        • fiendling says:

          May I ask why you didn’t go for 4 memory DIMMs rather than the dual kit you listed?

          You’ve spent a fortune on the rest of your components but omit making use of X79s quad channel memory architecture? That seems like an egregious oversight to me.

          • Nice Save says:

            A combination of ignorance that there were such advantages, and a misplaced attempt to defer some of the cost to later. The service I’m using to have it built only offers 8GB sticks, and 16GB seemed plenty, so I thought I’d get 2 now and add another couple more later if needed.

            But you know what, screw frugality. I’m changing that to 4×8, with the option to change it to 8×8 in future.

        • PopeRatzo says:

          Do you have an opinion on which of the online services for building gaming rigs are decent? You don’t have to tell which one you chose, but I’m trying to pick one now myself.

  6. Urthman says:

    I was thinking of trying to get a decent motherboard and an i3 then upgrade to the i5 when it gets cheaper. Is that feasible?

    • pepperfez says:

      If recent history is any guide, it probably won’t get cheaper, and almost certainly not enough cheaper to make up for the depreciation on the i3 and the hassle of reselling it. I would definitely advise waiting a week or a month or whatever and going i5 from the beginning.

      (I just realized that this is totally US-centric advice; if you’re not there, everything might be different.)

      • Urthman says:

        I’m thinking more like cheaper a year from now. I’ve still got plenty of games I can play just fine on my old AMD Athlon 5600. An i3 should easily last me a year or more.

        (I’m basically this guy: link to xkcd.com)

        • Person of Interest says:

          Pepperfez is right: look up the price history on any Intel chip (I checked CamelCamelCamel). Prices today are basically unchanged from 12 months ago. If you choose one of the author’s recommended CPU’s you’ll be fine for years to come.

  7. CookPassBabtridge says:

    I wish they would hurry up with those GTX 9 series cards. It is time for me to finally spend some money on silicon! With the 90Hz (so needs 90FPS for low persistence mode), 1440p Rift coming out soon I need a serious pixel hose.

    Re: Overclocking, is it still the advice to stick to nothing more than a Quad due to the likelihood of one of the six in a six core not wanting to play nice?

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      More cores, more chances, off course, though running the risk might be worth it for an enthusiast spender as it’s possible to disable them one by one.

      I’m merely stating that you can and not necessarily that you should, since it’s pretty common to see the new 6 cores averaging around 4.4+ ghz, which is pretty nice already.

      I really want that X99 very, VERY badly, but i just can’t justify spending so much on DDR4 considering the maturity that it still lacks. It will be a lot faster with the same voltages in some time, and I’ll probably put down the money once both speeds, latency and prices have improved.

    • Person of Interest says:

      Anandtech quotes from Asus:

      i7-5960X at 4.4 GHz with 1.300 volts is below average
      i7-5960X at 4.5 GHz with 1.300 volts is average
      i7-5960X at 4.6 GHz with 1.300 volts is above average

      Their testing sample only did 4.3 GHz with 1.250 volts.

      I did not know it was possible to disable individual cores on Intel chips. It seems like it would take quite a lot of time and effort to discover which, if any, core was significantly holding back the chip.

    • Sakkura says:

      The Haswell-E chips are born with 8 cores. This means that for the 6-core CPUs, they can disable the 2 “worst” cores, making it very likely the remaining 6 will be pretty good (even the 2 they disable may be just fine, depending on their yields).

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        The cores on the die are actually 12 for all chips though, but given that the 8 cores version seems to clock very near to the other two models actually leads me to believe that there really is no real performance oriented binning on Intel’s side.

        EDIT: Whoops. Seems like now they’re 8 and the 12 cores version was just an engineering sample apparently.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      They’re not anticipating the consumer version of the Rift to come out for about a year, so you’ve got plenty of time until then.
      It should allow more games to start supporting the Rift which is the biggest problem I’ve had so far.

      • CookPassBabtridge says:

        I’ve got a DK2 I want to supercharge in the meantime too though :)

  8. MikhailG says:

    Alright not to sound rude but I think ‘AMD sucks for games, it just does, don’t bother’ is not exactly explaining much. They don’t do single threading stuff well, and what does that translate into in practice?
    In general, I’ve found the article to be weak considering it is supposed to not be jargon heavy. I am not a complete newcomer to hardware and this article told me nothing except ‘these two chipsets are really good, get em.’ Of course, personal opinion. I’d actually like a more in depth practical explanation to some of these things.

    • pepperfez says:

      My preferred in-depth hardware sites are, in no order, bit-tech.net, anandtech.com, and tomshardware.com. I think this article is specifically for people who [i]aren’t[/i] particularly interested in the whys and wherefores and just want the right machine.

      • MikhailG says:

        Thanks for the sites, I’ll give em a look. And personally I find this article a bit silly if its just recommending a few cpu’s and rambling a lot about nothing, but that’s me.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      “They don’t do single threading stuff well, and what does that translate into in practice?”

      The biggest CPU bottlenecks in gaming usually come from the worst examples of multithreading, especially true in MMOs above all other examples. In most situations, a modern CPU is fine and both Intel and AMD can do the trick, but when you start to have problems with the usual CPU bound games, AMD has little means to save you.

      That’s why singlethreaded performance is so important, because in the few situations that you need it, you need it HARD.

      • MikhailG says:

        I am curious now, which games tend to be generally cpu bound? Besides MMO’s you just mentioned. I knew about this that it depends on the game which of the two resources it uses more but I don’t know exactly if it just depends on the studio or on genre etc…

        • Sakkura says:

          MMOs, many FPS games in multiplayer, and a few other games like Skyrim.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          I recall Battlefield and Planetside 2 being two large CPU hoarders. Games that have a lot of stuff in them (“stuff” being loosely defined as enemies, objects, vehicles, anything that isn’t static scenery) tend to need more CPU power for AI, pathfinding, physics and such, which we are starting to but are still quite far from moving to the GPU. Some engines like Frostbite (powering Battlefield and every new “core” EA game under the sun) also are starting to use the CPU for specific graphics work in an attempt to balance the workload off the GPU a bit.

          Those games also tend to be threaded more than most.

          Oh! SimCity’s a good example. Even with the limited map sizes, if you have a tourism city you can get a LOT more agents than normal and that’s enough to make the game chug because the entire simulation is done on a single thread. Yeah.

          • Premium User Badge

            Joshua says:

            Side note: Battlefield actually works really really well on AMD cpus because of their proper multi-threading support, one of the few games that has “more cores are more better” as it’s mantra.
            However, proper multi-threading is really hard and as such Battlefield is one of the few games which do it right.

          • MikhailG says:

            Thank you for pointing a few examples out I can imagine now which games are heavy on dem cpus.

        • zentropy says:

          OMG you people reply fast! But yeah, everything made by Bethesda currently.

    • Lord Zeon says:

      To be honest, the arguments that AMD’s FX series aren’t good for gaming just fall flat on their face in my experience. Technically speaking, Intel does beat AMD’s performance hands down, but it just doesn’t matter. AMD’s multicore architecture is designed to run as many threads as possible, but they share important components for single threaded performance which just doesn’t allow them to keep up with a similar Intel model. I’ve been using an FX-8120 – a chip from AMD’s first FX generation. The 8120 was their second fastest processor of the generation, but it runs every game I can throw at it with NO problems – to be specific this includes: Battlefield 4, Far Cry 3, Metro Last Light, Wargame: Red Dragon, Europa Universalis 4, and many, many others. I have never run into a game that AMD’s processors can’t tackle.

      • MikhailG says:

        This is pretty much what I was wondering, a friend of mine has a 8350 and he runs literally everything on high. So when RPS says AMD sucks for gaming I was just a tad baffled.

        • Sakkura says:

          The graphics settings are irrelevant since they almost never affect CPU load. The point is, yeah the FX CPUs may run the games on high or ultra, but the actual framerate will be lower – when the game is CPU bottlenecked anyway.

      • Sharlie Shaplin says:

        The difference between an Intel and an AMD of the same gen in most current games, is barely even noticeable. This article overplays things with a little too much hyperbole. The most significant difference is the power consumption and heat generated, Intel wins this hands down.

  9. MirzaGhalib says:

    These articles always make me sad that I went with an AMD chipset because I was poor when I replaced my last fried motherboard :(

    • geldonyetich says:

      I did the same, but rather than feed sad about it, I’m sitting here with a certain smug satisfaction that I saved a lot of money because my “lousy” FX-8120 rarely ever runs into a game that bottlenecks it anyway.

      The software is the thing. Planetside 2 had problems with the single thread performance. Aside from that, I can’t recollect any game where it was a problem, and I play plenty.

      I’ll probably go Intel with my next major CPU upgrade, but I can’t see that happening until my existing motherboard outright breaks, because software simply isn’t moving forward as fast as it used to.

      • MirzaGhalib says:

        I am still running an fx-6300 and wondering if I should upgrade to an 8350 or if I should just upgrade my video card when the gtx 900 cards drop if they are reasonably priced. Or if they aren’t, pick up a gtx 770 or 780 soon. I am still with my old superclocked gtx 560 ti for now. Definitely need to upgrade.

        • Horg says:

          With that CPU you will probably want the GPU upgrade more. My last round of upgrades got me an FX6300 and an R9 270 Devil, which so far has run into no performance problems except Planetside 2 (and even then it’s very tolerable if you know how to tweak the game for AMD). With AMD being so cheap compared to Intel you should over budget your GPU to get the most out of the savings, and as the GPU bottlenecks most games, you get the biggest performance boost that way too.

          • MirzaGhalib says:

            Thanks for the advice. I have always used Nvidia cards, but I am somewhat curious about the R9 290x. Everything I have seen shows incredible performance at what seems to me an unbelievable price. On the other hand, I am always reading about driver issues with AMD cards.

          • Horg says:

            I have had no problems with AMD drivers since I bought the card 6 months ago. I went over to AMD because every Nvidia release after 314.22 was unstable on my PC. I think the anti-Catalyst rumors tend to be exaggerated, about the worst I can say is that Nvidia tend to get drivers out faster for new releases, but that doesn’t mean much if the drivers aren’t stable.

            If you do go AMD GPU I recommend getting RadeonPro or another third party software tool to replace Catalyst Control Center. Nvidias official software is much better than AMDs, as CCC is light on features, but the third party options for AMD are also extremely good.

          • fredc says:

            The only problem with AMD / ATI graphics drivers in practice appears to be iD software’s complete inability to make a game that functions with them. Both Rage and Wolfenstein run at about 1 fps and are unplayable.

            I’ve been using ATI cards for the past 6 years or so just because they’ve been better value for money and have never had a problem other than the above.

          • Horg says:

            I finished Wolfenstein TNO a few weeks ago and it ran great throughout. Maybe it was worse at launch? It’s definitely not 1fps unplayable on and AMD system now.

          • Premium User Badge

            boundless08 says:

            I have a very similar setup and just wanted to chime in that I’ve had no problems playing any game so far. The only game I haven’t been able to play at Ultra settings is Metro: Last Light but performs well if I drop to high. I’m running an AMD FX-6350 4.2Ghz and a Sapphire Toxic R9 270x.

            I’ve just finished putting together my first gaming rig last month and by the end of this article I was feeling upset with myself. Did I make the wrong decisions? Did I shaft myself? Is AMD really that bad?

            In online benchmarks it’s really only the i7’s that out perform it and the cheapest one of them is over 350 yoyos(euros). Jeremy talks about budget and recommends the G3258 if you’re at the bottom level but recommends(kind of) stepping to a £130 i5. Why not a £60-70 FX-6300? Is it really that bad?

            I’m generally just interested and don’t know much about CPUs, but hey! My PC works so they ain’t that bad right?!

    • KiwiRed says:

      I recently upgraded from an AMD socket AM2+ system to a socket FM2+ system because I just couldn’t afford an Intel system of similar low-to-mid-range specs. Sure, Intel is the better hardware, but if you’re an impoverished gamer like myself they’re just not an option. (As a random aside, the dual-graphics setup on the A-series APUs appears to require magic to enable – after a month trying to get it working, I’ve given up and I’m saving for a 260x to replace my ancient 6670)

      • fredc says:

        I have to agree with this. I have been using AMD for about the last 10 years because Intel can’t come close on bang for the buck. Whenever I’ve looked at upgrading a comparable intel CPU/mobo has been £200(?) more. And from the comments, this single threading performance thing is primarily an issue for people who play lots of MMOs. So, not relevant to me and lots of other buyers.

        I’m using a quad-core FX chip that’s probably 4 years old now, a very average Radeon 5800 (or something like that) on 8 gb and have no problems running anything I want to. I don’t even bother overclocking. I’m sure if you want to run the latest FPS at 64 fps on maxed out graphics settings, an i7 setup with a £300 graphics card is the way to go, but I suspect people for whom this is important are less likely to be reading RPS or to need the advice.

        • Sakkura says:

          The Intel Pentium G3258 is unquestionably faster than AMDs Athlon x4 750K, yet the Pentium currently goes for $55 while the Athlon is at $80. And the Intel board can work well with cheap boards because the Z97/Z87 requirement for overclocking has been circumvented. It also draws less power, which means it can be overclocked on a less beefy cooler – even the included stock cooler can support some overclocking (don’t try that with the Athlon).

          Intel is superior bang for the buck specifically for gaming purposes. If you want to do video editing or other workstation-like tasks, and have a tight budget, then AMD is still the way to go.

  10. The Dark One says:

    The other big problem with AMD’s FX line is the massive amount of heat that they produce. To achieve ‘competitive’ levels of performance, they have to crank the frequency (and therefore voltage (and therefore power)) to the sky. Their FX-9590 can get up to 5 Ghz, but needs ~1.9 Volts to do it, and it comes with a 220 Watt TDP. The TDP for the new Haswell-E chips is 140W, for comparison.

    Sure, you can go with a water cooling system with a good fan to keep things quiet, but that’s a significant amount of extra heat being dumped into your room.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Hammer says:

    It seems to me that unless you are doing heavily threaded work or going for at least a three way SLI/Crossfire, the 5820K isn’t a great choice given its price. Best price point in terms of cost/performance ratio is definitely the 4590 or 4790, either of which will last a couple of years as the heart of a gaming rig.

  12. TuneIntoCh0 says:

    How to Choose the Right CPU:

    Step 1, choose the i5-4690.

    Done.

  13. PoulWrist says:

    Did build some AMD builds for cheap for people wanting to do some home-budget friendly 3D rendering.

  14. Artist says:

    The review definatly forgot to consider Xeon CPUs as option to their desktop counterparts. There have been a lot of bargains in the past that made a Xeon the better and/or cheaper choice.

  15. Casimir's Blake says:

    Nobody needs LGA2011 systems for gaming, unless one has more money than sense. Benchmarks (see Techreport and Anandtech) suggest that there are very little improvements with games versus well-specced LGA1055 systems. A Core i5 with 8-16GB RAM is now – and will for a long time be – a capable system that’ll manage 60+fps in many, many games reliably as long as it is equipped with a decent GPU.

    LGA2011 systems and Xeon CPUs are more suited for “proper work”. Workstation tasks, 3D rendering, audio production, video production etc etc.

    If you’re buying a new system for gaming, now, go LGA1055 and put the money saved from DDR4 / LGA2011 etc towards a decent GPU and 16GB RAM. You’ll be set for a very, very long time. Oh and don’t worry about forthcoming PCI-based SSDs, the difference is marginal for gaming and not currently worth the extra outlay. Unless, again, one has more money than sense.

  16. bobbobob says:

    I love this column – especially these roundups. I start window shopping immediately, then I realise I only ever upgrade for shiny and my current Phenom II x4 B40 and gtx460 actually seems to do me quite well all of the time. Still, that shiny is always there, temping me and I’ve now set myself an arbitrary point at Apr 2015 to refresh completely.

  17. SPCTRE says:

    I feel really at a loss whether or not to upgrade. I’m still sitting on an ancient LGA 775 board (Core 2 Quad 6600) with an R7850, it would seem I would have to pay some serious money for a chunky, super-noticeable upgrade, wouldn’t it?

    • Zafman says:

      I upgraded from Core 2 Duo E6600 and GTX 260 in april. It’s amazing it lasted seven years! Before 2007 you pretty much had to fully upgrade every two years to get the latest games running at decent speeds. 2007 was one of those “GOT TO UPGRADE!!!”-years with Bioshock being released, Supreme Commander breaking all systems and Fallout 3 knocking at the door (that teaser trailer had me drooling for a while), I suspect your rig is from about that time and for similar reasons.

      Now I’ve got a Core i5 4590, GTX 660 and boy does it make a difference. I tend to go for special offers to build a good medium range system, so it didn’t cost more than the usual upgrade I used to do every two years. Let’s hope this rig will last me seven years again. ;)

      Do add an SSD if you haven’t got one already! Booting to desktop in ten seconds is a thing of beauty. Yes! Ten seconds. I left some old drives in and they take a while to spin up, that’s why… ;)

      • SPCTRE says:

        Thanks, that really makes me want to upgrade (have been eyeing SSDs for quite a while now). My major gripe with my current system actually is bootup time, game performance overall is (amazingly, as you said) still quite acceptable.

  18. Jabberslops says:

    Every time I read some article or comments on buying new computer parts on a budget, no one ever talks about buying used parts or last years model or the year before that. If you really want an Intel system but you can’t afford all new, you can buy used or discounted previous gen models. When there is a new platform or generation release there will be people selling their older models. You can usually get some pretty good deals on used parts. I got my i7 2600k used for nearly the price of a new i5 2500k back in June 2012 and I haven’t felt the need to upgrade to Haswell yet.

    An i5 2500K is still a great CPU and even better if you do a light overclock at 4-4.2Ghz on air. A Cooler Master Hyper 212+ Heatsink and Fan is usually cheaper than the 212 Evo by around $5-10 and is nearly as good. You can get a Sandy/Ivy Bridge K model CPU for $50-100 less than new if you buy it used. And if you buy it used there is a chance you could buy the owners motherboard for half the original price. Some of the parts you buy used may even still have a warranty. Higher end parts usually have a 2-3 year manufactures warranty and since it’s a manufactures warranty it’s usually not tied to a customer so you could possibly get a replacement or repair .

    CPUs and Video cards are usually fine when you buy them used, but Motherboards tend to have more issues so it’s best to research it before you buy or bid. I usually only buy Memory used if it’s with a Motherboard and CPU, otherwise if it’s cheap enough by itself, it could be worth it to buy used.