Best CPUs

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Best CPUs

Post by PCLife on Tue Sep 13, 2016 11:44 am

This month’s big news is Intel’s refreshed ultra-high-end processor family, which we covered in Broadwell-E: Intel Core i7-6950X, 6900K, 6850K & 6800K Review. Despite an architectural step forward, a shift to 14nm manufacturing, slightly higher clock rates, Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 and a new 10-core flagship, we walked away from our Broadwell-E coverage unexcited.

Some of this has to do with the (predictable) lack of progress stepping from Haswell to Broadwell. After all, back when Broadwell was first introduced, integrated graphics took center stage. That subsystem is cut out of Broadwell-E entirely. Intel doesn’t make the situation any easier with its pricing, though. Broadwell-E drops into existing X99-based motherboards after a BIOS update, so we’d normally tell enthusiasts building high-end desktops to simply start buying Broadwell-E in place of Haswell. Now, however, the company is commanding a premium for its newest CPUs. You can pay $1015 for a Core i7-5960X or $1100 for a Core i7-6900K. The old Core i7-5930K is $580, or you can snag a -6850K for $650. Even an entry-level Core i7-5820K sells for $390 to the -6800K’s $450. What’s more, the Broadwell-E-based chips are stubborn little overclockers. Even with his beefy open-loop water cooler, Igor had a hard time sustaining more than 4.3GHz for our launch coverage. That's a step back from the generation before.

For as long as they’re available, then, we’re sticking with our Core i7-5820K honorable mention. We’d just as soon snag a Skylake-based Core i7-6700K at higher clock rates for $350. But gamers who can truly put the -5820K’s six cores to use elsewhere get a lot of value in threaded apps for an extra $40. Of course, if your workloads truly call for an eight- or 10-core processor, these recommendations won’t apply. Generally, though, the Core i7-6900K and -6950X aren’t gaming CPUs so much as they’re professional workhorses.

If even the -6700K is out of reach, Intel’s Core i5-6600K is still a solid entry point for a high-end gaming PC at $255. Don’t let the 3.5GHz base clock rate dissuade you. Turbo Boost stretches up to 3.9GHz in lightly threaded workloads and an unlocked multiplier allows you to explore the limits of your cooling solution. The quad-core chip should competently balance out most modern GPUs.
You can save $50 by stepping down to the Core i5-6500. It’s another quad-core Skylake-based CPU with a 300MHz-lower base frequency and locked ratio. We like this one more than the Core i5-6600, which costs $25 more but only gives you an extra 100MHz of base clock rate, and the Core i5-6400, which sells for $15 less, but gives up a significant 500MHz.

The -6500 isn’t new to our list of recommendations, and neither is the Core i3-6100 at $125. There’s just not a lot between those two CPUs to get us excited. And since we like Intel’s Z170 chipset so much, we wouldn’t recommend stepping back to a legacy LGA 1150-based platform just to save a few bucks.

That concept of old technology also makes it difficult to recommend much from AMD’s portfolio right now. However, the FX-8300 might still turn a few heads at $120. It’s an unlocked quad-module CPU with 8MB of shared L3 cache and a 95W TDP. Don’t expect an upgrade path from its AM3+ interface though, as the AM4 socket will soon replace and unify AMD’s older platforms.

Entry Level ( Sub-$100 )


Back when we introduced AMD's A10-7850K, we observed that gaming was where the APU excelled. So why would we recommend the same processor without its integrated graphics enabled? Here's the thing: AMD is asking $115 for the A10-7860K with its updated quiet cooler. But the Athlon X4 860K with the same thermal solution sells for $75, putting it up against a bunch of Pentiums. Given an unlocked multiplier and two Steamroller modules capable of working on four threads at a time, this becomes a much more compelling option paired up to a capable discrete GPU.

Mid Range ( $100-$200 )


We’re suckers for efficient architectures, and Intel’s Skylake is as good as it gets right now. The Core i3-6100 replaces an old stalwart on our list of recommendations, the Haswell-based Core i3-4170. This new model gets more done per cycle, operates at the same 3.7GHz clock rate and sells for the same $125. It’s similarly a dual-core processor armed with Hyper-Threading technology.
Don’t underestimate the benefit of a much more flexible platform, either. Though there wasn’t anything wrong with Z97 or its more mainstream derivatives, Intel’s Z170 adds PCIe 3.0 connectivity (and a lot more available lanes), support for PCIe-based SSDs and a faster link to the processor. All of that is perfect for augmenting the processor with fast storage and discrete graphics.

High End ( Over $200 )


The Skylake architecture is Intel’s newest, manufactured on a 14nm process, and the Core i5-6500 is the least-expensive Skylake-based processor we’re endorsing. Yes, the Core i5-6400 is cheaper, but its base clock rate is 2.7GHz, while the -6500 starts at 3.2GHz. Under taxing loads, you’ll want those extra 500MHz. Turbo Boost technology gets our $205 recommendation up to 3.6GHz in lightly-threaded applications, too. Of course, you get four physical cores, 6MB of last-level cache, DDR4 memory support and an 8 GT/s link to compatible chipsets through DMI3.
This new Core i5 drops into an LGA 1151 interface, so you’ll definitely need a motherboard upgrade. Fortunately, there’s a lot to like about Intel’s Z170 platform controller hub, in particular, such as third-gen PCIe connectivity, support for PCIe-based storage devices in RAID and lots of available USB 3.0 ports.


You never expected to see a Xeon in our list of recommendations to gamers, did you? Nowadays, Intel's entry-level to mid-range enterprise chips are derived from the same dies as its desktop offerings. That means this Xeon E3-1231v3 is almost identical to the Core i7-4770. Except that it doesn't have integrated graphics, bringing power consumption down a bit.
The Xeon's price is about $20 higher than the Core i5-4690K. One gives you plenty of headroom to overclock. The other enables Hyper-Threading. Depending on the applications you run in the background while you game (streaming, anyone?), four extra logical cores could be the better choice.


Intel continues selling the Core i5-4690K that ruled our list for months at $240. But now that Skylake is available, along with the enthusiast-oriented Z170 chipset, we’d suggest the more modern platform if you’re building a new gaming PC.
Core i5-6600K is the least-expensive Skylake CPU with an unlocked ratio multiplier. Its stock base frequency is 3.5GHz and Turbo Boost can take it up to 3.9GHz in single-threaded apps. However, we’ve seen enthusiasts take the -6600K to 4.5GHz and up on closed-loop liquid cooling with all four cores fully utilized.
You’ll spend $255 on the processor and at least another $100 on a Z170 motherboard, so go this route only if the upgrade from your existing PC is substantial. One variable to consider is a PCIe-based SSD, which many Z170-based boards are designed to accommodate. That’ll speed up your level loading times, for sure.


When the Skylake architecture launched, we already had Intel’s Core i7-5820K positioned as our high-end CPU of choice, balancing lots of cores, overclockability, tons of I/O and a reasonable price tag. And while it remains an attractive choice for power users with lots of add-in cards or heavy lifting to do outside of gaming, we’d like to give the Core i7-6700K some attention, too.
Skylake is two generations newer than Haswell, and it incorporates IPC improvements that facilitate more performance per thread, per clock cycle. In CPU-bound situations, that’s what helps get frames out faster, particularly if you can get the smaller die running at higher frequencies than a power-hungry Haswell-E. For a majority of gamers, we consider Core i7-6700K top of the line.

Diminishing Returns Kick In
Top-end CPUs offer rapidly diminishing returns when it comes to gaming performance. As such, we have a hard time recommending anything more expensive than the Core i5-6600K, especially since this multiplier-unlocked processor is easy to tune up to 4.5GHz or so with the right cooler.
We have seen a small handful of titles benefit from Hyper-Threaded Core i7 processors, though. Because we believe this is a trend that will continue as developers optimize their software, we're including the Xeon E3-1231v3 as an honorable mention at $255 and the Core i7-5820K at $390. In a vast majority of games, they won't demonstrate much advantage over the Core i5. But if you're a serious enthusiast who wants some future-proofing and values threaded application performance, these processors may be worth the extra money.
In addition, there's certainly an argument to be made for using LGA 2011-v3 as the ultimate gaming platform. Haswell-E/Broadwell-E-based CPUs have more available cache and as many as four more execution cores than the flagship LGA 1150/1151 models. Additionally, more bandwidth is delivered through a quad-channel DDR4 memory controller. And with up to 40 lanes of third-gen PCIe connectivity available from Haswell-E/Broadwell-E-based processors, the platform natively supports two x16 and one x8 slot, or one x16 and three x8 slots, alleviating potential bottlenecks in three- and four-way CrossFire or SLI configurations.
Although they sound impressive, those advantages don't necessarily translate into significant performance gains in modern titles, since memory bandwidth and PCIe throughput don't hold back the game performance of existing Sandy Bridge-, Ivy Bridge-, Haswell-, and Skylake-based machines.
Where we do see the potential for Haswell-E to drive additional performance is in processor-bound games like the multiplayer component of Battlefield 4. If you're running a three- or four-way array of graphics cards already, there's a good chance that you already own more than enough rendering muscle. An overclocked Core i7-5960X or -5930K could help the rest of your platform catch up to an insanely powerful arrangement of GPUs.
To summarize, while we generally recommend against purchasing any gaming CPU that retails for more than the Core i5-6600K (sink that money into graphics and the motherboard instead), there are those of you who have no trouble throwing down serious money on the best of the best, and who require the fastest possible performance available. If this describes your goals, the following CPU may be for you:


It'd be easy to assume that Intel's $1700+ Core i7-6950X is the fastest desktop processor out there, so it must be the best choice for an all-out gaming PC. But we think there's a smarter choice: the Core i7-5820K for less than $400. That’s right. We’re suggesting a previous-generation CPU might be a better buy than the latest Broadwell-E-based models, which Intel is charging a premium for right now.
Equipped with six Hyper-Threaded cores, 15MB of shared L3 cache and an unlocked multiplier, it's actually quite similar to the almost-$600 -5930K, except for a 28-lane PCI Express controller. Losing 12 lanes might seem like a big deal to gamers rocking three- and four-GPU configurations. But with Nvidia distancing itself from those more exotic setups, we consider the Core i7-5820K to be plenty-quick. Just top it with a capable cooler for maximum overclocking headroom.
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Re: Best CPUs

Post by Keranov on Sat Sep 17, 2016 4:42 pm

That's amazing! Very good review and information. Keep up the good work!
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