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.
Our CPU Charts have been recently updated to include new benchmarks, workloads and more than 50 CPU test subjects. We’ll continue adding to the list just as we have in the past. The CPU Hierarchy table has also been updated and is now located in its own separate article.
June 2016 Updates
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 (Broadwell: Intel Core i7-5775C And i5-5675C Review), 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.