Best CPUs for Gaming – Black Friday Buyer's Guide, 2014

By Published November 28, 2014 at 2:19 am
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We're working our way through all of the major system components and peripherals, hopefully providing easy-to-use buyer's guides for the best components of 2014. Our most recent buyer's guides covered top-performing gaming video cards, mechanical keyboards, and gaming laptops.

This next guide focuses on the best Intel & AMD gaming CPUs on the market, ranging from ultra-budget (~$100) options to high-end semi-production solutions (~$300). Consider following our gaming motherboard buyer's guide to accompany any CPU purchases.

Top Gaming CPUs by Price

  Price Primary CPU Alternative
Ultra Budget $90 AMD 860K 3.7GHz Quad Intel G3258 3.2GHz Dual ($70)
Mid-Range $165 Intel i5-4440 3.1GHz Quad A10-7850K 3.7GHz Quad ($160)
(Presented for those seeking a decent IGP).
High-End $210 Intel i5-4690K 3.5GHz Quad Intel i7-4790K 4.0GHz 4C/8T ($299)
Enthusiast $580 Intel i7-5930K 3.5GHz Hexa -

 

Best Ultra-Budget CPUs Under $100 – G3258 & 860K

Despite Intel's best attempts with its (remarkably powerful) G3258, AMD still clings strongly to the budget CPU market with its FM2+ CPUs. The 750K led the charge of stripped-down APUs; effectively an APU with the IGP disabled, leaving only a cheaper CPU component. Following the 750K's success was the 760K, eventually turning into the recent Kaveri 860K.

For those comfortable spending closer to $100 on a CPU, we'd recommend the AMD 860K ($90) and an appropriately-specified FM2+ motherboard. The 860K significantly outperforms the stock G3258 in both single- and multi-threaded performance, though the G3258 easily overclocks for marked performance gains. The 860K will bottleneck higher-end graphics solutions (think: R9 280X / GTX 770 and greater), but up until that point, it's a fine budget option.

If a lower TDP, lower cost, or lower demand system is in order, we'd still recommend Intel's G3258 ($70) and a consideration of overclocking. The stock G3258 struggles hard in specific and heavily multithreaded games (Battlefield 4 included), but overclocks easily and supports lower-end gaming setups readily. Builders opting for a machine that'll mostly be used to play League of Legends, DOTA2, Skyrim, Counter-Strike, and similar titles will do fine on the G3258 (as long as it is accompanied by a dGPU, like a $95 260X or $130 GTX 750 Ti).

Best Mid-Range Gaming CPUs Under $200 – i5-4440 & A10-7850K

For system builds hovering between the budget and high-end price ranges, Intel's i5-4440 ($165) offers an affordable, sub-$200 quad-core gaming platform. The i5-4440 ships with a stock frequency of 3.1GHz (3.3GHz Turbo) and is locked, so you won't be overclocking this one. The CPU serves more of a plug-n-play, budget-minded audience that'd prefer not to venture into overclocking tasks; as such, it's more affordable, clocked about 12-15% slower, but still powerful for average gaming systems. The 4440 has a weaker IGP than Intel's flagship i5 solutions, but this guide assumes that you'll be using a discrete GPU anyway.

In the event that the system is being built without a dGPU and still requires gaming ability, we'd recommend considering AMD's A10-7850K APU ($160) for its relatively high-powered IGP and modest CPU.

Go-To & High-End Gaming CPU for $210 – Intel i5-4690K

Although it might be considered “mid-range” in enthusiast and production environments, Intel's i5-4690K ($210) has firmly established itself as a high-end solution for gaming systems. The i5-4690K uses Intel's refreshed “Devil's Canyon” variant on Haswell architecture, the lead-in to December's anticipated Broadwell launch. Despite the encroaching Broadwell launch, we know that existing Devil's Canyon CPUs rarely present a CPU bottleneck for most gaming setups, imbuing confidence in last-minute Haswell purchases.

The 4690K is a quad-core solution without hyperthreading, offering 4x256KB L2 and 6MB L3 cache. Intel's stock operating frequency for the 4690K ships at 3.5GHz, with Turbo boosting up to 3.9GHz. Overclocking is relatively easy with Devil's Canyon, though it doesn't achieve the enthusiast level overclocks we were initially seeking. More cores and speed will not be necessary for the vast majority of gamers; the 4690K is easily the go-to for mid-range and high-end builds.

For those performing hobbyist render tasks, encoding, and production-like operations, the i7-4790K ($299) offers hyperthreading for a 4C/8T setup. Hyperthreading rarely has any measurable impact on gaming environments, but will be utilized heavily by intensely-multithreaded applications, like Adobe media encoding, PhotoShop, and similar tools.

We're skipping enthusiast X99 CPUs for this guide, given the vast architectural and intended use-case differences (though the i7-5960X is currently $50 off). Send us a tweet or post on our forums for additional support.

- Steve “Lelldorianx” Burke.

Steve Burke

Steve started GamersNexus back when it was just a cool name, and now it's grown into an expansive website with an overwhelming amount of features. He recalls his first difficult decision with GN's direction: "I didn't know whether or not I wanted 'Gamers' to have a possessive apostrophe -- I mean, grammatically it should, but I didn't like it in the name. It was ugly. I also had people who were typing apostrophes into the address bar - sigh. It made sense to just leave it as 'Gamers.'"

First world problems, Steve. First world problems.

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