Best New Gaming CPU for the Money 2013

A look and comparison of Intel's Haswell processors. Is now the time to upgrade?
A look and comparison of Intel's Haswell processors. Is now the time to upgrade?

When gaming it's just as important to have a good CPU as it is to have an awesome GPU so you don't reach a bottleneck in FPS performance. In 2011 we saw a great processor in Sandy Bridge get released. This allowed for many people to get what I would call a max level FPS CPU. While third generation Ivy was released in 2012 and Haswell in 2013, there haven't been any notable upgrades since that time.

Is it Worth it to Upgrade to Haswell?

That really depends on the CPU you have currently. If you have a i5 Sandy Bridge processor or better, then probably not. Haswell also runs hot, so you may find that your i5 Ivy Bridge processor can outperform it through tweaking and overclocking.

Where Haswell is truly going to shine is on mobile platforms. The integrated graphics on Haswell provide 2-3X the performance of Ivy Bridge processors and should allow even budget laptop users to play most games on low resolution settings.

Intel Haswell Vs. AMD APUs

This is a solid improvement where Intel is concerned and puts them on par or close to AMD's APUs.

Haswell processors require new motherboards. This is Gigabyte's Z77 1150 Motherboard.
Haswell processors require new motherboards. This is Gigabyte's Z77 1150 Motherboard.

Best Desktop CPU for Gaming 2013

Now that we've had a look at just what benchmarks are for Intel's flagship i7-4770k it's time to discuss whether it's really worth a look at Haswell at this point in time.

Motherboard Compatibility and Haswell

One of the most frustrating parts about upgrading your computer each year is that CPU socket types are constantly changing and therefore require a new motherboard to accept those socket types. With Haswell Intel lowered the pin number very slightly to 1150 and requires all new motherboards in order to function properly.

I question whether it's worth it at this point in time for people who already have Intel and Sandy Bridge processors to upgrade. Even those who have previous generation models may consider purchasing a model like the Sandy Bridge i5-2500k or i5-3570k in order to get max FPS and save money.

Best CPU Under $100 for Gaming in 2013

In my opinion this race is really between two competitors, AMD's older Phenom II X965 and the Pentium G860. The G860 will give you better single-threaded performance while the X965 should give you more flexibility in terms of multi-core applications.

It's expected with both of these CPU that you'll use a dedicated graphics card along with them. If it's not in the budget, then you might want to consider something like the AMD A8-5800k as a solid APU option which will combine your processor along with an integrated graphics card.

Under $150

In the under $150 category there are several processors that make sense depending on what you're planning to play and do with your rig. AMD's new Richland A10-6800k makes sense in terms of a built-in CPU GPU option, but may not be worth it when comparing it side by side with last year's Trinity A10-5800k which has just about a 5% performance drop and can save you $30.

Other options should include Intel's Ivy Bridge i3-3220 which is a great single threaded performer if you're planning on a dedicated graphics card. Put it together with a Radeon HD 6670 and you have a quality performance option below $200.

AMD's dedicated option in this price range is the FX-6350. While it won't have the in-game FPS that a processor like the i3-3220, you'll see gains in real world applications that require more threads.

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Best Gaming CPU Under $200 2013

In the $200 price range you should be looking at three main options; the FX-8350 from AMD, Intel i5-3470, and the i5-3570k just above $200. As I mentioned above the Intel processors will give you the most in-game FPS, while the AMD processor will perform well at rendering videos and other thread-intense software.

You might also want to stretch for the Intel Haswell Core i5-4670K here in order to stay up-to-date with the latest technology and 1150 boards. That being said overclockers won't be satisfied in its performance vs. the previous i5-3570k model.

High End CPUs - $300+

While a high-end CPU in the $300 or more category might not be necessary to achieve max FPS, it certainly helps when it comes to running games on higher than 1080p settings or outside gaming real world applications.


Jumping to the i7-3770k or i7-4700k will allow you to reach hyper-threading. This will seriously increase performance for multi-taskers as well as photo and video editors.

Stepping up from here you'll want to go with the i7-3930k which is still a winner in terms of price and performance in the $500 range despite it's aging release date.

Update: This portion of the review was taken from my perspective early last year, but still holds valuable information when comparing these two processors.

i7-3930k vs. i7-3960x Comparison

In the picture to the right I've given a specification comparison of the 3930k, 3930x, i7-2600k, i7-2700k, and the i5-2500k. You can click on the image in order to see the full resolution.

While the i7-2600k and i5-2500k certainly give gamers the performance they need for extreme performance fans the i7-3930k enthusiast CPU provides a huge performance boost at around only 60% of the price of Intel's Extreme 3960x series CPU.

While for some $600 may seem like a lot for a processor it's certainly a deal considering the performance you get with it. The main difference between the 3930k and the 3960x is the cache with the 3930k having 12MB and the 3960x have a massive 15MB of cache. Still, for me personally, I'll stick with the performance that the 3930k gives me over spending $400 more on an extreme performance CPU that only gives me a slight boost to overall speed.

Want an "e" series Intel CPU?

If you're interested in Intel's new enthusiast CPU be sure to look for a LGA 2011 socket motherboard. In addition to more cores and cache these CPU also allow for 40 lanes of PCIe bandwidth for PCI Express devices. You also get a quad channel memory controller vs. the standard triple channel memory controller found in the standard consumer i3, i5, and i7 processors.

*Tip - E series CPU do not include cooling options or fans so you'll need to purchase a separate fan or water cooling system to go along with it. Intel has released new CPU fan and water cooling options for this year as well for you to consider.

What about AMD?

I simply can't recommend AMD's CPU after doing extensive research on their performance with today's latest games. That doesn't mean that they don't have a lot of budget options for workstations and business computers, but for gaming, I recommend you stick with Intel's Sandy Bridge and leave the Bulldozer out of the equation.

I hope you've enjoyed this quick review. Be sure to check out my profile for more reviews of today's latest new gaming hardware in 2012.

My YouTube Channel

If you're on YouTube, then you might find my building a gaming PC series interesting as well. Below is one of 10 builds I recently made to find the best parts at each price point. I try to always stay up-to-date to give you as accurate information as possible.

My PC Building Series

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