Haswell Update:

Because we have only managed to get hold of the top Haswell processor thus far, it is a little difficult to see where Haswell lies.  On the front of it, Haswell is more than adequate in our testing scenario for a single GPU experience and will perform as well as a mid-range CPU. It is when you start moving up into more GPUs, more demanding games and higher resolutions when the big boys start to take control.

On almost all fronts, the i7-4770K is the preferred chip over anything Sandy Bridge-E, if not by virtue of the single threaded speed it is due to the price difference.  Sandy Bridge-E is still there if you need the raw CPU horsepower for other things.

Our analysis also shows that without the proper configuration in the BIOS, having a GPU at PCIe 2.0 x1 is really bad for scaling.  On the ASUS Z87 Pro, the third full-length PCIe slot is at x1 bandwidth, as it shares the four PCIe lanes from the chipset with other controllers on board – if it is moved up to PCIe 2.0 x4, then the other controllers are disabled.  Nonetheless, scaling at either PCIe 2.0 x1 or x4 cannot compete with a proper PCIe 3.0 x8/x4/x4 setup.

Over the course of Haswell, we will update the results as we get hold of PLX enabled motherboards for some of those x8/x8/x8/x8 layouts, and not to mention the weird looking PCIe 3.0 x8/x4/x4 + PCIe x2.0 x4 layouts seen on a couple of motherboards in our Z87 motherboard preview.

As mentioned in our last Gaming CPU testing, the results show several points worth noting.

Firstly, it is important to test both accurately, fairly, and with a good will.  Choosing to perform a comparative test when misleading the audience by not understanding how it works underneath is a poor game to play.  Leave the bias at home, let the results do the talking.

In three of our games, having a single GPU make almost no difference to what CPU performs the best.  Civilization V was the sole exception, which also has issues scaling when you add more GPUs if you do not have the most expensive CPUs on the market.  For Civilization V, I would suggest having only a single GPU and trying to get the best out of it.

In Dirt3, Sleeping Dogs and Metro2033, almost every CPU performed the same in a single GPU setup.  Moving up the GPUs and Dirt 3 leaned towards PCIe 3.0 above two GPUs, Metro 2033 started to lean towards AMD GPUs and Sleeping Dogs was agnostic.

Above three GPUs, the extra horsepower from the single thread performance of an Intel CPU was starting to make sense, with as much as 70 FPS difference in Dirt 3.  Sleeping Dogs was also starting to become sensitive to CPU choice.

We Know What Is Missing

As it has only been a month or so since the last Gaming CPU update, and my hands being deep in Haswell testing, new CPUs have not been streaming through the mail.  However, due to suggestions from readers and a little digging, I currently have the following list to acquire and test/retest:

Celeron G1101
Celeron G1620
Pentium G2020
Pentium G6950
i3-2100
i5-3570K
i5-4570T
i5-4670K
i3-560
i5-680
i5-760
i5-860
i5-880
i7-920
i7-950
i7-980X
QX9775
Q6600
Xeon E3-1220L v2
Xeon E3-1220v2
Xeon E3-1230v2
Xeon E3-1245v2
Athlon II X2 220
Athlon II X2 250
Athlon II X2 280
Athlon II X3 425
Athlon II X3 460
Sempron 145
Phenom II X3 740
Phenom II X4 820
Phenom II X4 925
Phenom II X6 1045T
FX-4130
FX-4200
FX-4300
FX-4350
FX-6200
FX-6350
A8-5600K + Core Parking retest
A10-5800K + Core Parking retest

As you can imagine, that is quite a list, and I will be breaking it down into sections and updates for everyone.

But for now, onto our recommendations.

Recommendations for the Games Tested at 1440p/Max Settings

A CPU for Single GPU Gaming: A8-5600K + Core Parking updates

If I were gaming today on a single GPU, the A8-5600K (or non-K equivalent) would strike me as a price competitive choice for frame rates, as long as you are not a big Civilization V player and do not mind the single threaded performance.  The A8-5600K scores within a percentage point or two across the board in single GPU frame rates with both a HD7970 and a GTX580, as well as feel the same in the OS as an equivalent Intel CPU.  The A8-5600K will also overclock a little, giving a boost, and comes in at a stout $110, meaning that some of those $$$ can go towards a beefier GPU or an SSD.  The only downside is if you are planning some heavy OS work – if the software is Piledriver-aware, all is well, although most processing is not, and perhaps an i3-3225 or FX-8350 might be worth a look.

It is possible to consider the non-IGP versions of the A8-5600K, such as the FX-4xxx variant or the Athlon X4 750K BE.  But as we have not had these chips in to test, it would be unethical to suggest them without having data to back them up.  Watch this space, we have processors in the list to test.

A CPU for Dual GPU Gaming: i5-2500K or FX-8350

Looking back through the results, moving to a dual GPU setup obviously has some issues.  Various AMD platforms are not certified for dual NVIDIA cards for example, meaning while they may excel for AMD, you cannot recommend them for team Green.  There is also the dilemma that while in certain games you can be fairly GPU limited (Metro 2033, Sleeping Dogs), there are others were having the CPU horsepower can double the frame rate (Civilization V).

After the overview, my recommendation for dual GPU gaming comes in at the feet of the i5-2500K.  This recommendation may seem odd – these chips are not the latest from Intel, but chances are that pre-owned they will be hitting a nice price point, especially if/when people move over to Haswell.  If you were buying new, the obvious answer would be looking at an i5-3570K on Ivy Bridge rather than the 2500K, so consider this suggestion a minimum CPU recommendation.

On the AMD side, the FX-8350 puts up a good show across most of the benchmarks, but falls spectacularly in Civilization V.  If this is not the game you are aiming for and want to invest AMD, then the FX-8350 is a good choice for dual GPU gaming.

A CPU for Tri-GPU Gaming: i7-4770K with an x8/x4/x4 (AMD) or PLX (NVIDIA) motherboard

By moving up in GPU power we also have to boost the CPU power in order to see the best scaling at 1440p.  It might be a sad thing to hear but the only CPUa in our testing that provide the top frame rates at this level are the top line Ivy Bridge and Haswell models.  For a comparison point, the Sandy Bridge-E 6-core results were often very similar, but the price jump to such as setup is prohibitive to all but the most sturdy of wallets.  Of course we would suggest Haswell over Ivy Bridge based on Haswell being that newer platform, but users who can get hold of the i7-3770K in a sale would reap the benefits.

As noted in the introduction, using 3-way on NVIDIA with Ivy Bridge/Haswell will require a PLX motherboard in order to get enough lanes to satisfy the SLI requirement of x8 minimum per CPU.  This also raises the bar in terms of price, as PLX motherboards start around the $280 mark.  For a 3-way AMD setup, an x8/x4/x4 enabled motherboard performs similarly to a PLX enabled one, and ahead of the slightly crippled x8/x8 + x4 variations.  However investing in a PLX board would help moving to a 4-way setup should that be your intended goal.  In either scenario, the i7-3770K or i7-4770K are the processors of choice from our testing suite.

A CPU for Quad-GPU Gaming: i7-3770K with a PLX motherboard

So our recommendation in four-way, based on results, would nominally be an i7-3770K.  We cannot recommend the 4770K as of yet, as we have no data to back it up!  Although this will be coming in the next update, and if any predictions are made, the 4770K would be the preferential chip based on single thread speed and the newer chip. 

But even still, a four-way GPU configuration is for those insane few users that have both the money and the physical requirement for pixel power.  We are all aware of the law of diminishing returns, and more often than not adding that fourth GPU is taking the biscuit for most resolutions.  Despite this, even at 1440p, we see awesome scaling in games like Sleeping Dogs (+73% of a single card moving from three to four cards) and more recently I have seen that four-way GTX680s help give BF3 in Ultra settings a healthy 35 FPS minimum on a 4K monitor.  So while four-way setups are insane, there is clearly a usage scenario where it matters to have card number four.

Our testing was pretty clear as to what CPUs are needed at 1440p with fairly powerful GPUs.  While the i7-2600K was nearly there in all our benchmarks, only two sets of CPUs made sure of the highest frame rates – the i7-3770K/4770K and any six-core Sandy Bridge-E.  As mentioned in the three-way conclusion, the price barrier to SB-E is a big step for most users (even if they are splashing out $1500+ on four big cards), giving the nod to an Ivy Bridge configuration.  Of course that CPU will have to be paired with a PLX enabled motherboard as well.

One could argue that with overclocking the i7-2600K could come into play, and I do not doubt that is the case.  People building three and four way GPU monsters are more than likely to run extra cooling and overclock.  Unfortunately that adds plenty of variables and extra testing which will have to be made at a later date.  For now our recommendation at stock, for 4-way at 1440p, is an i7-3770K CPU.

What We Have Not Tested

In the intro to this update, I addressed a couple of points regarding testing 1440p over 1080p, as well as reasons for not using FCAT or reporting minimum FPS.  But one of the bigger issues brought up in the first Gaming CPU article comes from the multiplayer gaming perspective, when dealing with a 64-player map in BF3.  This is going to be a CPU intensive situation for sure, dealing with the network interface to update the GPU and processing.  The only issue from our side is repetitive testing.  I focused a lot on the statistics of reporting benchmarking results, and trying to get a consistent MP environment for game testing that can be viewed at objectively is for all intents and purposes practically impossible.  Sure I could play a few rounds in every configuration, but FPS numbers would be all over the place based on how the rounds went.  I would not be happy on publishing such data and then basing recommendations from it.

The purpose of the data in this article is to help buying decisions based on the games at hand.  As a reader who might play more strenuous games, it is clear that riding the cusp of a boundary between CPU performance might not be the best route, especially when modifications start coming into play that drag the frame rates right down, or cause more complex calculations to be performed.  In that situation, it makes sense to play it safe with a more powerful processor, and as such our recommendations may not necessarily apply.  The recommendations are trying to find a balance between performance, price, and the state of affairs tested in this article at the present time, and if a user knows that the future titles are going to be powerful and they need a system for the next 3-5 years, some future proofing is going to have to form part of the personal decision when it comes down to paying for hardware. 

When I have friends or family who come up to me and said ‘I want to play X and have Y to spend’ (not an uncommon occurrence), I try and match what they want with their budget – gaming typically gets a big GPU to begin and then a processor to match depending on what sort of games they play.  With more CPUs under our belt here at AnandTech, with an added element of understanding on where the data comes from and how it was obtained, we hope to help make such decisions.

As always, we are open to suggestions!  I have had requests for Bioshock Infinite and Tomb Raider to be included – unfortunately each new driver update is still increasing performance for these titles, meaning that our numbers would not be relevant next quarter without a full retest.  I will hopefully put them in the testing with the next driver update.

GPU Benchmarks: Sleeping Dogs
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  • random2 - Wednesday, June 05, 2013 - link

    "What we see is 30.73% of gamers running at 1080p, but 4.16% of gamers are above 1080p."

    So an article and benches are provided for the benefit of 4.16% of the gamers who might be running more pixels vs the 65% (almost 3 million) lions share of gamers that must be running at fewer pixels than found at 1080p. Very strange.
    Reply
  • Dribble - Thursday, June 06, 2013 - link

    Just to point out the blindingly obvious but who would spend big $$$ on a 1440p monitor and a top end gpu and then buy a low end budget cpu (A8-5600)...

    The realistic min recommendation is going to be a i3570K.
    Reply
  • xineis - Thursday, June 06, 2013 - link

    So, how would a 955BE perform compared to the CPUs on the test? From what I understand, I should just keep this CPU, as a new one is not going to make much of a difference? Reply
  • Zoatebix - Friday, June 07, 2013 - link

    Thank you for doing all this work. A great follow-up to the original!

    Could you please correct some charts on the CPU Benchmarks page, though? The "Video Conversion - x264 HD Benchmark" section is displaying the charts for the "Grid Solvers - Explicit Finite Difference" section.
    Reply
  • Klimax - Saturday, June 08, 2013 - link

    Frankly not best article. Resolution too high for GPU and then recommending CPU based on it. CPU, which will not provide performance needed for games. (Techreport showed that APU is not good idea when paired with real GPU; FPS might be in range, but latency is in hell) Reply
  • JNo - Sunday, June 09, 2013 - link

    Ian, I'm afraid I have to agree with some of the naysayers here. You've tried so hard to have clean *scientific* analysis that you've failed to see the wood for the trees. In actual fact I fear you've reached the opposite of a scientific conclusion *because* you only focussed on easily obtainable/reproducible results.

    Just because results for modern games are hard to obtain, doesn't mean you can ignore them despite it being a hard path to walk. I have 1440p but agree that it's not relevant to the vast majority and anyone affording a 1440p monitor won't care to save $40 on AMD A8 vs core i5. So you have to be *realistic* (as well as scientific).

    I know from a few years of international finance analysis that when doing an independent study, there is a chance you can come to a conclusion that flies in the face of the market or common opinion. You have to be *SO* careful when this happens and quadruple check what you have ended up with because 99% of the time, the market or 'hive mind' is correct and there is an error or misunderstanding in your own work. After all, the conglomerate conclusion of hundreds of often intelligent people is hardly likely to wrong, even if you are a smart guy. The chance that you have found the truth and that everyone else is wrong really is about 1% (yes it does happen but it is a once in a blue moon type of event).

    It might seem a huge hit to admit that much of your hard work was misdirected but it could save more pain in the long run to go back to the drawing board and consider what you are trying to achieve and how best to go about it. A very small sample of older titles at unpopular resolutions really could skew results to be misleading.
    Reply
  • CiccioB - Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - link

    I agree. However we have still to understand what was the thesis Ian wanted to demonstrate.
    If it was "AMD CPU don't have to appear so bad vs Intel" the strategy used for the demonstration is quite good.
    On the other hand, if it was "Let's see which is the best CPU for playing games" the strategy is a complete fail. And it still is partially the same if it were "Let's see which is the cheapest CPU to cope with a bottlenecked GPU", as those old games, but Civ5, all do not have any complex AI o scripts which are a CPU intensive task .
    If I were to judge this work as a homework I would evaluate it as F because it is intended for a small part of the market, using old benchmarks not valid today, incomplete (lack of FCAT) with a wrong setup (bottlenecking GPUs to evaluate CPU performances?).
    Wrong on all aspects but, unless said, the intent was to show that AMD CPU are just trailing Intel most expensive ones instead of being a complete generation behind. In this case evaluation can be a B, but becomes quite limited if we look at the represented market (is 3% of a market that is capable of spending well more that an average gamers a good target to demonstrate that they can spare few bucks using an otherwise castrated CPU?)

    For all these reasons I may say that this is one of the worst article I have ever read on this site. It show some incompetence or worse a bias.
    Reply
  • Filiprino - Thursday, June 20, 2013 - link

    It's cool that you test old CPUs, so we can see the improvement of CPU processing power over the years. Reply
  • UltraTech79 - Saturday, June 22, 2013 - link

    This article is irrelevant to 95+% of people. What was the point in this? I don't give a rats ass what will be in 3-5 years, I want to know performance numbers for using a setup with realistic numbers of TODAY.

    Useless.
    Reply
  • core4kansan - Monday, July 15, 2013 - link

    While I appreciate the time and effort you put into this, I have to agree with those who call out 1440p's irrelevance for your readers. I think if we tested at sane resolutions, we'd find that a low-end cpu, like a G2120, coupled with a mid-to-high range GPU, would yield VERY playable framerates at 1080p. I'd love to see some of the older Core 2 Duos up against the likes of a G2120, i3-3220/5, on up to i5-3570 and higher with a high end GPU and 1080p res. That would be very useful info for your readers and could save many of them lots of money. In fact, wouldn't you rather put your hard-earned money into a better GPU if you knew that you could save $200 on the cpu? I'm hinting that I believe (without seeing actual numbers) that a G2120+high end GPU would perform virtually identically in gaming to a $300+ cpu with the same graphics accelerator, at 1080p. Sure, you'd see see greater variation between the cpus at 1080p, but when we're testing cpus, don't we WANT that? Reply

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