Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Dave at TechRadar.com, one of our favourite sources for tech news and reviews. Here are his thoughts on the best processors around today.
Things have been changing pretty quickly in the world of processors recently. First off AMD tried to make a big splash with its brand new Bulldozer architecture in its FX series CPUs, and last month Intel went crazy and released its super-enthusiast chips, the Sandy Bridge E series.
These chips weren’t designed to go head-to-head with AMD’s top FX chip, the 3.6GHz FX-8150, coming in around the £200 mark and the Sandy Bridge E top end part sitting at £810. That’s a big gulf in price and, despite AMD’s new chip claiming to have eight cores, the hex-core Core i7-3960X is a processing marvel.
There are a lot of flavours of CPU outside of those two big boys, and the traditional Sandy Bridge processors, like the Core i7 2700K and i5 2500K, still have an awful lot left to give.
We’ve gone into depth about the latest advances in CPU technology in our Best CPU guide and we’ve checked out the serious contenders for the top processor crown too.
You may have noticed we’ve left the Core i7-3960X out of the list, but at over £800 it’s out of the price range of most, and if you need the sort of performance it can give you’ll pay the premium.
So here’s our list of the top CPUs around right now.
8. AMD FX-8150 – 3 stars
Eight cores. Two billion transistors (or 1.2 billion depending on how AMD is feeling at the time of asking). A radical modular architecture. 16MB of cache memory. And Turbo clockspeeds north of 4GHz. How could something that sounds so awesome end up so wrong?
One day, the full story of AMD’s troubled new PC processor architecture will emerge. It should make for a fascinating tale. After all, the Bulldozer architecture that underpins the FX 8150 must have seemed like a great idea. It’s all about balancing threads with cores with a view to delivering the most efficient and effective processor architecture possible.
However, that 1.2 to 2 billion transistor count makes it very expensive to manufacture, while its disappointing performance puts a limit on the price tag AMD can attach.
And more than anything else, it’s just not a great chip for PC gaming.
Read TechRadar’s AMD FX-8150 review.
7. Intel Core i3-2100 – 3 stars
Take a cheap chip. And clock the living bejesus out of it. This, friends, has long been the path to great PC performance for the pathologically penniless.
Enter, therefore, the Intel Core i3-2100. Like it or lump it, Intel has by far the best CPU architectures today and the feisty little 2100 is part of its latest generation of chips, known as Sandy Bridge.
With an unlocked multiplier, this thing could seriously rock. Without one though it’s merely OK.
Read TechRadar’s Intel Core i3-2100 review.
6. AMD FX-4100 – 3 ½ stars
Consider the AMD FX 4100. We can’t be absolutely sure about this without official confirmation, but we reckon it’s based on the very same two-billion transistor processor die as the range-topping FX 8150.
The difference is that two of the 8150’s four Bulldozer modules have been nuked from orbit.
The best that can be said about this dual-module Bulldozer is that it’s not far behind its triple and quad-module brethren in games.
If only they weren’t all off the pace.
Read TechRadar’s AMD FX 4100 review.
5. AMD FX-6100 – 3 ½ stars
When is a six-core PC processor not a six-core PC processor? When it’s AMD’s new FX 6100.
Long before AMD released its fancy new FX chips, we had a feeling a fit of fisticuffs was brewing over the definition of what constitutes a processor core. Now the FX has arrived and the gloves are off.
At stock clocks and with the final module hidden, it’s not terribly exciting. However, if it turns out that most of all 6100s will happily run with the final module enabled, it might just be worth a roll of the dice.
If that happens, we’ll be more than happy to upgrade the 6100’s status to buy.
Read TechRadar’s AMD FX 6100 review.
4. Intel Core i7-3930K – 4 stars
The Intel Core i7-3960X is a positively preposterous processor. This is the Intel Core i7-3930K and it’s not the same chip. Not precisely, anyway.
We’ve reviewed the 3960X elsewhere and deemed it disappointing, moderately sinister (it’s prima facie evidence of Intel carpet bagging in response to AMD’s failure to bring out a really quick chip) and largely irrelevant to human existence.
So, here’s the best bit. The 3930K costs over £300 less.
OK, £500 is still a big ask. But the difference in price alone is enough to buy a half decent desktop PC or a cheap laptop.
The point, then, is that this cheaper Sandy Bridge E gives you everything the top chip delivers for a lot less money. There’s absolutely no reason to spend.
We’re not completely convinced even this truly means the 3930K is good value for money. But it’s still a very fast processor and the chip we’d buy if we had a big budget.
Read TechRadar’s Intel Core i7-3930K review.
3. Intel Core i7-2700K – 4 stars
The 2700K is the new de facto king of Intel’s line of LGA 1155 models. For us, it’s the LGA 1155 socket that’s really relevant to PC enthusiasts and gamers, not the highfalutin’, server-derived LGA 2011 platform and its quad-channel silliness.
The 2700K, then, is the fastest chip any mere mortal is likely to run in his PC any time soon.
Unfortunately, what it ain’t is a big step forward over the existing Core i7-2600K.
What’ll she do, mister? The answer during our testing and in the context of air cooling and a modicum of extra voltage is an overclocking speed of 4.8GHz.
A very good result, we think you’ll agree. But not materially better than you can expect from most 2600K processors. Again, the game doesn’t move on.
Read TechRadar’s Intel Core i7-2700K review.
2. AMD Phenom II X6 1100T – 4 ½ stars
Little did we, or frankly AMD, know how good we had it with the Phenom II X6 1100T.
Only now, with the release of AMD’s all-new Bulldozer architecture and the FX processors it powers, can we truly put what was once known as Hammer into full context.
It’s not that far off when it comes to threading. But it also ponies up that little bit more per-core performance that could make the difference between smooth frames rates and the occasional chugging that really spoils the experience.
It’s a bizarre thing to be asking, But please, AMD, have another go with the Hammer.
Read TechRadar’s AMD Phenom II X6 1100T review.
1. Intel Core i5 2500K – 4 ½ stars
Odd as it is for a CPU that’s a year old and still offers the most advanced computing technology available, the Core i5-2500K feels like an old friend.
Of all Intel’s CPUs it seems like the most honest, the most straight forward. If you’re a keen gamer, it’s probably still the fittest for purpose.
Only the higher clocked 2700K has it beaten. That’s beyond impressive for a relatively elderly and affordable chip.
Chuck in the ability to go well beyond 4GHz on air cooling and you have an unbeatable package.
Read TechRadar’s Intel Core i5-2500K review.
For a full list of the processors we’ve looked at over on TechRadar.com check out our constantly updated CPU reviews.
Dave James is the Components Editor for TechRadar.com and as such is a massive PC geek of the highest order. What he hasn’t destroyed through benchmarking, overclocking or general tweakery isn’t worth looking at.