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Core i7 965XE Still Fastest, but Not by Much When it Comes to Gaming

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 11/14/2008

Usually, gamers are the ones to get excited about new hardware. We usually have the most to gain, even if the price is higher than we would like. This time, the main benefit for us is not having to run out and spend money.

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    Even a Duo?

    All the tests we saw showed that the dominant factor in gaming benchmarks was clock speed, to the extent that the very expensive high-clocked Core 2 Quads could keep up to the 965XE and outpace the 940 and 920 i7s. The multithreading and inter-core bandwidth improvements were not felt in games the way they were in other applications.

    Tech Report and Hardware Canucks took things a step further by including the E8600 and E8400, respectively, in their testing. They found that even those very reasonably priced CPUs competed admirably against the Core i7 when it came to gaming.

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    So What’s a Gamer to Do?

    Firstly, stick to your existing rig. Prices on Core 2 CPUs have nowhere to go but down because of Core, and AMD will be rolling out 45nm Phenoms, hopefully sooner rather than later. If you must have the ultimate in gaming equipment, though, you were obviously considering the 965XE anyways. That is the best Intel chip, even for gaming, albeit not by much.

    Scrimping your way into the i7 club with a slower 940 or 920 is a bad idea. These chips don’t just suffer in gaming because of their slow clocks; their memory controllers are only rated for 1066. That’s not even as fast as top-end DDR2 memory, let alone DDR3. Though the overall memory bandwidth of i7s is better than any Core 2 despite lower speeds (because of the architecture changes), the benefit is hampered slightly by the slower memory.

    Should you need a new rig and can’t wait for Core to get cheaper or games to multithread better, the only circumstance that dictates an X58 platform purchase is if you can afford a 965XE to anchor it. Again, don’t bother with its lesser i7 siblings. If you can’t swing a 965XE; stick to a Core 2 platform similar to the one we recommended to the amateur video editor in the last article, save one change.

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    You Can Take It with You

    As a gamer, eventually, you will find that more and more titles you simply love run far better with more threads. Since that is probably when you will want to move to Core (most likely well after this time next year once LGA 1160 socket CPUs and Ibex Peak motherboards will be available so you will have more options), and you will likely want to do it in short order, consider DDR3 memory.

    If you’re buying a whole new rig anyways, the motherboards that support DDR3 aren’t much more expensive than comparable ones that don’t, and the demand for the new triple channel kits are driving down DDR3 prices overall. Provided you choose a pair of sticks that is rated to use less than 1.65V, you will be able to carry them over to your Core system when you upgrade.

    This isn’t a bad strategy to adopt in general while you are waiting for Core prices to drop and games to run better on them. Focus your upgrades on things that will survive the change: Graphics cards and hard disks, or think outside the box (literally) and ask Santa for a new screen or speakers.