The Best Computer Processors for PC Gaming

Written by:  Daniel Barros • Edited by: Tricia Goss
Updated Jun 1, 2009
• Related Guides: Intel

We now take a look at what are the top 5 processors that will give you the most bang in that race to keep up-to-date with the most current technology. Take a look inside to see who took number one.

Speed Demons

Welcome back to another exciting edition of Building the Perfect Gamer PC. If you need a refresher from last time, visit the Processor article, where we go in-depth as to what a processor actually does and how it operates in a physical sense. This time however, we'll be talking about the best processors to get if you're looking to build the ultimate, high-end rig.

There are important considerations when buying the processor of your dreams. First of all, hyperthreading is a relatively old technology that allows for faster processing times by letting the processor pretend to be two processors instead of one, effectively tricking the computer into running faster by processing at times when it would've been idle. From the humble Pentium 4 that first used hyperthreading, the system has been criticized by some as being energy inefficient and by others as not being effective when it comes to an energy-used vs. speed-increase ratio. Whatever the problems it may have, Intel is confident that this year they'll be reviving the technology for their new behemoth - the 8 core processor, which using hyperthreading could theoretically function as 16 independent cores.

A lot of debate swarms around hyperthreading, but even more debate is found when it comes to multi-core processing. The current problem with the multi-core processor is the fact that anything outside of certain games and apps don't fully utilize all four processors - the most used at one time are about three processors. If you're a gamer, it's definitely in your favor to have a quad-core processor considering the prices they can be bought for today.

All that being considered, let's start the countdown.

1. Intel Core2 Extreme Quad-Core QX9775

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115044

Say hello to the most expensive piece of technology you'll ever attach to your motherboard. At a whopping $1,500, I can understand if you pass this one by. For those of you that don't, the QX9775 represents the most sophisticated processor available at the marketplace today. At an enormous 3.2 Ghz per core clock speed, this is the sort of processor where you won't have to worry about being future-proof. Undoubtedly, when an 8 core processor does come out at the end of the year or next year, it may be worth it to upgrade, but for now, there's nothing better than the hum of this beast inside your rig.

2. Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115130

Suppose you don't want to spend that much money for the QX9775. For 1/3 of the price of the QX, you can have the Quad which only loses 200 Mhz of processing speed per core. At 3.0 Ghz, it's still a steal for $550 - and thankfully, the Quad has little to no reliability issues, only a few known ones with the cooling systems (more on that at the end of this article). As long as your processor keeps its cool, you'll have a great one that will still be relevant 3 years from now.

3. Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115041

You'll notice something as we go down the list - the tendency of the processors as we continue on is that the price becomes less and less prohibitive as the processing speed decreases. Keep in mind that this will be most likely the most expensive piece you'll buy out of the whole computer, as such it demands special care and attention in order to be something you'll cherish for a few years at the least. The Q9550 offers the same quad-core advantages that the Q9650 offers, but as the processing speed goes down to 2.8 Ghz, the price drops to $320.

4. Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115131

As we go down another notch in the ladder, the processing speed falls now to 2.66 Ghz per processing core. The price drop also is comparable, as the price now falls to $275. Performance on a 2.66 Ghz Quad-core is going to be a big step up from even a dual-core processor - you'll find that most multi-tasking operations will now be much more easily handled by the computer and games will run at a record speed.

5. AMD Phenom 9950 Black Edition

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103273

I'm not a huge fan of AMD, but in terms of 64-bit support, nobody does it better. AMD offers their Phenom Quad-core at a great price of $235 for a 2.6 Ghz processor. The main difference comes in the support offered by Intel and the support offered by AMD - Intel just has a better website and better customer support in the event that something goes wrong with your processor. For $40 more, you can't go wrong with the Q9400 over the 9950 - but for you AMD fans, this is the one you want.

As usual, let's take a look at the fan-favorite - the budget processor. The honors today go to:

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115018

I've been running this processor for about a year now and I have nothing but high praise for it. At $180, you won't find a cheaper Quad core that clocks the same 2.4 Ghz as this one does. I used to run a single-core, 2.8 Ghz processor from a long while back when I upgraded in about 2003. Last year, when I was looking to make another major overhaul, I decided on this processor because of the fact the community loved it so much, I now understand why. Of course, there is one major drawback, and that is the amount of heat the processor produces, which is why I highly recommend (and this is to any quad core buyer), these two products:

Arctic Silver 5

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835100007

...and...

Zalman CNPS9500

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16835118003

The Arctic Silver is a thermal compound that greases the CPU prior to putting the heatsink and fan on - with this specific thermal grease, you'll not have to worry about decomposition at higher temperatures or over time. And the Zalman fan has a copper heatsink, which makes it so much better than the aluminum ones that usually come with processors because the copper has a higher capacity for removing the heat through the elongated fins of the fan. As usual, make sure your computer case can accommodate the fan - if not, maybe it's time to invest in a new case, because the fan is assuredly worth the price - you'll never have to worry about overheating again.

I'll leave you now to think on which one of these fantastic technological showpieces you'll want in your rig. Next time, we'll be discussing the Hard Drive and its implications on your gaming rig.

 
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