Case in Point: The Best CPU Under $300

Case in Point: The Best CPU for Under $300

I’ve recently built up two midrange Core i7 based systems, which I discuss on my blog at Improbable Insights. One is based on Bloomfield, more specifically, the popular (among performance enthusiasts, anyway) Core i7 920. The other is the new Lynnfield-based Core i7 860. What’s interesting is the similarity in pricing between the two systems. I’ll talk about the individual system builds, but I also want to explore why you might build one type of system over the other.

These systems are similar, but don’t have identical components (motherboards obviously differ.) But they are good case studies into what to think about when building a system that has some legs.

Both CPUs are priced identically on Intel’s price list -- $284 – but differ in other respects. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s dig into the details of each system, then do a little postmortem analysis.

Core i7 920 and Core i7 860 Features
The Core i7 920 is the entry level of the Bloomfield CPUs. It has become something of a darling among the overclocking crowd, particularly since the “D” stepping came out a few months back. The 920 requires an LGA 1366 socket and has a triple channel DDR3 memory controller. The core i7 860 uses the newer LGA 1156 socket, and has a dual channel DDR3 memory controller. Here’s a table of their base specs:



Core i7 920

Core i7 860

Clock Frequency (Default)



                Number of QPI / DMI Paths



                Turbo Boost “bins” (1 core active)



                PCI Express Controller


On Die

                DDR Memory Channels



                Shared L3 Cache Size



                Price (Intel Official Wholesale)



               Price (Average of top 3 sites)



Of course, you have to factor in platform costs as well. Comparing similar motherboards and memory averages out to around a $40-60 cost disparity, with the Core i7 920 systems on the more expensive side. X58 motherboards generally cost more, for similar feature sets, and you need triple channel memory kits, rather than dual channel. On the other hand, triple channel, 6GB DDR3 kits are cheaper on a per-gigabyte basis, than similar dual channel kits.

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