Case in Point: The Best CPU Under $300

System Configurations

I built two systems, one using an Asus P7P55D Pro P55 board and the other built around an eVGA X58 SLI Micro X58 board. The Asus board is typical of most Asus products – it’s solid, reasonably priced (you can find it for around $170), and it's moderately overclockable. Mostly, it’s just stable and works. The eVGA board looks quite cool, but has a somewhat sparse, old-school BIOS. It’s overclockable, to be sure, but you have to work at it. The graphics card in both test systems was an eVGA GeForce GTX 260 Core 216 SSC.

Asus P7P55D Pro Motherboard

Interestingly, the Core i7 860 costs slightly more if you’re actually shelling out real dollars, as opposed to Intel price list dollars. This might be simply the effect of a new product hitting the channel, or possibly a glut of Core i7 920s on the street. The difference of $10 is pretty minor though.

On the performance side, there are several parameters that can affect performance: base clock frequency, turbo boost availability, QPI channels and the number of memory channels. The last factor – the number of memory channels – can affect the overall configuration as well. With the 920, you either get 3GB or 6GB with affordable memory kits (I don’t consider $1,700 for Kingston’s 12GB kit as “affordable.) Even 12GB is relatively affordable in motherboards supporting six DDR3 sockets. With the Core i7 860, you can load up on 2GB, 4GB or drop in four modules at 8GB.

eVGA X58 SLI Micro Motherboard

QPI or DMI bandwidth can be an issue, but only in some applications. Perhaps more important from a pure performance play is the number of Turbo Boost “bins” available. Suffice it to say that a single execution core (three cores idle) on the 860 will run at a considerably higher Turbo Boost frequency than a single execution core operating in Turbo mode on the 920.

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