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I'm doing a cost analysis for a friend who wants a "budget" gaming system that run most modern titles on medium to ultra settings with decent fps, like ETS2, GTA5 and Fallout4.

So far, he is dead set on getting 2 GTX 960 4GBs and running them in SLI, which is no problem. The problem I face is that I cannot find a CPU that will work with the SLI configuration whilst minimizing GPU bottlenecking as much as possible. I have the following criteria in place -->

  1. CPU must have 4 or more cores
  2. CPU can be either AMD or Intel (not really picky here)
  3. CPU must have a base clock greater than 3.2GHz
  4. CPU doesn't have to be brand new, looking to spend max $100 on the CPU itself

I have not decided on the motherboard as yet, as I do not have the CPU. Once I have the CPU, then I can move forward from here.

Many thanks

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    SLI support is dicey in a lot of games, and there are more powerful single cards on the market that would cost him less money. On top of that, spending $100 on the CPU is going to likely toss you back a generation into DDR3 tech, which is going to limit the longevity of the build. Why is SLI so important, and for god's sake why do it with a pair of 960's? There's no way that a build with these specs is going to achieve a good balance of price, performance, and lifespan. I'll look into it anyhow but some more information about why these constraints exist would help. – jcam3 Nov 28 '17 at 20:08
  • @jcam3 Ironically, that is exactly what I told him when he told what GPU, more GPUs, he was looking at. He has a budget of around $500-$600, but wants to get other things like a SSD, a little bit of RGB and a few other things for his case. I figured that $100 would be more than enough for the CPU, hence the specs (I was not expecting like a i7-3770k). I think he wants SLI just to say he has SLI in the system, as a bragging right if you will. – GipsyD Nov 29 '17 at 4:07
  • @jcam3 I will update the question as soon as I return home this evening – GipsyD Nov 29 '17 at 4:08
  • Why the clock requirement? Another thing from your friend? Because a clock cycle from Bulldozer (15h) or Atom (say, Silvermont or Goldmont) is vastly different from a relatively recent Core (Sandy Bridge or later) or the new Zen architectures. Also: Unrelated, but will he be overclocking? A recent i5 would probably be the best option, something like 2500K should be below budget. – timuzhti Nov 29 '17 at 6:48
  • I don't think he wants to overclock, I think he just wants a high core count, as he does programming as well as live streaming on Youtube. He was very vague in the system that he wants for his budget. As per the clock requirement, that was one of the things he wanted preferably if I could source one. – GipsyD Nov 29 '17 at 6:54
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I'd recommend an Ivy Bridge or Sandy Bridge E3 Xeon, such as the E3 1245. These CPUs are more or less lower clocked i7 chips, and have excellent performance. They will, on average, have a performance between a stock i5 and i7. As shown in these benchmarks, this means that at 1080p, you will easily lock 60 FPS for the latter two games. It is very likely you will be able to achieve a minimum of 60 FPS for the near future (ignoring GPU), except on very CPU heavy games like Assasin's Creed.

As to which Xeon to pick specifically, obviously, the bigger the number, the better. Note that the 1220 and 1225 series do not feature hyperthreading, and you may as well buy the equivalent i5. If you can find an equivalent i7 at under your budget, that would also be an option. Ivy Bridge (v2 or 3xxx) CPUs are more or less equivalent to a Sandy Bridge CPU clocked ~ 100 - 200 MHz faster.

These CPUs require a LGA 1155 motherboard. Check the manufacturer's webpage for compatibility if purchasing a Ivy Bridge CPU.

Honourable mentions

Newer platform, similar performance: The Ryzen 3 1200 is just under your budget for $99.99 at Amazon.com. At stock, it's about the same performance as a higher end IB Xeon but you do get access to some modern bells and whistles on the newer platform. It has an average overclock of 3.9 GHz, which may give a decent boost to performance. On the other hand, the newer platform has higher costs associated with the RAM and others. The Ryzen CPUs use a AM4 socket.

The new Coffee Lake i3s are just out of your price range, but may also be worth considering. The old AMD FX series on the other hand, while a decent amount cheaper, $75 for a "6 core" and $90 for 8 – and have attractive looking clock speeds – are definitely to be avoided, as they have significantly lower performance due to low IPC.

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    Also, if your friend changes their mind about overclocking, definitely grab either a K series i5 or the Ryzen. Overclocking does give a decent performance boost for these CPUs. – timuzhti Dec 1 '17 at 6:23

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