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Long story short, the motherboard of my 7 year old PC died and I'll need a new one. I plan to use it mainly for gaming (Elder Scrolls series, Fallout series, League of Legends, Crusader Kings, ...) with potentially getting into a bit of programming or video editing down the line.

I'll be reusing the case, mouse, keyboard, monitor, and probably also the GPU of my old computer. The plan being that upgrading the GPU becomes my first major upgrade in the coming months.

I'm happy to run my games at 30 fps, but I'd like that to also be true for the games I'll be playing 3 years from now.

The main issue is that I'd like a computer that will last at least 4 years (preferably longer), but my budget is only around €500-600 ($550-660) and I'm concerned that won't be enough for what I want. So price is a very serious concern for me.

The first order of business is choosing the CPU. I decided I want a quad core because supposedly that will be needed to run Fallout 4, but all I know about processors is that quad core is better than dual core and that unlike 15 years ago the processing speed is no longer the sole thing that determines how good a CPU is.

I should probably also mention that I don't plan to play Fallout 4 on release, but instead pick it up during a Steam sale in a year or two. However, since I plan my PC to last longer than 2 years and it can't run without a CPU, I still want the CPU I get now to be good enough for it.

Questions:

  1. AMD or Intel? I'm more interested in cost efficiency than peak performance.

  2. I want to get something better than the bare minimum required to run FO4 in order for my PC to be somewhat future proof, but I'm not sure how far over the bare minimum I should go, considering my budget restrictions. The minimum requirements I found online are Intel Core i5-2300 2.8GHz or AMD Phenom II X4 945. Recommended processors for FO4 are Intel Core i7 4790 3.6 GHz or AMD FX-9590 4.7 GHz.

  3. Beyond the number of cores and frequency, what other properties are really important in a processor? In the sense of what should someone who knows virtually nothing about processors be careful about when chosing one.

  4. I just found out about the new Skylake processors that Intel released a couple of months ago. If I decide to go for Intel, would you recommend me to get one of these? My gut feeling is to go for the new thing because it will last longer, but is it really worth the price?

Links:

I live in Slovenia and have been looking at this website for components and prices:

  • I'm still asking 4 questions in one, but hopefully they'll be considered related enough for the moderators to open it up again. – Neophyte Nov 3 '15 at 16:45
  • @Neophyte or even the community, as happened here. This post had 4 community reopen votes, so I put the last one in. – ArtOfCode Nov 3 '15 at 17:44
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Since you are planning to play a game that require 4 cores, and also have a severely limited budget, I'm going to recommend a AMD CPU, on the FM2+ socket.

The Athlon X4 860K is a Steamroller based 4 core, 2 module CMT design. It has no iGPU, meaning its TDP is not shared. The newer Steamroller cores are quite a bit faster than the old K10 based Phenoms, though the CMT will mean float applications using the full 4 cores will not improve as much.

Why the 860K? It's relatively new, but uses a established platform with cheap DDR3 RAM. You can get a motherboard with all the bells and whistles with Skylake, but I suspect that won't matter as much to you when you can't actually play the game on a dual core.

How fast a processor is used to depend mostly on clock speed. This is not the case any more, however, because clock speeds have effectively hit a brick wall, and each new generation more or less sticks to the 3-5 GHz range. Core count, while important, can only be used in multi threaded applications. What modern day CPUs depend on is the IPC and instruction set.

The IPC is the number of instructions it can execute per clock cycle. With the advent of Superscalar and MIMD processors, this number has exceeded 1. AMD's current architectures only have around 60% of Intel's Haswell, which is why you see the higher clocks to compensate.

The instruction sets matter as well, but it ins't really something you can choose. Windows only works on x86-64. What you need to look for are instruction set extensions, such as SSE and AVX, that are relevant to the things you do. ARM CPUs have far higher IPC, but because they use a RISC ISA, rather than the CISC x86-64, the real world performance is lower. Really though, in desktop gaming, all you're going to use is the x86-64, and the instruction set extensions won't matter that much.

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  • Would the answer change if I have another 100€ to spare because I'm getting the graphics card later? – Neophyte Nov 10 '15 at 14:32
  • @Neophyte You could get a locked i5 4460, or something similar. It'll be less complicated and perform very well. I'd pair that with a €270 GPU like the R9 380 or GTX 960, whereas the Athlon would probably be paired with a €200 GPU like the GTX 950. – timuzhti Nov 11 '15 at 1:43
  • What does "locked" mean in this context? – Neophyte Nov 11 '15 at 11:32
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    @Neophyte, sorry about that, I keep on slipping into technobabble. Locked in this case means that the processor multiplier is fixed. You can't set it higher than stock (factory settings) to get a faster processor. Clock speed is determined by multiplying the multiplier with the BCLK or FSB frequency, in the case of modern Intel, that's usually 100 MHz. Bumping up the multiplier is the easiest way of overclocking. Nowadays, BCLK is usually tied up with PCI-E frequency, and that does not like to be overclocked – timuzhti Nov 11 '15 at 11:38
  • Basically, Multiplier Unlocked CPUs let you make your CPU faster for free. This was really common back in the pentium days, before Intel decided to lock their CPUs, so they can sell models with +200 MHz increments for $20, and people would be willing to pay for the more expensive ones. They find a way to make more money, they're going to milk it. The only Intel SKUs that are unlocked end in K or X. Lots of gamers like these, though overclocking Intel (and Hyperthreading) is of negligible benefit IMO. AMD is another story, but this is already my second comment, so I won't go into it. – timuzhti Nov 11 '15 at 11:43
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I agree with most of what Alpha3031 told you, but I think there are better options for your use case than the 860K. To explain, I'm going to go a little into the nuances of CPU lid design and hyperthreading.

I recommend you look for a slightly more expensive 870K or 880K (also on the FM2+ socket) - and failing that, you should strongly consider a Haswell or Skylake i3 (sockets 1150 or 1151) clocked at or above 3.5ghz.

The reason one such as yourself would care about the differences between the 860K and the 870K/880K are small, but worth the price difference in your case. First of all, whereas the 860K has paste TIM between its die and the CPU lid, the 870K and 880K, both Godavari refreshes of the Kaveri Steamroller design of the 860K, sport the superior metal flux between their dies and lids - this transfers heat between the die and lid much better than paste. This matters to you because you will want to make your CPU last longer than it probably otherwise would at stock speeds, so you will be overclocking, the success of which partly depends on how well you can dissipate waste heat from the CPU. With a good air or water cooler and the proper amount of overvolting, I would expect the average 870K/880K to reach somewhere around 4.6-4.8ghz, whereas it seems the 860K reaches lower top speeds on average; say 4.3-4.5ghz. Normally I'd say quibbling over a few hundred megahertz is not worth it, but you'll want everything you can get, I think. A potential alternative would be the weird Athlon X4 845 (FM2+), because it sports a superior IPC to the bigger chips as it is designed from the newer Carrizo Excavator architecture, but it is not unlocked and the newer arch only gives you 10-15% better performance at best. If for some reason you were unable to overclock and needed to stay with AMD (say to keep prices down), I'd recommend that CPU.

The other option is, somewhat surprisingly, to spring for a low-end Intel i3 CPU. Many people disparage i3 CPUs due to their dual core architectures, but since i3s use hyperthreading, they actually operate 4 threads, which makes them quad cores as far as games are concerned - software only sees threads, not physical cores. The great advantage to choosing these more expensive Intel parts is twofold - you will get to put it on a motherboard socket with significantly more upgrade potential than FM2+ (FM2+ doesn't really have any CPUs with superior performance to the 880K while the 1150 and 1151 sockets support the vastly more powerful i7 and Xeon series), and as Alpha3031 indicated, Intel CPUs have much higher IPC, meaning they perform much faster on each core than AMD's offerings. While their overall performance tends to bring them neck and neck with AMD's Steamroller quad cores, they can't be beat for single thread performance at this price point, and you will see markedly better performance from an i3 over even an overclocked Athlon in games which utilize only 1 or 2 threads.

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